Thursday, May 14, 2009

There is always hope

To accompany my previous post, I feel like sharing some stories of people I met in Kenya. I love these people so much.

First, there's James Njuguna. I didn't spend too much time with him since he works out of Nairobi and I was living in Gathiga, which is about a hour's ride out of Nairobi on a matatu (think really, really crowded full-sized van). James is a pretty young man, about 29, I think. He comes from a traditional Kenyan family, his father had two wives and his mother was the younger wife. They referred to her as "little mother." Between his two mothers, he has thirteen brothers and sisters.

He had a good job as a computer programmer and a pretty wife and life should have been good, but he felt very unfulfilled. So he quit his job, much to his mother's consternation, and started a nonprofit organization to help orphans and street kids. It's probably still a much more dubious living than the computer programming job, but he gets by just fine and he's seen amazing growth in his organization. His international volunteers (including me) mostly come to him through a partnership with a volunteer organization called International Volunteer Headquarters, stationed in New Zealand, who works with groups all over the world to place volunteers.

James placed me, along with crazy Kate and Cynthia, in Gathiga to work at the Gathiga Children's Hope Home and Rehabilitation Center. This is where I met my little friends who have already lived through so much. One of my friends, Lynette, was fifteen and had two little sisters at the orphanage, too, Ashley, who was probably about eleven, and Fiola, about six or so. All three of these girls were happy and gorgeous. Lynette was much shyer than her sisters, but she loved to spend time with the volunteers. She gave me a pedicure once- red nails with purple stripes. While the paint dried, I asked her about herself and learned that she'd only been at the orphanage for a couple of years. She had lived with her parents until she was about eleven and then her parents died within a year of each other. She and her sisters, including baby Fiola, went to live with an uncle who was always drunk. After a couple of years, some concerned neighbors heard about Lucy's orphanage and asked Lucy if there was any way she could take the sisters on.

Lynette's story is pretty unique- most of the kids have been either orphans or street kids for most of their lives. There are a fair number of them that do have families but there are bad situations at their houses, so they're using the orphanage as a rehabilitation center. One of my very favorite girls, Damarice, was in this situation. Oh, I love Damarice. She's always smiling and happy and she loved to come get hugs and have my arm around her. I could just feel the love and happiness coming off of her. I assumed she was an orphan until I didn't see her for a couple of days. Then she showed up again and I asked her where she'd been. "Home," she said quietly, and that's all she would say. I have no idea what home is like for Damarice, but it's clearly not as good as the orphanage.

Purity has a different story. Where Damarice was always eager to give me a hug and play hang-clapping games, Purity would run away if I paid attention to her. But as long as no one was looking at her directly, she craved just being around adults. While I told stories or fell over from all the kids trying to pile in my lap, she would sneak up and just sit next to me. She got bolder later on and would put her arm around me and even played some hand-clapping games with me. But she always felt very uncomfortable with direct attention. I found out why from talking to Cynthia. Purity was a street kid. She was eleven years old and she lived in cardboard boxed in Nairobi until Duncan, my host dad, found her and persuaded her to come to the orphanage. She got high off of glue to make the pain of hunger and the depravity of life go away. I have no idea if she'll be able to overcome the effects of that in her lifetime. But in a way she's lucky, Duncan told Cynthia and I stories about how for young girls living on the streets, the greatest concern was always rape, even someone as young as Purity.

Maina is an adorable little boy, no more than three, and he's Cynthia's favorite. His story is unique also. His mother lives on the street and has about eight children, all of them with different men. Since she can't afford to care for her children (she can barely afford to care for herself!), they live in different orphanages around the Nairobi area. She came to visit one day, and Maina barely seemed affected when she left. He's already so detached from his mother- already such a tough little kid.

None of these children would have any kind of goodness in their lives without Lucy, my host mom, who started the orphanage and runs it. I have met very few people who have the goodness, drive, and faith of Lucy. She never set out to start an orphanage. She was just distressed by the number of street kids living in Gathiga and started preaching to them so they could understand that they could rise above their circumstances and that God loves them regardless of where they live and anything else. After she did this a few times, some of the kids sat themselves down at her house and told her they weren't leaving, because they felt so good when they were with her. Eventually, as she took on more and more kids, she and her family moved out into a rented house on a smaller compound so their house could go entirely to sheltering the orphans. She firmly believes that if she goes about God's errand to serve His children, He will provide a way. And He does. Lucy is amazing. She's a little strict and overbearing, but she has a heart of gold and she is literally wearing herself out serving others, maybe a little too much.

Maybe someday I can be more like Lucy. I hope so. She is definitely one of my role models.

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