Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Nathaniel, champion of the world

I’ve got a new name to add to my ‘hero’ list, actually I’ve got a few.

The list isn’t that long, I’m not going to name those that are on it because people often get uncomfortable when you heap praises on them.

Ok, screw it, Nathaniel is my hero.

Kaka too.

I don’t care what you say about the level of hard work it takes to become a professional athlete, these guys should be on the cover of the Wheaties box. These guys should have their own trading cards. These guys should be the ones getting million dollar endorsement deals from Cheetah Power Surge.

It’s been almost three years since I left Kenya and to see how much has been done since then is a little overwhelming. It’s not just the physical change of the centres and everything going on inside, it’s the change in spirits and outlook of the youth that run them that makes the most impact.

The name of our project is Up With Hope, but that needs to be updated now because it’s not hope that we’re seeing with the guys and girls that we work with, but satisfaction, accomplishment and pride. Just ask Kaka about the new resource centre that has almost completed phase one of construction, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Not only have the groups grown leaps and bounds, but our own team has transformed into something completely different than what it was in 2009. Working with Nathaniel in the field, I find myself just staring dumbfounded on a regular basis, asking myself ‘who is this guy’?

Here’s a guy that decided to drop by Nairobi as an extension of his travels in the middle east in 2007, and subsequently stayed on for what because our first major project in Kibera. Then, as a full EYA member, he came back with Sean and me to expand the program to two more areas in 2009. After we finished that project and went back to Vancouver, he was the only one to take the call and go back to finish what we started.

It’s been over two years that he’s been living here and from the way he interacts with folks out here, you’d think it was twenty.

Not only is he speaking Swahili like a local (more accurately, Sheng, the ebonics of Swahili) but you can’t go to any part of town without somebody recognizing him and saying hello. It’s like walking around with a celebrity.

In the slums, he’s spared the usual ‘How are youuuuu mzungu’ that is the usual salute to foreigners taking a day trip to see what the majority of Kenyans live like. I’m sure still gets the stares/laughs reserved for outsiders, but those are heavily outnumbered by the amount of friendly greetings by name.

The easiest comparison is to the character from the book Shantaram. I don’t remember his name, but that’s Nathaniel, minus the part where he breaks out of jail, sells fake passports and runs guns through Afghanistan. Other than those details, he’s just like Shantaram.

I’m seriously indebted to Nathaniel, Kaka, Farouk and the rest of the guys that have done so much work that I can claim to be a part of. Their efforts day in and day out push everyone around them to work harder and strive for bigger things, and for that I salute them. I wish everyone back home could fly out here and see first hand what their buddy who was known more for skateboarding and trouble making is doing these days.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Guest Blogger - Ben Gough. Architect / Volunteer

We have a new volunteer named Ben Gough who has been helping us the past couple weeks. Ben is visiting from England and is studying architecture so we have him on board to come up with some cool concepts for building around the centre. He is a great guy and everyone is enjoying his energy and ideas that he is bringing. Here is something that he wrote about his experiences in the centre.

My involvement with the Pequininos Centre happened completely by chance. I was taking a year out from my Architecture course and had planned to visit a friend in Nairobi. I had always wanted to be involved with a hands on building project that would provide real opportunities and directly affect the community.

Through talking to a friend at University, I found that there was an opportunity to lengthen my stay in Kenya through helping to build a Community Centre that she had designed, so I jumped at the opportunity. Three months later I found myself (literally) jumping on matatu’s, immunised against the word ‘mzungu’, learning how to plaster walls and enjoying the friendly nature of the Kenyan community.

Now, just one week in to my experience at the Pequininos centre, I have settled in with the crowd of friendly faces, and have drawn from the relentless enthusiasm of Isaac Kaka and Nathaniel Canuel. I have enjoyed observing the competent direction of Reuben as site manager and the hard work of too many people to name. As I walk past tyre-fueled stoves boiling mysterious pots scattered on the periphery of the dirt track, I notice something different every time. Small businesses serving the local community, selling brought-back-to-life mobile phones and radios, kids running about finding pleasure in a used tyre; It is the ultimate in recycling, reuse and ingenuity. Nearby, resonating sounds of construction emanating from within the building provide a soundtrack to scribbling ideas; chapati’s and chai from The Prestigious Food Joint’ provide the fuel.

I have to thank Katherine Hegab for suggesting the idea in the first place and to Issac Kaka and Nathaniel Canuel for welcoming me so fervently, for their hard work, enthusiasm, and for being great people to work with! I cannot wait for the the building completed, to see the scribbles translated into reality, and for the local community to begin enjoying it!

Here are some photos of our man Ben and the crew.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Best Is Building

Happy 2012 to all Up With Hopers.

My hope for 2012 is that UWH will be as successful and exciting as the previous years. The first phase of the new Pequininos Youth Centre is almost finished and it looks amazing. Actually I've never seen anything like it.

This is my fourth time constructing a centre run by youth since 2008. I feel very lucky about that. I was trying to figure out what attracts me to doing this kind of work and the reasons are endless. From forming life long friendships to staying in shape, building remains to be my one of my favourite jobs. I think the main reason is because it feels natural for me. It's what defines us as humans and sets us apart from the rest of animals on this planet.

At the end of the day, when I'm sitting down probing at my injuries, I look up and see the progress / development that's been accomplished for the day. There isn't anything I have done that can give me the feeling I get after a long days work in the sun with a shovel or hammer. Especially if followed by a couple of cold adult drinks.

While we put the finishing touches on the Pequininos Centre (I'll post pictures when it's done), I wanted to show some clips of our past projects to try and portray the kind of atmosphere that goes on while we build these things.

My hope for all is a happy 2012.

That's it for now. Gotta go and bang some hammers.

Signing out From

Buru Buru,




East Africa,

Planet Earth,

Milky way,