Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 7: Saying Good-Bye


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.


After today’s trip to the animal orphanage and safari walk we went to a park near the downtown Nairobi skyscrapers where there were large fields of green grass to picnic and play on. First up: fried chicken and chips, the first meal for many of the kids since lunch the day before. The kids all pitched in (without being asked) to carry the food and sodas from the bus. We were seated on a hillside and food was passed out to all of the kids; it sat on their laps unopened and everyone waited patiently until all had food and grace was said. No one had to instruct the children to wait; this was all automatic. Several times when I saw someone given some extra food or soda, it was shared with others.
After lunch there was time for football, running races, hula hoops and other games. Ray of Hope does not have an outside play area, so the open space was a treat. Fifty three kids quickly spread out to do their thing. At one point, Robin pointed out one of the Ray of Hope boys taking the time to kick a soccer ball gently back and forth with an interested toddler who was picnicking with his mom nearby. After a while one of the boys came up and asked me to kick a soccer ball back and forth- this quickly turned into three of us and soon after four, then five. As we played, the care and consideration of these children became very clear. Anyone who wanted to play were included. An older boy would kick to a younger girl. One of the athletic boys helped up one who was younger and shy, brushed him off and helped him get started again. The ball was kicked over a barbed wire fence- a man with MS walking by quickly jumped over the fence to retrieve the ball for us, and the kids then included him in our football game. An older teenage boy hanging in the park who probably didn’t have a ball to play with lingered close by, and one of the Ray of Hope boys kicked the ball to him, allowing him to jump into the game. This happened two or three times while we were playing. Everything and everyone just clicked and we all had a great time- young and old, male and female, athletic and disabled, black and white.

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.


Bittersweet….days like today are the reason that this word was created. We had such a blast playing with the kids and eating their favorite lunch of chicken and chips. Every moment of today was exciting. From eagles snatching chicken out of Karen, Benita, and Katie’s hands to a camel walking through the park, to racing the boys across the park. I feel so comfortable here that not once today did I feel like I was halfway around the world. I felt like I was with MY kids on a class fieldtrip in MY city; when it finally hit me that we were not going to see our Ray of Hope family again until the next trip. As soon as the thought came into my mind the tears started streaming down my face. I was eventually forced to go play with the kids so I would forget about my sadness. And play we did! The kids wanted to race, dance, jump rope, play frisbee, and literally jump through hoops! I felt like a kid again! There was so much laughter so many smiling faces and so much love we were all bursting at the seams. …until we had to say goodbye. I walked back to the bus with the two boys I spent most of my day with Sammy on one side and Richard on the other. I could feel the sadness begin to fall over us. As we walked a group of boys started to ask me for a specific date that I would come back. And it just broke my heart not to be able to give them one. I wanted to yell TOMORROW! But in reality I know that it will be at least a year before I see these amazing faces and hear their amazing stories. As sad as I am and as many tears as I cried I would never ask for a different experience. The children are so precious and so thankful for the smallest of things that my life has forever been changed. There is absolutely no monetary value that can be put on an experience like the one that I have had here. I honestly feel like I have met some of these kids before and all it tells me is that I will meet them again. I <3 Ray of Hope!


Just a half hour ago, our team bid a tearful farewell to the children, teachers, and various staff members of Ray of Hope - but not before spending a lifetime-memorable day with them.

We took the children to an animal orphanage, which is much like a zoo, except all the animals were rescued, rather than purchased to fulfill the vision for an exhibit. We continued on to the park where we took the children last year. This time, we played soccer ("football" in Africa) with the children, rather than "Kill the Lion," which we played last year. The children had a wonderful time, and at one point, I was in a passing circle with my two sponsor children, unable to imagine how I could feel more blessed. It was a challenge to avoid passing the ball only to the two of them, but I think I came out fine.

The seven-year-old boy who taught me Kiswahili words on Wednesday stuck tightly to my side all day today. I found the gesture both touching and heartbreaking; I learned yesterday that, as I'd already suspected by his fixed attention on me all week, he does not have a mother. Not only did this child seek me out all day, but each time I stood beside him and draped my arm around him - my hand landing halfway down his torso - he reached up to clutch it, as if anchoring it, so I would not remove my arm from around his shoulder.

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.

The time flew by too fast. Deep attachment in only a week seems unlikely, but the love and joy these kids hold in their little bodies is magical. Plus, I endured this goodbye last year, so I know the worst is not yet over. What lies ahead is a lingering, permeating grief, which won't be marked by the tears I shed today, but with memories of the children and the Ray of Hope staff tapping at my bones in every moment. The people of this little school in Kawangware reside in me, on a cellular level. Goodbye in these circumstances is too confounding to comprehend: I can't leave them ... and yet, I just have.


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 said tearful goodbyes and look forward to the next visit.


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:

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