Monday, June 1, 2009

June 1


I’ve missed a day or two blogging so I’ll try to condense them. Friday was an amazing day with the kids going to the National Museum and park. The highlights were: the kids singing on the bus on the way to the museum, they sang with such enthusiasm and precision that I was compelled to video tape them a couple times. Another highlight was how close the children are to each other. Even though some kids have sponsors and go to Kileleshwa, there is no jealousy or status. When the children got on the bus, there would be 4 children squished together in one seat and the other seat free, it seemed very natural and comfortable for them. The last highlight I’ll mention here was just watching the children run with abandon at the park, there are few places in Kawangware to run and play. It was a day of endless joy.

Yesterday (Sunday) we attended the Riruta UMC. Riruta is another slum with 500-550,000 people. At first it seemed slightly better than Kawangware, there seemed to be more shops and businesses, and by that I mean a lean-to on the side of a dirt road selling vegetables or clothes or roasted corn. But then we entered the church/school area. The building looked nice enough and church was more comfortable than we’re seen lately, but by this morning, it was transformed into a school for 250 children. I would guess the square footage is 800 – 900, classrooms divided by boards. The 4th and 5th grades didn’t even have a divide, they just drew a line down the 3X4 foot wall painted chalk board and the teachers each held class next to each other. Kids sat on the floor in most of the classes and benches made for two students held five. I think sometimes we have some poor conditions but nothing compares to this school and what John and Anne are trying to do with very little money. All of the 250 children cannot afford the fees to go to regular school so would be hanging out in the streets otherwise. Many of the children are orphaned due to AIDS. They did have two rooms behind the school as an orphanage but couldn’t afford the rent anymore so have divided the children up to church members and a grandmother has taken in many of the children. We helped feed the children today, they receive a cup of porrage at 10 am then lunch in the afternoon. For most of the children it is the only meals they will eat. John and Anne told me that sometimes they run out of food and the children at the end of the line cry. The older children receive their food last. The teachers only eat if there is food left over, so most days they don’t eat. None of the teachers are paid. Every day in Kenya I have been touched by how much people do for the benefit of others, it exemplifies a song the children sang a today that told about humbling ourselves before God and humbling ourselves before others.


Today was a day of overwhelming emotions, as we visited the Children of Africa Hope Center. John and Anne and their staff do what seems to be the impossible: care for 250 children, with little resources. We saw cramped classrooms, hungry children, and dedicated teachers. While John, Anne and I discussed the challenges they face in their ministry, the children and teachers were preparing a special school assembly for us. The entire school had filed outside, chairs were set up for the Glide team, as well as Glide ensemble member Dennis, who happened to be visiting in Kenya.

Each grade level sang songs for us, and recited poetry and bible verses. There was one poem that had a line that caused tears to well up as I listened:

“God, are orphans and vulnerable children a part of your creation? God, only you know the answer.”


Riruta’s Assistant Pastor, Isaac, also serves as the head teacher for the school at the Methodist Church. The small sanctuary is converted into even smaller classrooms during the week, and the church serves food and provides education to more than 250 children. Dennis Hersey, also from Glide and visiting Nairobi with a friend, joined us for the day. After a wonderful outdoor program put on by the students, Dennis sang with his incredible voice for the children and staff- it was an amazing, beautiful moment. Afterwards, we all led the children in singing “We Shall Overcome”.

Later, we served lunch to all of the children. Afterwards we present Pastor John, his wife Anne, and Pastor Isaac with a bag of supplies. Inside were two quart bags of almonds. The pastors were delighted and suggested that each child might receive a few almonds each. When they went outside into the courtyard, they held the bags up into the air. 250 children erupted with screams of delight like I have never heard. Karen, Robin and I looked at each other stunned. Two bags of almonds. This is one moment I will never forget.


We returned to Riruta United Methodist today, which transforms on weekdays to the Children of Africa Hope Center: an unaccredited school and former orphanage that educates and feeds approximately 250 children, who would not otherwise eat or learn. Their admirable vision is to ultimately serve 5,000 children.

After spending the morning at the Hope Center today, I see that it is far from its goal, though not for lack of passion. John and Anne are doing incredible work against the odds, feeding children every day on very little, and educating them well, despite severe classroom overcrowding. (Several children have to sit on the floor, and those fortunate enough to have desks are squeezed in with as many other bodies as will fit on a bench, without anyone falling off.)

After we served the children their morning porridge, we played with them in the front yard, which has no swing-sets or climbing equipment. They do not have soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and bats, or even adequate space to play any sport. There is room enough for all of them to be out there, and that in of itself seems a rare blessing for a school in the slums. But the rent is astronomical, and the school does not generate any income from students whose guardians cannot afford to pay fees.

On the playground, the children swarmed me. I felt as though I were surrounded by the paparazzi, except that my captors only wanted to love me. The stampede knocked down Maureen, a small, mild-mannered girl, probably two years old. I picked her up and carried her around with me for the rest of the recess period, as the crowd showed no signs of letting up, and she appeared too sweet and tiny to stand up for herself. Her schoolmates laughed when I put my sunglasses on her, as they covered half of her face.

Maureen and I made a game of my efforts to break free. Every time we ran from the mob, impelling them to chase us, she giggled, my sunglasses holding fast to her beautiful face. All she wanted to do was stare and smile at me. I took every opportunity to stare and smile back at this little, human doll, as she warmed my heart with the love beams she directed at me.

After recess, our team sat out on the playground, as each classroom of children assembled before us and sang for us in turn. The songs were inspired, and I was touched by the effort that the teachers and school leaders had obviously spent in teaching them to the children.

I left feeling simultaneously hopeful and overwhelmed with despair. It is a loaded emotion I’ve come to know well this past week.

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