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Development of the head and heart

The beginning (1997-1999)

In 1997 , a priest in Nyahururu parish was asked to bless a home in a rural village. While blessing the house with its people, animals and property , the priest bumped into Thomas a man with mental and physical disabilities , who was sitting on the dirty floor behind a door. This unexpected encounter became a turning point with far reaching implications: how was it possible, the priest asked himself , that he had been requested to bless even the animals but not that very needy human being who seemed to have been neglected and forgotten; who was considered insignificant in the house. He wondered if, as Christians they neglected some of the core duties in society
In response to these questions a group of volunteer parishioners was mobilized to start a Community Programme for People with Disabilities. Thomas himself would never benefit from the initiative. He died a few weeks after the meeting with the priest. However Thomas did not die in vain: he inspired this group of volunteers to dedicate themselves  to the people with disabilities in the community.

This was the beginning of St. Martin-CSA. The committee of volunteers had no idea what they were getting into. They had to learn about disabilities, how these could be managed and with interventions appropriate for each case. But, first they had to find out how many people with disabilities were actually present in their parish. And surprisingly, after going to the churches on Sundays and creating awareness among the Christians, hundreds of children with disabilities were identified and registered. For many years these children had been hidden so well that nobody knew about their miserable existence.

The same year, a second group of volunteers was mobilized to look into issues of violence in the society. Unfortunately violence had become a common phenomenon, the common response to any arising problem or disagreement. Even the volunteers, who went for the first seminars about Active Non-Violence had difficulty believing in the alternative ways of solving problems rather than violence.
But soon after the seminar, they enthusiastically embarked on training sessions themselves to target groups within the communities and spread the methods of Active Non-Violence.

In the early years, all activities were carried out by volunteers. There were no staff members and resources were very minimal. In the course of 1999 several offices of the former Catholic Dispensary became available and a old Landrover was bought to facilitate transport.

Volunteering was a new concept to the people and in its initial phase much emphasis was given to the spiritual formation of the committees,”the development of the heart”. As a result, those involved showed a great readiness to offer their time and even personal resources for the benefit of the needy.

Developing the Organisation

In 1999, there rose a need to formally register the activities of the volunteers as an organisation. Saint Martin of Tours was chosen as the patron saint after whom the organisation was named. His living example, of being in solidarity with the poor, and his non-violent lifestyle inspired many to emulate him.

A new phase began in the development of the St. Martin, which focused on organisation. It was apparent that there was enormous goodwill among the volunteers, but that there was not enough professionalism to make an impact, The heart had been developed, but the
 “head” had been neglected. During this period, structures, procedures and policies were put in place. Strategic plans were developed through participatory methodologies and work was implemented according to clearly spelt out objectives and targets, against which progress could be monitored and evaluated.

At the beginning of this phase, two new community committees were constituted to address two other serious problems within the community: the street children in Nyahururu town, who were scavenging the garbage heaps, and the high number of HIV/AIDS related deaths.  A number of food-for-work projects were also undertaken in response to a serious drought in the year 2000.

By the year 2002, a Community Programme for Micro-Credit was established to economically empower the beneficiaries of the organisation.

In these years there was a rapid expansion of staff. The work, previously done only by volunteers, was now supported by employed workers on the payroll. This facilitated the training of more community volunteers and the implementation of work, which could not be done by volunteers, such as the running of the street children rehabilitation centres.

Deepening the Identity.

After the second phase during which many programmes were expanded, a period of consolidation set in, in which the management structures of the organisation were strengthened and the St. Martin identity was deepened and made more explicit. This identity increasingly became more important and the need to induct the newly entering staff and volunteers into the values and approach became apparent.
While employing staff during the previous phase, it was feared that the role of community volunteers could be neglected and taken over by the staff. It became necessary to re-emphasise that the volunteers are the heart of the organisation while the staff are merely facilitators.
The volunteers are the people who actually do the work in the community, while the staff enables them to do so. During the St. Martin’s day celebration in November 2003, this concept was brought back into the limelight. On that day, having the chart with the organisational structure hanging on the wall behind the speakers, it became clear that the structure portrayed there, was far from what was envisioned and after subsequent discussions, the drastic step of putting the organisational structure upside down was taken.

The organisation was now in a position to formulate it’s vision and mission, which brought about clearly that the focus was on the community; that the organisations mission was with the ‘able’: the volunteers and other people within the communities, who had talents and gifts, which they could share with the vulnerable. In order to make us not forget our point of focus, the motto “ONLY THROUGH COMMUNITY” was adopted.

Between the years 1999-2002, much emphasis was given to the development of the “head”, to grow in professionalism. This following phase would be characterized by efforts to balance the two: the development of “head and heart”. It was realized once again that in the process of giving volunteers technical skills, the importance of building heart could not be underestimated. In order to strengthen the capacity of the organisation to do so, a spiritual formation team was formed and the so-called ‘”Spirit of St. Martin”, the biblical basis of the organisation was documented.

As the years went by, staff and volunteers worked with the beneficiaries and they realized that in the process of their work, they themselves had been changed. This important realization made us re-evaluate out perception of vulnerable people. While we first saw them as a ‘problem’ that needed to be ‘solved’, we realized that we could also see them as a resource. They had the capacity to make our hearts change and grow in love and solidarity.

With the involvement of many hundreds of volunteers and many supporters in other ways, St. Martin has become more of a movement then a typical organisation; a movement of people who believe that communities can transform, if values such as love and solidarity are promoted; not a movement outside the community, but one that is an integral part of the community, one that involves and moves as many people as possible.

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