Today we said our goodbyes to our ray of Hope family, or “see you later,” as Eddie back home at Glide likes to say. And though heavy hearted by what felt like a premature farewell, it did indeed feel much more like a “see you later” than a good-bye.
When it was time for the kids to be on their way, they all piled on the bus and squished their little noses up against the glass, or stretched their hands out one of the many windows for one last squeeze. Right before they pulled away, I yelled, “We love you!” and one of the boys I had become close with looked at me wide-eyed and asked, “Even us?” Overwhelmed--unbeknownst to him—the poignancy of his question, my voice cracked and I answered, “Yes, even you. Especially you.”
Today was our last day with the children of ROH. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye. But I’m so grateful our last day together was filled with so much fun and laughter.
|The Glide Team wearing the wonderful gifts given to us by the RoH staff|
We took a bus to the Kenya Animal Orphanage- the monkey cages were a big hit. And ended with a picnic in the park that included lots of games. There isn’t anywhere for these children to play where they live. That includes the Learning Center where we taught for the last week- although, we did a good job transforming the small dirt lot in front of the building into a playground these last few days- I hope this is something that will continue.
As tears of sadness fill my eyes, raindrops fall from the sky. And I fear for the safety of the children, staff and their families. It has been explained to us that since they all live in house made of sheet metal, the rain is very noisy. And this is when burglars and rapists use machetes to cut into people’s houses and take them by surprise- I will never think of the rain the same way again.
The manners and love demonstrated by the children of the Ray of Hope Learning Center are a clear sign of the promise these kids hold, and that they are on the right path. Most have lost one or both parents, many must deal with HIV in their families, and some have been found living on their own in the streets. Ray of Hope has taken them in, giving them medical care, food, and the opportunity to go to school, learn how to be good citizens and one day transition into the formal Kenya school system. The fact that these kids are so well behaved and so loving is a tribute to the love of their families and guardians, and the two teachers at Ray of Hope who clearly love and treat the 50+ kids in their classrooms (and their sponsored “graduates” at Kileleshwa) as their own. The Ray of Hope family are people who have very little materially but so much spiritually, being willing to share what they have, to watch out for each other, and invite visitors and strangers into their homes with honor and joy.
It is dark and it is raining outside my window.
Before coming to Kenya, I enjoyed a good hard rain at night. Listening to the downpour from the comfort of my bed, I would feel warm and secure and drift off into a deep and blessed sleep.
Now, it is hard to enjoy a night’s rainfall. When we returned to Ray of Hope every morning after a rainfall, we would hear stories of what had happened the night before: the children would be traumatized as thieves entered their home the night before.
Rainfall is a dangerous thing in Kawangware. The rain hits the tin roofs, masking all other sounds. As a family sleeps in their one room home, thieves cut through their tin walls, the sound covered by the drum beats of rain above their heads. Children are threatened, women raped, any valuables taken away.
Hendrika, the community health worker, shared with me the stories of thieves and the danger they pose to women and children in the community. She said that when it rains she sleeps with a knife and a long sword nearby, so that if anyone breaks in, she could at least defend herself and her children.
I will never listen to the rain the same way ever again.
When the field trip bus dropped us off at our guest house a half hour ago, the children filed off the bus and lined up along the side of the road, so they could form a receiving line to hug us goodbye. I thought I'd be able to hug them all without much immediate pain, as I tend to be a delayed process griever. But about two hugs in, I began heaving wrenching sobs into the child in my arms, and then all those who followed. When I embraced Hendricka, Agnetta, Alfred, and Evelyn at the end, I became even more despondent.
We ended our week with the Ray of Hope Learning Center children by taking them to the Wild Animal Orphanage and park, where we all played and played. It broke my heart to watch the children run and play because they only have a grassy park to play at once a year. During the year they sit in their cramped classrooms all day learning lessons and catching up to their grade levels so that when they have a sponsor they can go to public school. They need sponsors to pay the fees for school and uniforms, which their families cannot afford. Many of the children have lost their parents, some to HIV/AIDS, and live with relatives or others who take them in.
Karen and I decided we would sponsor two children, and found out which two children were next in line to attend public school. We were able to tell them that they would be able to start school in January. We were all so happy, even though we wish we could sponsor them all.
We all—Ray of Hope staff, students, and the Glide team—went to a park in Nairobi for an afternoon of play. It was a beautiful sight seeing all the children playing football, hula hooping, throwing Frisbees and just having fun together on green grass and under shade trees (neither of which are easy to find in Kawangware). Prior to the start of playing, we all sat on the grass and had a picnic of fried chicken, chips (French fries) and a soda. For many of the children, their last meal was at school the day before, so they hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. Watching them eat was wrenching, as they chewed and licked everything that was edible. They crunched on chicken bones, sucked out the marrow, and picked everything clean. Not one bit of nutrition went uneaten. I think of how we in the US don’t think twice about how plentiful our food is, and how much we waste.
I was eating my chicken when something was suddenly in front of my face and then, just as quickly, was gone. When I looked down at my hands to take another bite of chicken, my hands were empty! I couldn’t figure out where my piece of chicken had gone, when I realized everyone was laughing at me. A bird had swooped out of the sky and snatched the chicken from my hands before I even knew what had happened!
The birds did this to several of us from Glide before Robin took matters into her own hands and kept watch, scaring away any birds that came near. Here is a video of her keeping guard: