By Christian Behrens (VDI)
Since I was young I wanted to become an engineer. School and university had been difficult, but the hardest part is done and my perspective to be an engineer is great. I know that I am lucky to be born and raised in Europe and have had the possibility of getting educated in Europe.
When I did finish my Bachelor’s Degree, I wanted to visit Africa and learn more about its people and cultures for a few months. Doing my research I found a newly-founded, small HIV-Project, called WAGEGO, on a small island in Lake Victoria, Kenya. There, the project needed helping hands for organic farm work and social work activities. I decided to join this project, go to Mfangano Island and stay there for two months. I met David Agagwa WAGEGO’s founder, and helped him with the project. What I learned about living on a Kenyan Island, the unique community and the beneficial work of WAGEGO is really noteworthy!
About the project
An extraordinarily high percentage (30%) of Mfangano’s population is infected with HIV/AIDS, resulting in high numbers of orphaned children and widows struggling to get by. The aim of WAGEGO is to provide access to basic education, and economic empowerment to the most vulnerable: those orphaned & widowed by HIV/AIDS on Mfangano Island.
David Agagwa is a resident of Mfangano and the founder of WAGEGO. He was born in 1989 on Mfangano Island. When he was in primary school, David noticed that many of his class mates had to drop out. Low-income families on Mfangano cannot always afford proper nutrition for the children. Without substantive and healthy foods, it is difficult for them to attend and succeed in school. If the father dies, the family often lose the main breadwinner and in many cases, there will be no money left for school. The Kenyan government does not provide any kind of support in such situations so children are often forced to support the family financially and nutritionally. They work for “loose” money – often fishing and other low wage labour – rather than attending school. Many of David’s class mates had to drop out either because their families could not afford the school fees or because their parents died of HIV/AIDS. He also saw many of his class mates fail in school due to malnourishment and a lack of educational support at home.
In 2010, David bought a piece of land and planted an organic farm. The crops and earnings from selling them at local markets are used to support children who cannot afford their education.
As a young adult, David worked hard to save the money he made from farming and fishing to be able to go to Maasai Mara University in Narok, Kenya, to study Communication and Public Relations. It was during his studies that he founded WAGEGO to support his home community. David personally experienced the difficulties with high education fees and was forced to take a one year break to save up for the rest of his education.
Once David finished his Bachelor degree in 2014, he returned to Mfangano with a first class honors degree and a vision to expand WAGEGO to further help the children and women on Mfangano Island
My time with Wagego
When I visited David in June 2016, the project has been supporting 12 local widows and 18 children. On the one hand, he supports the widows with giving payday loans and material to make handmade jewelry. On the other hand, David assists the kids by paying school fees, follows their performance in school (gives additional educational support) and makes sure that they receive proper nutrition. They all came to David’s family house, got lessons at one small table and had to sit on the ground because there was no proper place for teaching and learning. Nevertheless, the kids I had met were enthusiastic, eager to learn and appreciated David’s support.
My everyday tasks were helping with farm work and teaching the kids English. But David has also had the idea of building a community building for all the widows and orphans. David and I designed a small, cheap and easy-to-build house with a local architect that was quite easy. The problem was the financial funding. For material, transport, and working loans we need roundabout 4000$! For that, we explored ways of fundraising, e.g. selling the handmade jewelry in local tourist attractions. But that was not exactly the ideal solution, since the island is quite rural and not many tourists visit Mfangano during the year. For me, the way of collecting enough funds was to generate it back in Germany.
Back there, I found a student initiative, called ‘Weitblick e.V’ (English: Vision). ‘Weitblick’ promotes and supports equitable access to education worldwide. Rather than acting impulsively, Weitblick strives to achieve its goals in a well-organized and sustainable manner.
With the help of Weitblick and smaller donation campaigns, we were able to make the first step: Building the house! But it is not over yet. We are still fundraising for furniture, books and other school equipment. For what I experienced on Mfangano, this kind of support is fitting to WAGEGO’s purpose. No funds will seep away in bureaucracy because the campaigns are completely run by volunteers and the funds will be transferred to WAGEGO directly.
Visiting WAGEGO was great to broaden my horizon and doing things besides engineering activities. And I won’t forget: Little efforts here can create big effects at another place!
About the author
I, Christian Behrens, am doing my Master of Science in Industrial Engineering/ Mechanical Engineering at the Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany. In 2012, I became a member of the Association of German Engineers (VDI) and in 2015 I got elected deputy chairman of the VDI local team in Magdeburg. My first contact with EYE was in 2016 as part of the organisational team for the conference in Hannover, Germany.