Let’s see. I have clocked a quarter century, and counting, in the hot seat of advocating for the rights of persons infected and affected with HIV. Circumstances pushed me into this job, without any experience or education. Though I was not qualified, God brought people into my life to educate me.
People get into NGO work for different reasons. Some are opportunists. Some are fly-by-nighters. Others tough it out to make positive lasting changes in the community. To succeed in this sector, one must have their priorities right.
The most important question is, “Why?” The answer to this sixty-four-thousand dollar question will, in the long run, determine one’s trajectory.
In my work in the NGO sector, I cannot recall the names of all the people whose shoulders I have stood on. They come from diverse spectrums. Some are faceless women who live in informal settlements on less than half a dollar per day. Others are bourgeoisie babes, who head corporations and pull in eight figures.
Like magnets, life too has two poles; negative and positive. And I have people who have touched my life in a negative way. People I want to forget. However, a lady called Pauline touched my life positively.
And she came just right in the nick of time: when I was starting KENWA. She gave me a personal constitution to live on: honesty and accountability.
“Asunta, never eat money for the poor, widows and orphans because, whether they see it or not, their Father, who is God Almighty, will see it and you will be answerable to Him,” Pauline counselled me.
Her advice gave me a moral compass to guide me in handling community resources. This wise counsel helped me and my organisation to handle resources with great integrity and respect of the community we served.
Still, I must apologise. It is not always that we were Good Samaritans. Sometimes we gave too little or came in too late. Other times we even missed out. But in all, and God is my witness – and I pray that
He forgive me for sins of commission and omission – we always tried to be honest and trustworthy to God, donors and our constituents.
A MOTHER BY ANY NAME
Then there is Mrs Nester Theuri. When we met, Nester was a veteran in the NGO trenches. She became my mother, counsellor, mentor and later my boss.
“Regardless of their socio-economic status, always remember that human beings are valuable,” Nester taught me. “In this sector, we give the best with no expectation. Get ready to be criticised. You will be called all sorts of names. Don’t listen to them. Listen to your CEO: God.”
COOL HEAD AND THICK SKIN
Nester was right. When one is working for the community, criticisms, allegations and abuses come thick and fast, from all directions. Which calls for a thick skin and a cool head. I learnt to take in
countless barbs. Which is not easy, especially for a woman like me who has hot Nyeri blood flowing in her veins.
There were times people I had helped from sick- or deathbeds, and were now blossoming with life, would stand with hands akimbo to criticise my poor management skills.
“You should have completed school before becoming a director,” someone once told me, yet it was my unschooled self that had worked to see her walk again.
Nester taught me not to take things personally. “If you take things personally, you will not help other people in need.”
Sure, at times, with all the negativity and hatred, I felt like throwing in the towel. But I knew that doing this would make HIV win.
“When you are faced with negativity, tell God thank you that He has blessed the work of your hands this far. Then move on to the next client. Never be too busy for your clients; who are your employer.
Sit and listen to your clients. Never compare your clients’ problems. Also, never belittle anyone’s problem. Appreciate the way it is presented to you and without judgment.”
The above nuggets from Nester helped me to help out clients, even answering one question nth times; although the answer was staring the client right in the eyes.
“What if my house help is HIV-positive?” I once asked Nester.
“As long as the house girl is not having sexual intercourse with a member of the family, breastfeeding or donating blood, rest assured there is no risk,” Nester replied. “Remember; there are only three ways of transmitting the HI-virus.”
Happy New Year.