1,150/- Shillings for Christmas – The Giving Project

Did you ever imagine Kshs 1,150 could light up the world? The typical answer would be – really? Well… we would have said as much, only that after this Christmas, we know different. Our giving project as a family commenced quite by chance. It was Christmas day at about 6:30pm, and as we’d decided to buy a meal of chips and chicken for the guards who work at our apartment block, we went to the main shopping center in South B near where we live to the fast food shop Mc Frys, that has nice chips. Sitting right outside it, in front of where we had parked, was a street tailor at his sewing machine hard at work. At 6:30pm on Christmas Day. He had one customer at the time, who had come to have a pair of trousers repaired. 

We looked at him and wondered several things about this man – why was he was working on Christmas day? Where was his family? Did he have a family? What had inspired him to leave home to come to work? Why was he still there at that time? Was he still seeking to make something to take home that day? We thought about the rough time the country was going through economically and how entrepreneurs and traders alike had had quite a trying year. We marveled that here, instead of sitting back and complaining as we are so fond of as a country, this gentleman had come to work, opened his ‘shop’ on Christmas day, hoping to make a shilling or two and was busy doing his thing, plying his honest trade.

We were thankful that he hadn’t opened in vain, for if nothing else, there was that one customer we saw. We also thought that his faith that he’d find work on Christmas day, when most people are out and about with their families or have traveled upcountry – evidenced by him opening shop, and siting out with his sewing machine on the street –  had borne fruit. We further thought to ourselves that we had something to learn from him and that he was the manifestation of get up, dress up and show up, and the rest will follow! It was at this moment that the thought occurred that we could add to his day’s collection by giving him the change from our food purchase. It wasn’t much, but we comforted ourselves that it is the thought that counts the most, and so my 11 year old son, got out of the car, walked up to him, handed him the two hundred shilling note and said Merry Christmas. He was at first puzzled as he thought he had brought something to be fixed, but when my son walked back to the car and we started to pull away, he put the note in his pocket, his face broke out into such a radiant smile and he waved at us until we were out of sight. What a moment. We were amazed at this transformation. His smile lit up the entire street. The customer who was with him was smiling too and joined in the waving. We reflected on the joy that small gesture had brought, and we felt that we had made some difference. At a personal level, I wondered what had caused my heart to lift in the way that it did, and whether the feeling was the egoistical messianic one that we are all so prone to when we give, and acknowledged reflectively that what had actually made me feel good was not quite about the giving, but that the recipient had felt so good about the gesture – not sure if this is making sense? His feeling good had made me feel good.

And this is how our 200 shillings giving project was borne. We decided with my two sons that since we didn’t have much –  having too been affected by the economically turbulent business year- that we could afford to work our strained finances around and  give away one thousand shillings. We opted to break it up into two hundred shillings notes, find five people that we felt were really needy( we had no criteria to determine this and were to go with gut feel) give them each the money and wish them a Merry Christmas. So the next afternoon we set off on the giving project. We decided to run our errands as we looked about. Our first stop was to drop off some clothes and shoes from a decluttering activity we done earlier in the month, at a Children’s Center in the area. As we dropped these off, we were very warmly welcomed by both the caretaker and guard at the center. The Center was actually closed for the holiday period, but they proceeded to handle us well, recorded our drop off and wished us every blessing of the season. We decided that these would be our first recipients. As we did not have change, we gave them a five hundred shilling note to share amongst themselves. They were extremely happy and grateful. Our next stop was at the supermarket. The security lady at the entrance was very warm, welcoming and engaging. Asked after us and our wellbeing, how our day was, if we were enjoying the holiday period and welcomed us in. We found this level of cheerful customer service unusual and very impressive, and decided she would be our next recipient. On our way out, we gave her two hundred and fifty shillings, leaving her very delighted. We were also very happy that our project was progressing well, albeit going over budget.

Our fourth recipient was a bag man on the streets. We met him as we drove along the back route from the supermarket centre towards the main road. He was carrying a big dirty sack, with what looked like his entire belongings, shuffling slowly along the road. He was quite elderly and looked like he needed food and rest. We stopped the car, beckoned to him, gave him the two hundred shillings and wished him a Merry Christmas. His face broke out into a slow but sure smile that reached his eyes and he thanked us several times. 

We had one more recipient to go, and decided to head towards the low income settlement at the outskirts of the South B shopping center. We drove along the entire street for about five or so kilometers from the Mosque area to the end, but did not find any suitable target. Although we came across many sorely inebriated people looking quite desperate and in need, we were clear that we didn’t want to fund their alcoholism with our small donation. We gave up, decided to go back home and to try again the following day to find the last person. As we were making the turning off from Mombasa road into the entry area of our apartment block, there was a man walking straight, headed towards the main bridge.  When we looked at him, we decided he was the one. He looked fatigued, and was carrying a manila sack with what looked like pieces of scrap metal. We concluded he could be a scrap metal seller who was on his way home. We rolled down the window, called out to him and he came. Proceeded with the same process – handed over the 200 shillings and wished him a Merry Christmas. And just like our first recipient the tailor, this man was dumbfounded. Befuddled actually. He looked at us for a long moment in grateful disbelief. He stood rooted to the spot as we moved towards home, then put down his sack, removed his tired cap, tipped it in our direction in a gesture of honour, smiled the biggest smile you ever saw, nodded with a small bow and waved at us. 

What an amazing end to the giving project. We reached home very heart warmed. The boys and I reflected on the happenings and concluded that one does not have to have much to create joy and make a difference for others. We concluded that we would do this more often and not only wait for the holiday season. The lesson that it is the thought that counts and not the amount was real and impactful. We didn’t hand over loads of money, far from it. Our total giving was Kshs. 1150/- only. But this little that we had we shared, and the smiles of the ‘victims’ of our project will remain with us all year long. Truly it is in giving that we receive, and the joy we received from this giving project far superseded the joy of those we gave to.

I have learnt so much this Christmas in the space of a day. Lessons for a lifetime. To give is truly more of a blessing than to receive.


Author: Carolyne Gathuru

Carolyne is an ardent and passionate people builder. She is moved touched and inspired by people, finds them fascinating; is intrigued by their thoughts, activities, ideas, hopes, dreams, drivers and ways of being, and has a vision to transform humanity one person at a time. She may be found on cgathuru@gmail.com

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