YOU WOUN'T BE DISAPPOINTED VISITING RUBEN CENTRE - AIDAN LONG
Arriving at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya, the Mukuru Slums and the Ruben Centre was the beginning of a whirlwind, heartwarming and enriching personal journey that will never be forgotten.Upon arrival the only presumption I made was that my uncle Brother Frank O’Shea would be there to greet us with his ever optimistic attitude and interesting, intriguing tales that would bring to life the stories of the many people employed at Ruben or living in the community of Kwa Ruben in the Mukuru Slums.
Any angst or unease I felt on my first day at Ruben was lifted almost as quickly as the guard and gate man Johanas could greet us with Habari Yako? (how are you?) and Karibu Sana (You’re very welcome). Francesca and I were left blown away, inspired but also a little perplexed by how, in the most trying circumstances, these amazing people running 29 programs continued to enrich and wait for it……. the buzz word, EMPOWER the Mukuru Community. The grand tour of the Centre began at 8am. Six hours later we had finished lunch and we still had to meet the amazing people running Ruben F.M, the Centre’s community radio station. It became clear that their recent campaign, preaching peace and harmony, was a major contributing factor to the stability Mukuru experienced during a rather unpredictable, unstable political environment prior to the elections.
Having recently completed a bachelor in Accounting, I was slightly apprehensive about my assigned role as a physical education teacher. The brief by Brother Frank O’Shea was “to get lost in the sports department”. After meeting the enthusiastic team, led by the amazing Kelvin Petrelli, this is exactly what happened. Joining in with the grade one students in my first dance class I was blown away by the sheer joy and thrill the students experienced and the freedom they felt to express themselves through movement and dance. It was incredible to work with a small group of three whose sole purpose was to create a joyful and fun environment despite the hot dusty and trying conditions that they often endured. It was evident during one of the early classes when we organised piggy back races that not all of the politically correct rules of modern western society applied at Ruben.
Volunteering at Ruben, unlike any previous experience of work, never felt like a job. When I stepped inside the magical gates of Ruben there was a clear sense of hope and a continued drive to make each other better. This sense of optimism put so many previous frustrations and feelings into context. One of the most notable differences was that people live every day like it could be there last. Growing up I’ve often been told that “today is the beginning of the rest of your life” and “not to wish your life away”. For me this humbling experience gave me the opportunity to live this, rather than just think it.
Since arriving I’ve been told many times about the importance of the Ruben Centre and the Christian Brothers in the community. Staff members, community volunteers, ex-students and students have all expressed through their personal stories how the Centre has helped them. Having only spent a short time here, it would be unwise to advise people to the extent of Ruben’s influence on the Mukuru community. But as someone reading this, I can advise you that you won’t be disappointed if you come and find out. As I write this preparing to leave, I will be deeply saddened and will miss the people that have opened up to me and allowed me into their lives. My limited vocabulary won’t ever allow me to express how I truly feel; therefore, I won’t begin to try. Kwaheri Rafiki (Goodbye Friends).