2 April 2010

Special Posting – Julie in Kenya

Julie has sent me some e-mails giving details of her trip to a Kenyan orphanage. Here is her story so far – I’m not embarrassed to say I have been crying as I read them. Photos can be viewed at the following URL (note - the last three photos were taken at an animal sanctuary she visited when she had a long stopover at Nairobi): http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/tom.cupples/Kenya1#.

Monday - we wanted to visit some of Kisumu's primary schools where the Isaiah Trust sponsors some of the most vulnerable children who are studying to pass their KPCE (Kenyan Primary Certificate of Education) which the children need in order to move up to secondary school. Typically, we would be invited into the principal's office and be told that the majority of pupils were orphans. In Kenya, every child is entitled to an education but what initially prevented a general education for all was the cost of the uniform which was mandatory. When children, through various means started wearing uniforms, a new ruling insisted on leather shoes, which again kept the attendance numbers down. The latest issue is that the government has now stopped providing textbooks which is not so much a problem in the primary schools but is certainly not conducive for learning in the secondary schools.

The first Principal we met explained that a further change in the rules surrounding education meant that each child had to now have an official Birth Certificate in order to register for KPCE - somewhat of a problem when a child had been orphaned at an early age and had no known relatives.

Each of the Isaiah Trust's children in the schools, 'our' children, were called before the Principal. Each in turn shook our hand and thanked us. Some were shy, others we knew from church the day before. They glanced at their feet as they were asked what their best subjects were. In a couple of the schools we joined the child in their classroom. The biggest class was 107 children. As we entered the class, they would rise and chant in unison, ‘Good Morning Visitors, how are you’? Each individual child is so polite.

All of the teaching staff deserve respect. The best ones knew every detail of every child that they had taught. When asked what they needed to continue their good work, they stated that they needed exercise books and pencils.

Tonight we were invited out to a fellowship meeting in one of the slum areas hosted by 17 year old Paul. Paul has been lucky in respect that an elder in the slums who was once a street boy himself is letting a dwelling to Paul and his younger brother, Daniel. Paul suffers from epilepsy so is limited to the kind of work that he can find. He chooses to collect anything of value from the dump and sell it on. This meagre existence barely sustains him and his brother. Their slum dwelling was an airless room with no running water or electricity. His brother was too ill - suffering from Malaria - to attend the meeting, barely showing his face around the door. Ten or so neighbours attended the fellowship meeting each with their own tale of hardship. One requested help with paying for medication for his brother who had been diagnosed with Typhoid. We prayed for the elder, Stephen, who at 82 had survived on the streets all of his life. Now owning a property of his own, he 'fostered' or rather kept an eye of boys with the same predicament.

Tuesday - and I still have Paul and his brother heavy in my heart. Our group also met Violet. I was drawn to Violet simply through her name and my association with our village at home, Tourettes sur Loup (the City of Violets) and its Violet festival every year.

In many respects, it is harder for the girls than the boys. Violet was the same age as Paul (17) but the sole carer for her 6 siblings. She too lived in the slums but had been put through some education by the Isaiah Trust. Violet was now at the Rotary College and was in her first week of a two year tailoring course. In her classroom, she proudly showed us the small blue dress she had hand sewn for her exam. Her tutor was very pleased with what she had done in one week! The girls shared three ancient Singer treadle machines which reminded me so much of my Aunty Lil. Violet was learning how to cut out paper patterns drawing them out on old paper bags. I promised to get her some more material as this would be her major expense during her course work.

Next on to another secondary school. Here we met Collins, Wycliffe and Zablon. All three boys had been sponsored by the Isaiah Trust for some time and here we saw a quiet confidence. Collins was ranked 4th in his year and well on track with excellent Maths and Science results to achieve his dream of becoming a pilot. The school's motto was The Sky's the limit. Wycliffe had his sights set on becoming an engineer and Zablon, keen to go on to study Political Science. I have no doubts that these boys determination will get them where they want to be and I look forward to following their individual efforts!

Onto another school and another three boys. Having been so happy to see confidence exuding from the last three I was instantly drawn to Alex. What was his situation? I talked to him. In our western culture it would be totally inappropriate to ask about your problems in a first meeting. Alex's spirit looked totally broken in spite of being in school. Where we were asking the others about what they wanted to achieve, Alex was locked in his problems. His father was a drunkard but worse than that, the only work available for him was emptying faeces from the slum toilets. If Alex didn't help him then he would be beaten.

I was overcome with emotion discussing Alex's situation with Moses. All Alex wanted was a place to concentrate on his studies. How much would it cost to move him away from his father? Moses said that a slum dwelling similar to those we saw the night before would cost as little as 500 Kenyan Shillings a month. To provide a supervised house for 5 or 6 boys similar to Alex would cost 5000. In monetary terms, 6 lives could be changed for as little as 50 euros a month - it was the need for this pitiful amount of money that could so change their lives that affected me so deeply.

Leaving the school behind, we returned to Covenant House to change into long trousers and long sleeves in an effort to deter the mosquitos. Tonight, we attended a fellowship group at Kachok, the rubbish tip.

We were dropped off near to Nakumat (Tesco equivalent) and walked over toward the sports stadium. Kachok covers the intervening ground. We walked through undergrowth behind the stadium until we reached what previously had been a dwelling. It consisted of 2 concrete, windowless rooms with a tin roof, except that only a third of the roofing still remained. Three wooden benches held approximately 20 people. It was raining and the lucky ones had some shelter. The service had already started. Biblical quotations endorsed them to 'think big' - with God on your side you are never alone. The boys and girls, some of whom we recognised, were sharing their benches with the street kids. Emmaculate sat next to me - immaculate from that morning, still dressed in her school uniform. She was in sharp contrast to the young boy who had followed me there - his clothes were as dark as his skin though once they may have been green or blue. His t-shirt was full of holes and his denim shorts were ripped from the thigh to the knee. He was barefoot and about the size of a 6 year old. His eyes told me he could have been 14 or 15. I tried to make some form of contact with him. Most kids are bilingual in Kiswahili with English being the common second language, particularly if they have had some sort of schooling. This child was either shy, petrified of a Mzungu (white person), or just too hungry and weak to attempt to talk. As he sat on a bench sandwiched between others like him, I felt a desperate need to reach out. But how?

The fellowship service was prayerful, inspirational and musical with Moses playing his guitar. We sing in Kiswahil and considering how self conscious I was only two days earlier, now I love to sing in their language. Tim (the co-founder of the Isaiah Trust) talked about how a rope needs three strands to be strong - you, me and God. When I was introduced, I emphasised what he had said. If you are alone, then find a friend and with God you will be three. I urged any child who felt alone to come forward to one of us and we would try to help.

By the time the service had finished, we were in complete blackness, wet through from the rain from the roof and no doubt, had collected numerous mosquito bites., None of this registered as bread and juice was handed out to the street boys who politely queued to take their only meal of the day.

We started the trek back to the stadium. Because we had come straight from our school visiting, none of us were dressed for the weather. My flip flops were useless in the undergrowth and mud and I was well aware that there were numerous trenches (filled with who knows what) alongside our path. Hesitantly I took my first few steps and as I began to slide and fall, I was grasped by Emmaculate on one side and another helping hand on the other. I looked to see who it was. Noticably within those attending was a woman and child. Of all the 'gifts' that I brought, each were given to Moses to hand out where needed. One of her other daughters had received a cotton dress and some underwear. To the baby in the woman's arms, we had given a small cuddly toy. These children have nothing to their name other than the clothes they stand up in. The baby reached out for the brightly coloured 'dinosaur' and smiled - she was still young enough to be carried everywhere though her mother claimed that she was 2 years old. With the child wrapped up tightly on her back, she escorted me with a strong hand back to the Stadium.

As we prepared to get into the jeep, I hugged each of the boys in turn - such bags of bones...one boy whispered up at me. I have a problem, he asked...Michael said he experienced so much pain in his eyes that when this happened he could not see. What a courageous boy to ask me, a mzungu - for sure he had been listening to the preaching. I called over Moses who questioned him more closely in his own language. Medication and doctors are out of the question for slum dwellers, for the street kids, it’s impossible. John was also called over. John receives a small salary from the Isaiah Trust to act as a kind of social worker. Michael would need to go to the hospital and see a specialist consultant . Easter weekend is approaching so arrangements have been made for Michael to be taken to the hospital on the following Monday. I have asked to go too.

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