Cluster Mobiliser. HIV Support Worker. Connector. ROBINS OCHIENG' ODIYO plays an important role in Kenya's Kericho County, and in the rest of our network. Here's his story.
Jake: Tell me about your work. Robins: I’m a community trainer and HIV counsellor with Konnect Youth Consortium. I work mainly with at-risk populations, like sex workers. We train them on safe sex practices, we test them for HIV, and we try to help them maintain a good level of health. Jake: How did you first get involved with the Cluster? Robins: As a child growing up I faced a lot of challenges. I lost my dad when I was young, and so my mum had to provide everything. It was tough. As I've grown up, it's caused me to think about those suffering elsewhere. And it's given me a passion for supporting others in my community. So when I heard about the Cluster through a friend, I wanted to be part of it. Jake: And how do you benefit from being part of it? Robins: I get to see things from different angles. You see, when you're working in one organisation it can narrow your vision - you tend to imagine it’s the only way of doing things. But the Cluster connects me with other marvellous organisations: I get to see how they do things and learn valuable new skills and approaches. And I've been able to do the same in other countries too, like at the Africa Forum in Zambia last year. Learning and sharing with other groups and communities is a big thing. Jake: Can you give an example? Robins: Yes, one of the most important things I have learned is the SALT approach, which is unique about out Cluster in fact. SALT is a reversal of the normal way of doing things: people and organisations normally impose one of their solutions on a community, but through SALT you listen to people, you learn what they’ve been through, and what they’re able to do. And this means that when I go to meet sex workers I don’t make assumptions about them, I better appreciate the efforts they make to improve their lives, I treat them as they are, and I don’t assume that they have to learn everything from us and do things our way. Jake: You’re Mobiliser of the Cluster as well. What does that involve? Robins: I’m a connector! A big part of my job is linking up people and organisations in our community – matching the skills of one with the needs of another. I try to help people realise that the strengths and skills that we all need can often be found within the community – we don’t need to look elsewhere. I give trainings and I share my skills with organisations and individuals. And I also try to provide encouragement and support to people in our Cluster. Jake: What Cluster achievement are you most proud of over the last year? Robins: I've seen people come out of their comfort zone and do some marvellous work. Even in very small organisations – where they start by reaching just one or two people – I’ve seen Cluster members go places and receive awards for their work. And I think this happens because we motivate and appreciate and encourage our members, which leads them to move to another level. Even if they’ve never received any financial support, they keep that spirit moving forward. This makes me really proud. Jake: And what’s the biggest challenge in your Cluster? Robins: Sometimes people join us expecting funding, and if that expectation is not met then they might feel like they're not getting much out of the Cluster. They can even go and talk badly about us to others. Another challenge is our administrative costs. We don’t have an office, but our meetings and events cost money. But we focus more on the outcome of our work than our costs. Jake: What are your ambitions for the Cluster in future? Robins: Right now I want us to work on a SWOT analysis together. If we better map out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within our Cluster, then we can build a better plan for our future growth. Secondly, I want us to create more links in our community by recording and sharing stories. We want to bring out the little stories that are deep inside the villages, because there are a lot of people that are doing great work in the communities, but they are not being recognised or talked about. We want to share these stories so we can reflect back to people that they are doing an awesome job and that they are appreciated, but we also want to do this so people can learn from them as well. Jake: Thank you Robins! We’re very lucky to have you in our network. Learn more about Robins and his work to bring Kenya’s different tribes together in this video.