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Let the festivities begin!

Kenya, November 22, 2010

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The other day on my Facebook wall, I wrote "Merry Christmas" and most of my friends told me that it was premature and way before time. But I differ with them. Reason: it’s the season of giving.

While we all have varied ways of celebrating the day or what the day actually represents, Christmas for me is when I got my first job with Mercy Corps, when I graduated from university. In short: Christmas for me is when I receive good news.

The other day we distributed forms for cash-for-work applications for our Local Empowerment for Peace program (LEAP II) to youth groups in our communities. This happened simultaneously in all the eight districts that Mercy Corps covers in its program in Kenya.

While cash-for-work is a short-term project that helps the community, individuals in the youth groups that we work with get some cash that help improve their livelihoods while implementing projects that connect communities. These activities bring together multi-ethnic sets of young men and women with different backgrounds who work together on a common community goal. This, to me, is not only Christmas come early for the communities we work with, but also for the many youths that we engage in the ongoing peace and development process.

You might be wondering why such a short-term project would bring so much excitement to me — so much excitement as to equate it to a holiday celebrated around the world? The reason is quite simple: during the first phase of the Local Empowerment for Peace, the same program was implemented and the feedback was awesome. Richard Onyancha, who worked as a Mercy Corps program officer and has now become a program coordinator, tells me that the community really appreciated the work that Mercy Corps did with the youth in revamping and repairing the community facilities that were vandalized and destroyed during the post-election violence in Kenya.

Richard notes that some youth groups even went further to invest the little monies they got from doing the cash-for-work in activities to continue generating income for themselves. This is, to me, empowerment showing its beautiful face in the communities that we work with.

One of those groups was Rift Valley Wheelchair basketball self-help group. This group of disabled persons, who participated in the cash-for-work program through beautifying Eldoret town by planting trees and flowers and collecting garbage in the town centre, used their savings to start a small milk processing business. Today, they buy milk from local farmers, package it and sell it to the local community. They also make yoghurt that they sell to the community around them. Another group, called 13-One Boosters, used their cash-for-work savings to start a mushroom growing business.

Here we are now, receiving the many cash-for-work applications from from the youth groups, and — from the previous lessons learned — one can only speculate and say that the projects they are submitting not only will bring the communities together, but also give the youth something to be proud of. Now, guys, tell me isn’t this Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid.