Journal Entries from Kenya
June 25. 2005 Saturday -Pride
It’s my first day in Kenya. The people I pass on the street have a silent pride; a dignity about them. The women are dressed with head scarves, their lovely smooth faces looking out. They wear dresses, many of them in bright purples and yellows with patterns. The men wear shirts with jackets, trench coats, even when sitting in the truck bed of iron construction poles or burning coals and piles of wood on the street. While the circumstances here are beyond humble and these street people rarely smile, there is a dignity quite visible in their presentation.
June 26. 2005 Sunday -Nehamiah’s Story
I met Nehamiah today. He is a schoolteacher here in Kenya. He tells me of how he used to sneak into school when he was young. Too poor to pay for classes, he would hide in the back o fthe classroom until a teacher found him. Thrown out of class, the teachers would beat him, to punish him, calling him “a thief of education.” The young Nehamiah would answer back, “I would rather be a thief of education than a thief of property!” He explains to me that, even at a young age, he knew his only option to escape poverty was to gain an education.
Now, Nehamiah and his wife, Caroline, run schools for orphans. At first, they simply had four students, orphans, in their one-room dirt-floor shanty. Now, with the assistance of Reach the Children, they have a school that houses over 1500 students and has boarding facilities for 700 girls in order to protect them. Rape, Nehamiah explains, is a problem. With AIDS and lack of education rampant, the myth that sex with a virgin will purge a man of the disease endangers many young girls passing from the slums through cornfields on their way to school. Nehamiah and Caroline have been focusing efforts on providing room and board for all the girls in their school, so they will not have to brave the cornfields without an adult to protect them.
Nehamiah and Caroline joined us today to sing at the hospital. In the oncology department, they don’t often have visitors. Many children were missing legs or an eye. Few would smile. Not even for our little treats or gifts. One boy put his head down over folded arms, and refused to look up. He wouldn’t respond, even when we sat next to him, singing or talking. There was no response as my friend, Janelle, sat beside him to rub his back. I felt so awkward and inappropriate trying to be cheerful before children in such awful circumstances, but to do nothing wouldn’t be acceptable either. So what are we left to do but try and make the best of what they have left?
June 27. 2005 Monday -An Education
Today I met Annet and Ashley in Kwa Watoto. They found me after class let out and held onto my hands and wouldn’t let go until I left. In Kwa Watoto, children are squeezed into small rooms divided by corrugated metal sheets. Light shines in through small holes left in the cement or between the slats of metal sheets. Classes are divided into small rooms about the size of a small bedroom, with desks stacked closely together. In the seventh grade class, we notice nine students looking over each other’s work. One of our teachers on the expedition remarks that, “In the United States, it would be safe to assume the students were cheating. Here, it’s because they only have one book, so nine kids will crowd around it to copy down their assignment.” While the students were excited to greet us with a song, they quickly returned to their seats to focus on their studies. They are so dedicated, and in such poor conditions, battling poverty and even the physical hardships of sickness and disease just to get to school.
June 28. 2005 Tuesday -Alright, Children!
When we got to Kayola to build this morning, a young woman showed up, trailing about 20 kids, 3 and 4 years old. She had heard about our work in building a new school, and wanted to see what the wzungis (non-Africans) were doing. She informs us that all the children in her class are orphans, mostly living with relatives, and she serves as a volunteer to help care for them. The amount of selflessness and sacrifice teachers I’ve met are willing to make for the survival of these kids is overwhelming.
She has the children sing us several songs, and we sing to them. They are so cheerful, and obedient, singing any song she urges them to. I tried dancing along, but it mostly just made them laugh.
June 29. 2005 Wednesday -Stella
There is a woman who shows up every day to help us work. Her name is Stella and she is the most elegant woman I have ever met. Tall and statuesque, she first met us on Monday, and when she found out we were building a school, she immediately jumped into the trenches alongside us to begin digging and moving rocks, still in her heels and long dress! Each day since then, Stella walks for an hour just to join us. She has three children, 15, 13, and 11. Her husband is a pastor. She is amazed that, in the United States, you can get a job in fast food without any training. She is amazed that, in a country with so many jobs, not everyone would take work as a janitor or in fast food. She is a teacher, and is asking to volunteer, just to work. Her husband is a pastor, poorly underpaid, but he cannot find another job. Like so many other Kenyans, he wants to work, but cannot find a job that pays.
July 3. 2005 -Little Green Dress
So much has happened already. Every day that passes feels like three. On Friday, we went to work one more day on the foundation for Grace’s new school in Nairobi. By now we know the names and recognize our little street children, and they know us. One girl shows up every day in a little green dress, torn right across the middle where the seam is. Friday, just after our bus rolled in, Becci found “little green dress” and whipped out a needle and thread. The little girl stood there and smiled as Becci stitched back together the faded dress. Children gathered around to watch, some with t-shirts torn straight down the middle of their bellies, all with socks that were more holes than socks. I just thought, “I wonder what her mother will think when little green dress comes home and her dress is fixed?”
Later, we found that her name is Sara, and she has no parents. Sara is looked after by several other kids in the neighborhood, but she belongs to nobody.
July 3. 2005 -Letter from Stella.
Thank you for coming to Kenya and loving our country. We are proud of your presence in our country. Thank you for helping needy children. Much thanks for showing love and care for the poor.
God bless you for working harder during construction. We are thankful for the building which will offer a lasting solution to the housing problem these children were facing. I appreciate for the children you have sponsored.
You are true friends to us for a friend in need is a friend indeed. As Kenyan children call you angels, so you are in deed and word toward the needy. I’m grateful for your love, care, mercy, and kindness you showed everyone you met. God will pay you as the Bible says he who gives unto the poor gives unto the Lord and the Lord will pay him. Yes, your presence was a miracle on the Kenyan soil.
Travel safely back to America and send our greetings and love to your parents and friends. We love you and we will miss you. Come back again.
Goodbye and God bless you.
July 4. 2005 Monday -Do Good Anyway.
Tomorrow will be our last day to work on Grace’s new school. We’re all preparing for the inevitable questions we’ll be propositioned with by the workers, the volunteers, and the children. “Will you be my sponsor?” “Will you host me in America?” “Will you send my child to college?” “Will you leave me hungry?”
The trouble is, you cannot help one and not help all the others. It’s like when we try to give a helpful child candy or a treat- suddenly 80 more surround you, pulling at you, crying, “give me! Give me!”
It is hard to realize that many of the street children we’ve gotten to know and care for will never attend Grace’s school. It’s hard to recognize that, even though they’ve watched it build up right before them, and while many have helped carry wood or even pass rocks and bricks with us to build the walls, that they will never have the $30 a year to pay for a basic education.
When I think of my girls, so smart and so bright and clean, and how, every day, they confront the hazy-eyed glue-sniffer and his gang of drugged homeless kids or dangers of disease and infection just from the people sitting next to them…I want them to have a chance. I want them to have the opportunity to succeed, because, given the resources, I know they can. But poverty is overwhelming, and I cannot help them all. In frustration and despair I ask what good is building a school when those who need it most will not be able to attend? I hear the words of Mother Theresa, “Do good anyway.”
July 7. 2005 -Note from Stella
I send my warm greetings and a lot of love to you.
Much thanks for your wonderful shoes. I gave them to my son who is twelve. He was excited to have them. They fit him very well and they will assist the boy so much.
Thank you for being so nice, helping, caring and kind to me. I’m grateful for your concern and friendship. You have been a blessing to me and children. May the Almighty reward you for that. I love you Farrah and be blessed. Safe journey.
July 7. 2005 –Thank you note from Michael
Receive my greetings and love. Thank your for the shoes you sent me. They are nice and expensive. They fit me so well. I was very happy to receive them. They will help me a lot. Thank you Farrah. Thank you for making my mother your friend.
Son to Stella
July 10. 2005 Sunday -It Requires Faith
As we ride through the city of Nairobi, we notice that everyone is out on Sunday. Everyone we see is in Sunday best, on their way to church, and the city is alive with people. Granted, church is often a circle of people on a sidewalk or mound of trash with the familiar smell of burning trash in the air, but everyone is attending some kind of service. Some in the street, others in a cathedral, and others gather underneath the trees. We realize that Sundays are consistently different; that everyone in every wake of life seems to be on the way to church. Carol observes, “How is it that, in a place where they have nothing, everyone believes in God, but yet, in America, where we have everything, people question if God even exists?”
July 18. 2005 Monday -My Letter to Friends
Jambo! I just returned and I'm slowly recovering from my time in Kenya. My arms feel heavy and empty without the hands of these orphaned children hanging onto them. You should seriously come with me next year. It's an amazing experience. Many people have already asked how to sponsor a child to enable them to attend school. You may contact me to find out more on sponsoring these children, and see more information on the organizations I'm assisting at: www.beshameless.com or www.myspace.com/shamelessselfpromotions