I enjoyed my time in Kenya. Although it is on the other side of the world and their culture is different I found that as people regardless of background we all similarities and commonalities. The Kenyan people are very entrepreneurial and hard working. Many of them do not have typical 9-5 jobs like ourselves. They will leave their homes in the morning and find work wherever they can to provide for themselves and their family. They are also very welcoming. Almost everyone that I came in contact with told me “karibu karibu,” meaning welcome welcome.
As an organization our focus for this trip was to meet with our Kenyan team and to identify areas of need and to focus on future projects to assist and empower the Kenyan people. The school in El Doret that Breathe International helped established several years ago is flourishing and self sufficient which now allows us to focus in other areas. Our ultimate goal is to open a home for widows, orphans and vulnerables. We wanted to visit a couple of different organizations to see how they operate so that we can determine how we want to model our home.
Our first visit was to the SOS Children’s Village in Nairobi. SOS is a well established organization founded in Austria with locations all over. We were welcomed by their staff and shown around. During our visit our host Krista was very knowledgeable and you could tell that she cared a great deal about her work and the mission of SOS. As we were concluding our visit it was then that she revealed that she was actually raised in the SOS village from a young girl and went to work for them once she was of age. As she spoke I could see what a difference this organization had made in her life and now she was making a difference in the lives of many others.
Our next visit was to the Kipkaren Children’s home. Kipkaren was somewhat similar to the SOS village but it also focuses on pastoral care and training. During our visit to Kipkaren one of the most touching moments of the trip, at least for me, took place. When we arrived we were greeted and shown around by a man named Daniel. He welcomed us into his home and we sat and began to get to know each other and learn about the organization. As we were talking a young girl came in and greeted each one of us with a handshake and a smile. She disappeared and came back about five minutes later with a bucket of maze, which is corn on the cob to us, and water. In Kenya it is customary to wash your hands before eating and usually the host will walk around with a bowl and pitcher of water to assist you cleansing your hands before eating. This young girl helped wash everyone’s hands and then left us to fellowship with Daniel. After she left, Daniel began to tell us her story. Her mother had died of HIV and she had been abandoned. She had no paperwork, meaning she had no birth certificate or identification. In the eyes of the government she did not exist. Last but not least she had contracted HIV from her mother. I was overwhelmed as Daniel was telling us her story. This young girl with the most beautiful smile I have ever seen, other than my wife’s, was full of joy and had a heart of servitude in the midst of all the circumstances and tragedies that life had handed her. She was not dwelling on her past or on the fact that she has an incurable disease but instead she was focused on the good in her life. She found joy in the fact that she now had a family to call her own. She has brothers and sisters and a mother and a baba (father in Swahili) and a bed and clothes and a home that she could fell safe in. So many things that we take for granted were the exact things that fulfilled her. As I write this I am still in awe at her beautiful spirit and I am grateful that I met her and am appreciative for her as she reminded me that in life we can focus on the negative or the positive and I will choose to focus on the positive!
Our next visit was to the village of Sikalame and two of the schools in the village to identify repairs needed and how we could assist. In order to get to the schools we were dropped off on the main road next to a dusty gravel road. It was about a 1.5 mile walk to get to the school in the village. As we approached the children could see me coming almost a mile away. It is not often that they see white people and when they do they get very excited. The usual greeting is “mzungu! how are you?” Roughly translated mzungu means white man. As we approached the school I was surround by a sea of children. They were all very curious and I felt like I was on display. As I squatted down to greet them and take a photo they swarmed even closer wanting to say hi and touch me. They were all very sweet and I’m glad that just my presence brought a smile to their face and gave them something to talk about. We surveyed the school and found that it is in desperate need of repair. One of the school buildings only has a partial roof and no windows what so ever. We made notes of needed repairs and began the trek to the next school in the area.
Lwanda was the next school and like the one before the children were very excited to see the visitors. It was lunch time and they were supposed to be walking to their homes for lunch and then returning to school for the remainder of the afternoon. Many of them instead chose to follow us around as we were given a tour of the facilities. Once we finished our tour and made notes of repairs needed, which thankfully were not as much as the previous location, we began to walk back toward the homes in the village. As we walked we still had an entourage following us. While walking down this dusty, hard gravel road we noticed that many of the children although they had the required school uniforms they did not have shoes. It was explained to us that if a child did not have a uniform they were not allowed to attend school. So the parents do what they can to purchase a uniform but many times do not have money left for shoes. We then realized that we had another project. We need to provide these children with shoes even if it is just flip flops which are very common in the area. The idea of “Chanclas for Kenya” was born out of our walk. Chanclas is Spanish for flip flops. In the US you can typically purchase chanclas for around $1. We are launching this fundraiser so that we can raise funds to purchase chanclas and make them available to the children in the Sikalame village so that they no longer have to walk the very rough roads of their village barefoot. If you would like to donate to this cause please visit http://breatheinternational.com/donate/. You can use the drop down to select Chanclas for Kenya to designate your gift.
Our last full day in Kenya we met with the Kenya Breath International team to summarize our trip and to discuss the projects they will focus on after our departure. We met the team in the second largest slum in Nairobi, Mukuru. The reason I mention this is to give you an idea of how many of the people in Nairobi live. In the slums there are no houses or businesses as we know them. Everything is made from scrap wood and tin. These makeshift buildings serve as their homes and markets. There are no government utilities and therefore the residents have to tap into utility poles to get electricity and run their own lines to the main water lines in order to have water. There is a community water spout which sits in a ditch that is filled with sewage and residents bring containers to fill with water to take to their homes and businesses. Sewage and trash is a problem in the slums since there in no proper drainage or trash services. Trash is raked together and burned which contributes to the pollution. You can see pictures and hear stories but until you are there in the midst of other’s reality you can never fully understand. I am grateful that I was able to experience how many Kenyan’s live and I am more grateful to see how they still smile and do not focus on their circumstances. Just like the little girl from Kipkaren, if they can be happy given their living conditions then I have no reason to complain or allow simple frustrations to ruin my day.
Finally, I would like to say that if you have ever had the urge or felt the calling to visit another region and go on mission that you make it a priority! For years I had wanted to go on a mission trip but it seemed like there was always a reason I couldn’t. Whether it was worries of funding the trip, being away from my family, fear of sickness or fear of the unknown, I allowed those things to hinder me. I can honestly say that I have never felt so free as while I was in Africa. When you cast your fears aside and you focus on others and allow yourself to be in the moment and to fellowship and build relationships you don’t have time worry about anything else. I am so grateful for everyone that I met and for the relationships that were built. I look forward to the future and the projects that Breathe International is undertaking, from the Chanclas for Kenya, to the Sikalame school repairs to the ultimate goal of opening a home for widows, orphans and vulnerables. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to be a light to this part of the world. Please continue to pray and believe with myself and Breathe International for our future projects and for God’s hand in bringing change and empowerment to the Kenyan people. While the need is great and the work will not be easy it all starts with the decision to Be The Change!