An Interview With KCC Charity Founder Marcus Gregar-Rive
Marcus Gregar-Rive is a bit of a gapyear.com legend. That's because he's one of those people who can't stop living the dream. He's 32, from New Zealand, and he first went travelling in 2009. Like a lot of people, he was in a dead-end job in sales and retail management (sorry retail managers...) Looking for a change of scene, Marcus decided to go travelling to Europe, not only to see some of the world but to search for some new opportunities.
One thing that he was particularly interested in was international development. However, after a series of declined job applications he decided to travel to Africa to do a three month placement with International Volunteering HQ (IVHQ).
Three years later he's still in Africa, now with his own Kenyan charity. We thought we'd catch up with him to see what he's been up to.
Tell us about your first project with IVHQ. What happened and how did it make you feel?
The first project with I worked with was an orphanage called Mji wa Neema that was run by the Catholic church in Naivasha, Kenya. The project was part of their outreach to the local community and had some amazing children who still, 'til this day, remember me. It was a good starting point to seeing some orphaned children that had had their needs meet through an effective programme. It was here that I met their social worker who then introduced me to the KCC slum community. She took me and a group of volunteers down to the slum on my second day of placement, which was when we first met some of the community in KCC slums.
Why did you decide to start your own project?
KCC slum was the sort of community I wanted to work with, the poorest of the poor, the ones that had received minimal development and needed more than I could give. I wanted something that I could connect with and had potential to grow as a project. The needs in KCC slums are complex and immense. When we started there were sick children everywhere, hundreds had not even started any sort of schooling and hunger and malnutrition was rampant among children. And these were just a few of the challenges that I could see from first impressions.
What did you have to do to get it going? What were the biggest obstacles?
I began talking about the possibilities of a children's project as soon as I arrived back to the accommodation family host we were staying with. To my surprise, the mother of the house, Catherine Mukami, had already been considering starting something so it was the right opportunity to partner together and start.
We then met five families in their shacks. We asked them questions on their family and background, how long they had lived in KCC, food, education, health, employment, access to water and so on. From these conversations we could see clearly that food was number one for a portion of the most impoverished children. We were provided a list of names for 65 children that needed immediate attention.
We then met with the families to tell them we would be cooking porridge for their children the next Monday. They were speechless. On the first day we were given a piece of land from a local farmer and took the list of 65 names. We expected that we may get half of them turn up. However 200 showed up on this first day. They came with cups or whatever they had in their hands ready to get some food. We used an old massive pot and cooked porridge over an open fire. We fed the long line of children aged six months to 13 years two times and then by the third time, we had to leave the pot as they were pushing forward so much we had to leave them as they all ran forward scoping food out of the pot with their bare hands. One of the biggest obstacles at the beginning was trying to understand the mind-set of people who live in poverty, as well as grasping what their understanding was of what we were trying to do.
Setting a project up in a developing country also has a number challenges that you need to face head on such as bartering for everything in cash, white man's price, slow internet and constant power cuts to name just a few.
How's it going now?
KCC has been running for just over three years now and it has gone from strength to strength. The project is still at a grassroots level but it has overcome a lot of challenges in funding, human resource, management, strategy and implementation. We are now reaching more children and have expanded our initiatives to reach youth and women. The project has received a warm welcome from the community and we are continually inspired by the progress of the children.
What are the biggest rewards for you? Tell us about one moment in particular?
The rewards that keep me going are many, but one in particular has been getting children into primary school and then evaluating the impact from this. We have one boy Samson who is 11-years-old. He joined our project in 2009 and then in 2010 we sponsored him into primary school. Before we started he had never been to school, picked a pencil up or had any experience in sitting down for more than five minutes!
He has become one of the best students in the primary school and achieves some of the highest results. He still has many chores at home and makes money to support the family, but he is in school and is making incredible progress. Up until KCC there was absolutely no chance he would have got to school and he would have remained in poverty, illiterate and powerless to get ahead in life.
Seeing people experience a mind-set change in their personal outlook is one of the highest rewards I have.
If anyone reading this wants to help, what can they do?
Our plans are big and ambitious so we need: followers, contributors and fund raisers. We need greater support and passionate people who are willing to advocate and make a difference through creative fund raising.
So there are a number of things people can do: Like and follow us on Facebook. Read our blog and make some kind of donation. Buy a KCC FEED shirt. Fund raise and advocate for KCC. We need businesses, schools, individuals. We need support in administration and logistics as well as programming support.
One of the greatest things about KCC I think is that it has been built from the ground level up by individuals from within Kenya and around the world. Many people have contributed in small and big ways and this is what has made this project such an inspired success. It has been built through people for people.
What advice would you have for anyone else who wanted to move on from a bit of volunteering to something more permanent?
Find a project or organisation that has a clear vision and achievable goals so that you can see where and how you can provide some input. One of the key things to remember is that small is often big. You can either start from scratch like I did or contribute to something already running. Make sure you understand that nothing works like from where you come from so patience and total flexibility are musts!
Also, if you're interested in volunteering then make sure you go to our volunteering section for more advice and information.
And finally, if you want to read about another gapyear.com legend, then check out David Cornthwaite's interview of 25 journeys of a 1,000 miles - if that doesn't make you want go and do something different then nothing will!