Saint Martin is a Catholic group of social apostolate. It was born after a priest realized how disabled people were ostracized in society in Nyahururu, Kenya. Through the years, from the initial project taking care of physically disabled persons, a much larger organization has developed. The programs we are running now are five: people with disability, HIV/Aids; street and needy children; human rights, which promotes active non-violence; and a project for savings and microcredit. We are not a rich organization. We much depend on the good of the people. We learnt to include the poor in all our activities. The poor are a resource, a gift to us.
Since the beginning, we asked people to volunteer in helping people with disabilities. This was a leap of faith, since there were no similar experiences in Kenya at the time and disability was regarded as a curse. There was never the intention of becoming a large organization to serve the poor, things changed while answering the needs of the community. At first we were asked to go to the community and identify who the disabled persons were, where they were and what was happening to them. Over the years, we realized that we find more joy when we give ourselves freely, out of love. This commitment fulfils us intellectually and in our relationships. To realize the great gift of the poor is not obvious, it needs time, experience and personal encounter.
Today, more than two thousand volunteers allow us to reach out in the whole diocese of Nyahururu. Things do not just happened, they are cultivated. To have so many volunteers it has taken time, resources, and preparation. One of the greatest things done to us is the spiritual formation, the learning of the relationship between us and God, the action of the Word of God in our lives, in this way we are convinced there is a possibility. This needs a constant formation. This is why we have a spiritual formation team which is a department on itself and it has the duty to continue motivating and encouraging people to volunteer. We remember of a group from the north of Kenya that doubted what we were saying about volunteers. They came to spend some time with us. After three days they were amazed and they said: yes it is possible.
We are a Catholic group, but we work in partnership with people of other faiths. Also this ecumenical approach does not happen by itself, it needs nurturing. In the early days it was quite difficult. The first time we went to a Protestant church for an awareness talk, we were not welcomed. It took time and patience to be accepted. Over time, giving an effort, led by the power of the poor, the solidarity created by the poor, we were led into interfaith work. Now we have staff members and volunteers from different Churches. It has taken time and effort; we are still in this journey.
Volunteers are not simply accepted and sent to the ground. When we design a program, we outline very clearly the work we expect our volunteers to do. Then, based on our expectations, we design training together with them. We do need assessment, trying to pick up areas where they need empowerment in order to function well. We then organize the training to address those specific areas.
We are coming to the poor and bring the Good News of liberation, bringing justice to the oppressed. This is our first role in evangelization. The second role is that we are not aspiring to do it ourselves: we go to the neighbours of the poor and ask them to take up the role of liberators. We empower the neighbours of the poor to hear and enact the Word of God and help others. We reach the poor not as an organization but as a community.
Sometimes we might be motivated by being competitive, by greater technology or financial achievement. Yet, when we do something small for the helpless, we do something great. This is what gives great fulfilment. If we look to the disable as a liability, a burden to the finances, then we are in the wrong perspective. The poor can really help us make our journey worthwhile; they are a blessing from God.
Thomas Kihara and James Njoroge
Staff members of Saint Martin