Thursday, April 07, 2011

Nuru International's Research Field Coordinator and My New Friend Julius

The guy in the photo standing next to me is Julius Nyamohanga. He's twenty five years old, and he's the first person who greeted me when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last week. As I came out of baggage claim, I walked into a huge hall filled with people waiting for others to arrive. Julius was holding a beautiful Nuru International sign, and immediately welcomed me to Kenya.

He and I had about two hours to wait for the rest of the team to arrive, and he offered to have me shuttled to the apartment where we would all be sleeping later that night. Of course I refused--who needs sleep after flying 8000 miles in 2 days--especially when there is an opportunity to share stories.

So Julius and I made our way to a litte coffee shop in the airport and started chatting about life, the weather, my flight, and how we started working for Nuru.  As Julius began his story, I didn't take out pen and paper, but simply listened and what follows is my best attempt to recall the details as he shared with me.  I asked his permission to share his story and stories from his community with others, and he was grateful both that I would ask, and that I would be willing to share.

Julius lost both of his parents at a young age, and is the oldest of six siblings. Amazingly, he has been the provider and caretaker for his brothers and sisters since his early teenage years. When many children in the west are thinking about school, sports, and playtime, Julius was thinking about how he would insure that his brothers and sisters were cared for, had food to eat, and were able to go to school. Julius is an incredible example of hard-work, dedication, and service.  Julius farms a small plot of land where he works hard to insure that his siblings have enough food to eat and that he can earn some extra money through selling any surplus maize produced.

Beyond caring for his own family, since Julius' teenage years, he has been involved in community activism. He started a self-help group for vulnerable women in his community (HIV Patients, second wives, single mothers, widows, etc.), and has volunteered with the Kenya Volunteer Development Association (KVDA) for about ten years (since he was in primary school!). Right now, he maintains all of those responsibilities, and he works as Nuru Kenya's Research Field Coordinator.

As Julius shared his story with me, I had to work hard to fight back the tears. He and I both lost our mother's to cancer, but he was far younger, and was charged with an even greater responsibility after the death of his mom. I thought about my own teenage years, and how carefree they were--and how frivolously I spent much of my time. And then I thought about Julius working in the fields to make sure his siblings had food to eat and could pay their school fees, raising his younger brothers and sisters without guidance and direction from his own parents, and then giving of his time to help others in the community better their lives.

After the rest of the team arrived, Julius took us to an apartment in Nairobi, and began preparing a meal of eggs, rice, tomatoes, and cilantro for us as we began acclimatizing ourselves to Kenya. The next morning, he guided us to our bus, and paid for our fares as we set out on a 5 hour bus ride to Isibania from Nairobi.  He did the same thing for us on our trip back to Nairobi, traveled with us both ways, and guided us all along the way.

He taught me a few phrases in Kiswahili and Kikuria as we sat together on the bus, but more than that he taught me a great amount about service, about sacrifice, about family, and about friendship through his life and stories as we traveled. As we were parting ways, I thanked him many times for all that he was doing for his family, and for Nuru.  And, I asked him how to say two other phrases in his Kikuria mother tongue and then I called him by those phrases.  The phrases? muramwito na msalani (brother and friend).

I am honored to call Julius my brother and friend, and more honored that I get to share his story with you. Even more than this, I'm honored to serve together with him and many in Kuria as we work to end extreme poverty, together, one community at a time.  Will you join us?

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