As you may or may not know, if you want to read, see, and learn about Arrive without it coming from my mouth, you can always check out the Arrive In The News page on our website. For this blog post, I am handing the keyboard over to my great friends and Arrive Board Members James Hale and Davide Ippolito. As I give them the symbolic pen, I myself will be picking up a shovel and hoe – thanks to the generosity of Arrive volunteers, we are building a BRAND NEW house for the girls! We are demolishing the old house and building one four times the size, complete with safer and durable walls, bedrooms, a study room with tables and chairs, and more! To say the girls are ecstatic would be an understatement. Stay tuned for updates and photos as we build, but for now, check out what James and Dave have to say about their time in Keumbu.
Stepping Stones to Success, The Ninth Tribe, and a Breath of Fresh Air
By James Hale, Arrive Board Member
Kenya has been one of the most beautiful, welcoming places I’ve visited with plenty of adventure. However I’ve also experienced its communities intense struggles and clearly see the importance for unity, education, and peace among the country.
It has been a very humbling experience to have worked the past two and a half years for Arrive, especially without meeting our partners in Kenya, our rescued street kids, or seeing first-hand the successful progress of our organization! I was so ecstatic when I first pulled into our three acres of land in rural West Kenya and saw 14 of our kids running towards me yelling “MZUNGU” with the biggest smiles on their faces, chasing after my motorbike. It has been great to work on Arrive from the states, but being physically with the organization as a volunteer, developer, and board member was a unique experience; one that has been invaluable to me.
Living in Kenya has been incomparable to anything I have ever done. I’ve had such an enjoyable and enlightening time there. From things you might have seen in the past couple of blogs like: visiting Maasailand, to going to “The Show”, to teaching science, English, and math to our school children, to golfing in Kisii, and solving day-to-day problems from smaller projects like reinstalling benches for the boys bonfire pit so their feet can reach the warm stone perimeter, to larger projects like renovating the face of Emmanuel Lights Academy with a new street front entrance that will create a cleaner, more permanent, and a safer means of egress.
Meet Kevin “Ewe” (pronounced AE-way) Owendi…the newest addition to the KRCH family! Kevin is from Busia, a border village between Kenya and Uganda,
and originates from the Luhya Tribe (northwestern most side of Kenya). After a series of unfortunate events: his mother running away to Uganda, his single-parent father dying in a terrible crash while driving, left Kevin with no one to raise him. He was forced to the streets of Kisumu at the age of 11. Struggling to support himself, he would search for scraps of metal to sell, smoke glue to forgo meals, and hide at night to sleep but also avoid the rampant police brutality against street kids. Living on the streets combined with dropping out of school, Kevin’s future was bound to be dismal. Thankfully, on July 19th, Kevin became our newest member of Keumbu Rhemea Childrens Home.
Because Kevin dropped out of school in 2011 from 5th grade and moved to the streets where he began to huff toxic glue, smoking marijuana, and drinking daily for three years, I knew that there was some academic catching up that needed to be done. I made a pact with him that everyday we would have one-on-one tutoring sessions where we would refresh his skills on subjects that the students of Standard 5 at Emmanuel Lights Academy study.
Right after our first math tutoring session he expressed how eager he was to start going back to school and learn, so a week later, he jumped right into the 5th grade class and is always of the first kids up at 4:30am excited and ready for school. He participates in class and takes notes. Like most kids, some of those “full pages” of “notes” in his notebook are doodles of helicopters and cars. Now that he has gotten back on track, Kevin seems to have a very bright future ahead of him. Everyone at home is grateful that he took a leap of faith, leaving the only place he knew, his friends, and his addictions behind in order to completely change his life.
During my time with Arrive, it was a privilege to be able to work on any project that I saw would be beneficial to the children, volunteers, and people we employ. For the children, we built a retaining wall into the compound with five stairs and a drainage system, replacing a steep, muddy, rocky, sloped entrance. We also used rocks and morum to mix with concrete and make cement floors for all of the houses; eliminating the bugs, mice, snakes, rats, and other critters that roamed the former dirt floors.. For the volunteers, we installed electrical pipes to provide hot water to their standalone shower up the hill, which was the place to be at 6:40pm for an unreal sunset shower. For our chef Kaparo, who cooks for our children, we installed two cement fire pits in his kitchen and two chimneys leading outside which has given excellent ventilation for the smoke that comes with cooking for 30 children three times a day over fire pits. In Kaparo’s kitchen, he was the local celebrity for all of the kids during meal times and his 8’x 8’ kitchen would be packed with kids watching him cook, helping him cook, and sneaking some food into their pockets. As kids frequently packed into Kaparo’s kitchen, it was very unsafe for the kitchen to be completely filled with smoke. This ventilation system is a huge step forward in terms of health. Tuberculosis is a very big problem here in Kenya and there are countless other negative side effects that stem from constant inhalation of smoke.
These are just a fraction of the recent accomplishments to help Arrive become a more permanent, sustainable, and fun organization. I’m happy to say that during my stay we were able to help increase comfort, safety, and livability with each project. Thanks to everyone who has enabled us to give underprivileged orphans hope for a better tomorrow. And of course, a very big asante sana (thank you very much) to everyone reading this right now!
Once You Arrive, You’ll Never Want to Leave
By Davide Ippolito, Arrive Board Member
I’ve been a distance runner since high school, so going to a place that pushes 7,000 ft. in altitude literally got my heart pumping: both for the training that I could get in there, and the experience to meet the kids I had been working to support for the past two years.
Packing for my trip to Kisii was quite pensive, as the top three thoughts on my mind for Kenya were Al-Shabaab, malaria, and the possibility of being robbed. All the excitement of adventure that had been building up for two years (when I first told Brian that I would help) turned into sober thought upon hearing about the terrorist attacks in June, and seeing the USA Citizen Travel Warning for Kenya. Putting my boots on, though, and following through with my plans was the best decision I have ever made. My thoughts of Kenya upon leaving were not those of fear like I had when I arrived. The top three thoughts as I left were of how sad I was to leave the kids of the KRCH, the incredible amount of fun I had each and every day, and of the amazing love and friendship that was given to me in Kenya. I’d say that was the biggest change in thought I have ever had.
I spent six weeks at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home. I traveled with my girlfriend Natalia, and both of us spent the whole flight from Nairobi to Kisumu (a closer city to Kisii than Nairobi) glued to the window. When we landed, Brian greeted us with Robert (President and Founder of Fariji) and I met a new friend and fellow volunteer, Brennan. I had not learned a single word of Swahili, and was not even sure how I would be helping out around the childrens home, but most of all a I was bit nervous to meet the kids while on the drive from Kisumu to Kisii. But Brian just smiled and said “don’t worry about it,” so I trusted him. I was greeted at the childrens home by a hoard of smiling kids who were already prepared to invite me in as a friend and brother. That very same day I was playing soccer on our field with all of the kids and I felt as if I had lived there for years. My bag had gotten lost in the checked luggage from Istanbul to Nairobi, so the first 11 days in Keumbu were spent using socks from other volunteers, a shirt that the bigger boys loaned me, and one of Natalia’s sweaters. But that is how things are there in the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home…if you are in need of something, it is provided, even if it is an orphan who is loaning you one of his only shirts.
I decided a few weeks in to my trip to see if any of the boys were interested in going running with me. Two agreed: Melkzedek “Anindo” Osman and Daniel “Mrefu” (Mu-RAY-fue) Mogaka. I told them that if they would go running with me, then I would buy them running shoes. The deal was made and by the third run, two others had joined – Enock “TanoTano” Ongere and Evans “Siginya” Omari. I made with them the same deal, but was worried that once I left they would all stop running. Around that time I met a world-class runner by the name of Valentine Orare who lived on the other side of the hill we live on. Valentine and his brother, Johnson, are two of the best distance runners I have ever seen in my life. Even David Rudisha, right now the worlds’ best runner, lives less than 30 miles from out home in rural Kenya. When I told them the running plan I had with the boys of the KRCH, they were touched and offered their help in encouraging the boys to run.
Valentine and Johnson showed the true loving nature of Kenyans. They invited me to their home for lunch one day and introduced me to their family. They then approached me with a plan to take the boys from the childrens home who liked running to the track to watch them (along with other world-class runners) run. They also wanted to do a training session with the boys! So the day came and we (the four runners, two other volunteers, Valentine, Johnson, and myself) went to the track. As we arrived at Gusii Stadium, we were greeted by six other runners. Valentine stayed with me, but told the boys to warm up with the professionals. I watched them, the boys who once lived on the streets of Kenya, a mere three hundred yards from the sidewalks they used to call their beds, run with those amazing athletes and could not help but to smile.
The boys got to watch an impressive mile race, won by Johnson Orare in about 4 minutes 30 seconds – avoiding even breaking a sweat! After that we had a race of our own, where I was beat in a 400 meter by almost all of the boys. It was a great day and inspired the kids to keep up with the running and me to keep up with my own races in life.
Even with all the projects I was able to help finish in my short time in Keumbu, I do honestly think that I received far more than I gave. The boys and girls of the KRCH became not only my best friends but also my new little brothers and sisters…Robert and Terry became my mother and father in Kenya…and upon saying goodbye to my friends Valentine and Johnson I felt part of my heart was left there.
Perhaps the high elevation not only builds for strong runners, but also lifts people’s spirits. Though they have far less possessions than we (as Americans) have, I found there to be a wealth of happiness and love in that part of Kenya that I will always be able to call home. Thank you to those who have helped Arrive give a chance to these kids to fulfill their dreams, and I hope that if you haven’t gotten to Arrive, that you do!