Occasionally I will come across things or experiences that remind me of life back in America. Take, for example, my genuine, authentic "Adfrboroemb & Fitch" (or is it Abercrombie & Fitch?) shorts I bought for $0.12! It was just too good of a deal to pass up. And for all you west-coasters living in San Francisco by the bay, how many times have you stopped at the Golden Gate Stop n’ Shop to pick up a few groceries? Well, lo and behold, I have located the second branch of Golden Gate Stop n’ Shop right here in rural Kenya. Needless to say, they lack the macaroni & cheese and ready-made sushi that I crave from time to time; in reality, they only serve matoke (Ekegusii for “bananas,” pronounced mah-TOE-kay) with a side of matoke.
But for everything that reminds me about home, there is something to instantly bring me back to the reality of living here. One example is the heavy emphasis on the importance of land and the value it holds when cultivated properly. There is no square meter of land here that goes to waste. Whether it be for animal grazing, vegetable planting, or futbol playing, land is a commodity that is not wasted. Just look at the photo on the right, showing part of our vegetable garden, to see how resourceful land is to everyone. The way indigenous people here are able to get so much from their land is something that I strive to learn more and more about. Increased sustainability + our children learning valuable skills which they can use later in life = a win-win situation.
Furthermore, for a society that doesn’t have the word “recycle” in their vocabulary, they beat all of us Americans in reusing items we would think of as trash. Never have I seen a plastic bottle, plastic bag, tupperware of any sort, tire, piece of cloth, or other item thrown away. Instead, they get used again and again and again in the most variety of ways. Whether used as a toy, to carry someone's belongings, or any other use, the creativity in reusing what we would call "trash" blows my mind on a daily basis. One example, as seen on the right, is the way children make futbols. Children collect used, torn, dirty plastic bags, compress them and tie them together with string they find or a special type of plant that gives off thread-like leaf or bark.
Of course, the latest big news in Africa has been Ebola. The very word reminds me I am located on a continent lacking proper medical institutions in most areas. I am fortunate to say that even though the World Health Organization has deemed Kenya a "high-risk country," Ebola has not made its way here. Thank you to everyone that has gone out of their way to message me and ask if we are keeping safe from this horrendous virus.
Lastly, I am always reminded I reside in Kenya when I see the abundance of street children. This shocks my system even after almost two years of becoming as used to the idea as possible. Just see the photo to the left. This photo, taken by an Arrive volunteer, shows a young, orphaned, homeless, street girl in Kisii hiding the bottle of toxic glue she is huffing under her shirt. She is six years old. Without help, she will face drug addiction, abuse, rape, malnutrition, forced prostitution, and most likely HIV/AIDS and an early death. Kids who are forced to live this horrific life don't get to take a day off...we mustn't neither in helping them.
That is how we break the cycle of poverty - by not taking a single day off. Let me introduce you to a newer member of the Arrive family now living at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home: Leonida. Like the girl above, she is six years old. Leonida's life path could have easily led her to the streets as well, but instead, this beautiful princess is thriving at the KRCH. Three years ago, Leonida’s father died of an unknown illness. She lived with her elderly grandmother but there was a lack of food. Because the grandmother was poor, old, and very weak, she needed Leonida’s help around the house. Therefore, Leonida would go to school an average of two days per week and help around the house the other days, always hungry. Leonida’s mother is also ill and unable to care for her daughter. Since hearing about the KRCH, Leonida's mother desperately wanted her to live here – knowing her daughter would be on the road to success if she could attend school and live in a productive environment. However, until the larger girls’ home was built, there was no space. But now, Leonida lives happily with the rest of the Arrive family and is one of the hardest working first grade students at Emmanuel Lights Academy…which she attends Monday – Friday, without fail. International Peace Initiaves (www.ipeacei.org/index.php), a Kenyan non-profit organization, said it best: "School is a privilege that the developed world has come to consider as a right. Sometimes, even as a burden. In the developing world the chance to go to school is gift, high school a major achievement, college an absolute dream come true."
While it may seem like old news these days, Arrive's supported school, Emmanuel Lights Academy (which was featured in my last blog post), has been once again ranked #1 out of 53 schools in the division based on 2014 third term academic exams. Again, we are the only school out of those 53 to give a free education to any orphan. We believe that education is the only path to alleviate oneself from poverty and we empower as many young children as we can to take this path. As Confucius said, “If your plan is for 1 year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.”
I would like to leave you with one final story from this past week. Here in Kenya, there is little help for people born with mental illnesses. There are very few institutions that specialize in “special education” and they are located in the biggest cities and towns; far away from our village. Most people don’t know how to help a mentally disabled person and therefore give up before trying, leaving the person alone in a world they most likely don't understand. Even sadder, some parents kill their newborn babies if they can see the baby has been born with a mental disability.
In the photo above, on the left sits Omogaka. He is a man, about 55 years old, with a large family of his own who live in our village. When we need manual labor help around the home, we usually call him up. Up until last week I knew him as a hard worker, making a relatively high salary when working with us but still living way below the poverty line. Everyday at lunch, however, he began to go missing. At first I thought nothing of it. But one day I became curious - I secretly followed him. I found him sitting and sharing his lunch with a visibly mentally handicapped boy from the village; a boy whom Omogaka knows rarely eats. Everyday, Omogaka goes with his plate of food and shares it with this neglected, hungry boy without ever wanting appreciation or to even be noticed. There are good people in every corner of the world and that gives me faith in the future.
As I said earlier, we don't take days off here. Being on the ground every single day in Kenya, I am lucky to see the life-changing, community building, empowering work Arrive does and the good people who help us accomplish our goals. This work is made possible by you and every other promoter around the world who believes in these same goals. Even so, when I ask for support, there are still people who tell me all sorts of reasons why their money would be better spent in other places. Of course we are all allowed the choice of where to spend our money so the Arrive team and myself have created a page so that you or anyone else can Educate Yourself! on the truths, myths, and benefits of international aid (just click the Educate Yourself! link). We hope to use facts, history, and examples to show how international aid through small non-government organizations, like Arrive, is the most effective and successful to develop sustainable, independent, long-term growth throughout the world.
Now that you know the facts, what is holding you back from helping some of the world's most impoverished children?
Something as simple as sharing this blog post with your family members and friends might inspire one to read our Educate Yourself! page and take action to help end the cycle of poverty.