My name is Tobias (Toby) Okong’o. I was born and raised in Lwala, Kenya. I am 18 years old and I have 5 siblings.
Two years ago, I came to the United States of America to attend high school. I live with Ed and Susan Kelley (Americans) and will be starting my senior year at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, New York.
I usually go back home each summer to visit my family and friends, eat real Kenyan food, and enjoy the really hot weather in Lwala. During previous summers, I spent my days playing soccer with my friends and enjoying time with my family. But when I went home this past summer, in August of 2016, I decided to volunteer with Lwala Community Alliance. I wanted to be an example for my age mates, both in Kenya and United States, and show them what our generation can do for our communities.
After my orientation with Lwala, I helped in the hospital laboratory. I was not allowed to test the patients, but I did help prepare medical records. Later, I worked in the maternal and child unit where I discovered there was a communication gap between some nurses and clients. Therefore, I stepped in to help translate between D’Luo and Kiswahili to ensure clients and nurses could better understand each other. As I became more useful, the nurses were surprised to learn that I was only in high school!
I also worked with Lwala’s Public Health program. There, we dealt mainly with community hygiene. We went out into the community and taught people how to make Tipi Tap (hand-washing stations) and instructed them on proper hand washing. One day, Madam Elizabeth and I went to a client’s house and found that the house had a latrine, Tipi Tap and bathroom, incorporating all of the hygiene lessons taught by the public health program. That was very encouraging to see.
I also spent time with Lwala’s Economic Development program, which finds ways to help people in our community better themselves and their situation. One day, we went to the fields to do a follow-up on a business group that was doing table banking and farming of kale, maize, and beans. They were selling their produce to the nearby secondary school. The group also had their own bank account and policies that every group member had to follow. If not, then he/she must leave the group. They truly realized that the more they cooperated, the more success they would all have. It was very exciting to see the group in action and working together so well.
Another area of the economic development program that I worked with was with the New Vision women. New Vision is a sewing group in Lwala that was started by my cousin, Grace Ochieng, several years ago. Last spring, I worked with the women on a new project – making bow ties that I could sell at my high school. That year, I sold about 200 bow ties and was able to send the New Vision Women over $5,000! This money was used to buy new machines and purchase raw materials for other projects. A portion was also distributed to each of the women, allowing them to help their families buy food and pay school fees to educate their children.
Due to the success of the initial sale of bow ties, I worked with New Vision to make more bow ties. We also added headbands for girls and children’s bow ties to our product line, that could be sold at my high school and other places in the US. The New Vision women sent me back to the US with about 400 bow ties, 200 headbands and 40 children’s bow ties. I hope to get a lot of help at my high school to sell all of our news products!
In volunteering at Lwala, not only was I helping my community, but it also gave me a chance to look at possible careers and help me decide what I want to study in college and what career to seek in the future. I also got to work in different fields and with people from all over Kenya and the USA. It was interesting to me to meet different people with different points of view.
Overall, I was pleased to see Lwala Community Alliance doing such a nice job for our people, helping and developing the community in many ways. For example, ten years ago children were born mostly at home, but today in Lwala, women have learned that giving birth in the hospital is the best option for them and their babies. We also used to bike or walk long distances to hospitals when someone got sick, but today we have a hospital nearby and, if needed, an ambulance is available to take patients to a bigger hospital. Today, HIV positive people in Lwala today are not afraid to come up and talk about their experience with HIV/AIDs. Ten years ago people would commit suicide if they were HIV positive. These are some of the good things that Lwala Community Alliance has brought to the people of Lwala. I think they have woken the people up.
I wish Lwala good luck and hope see some more big changes when I return home next time.
Want to hear more about Toby’s bowties? Check out this video!
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