By Silas Nyanchwani
Memo No. 88 From The National Welfare Desk of Men
Join a Group|Be Part of a Community
It keeps coming up, every so often.
In as many WhatsApp groups I belong to, regardless of the cause behind them, at any given time, there is a funeral fundraiser. We lose colleagues who leave behind young widows and kids with a shaky future. Colleagues lose their spouses, children, parents, siblings, loved ones. Such deaths leave behind monumental hospital bills,
In many groups, there is an agreement that when we lose a member, or a member is bereaved, maybe they have lost a parent, a spouse or a child, members contribute something towards the funeral, or in the likely event that a widow is being left behind, a token for the kid is always in order.
One of the bones of contention in many groups is what happens to people who are affiliated to the group but are not in the group, and have never participated in at least a single funeral? There are always two schools of thoughts, both with a valid point of view: There are those who are always adamant, if you are not an active member of the group, the chair of the group should not call for a fundraising, but they have no qualms for individuals who are close to the absent member who may want o chip in something. The other group are those who try to prevail for members to help the bereaved person, regardless of if they were active participants or not.
We are yet to examine the full impact of WhatsApp welfare groups in helping various members who have been bereaved offset medical and funeral bulls. But they have been a positive force. The associations we have, whether from primary school, high school, college, workplace, those born out social media hobbies, and various interests have proved to be handy to many an hamstrung individual with a ballooning hospital bill.
We join WhatsApp groups voluntarily, participate in them at will, and when there are activities to be undertaken, we participate in them accordingly, if they meet our sometimes-demanding schedules. Yet in many whatsapp groups there are super active members, moderately active members, and silent, permanently non-participating members.
Despite the voluntary approach, there are those who choose never to be part of WhatsApp groups for various reasons ranging from their introversion (no excuse whatsoever) to those who life has left behind, hence have no smart phones, to those who are snobbish and hate such groupings and think are better off on their own. The latter category continues to be the hardest nut to crack for many adults. Because, sometimes, they are the most shameless when life corners them with one of those bills that require one to sell their car or their ancestral land to settle.
Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how we should stop burdening friends with expectations and virtually everyone agreed that as adults, we can be busy, we are caught up with our own nightmares in our marriages, at work, with our families, and the general malaise of adulthood.
What I didn’t mention is that, we are slowly and inexorably gravitating to the Western style of individualism. It is the natural outcome of capitalism. Presently, we are constantly channeling our inner Ubuntu, but we may be in the last mile of it. Sometimes I wonder, to what extent our children will be involved in other people’s lives.
Yet, Kenya is still a poor country to afford us the individual life we crave for. This means, our families, communities, tribes’ men, societies, neighbours, colleagues remain a safe insurance bet when the vagaries of life do us a bad number. For context, insurance uptake in a country is a sure pointer of individualism, and in Kenya, insurance penetration is about 2.5%. That means 97.5 percent of Kenyans are uninsured pretty much against anything.
Hence the reason this morning I ask every adult here to belong to a group or two, or as many possible as a safety net. Not merely for hospital and funeral contributions, but for many other reasons, ranging from politics to hobbies, to chama, to neighbourhood/estate interests. And while there, however introverted you are, even when you feel nobody values your opinion, be there, even when your role is to share memes, recycled jokes, and responding with inappropriate emojis.
I know, presently, there are so many distractions, and I read a piece in the Guardian that the distractions are leading to cognitive degradation, it is OK, to balance our time, may be twice or thrice a day, where we dedicate our time to catch on with what is going in these groups. I know they are simply too many of them, and virtually all of them are on mute, but everyone should have at least 3-4 groups that they gain an insight from, get news updates, or anything of value to them.
Through groups you can learn about investments, where to get the best bargains about anything, job referrals, business, and more importantly, they are a way to connect with others in a world where we are increasingly disconnecting with each other.
For those with means and opportunities to create groups that try to solve some of our modern problems and challenges like Duncun Motanya do so kindly. For instance, Motanya’s Kenya Diabetes Management Center and Pharmacy has become a one stop shop not just for affordable diabetes medicine, but Kenyans freely share their life hacks on diabetes (one of the most expensive lifestyle disease), participate in group activities such as hikes, walks, runs as they fight the condition.
We will need more such groups. For neighbourhood libraries, for travel (Wanderlust Diaries is incredible), cooking, humour and all that.
To be an adult is a taxing experience. And sometimes, all we want is to be alone. But the fee we pay to have people in our lives all-round is being available too against life’s pressures, the crazy traffic and maddening schedules.
Join a group. Be a part of a community. Remember participation is not only monetary. You can be of far more value than you imagine.
Don’t be the guy who side-chats your best friend to sweet-talk the chairperson of the group to sneak into the group when shit hits the fan. As the Beetles said, the love you give is the love you take. People actively keep tabs on our activities, they know those who want to be users. They know those who have fallen in bad times. Whatever, never isolate yourself. No man is an island.