Written by Yaniv Barzilai, CFK Advisory Council Member; Alumni Network Chair
Thirteen summers ago, after my first year at UNC, I took my first solo overseas trip to Kenya to volunteer with a small, scrappy non-governmental organization called CFK that had been started by two informal settlement community members and a recent UNC graduate. It was a particularly sensitive moment to arrive in Kibera, as just months earlier Kenya had erupted into ethnically-motivated violence sparked by a disputed presidential election. Kibera, often a mélange of shades of brown rust, was noticeably marred by bright silver corrugated tin as residents rebuilt homes, businesses, and markets recently burned to the ground during the post-election violence.
I am one of hundreds of volunteers from many walks of life who have traveled to Kibera to support an extraordinary group of Kiberans driving change within their community. My time with CFK propelled me in an unexpected direction, away from math and physics and towards a career in international relations and public service. I eventually found my way into the U.S. government as a diplomat and have tried to apply the concept of participatory development to high-level diplomatic engagement the United States conducts around the world. CFK occupies a special place in my heart, but also in my philosophy, about how to enact meaningful change. So, I did not hesitate when Rye Barcott, one of the founders of CFK, asked me to join CFK’s Advisory Council and help mark the organization’s 20th anniversary.
In recent months, I have had the privilege to speak with dozens of former CFK volunteers who supported CFK’s growth into the impactful organization it is today. But the stories they shared with me were not just of their contribution to CFK but of Kibera’s impact on their personal and professional development. Many of us hope that we made a small difference during our time in Kibera, and we share the knowledge that our experiences shaped us for the better. CFK volunteer alumni have become health practitioners, scholars, community advocates, journalists, and policy experts – each committing their lives to service in varying ways.
As a part of celebrating the 20th anniversary of CFK, we are launching a CFK volunteer alumni network to bring former volunteers together to reconnect with each other and their experiences in Kibera. COVID has admittedly altered how we go about bringing people together, but in the coming months, we will invite former CFK volunteers to join a series of virtual catch-ups with Kenya- and U.S.-based CFK leaders. We will also look to these talented individuals to share their expertise and help guide CFK into the next decade of even greater growth and impact. In doing so, we hope CFK alumni may also find another community among their peers that can be part of their personal and professional development.
Any former CFK volunteer interested in joining the Network can register by sending a note to Beth-Ann Kutchma at beth @ carolinaforkibera.org.