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Such a moving experience

Such a moving experience

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An interview with the project initiator

Comments by the Miles & More employees who went to Kenya

Trip helps young Kenyans to formulate specific career aspirations

In June 2023, 12 Miles & More colleagues travelled to Kenya. Their destination was a children’s home near Nairobi, where they met 14 former street children who have now finished school and are starting their careers. The visitors are acting as vocational mentors with the aim of identifying the youngsters’ career aspirations and next steps. The visit proved life-changing - not just for the young Kenyans.

Miles & More editor: How did you come up with the idea for the corporate volunteering project in Kenya?

Juliane: 10 years ago, I visited my friend Lisa while she was volunteering at a children’s home in Kenya. It was actually supposed to be an extended holiday, but it changed my life. Today, Lisa says she immediately saw in my eyes that the drive to help people would never leave me either. We started fundraising, founded a non-profit organisation and visited the country frequently. On one of these trips, I came across the Global Hope children’s home. The story of the home’s director Joseph Njoroge deeply moved me. He became a street child himself when he could no longer cope with living with his alcoholic mother, who sometimes severely abused him. After years on the streets, he was taken into a children’s home.

 

Today, Joseph runs Global Hope together with his wife Dorcas, and they offer 140 young people of all ages a home and a future. It’s a fantastic success story, and I hope to see it replicated by helping the boys from Global Hope to find their vocation as Joseph himself did. In Kenya, it is difficult and expensive to access vocational training. There are no part-time jobs that people can do to finance their studies, and apprentices have to pay for their training themselves. This gave me the idea to help with a vocational mentoring scheme. This met with a great response from my colleagues in various different departments at Miles & More. After a few preparatory meetings, 12 of us set off in June to meet 14 young Kenyans and work with them to develop their career prospects.

Juliane Kaufer-Tifrassi has been friends with Joseph Njoroge, director of the children’s home, for many years. The two of them make up the core of the corporate volunteering project. Because of his own background, Joseph has a particular affinity with the young people in his care. He runs Global Hope as an open house. He and his wife Dorcas offer street children a place in their family and give them a loving home.

Two people who share a close bond

Juliane: It was the first time that many of my colleagues had visited Africa, and they were a bit nervous about what was awaiting them and how we would meet our mentees. But all their fears were unfounded. As soon as we stepped out of our Jeeps, we were welcomed incredibly warmly by Joseph, his wife and the 14 boys. We immediately started playing a lively and funny game. In the game “Mingle, Mingle”, you do exactly what the name says: mingle with people. This broke the ice instantly.

The first pairings were made straight away. The mood was relaxed, and any uncertainty on either side evaporated. Then we had a guided tour of the home, during which the boys told us about their lives at Global Hope. The facilities are basic. The children sleep in huts with corrugated iron roofs, always at least two or three of them to a bed. The kitchen is a big pot over an open fire, and water comes from rainwater storage tanks. Life mainly takes place outdoors.

Team building through games and sports

The big open space in front of the centre is a great place for kicking a ball, running around and burning off energy. Almost all of the boys enjoy ball games. This was also where we were introduced to one another and where the mentors and mentees interacted for the first time by playing the game “Mingle, Mingle”. All of the sports enthusiasts enjoyed playing volleyball on the second day.

Angelica Dzedulionis and Christiane Schuchart-Helm spent some quiet time with a few of the younger boys after the ice-breaker game. Like people of their age virtually anywhere in the world, they are true “digital natives”. Many of them already have a smartphone and are active on a variety of social media channels. The centre has Wi-Fi, so they can get online for free.

Taking a break together

Juliane: That didn’t go as expected either. Joseph and some of the older children led us through the residential and commercial area to the poorest part of Ngong. Many of them grew up in the slums there, and some of them started to share with us the sad stories of their childhood. It was tough for us to see the corrugated iron huts and alleyways full of rubbish.

We were particularly moved by the young children who followed us around with wide eyes. Suddenly, everyone realised what the boys we had spent such a happy morning with had been through, and how important our mission is. Shaken, but also doubly motivated, we talked to our mentees in greater depth, feeling that we understood them better.

Revisiting the past

Luca Einloft, Florian Kafka, Angelica Dzedulionis and Mihaela Culic led the group through Ngong. The cheerful mood at the start soon gave way to real shock. Between the corrugated iron huts in Ngong’s slum, there is rubbish everywhere. There is no running water, sewage disposal or waste removal.

It is virtually impossible to imagine living alone in this environment as a child, but that is exactly what many of the boys at the centre did. A lot of street children sniff glue to take their minds off the hunger, cold and sadness. The scale of the poverty in which most of the mentees grew up came as a shock to the colleagues from Miles & More.

The Ngong slum

Juliane: Alongside the individual discussions, we also prepared teaching modules for the whole group. For example, we looked at the Japanese ikigai model, which is a way of working out how you can lead a fulfilling life.

But we also talked about practical topics such as project management or dealing with setbacks. The young people were very interested and kept asking questions. By the end of our time there, all 14 young mentees had identified both their ideal career and concrete steps towards achieving it.

Active learning

Christian Steubing and some of the other colleagues from Miles & More had prepared teaching modules. These were delivered in the common room which also serves as a church, cinema and classroom. They covered strategies for dealing with setbacks along with the basics of project management, which were brought to life using a tower-building game.

Juliane: For most of them, it was all very vague at first. Many of them would like to study, but don’t know what, and in Kenya there are very few jobs for academics. In the one-to-one conversations with our mentees, we tried to find out where their special interests and talents lie and what career profile that could indicate. Some of the results were astonishing. For example, 17-year-old Samuel Mutune loves explaining things to the younger children at Global Hope, and together with his mentor Christiane Schuchart-Helm he worked out that being a nutritionist would be his dream job. She is already looking into training options for him.

Bishop would like to be a DJ and has even already performed in several clubs. Meanwhile, the tourism industry appeals to Michael and Peter. As it is easier to get a job in this sector and others if you have a driving licence, we thought it would be a good idea for the whole group to learn to drive. They have embraced this idea enthusiastically. Larry would like to join the military, but the drugs he took on the streets as a child have discoloured his teeth. This means that the military will not take him because it marks him out as having had drug problems in the past. His mentor Vicky Tatsiopoulou arranged for him to have his teeth professionally cleaned. He is currently receiving this treatment and is expected to be able to start in the military in September. Samuel Njunge decided during his conversations with his mentor Pia von Berlepsch that he would like to train as a car mechanic. Juma absolutely loves cooking and often helps to prepare food at the children’s home, so it didn’t take long to work out that he would like to be a chef.

Before the Miles & More colleagues could start preparing an evening meal with their mentees, all the ingredients had to be purchased at the market in Ngong. There were fresh vegetables, exotic fruits and lots of pulses there. The shopping list included barley, millet and wheat for the chapati and beans to go with it.

Shopping at the market
Cooking together is good fun

While they prepared the chapati together, Emmanuel showed Angelica Dzedulionis, Marcel Mattern, Florian Kafka and their colleagues how to knead and shape the dough for the traditional flatbread. By the time the group could finally start eating, it was late. Nonetheless, the mood remained high, and everyone enjoyed the delicious homemade meal.

Juliane: I think our colleague Mihaela Culic summed it up when she said: “I feel connected and responsible.” We have become part of something the deserves a future and needs support. It’s great that Miles & More provides funds for this. What’s even better for us is that we get to stay in touch with the boys and see what they do next. To do this, we contact them and one another regularly.

Miles & More editor: What else did you get out of this trip?

The time our Miles & More colleagues spent with the young Kenyans set all sorts of things in motion. Whilst additional support is being organised in Frankfurt, the first training courses are commencing near Nairobi. Read Michael’s and Denis’ stories, and help by donating miles.