Focus On Fellows: Michael Owino Odee

A conversation with Mike will instantly reveal that he is a man driven by compassion and a desire to do right by others. His work through the Tatua Fellowship is the latest in his growing legacy of commitments to his community, and certainly, this will not be the last time that we shall see Mike leading change.

Mike pictured at the Tatua offices in Nairobi
Mike pictured at the Tatua offices in Nairobi

Michael Owino Odee is a self-declared extrovert and workaholic: qualities that he believes brought him to community work. “Talking a lot really exposes the world to you,” he shares, “When you sit down with people, and really take the time to listen to the problems their facing or their reflections on their community, you learn a lot about what it takes to secure progress.”

And certainly, the more he has talked, the more Mike has centered his own life on others. In addition to managing a small but diverse farm in his Kikuyu home area; Mike is an active volunteer with the Kenyan Red Cross, alongside his commitments to Tatua. Not to mention of course, being a husband and father. “I hate wasting time,” Mike explains breezily when we question how he finds the time for it all.

For the Tatua Fellowship, Mike is working on a campaign that aims to address the problem of youth alcoholism and drug abuse in his home community, Kikuyu. The consequences of this problem are clear, Mike tells us: youth unproductivity, insecurity, and an increase in the number attacks on women are some of the problems he says can be linked to youth alcoholism in his community.

“Many people see the problem but the general reaction is, ‘That’s someone else’s life, why should I get involved,’” explains Mike, “That’s what spurred me to take on this campaign; the sense that there was a community spirit that was missing.”

But bringing the community-organizing framework to this work has not been easy. “Campaigning is hard,” admitted Mike, “Our culture is very resource-centered and so often, no monetary resources means little to no support. A lot of people question how change can be made without a large financial sponsor driving that change; and that can be incredibly frustrating.” However, Mike refuses to let these challenges deter him. He remains excited about the prospect of stirring action in Kikuyu, and affirms his belief in the ability of community organizing practices to awaken participation.

In spite of the challenges, Mike remains energized by his love for his home, “I love walking around villages in Kikuyu. The purity of the air and the beauty of all the forest cover are incredible natural therapy.”

Join us in supporting Mike and our other incredible fellows as they build power in their communities. Fill out this form for updates and information about how you can get involved.

Focus On Fellows: Lawrence Njoroge

As we were led through the newly built church in Mukuru (on the outskirts of Nairobi’s city center), we could see the pride in Pastor Lawrence’s eyes as he welcomed us into his thriving community. Thrilled to be spending the time with our ‘accidental’ fellow, we were happy to simply take in Pastor Lawrence’s vision as he painted a picture of the vibrant community space he hoped to create.

Lawrence Kariuki Njoroge, proud husband and father of three, joined the Tatua family after stepping in to propel the work that had been started by a past fellow. Lawrence is currently stewarding a campaign to end the exploitation of women as commercial sex workers in his Mukuru community, and while the campaign may have been in one sense inherited, there can be no doubt that it is Lawrence’s passion that fuels it today. Lawrence was drawn to this work as he envisions his church as an empowering space for the development of the girl child (one simply needs to take note of the young age at which many women are initiated into sex work to recognize that this campaign is central to Lawrence’s vision).

Pastor Lawrence remains devoted to this work as a part of his larger commitment to the growth and prosperity of his community. “Before I was called to serve in God’s ministry, I worked as a businessman; I owned a small shop, as well as traded scrap metal,” Lawrence shares, “However, I increasingly began to feel unfulfilled in that capacity; I felt distanced from my community and I was not invested in the work I was doing. Above all, I knew that I was capable of making a more meaningful contribution to others’ lives.”

Through this campaign, Lawrence and his team hope to create a safe space for women to come together and lift themselves out of entrapment by relying on each other’s strength and encouragement. As he and his team interviewed sex workers, Lawrence found that many women must bear incredible precarity including the constant threat of violence and immense uncertainty about their income. Tragically, they also often feel as though any alternatives are foreclosed. There is a deep sense of desperation that makes many of the women feel as though they are trapped in their current lives.

While working towards creating this space, Lawrence and his team must constantly struggle against the urge to simply offer a “resource exchange.” Indeed, he mentions that he and his team often feel compelled to offer a better material reality for these women, and often feel defeated when they cannot. It is in these times that Lawrence recalls his initial motivation for partnering with Tatua; a shared investment in the power of ideas and knowledge. “If people are able to build a shared understanding about what types of lives they want to and can lead, it opens up new possibilities – the issue of money will become less important,” he reflects.

Lawrence is hopeful for the campaign’s future. “I am humbled by the support that our community has shown for this work,” says Lawrence, “The receptiveness to the campaign proves the power of building a shared hope and remaining invested in the idea that everyone has the capacity and the right to escape desperation.”

Pastor Lawrence pictured outside the structure that houses both the school and his church - he started construction on this structure 3 months ago.
Pastor Lawrence pictured outside the structure that houses both the school and his church – he started construction on this structure 3 months ago.

When he is not mobilizing grassroots power within this campaign, Lawrence is works to strengthen his community through his devotion to the members of his church as well as working to establish a local school – Living Hope Academy.

You can support the work that Lawrence and our other fellows are doing by donating to our recently kicked off Global Giving campaign here.

In Search of Solidarity: Why Transformation Needs Company

Jacob Okumu, Tatua community organizing lead and campaigns’ manager, and Mishack Chege, one of our newest fellows,* were two hours into a meeting when Jacob finally asked, “So what do you expect from us Mishack?” Mishack smiled and expressed his surprise that it had taken so long for this question to finally come up. “Aside from the training and the coaching,” he responded, “What I want from you, is the company: just to know that there’s someone walking with me in this journey.”

I couldn’t help but smile at this response: it suddenly became very clear why Jacob had waited so long to ask this question. When thinking about social impact work, our temptation is usually to diagnose the problem, analyze it, and prescribe a solution. Typically however, our first solutions are about the collection and redistribution of resources. Strangely, this comes even before we think about who will join our movement for change.

When Mishack first came in, he presented a three-step proposal for his campaign: it was strategic, measurable, and it was proven. There was nothing to object to in the plan, but yet Mishack had come to us because he had felt that this was not enough. What was missing, it emerged, was the community of people who shared his belief in the urgency of the problem he was trying to solve and shared his investment in crafting a solution.

As an experienced organizer, Jacob must have immediately guessed what was missing, and so he took the conversation a step back from the campaign and opened up the meeting as a space for Mishack to reflect on what had brought him to the work in the first place. As the conversation went on, Mishack grew increasingly animated, and Jacob and I had the pleasure of witnessing him reconnect with the passion that brought him to his work in the first place. His growing excitement was allowing Mishack to think through how he could ignite the same kind of passion in potential supporters.

“I hadn’t realized that the solutions I was coming to you for were here in me!” Mishack declared triumphantly as we finished working on his engagement strategy. Jacob laughed in excitement; his joy expressing his eagerness to watch Mishack’s campaign continue to grow.

The doubts that brought Mishack to Tatua in the first place, highlight the crucial importance of finding the people who will stand with you in the fight for social change: without a community in solidarity, when a particular solution fails, the initiative is a declared a failure. However, in solidarity there is resilience. When there is a shared investment in a community outcome, it emerges that there are ways to move beyond a failed approach.

This is the model of sustainability that Tatua is helping our fellows and their communities work towards. We work with leaders who want to spark not just development, but a movement, within their communities. Over the next few weeks, we’ll sit down with all of our eight incredible fellows for this cycle and share their stories, and invite us to be a part of the change that they are building. Stay tuned for regular updates to our blog to hear their stories.

Support our work by donating to our new Global Giving campaign here.

*For more information about Mishack’s campaign, look out for his profile in the next few weeks.