Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Power of One

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It’s funny that a conversation on Skype this morning with one of the 2 daughters I have travelling in Africa would so clearly bring into focus something I have been thinking of since yesterday.
I decided to take a break from hospital shenanigans and go to the movies to see eat, Love, Pray. I was not surprised to find the suspicions I had confirmed about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book of the same name. The book is an international bestseller and as the author made the rounds during her publicity tour, I was stunned by her single-minded determination to self-absorption. The book is based on Gilbert’s year long tour in which she spent 4 months in each of three places to Eat (Italy) Pray (India) and Love (Bali). My friend liked the movie and when I asked him why he said it was it was an inspiring thought. To simply live. I decided to try and adopt this viewpoint rather than my own view which had been that the world would take Gilbert’s journey as the thing from which inspiration would come. So – the idea should be the inspiration because for me, having enough money to take a year off is definitely not.
Fast forward to my conversation with Amanda this morning; she has been volunteering in and touring around Africa since the end of January. She is currently in South Africa awaiting the arrival of her sister Caroline who has been volunteering for the last month as part of an International Scouting initiative.
The lion’s share of Amanda’s time has been spent in Kenya and she was telling me in more detail today about a soup kitchen where she had been spending some time over the last 6 weeks. It is located in the slum area of Ngong, a town which is about 40 kms away from Nairobi. It is privately run by a Kenyan woman who, along with 3 other steady volunteers, feeds 350 children twice a day. Many of these children come from truly desperate situations and if it weren’t for this kitchen, they would have nothing to eat. The diet is basically Ugali (a Kenyan dough-bread made from Maize flour and water) and either beans or rice. The children range in age from 3 – 18 and Amanda said she was told that they were normally a very chatty group but they were stunned into silence when she walked in. She was the first white person (or as she says “white-ish” person as she is half Chinese – half Caucasian) to come to the kitchen. It took a bit of time but the stares eventually evolved to shy smiles and friendship. It wasn’t the first time that this happened, in the places where she visited; she would frequently have small children running up to and away from her. The bravest of them touching her long soft brown hair and touching her (strangely hued) skin and then running away again chattering excitedly.
Initially Amanda paid to join a Kenyan volunteer organization while still in Canada and was offered the option of paying a little more to go on a side trip to Hell’s Gate National Park. Her admission was to go to a young man named Izzo who was taking part of the proceeds to support his own initiative. He has been helping to support 170 families in an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp called Vumilia in Western Kenya. During the violence in Kenya in 2007, many people were uprooted and this Camp is just one of many housing the displaced people. On the day that he took Amanda and others to the Park, they made a stop at the Camp to distribute food and supplies to the families and candy to the children. They also stopped to visit some of the families it was a profound experience for a young Canadian. Amanda and Izzo are friends and she recently learned that he would no longer have access to the volunteers through Amanda’s former organization which put his ability to support these families in jeopardy. He has decided to bring in volunteer groups of his own. The first one is coming from Canada in the not too distant future and he continues to make his bi-monthly trips to Vumilia. If you would like more information about the Marafiki Community International group – visit their Facebook page:
The Power of One; now I am inspired.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Pj Kwong

Pj Kwong is a figure skating expert and writer currently working for CBC Sports. Her first book, Taking the Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating (BookLand Press), will be in stores in September 2010.

Go to Pj Kwong’s Author Page