Mti Unaopeana - The Giving Tree


Mti UnaopeanaThe Giving Treeby Shel SilversteinHapo zamani za kale kulikuwa na mti…  Once there was a tree…

Na mti huu ukampenda kijana mdogo.  And she loved a little boy.

Na kila siku kijana huyu akakuja.  And everyday the boy would come.

Na kijana huyu akapenda sana mti…  And the boy loved the tree…

Na mti ulifurahi.  And the tree was happy.

I am approaching or have recently passed staying a full year in Kenya and honestly I couldn’t be happier. I love the people, the cultures, the environment, the languages (one of which, Swahili, I speak fluently and as you can see can even translate The Giving Tree; and more than a few tribal languages which I can at least recognize when people are teasing me) and the incredible opportunities I have been given to help society here. But as a mzungu (white person) in Kenya, I am automatically associated with money. It's not my wish, but that is the way it is. Many people love to ask me for my make-believe money; the money they think grows on my countless acres of “money trees” in America. I try to make these interactions a learning experience; for me to better understand this person and for this person to understand that, just like in Kenya, in America you must work hard and be financially responsible in order to grow your wealth. Of course everyone is shocked to learn the avacado selling for 5 cents here would cost upwards of $4 in America, that instead of taking my private helicopter to visit my friends I simply hop on my bicycle, and that I do not casually chat with President Barak Obama on a daily basis.

Kwa hivyo kijana akapanda juu ya mti  And so the boy climbed up the tree

Na akachukua matunda yake  And gathered her apples

Na akayabeba mbali.  And carried them.

Na mti ulifurahi.  And the tree was happy.

But our kids are different. Our kids are thankful for the smallest things, the smallest acts of kindness. Maybe it is because of their past – being forced to live at literally the lowest possible socio-economic level of society. Maybe it is because we are doing something right at home. Maybe it is because of the many international visitors that come; volunteers who foster in our children complete acceptance and gratefulness. So it is with great pleasure I introduce you to the newest member of the Arrive family, a child that we believe has a bright future ahead of him. Meet Amos Ogoti:

Amos at the river washing clothes with a few of his new brothers and sisters.

Amos at the river washing clothes with a few of his new brothers and sisters.

Amos’ mother died from an unknown illness shortly after he was born. His father disappeared and soon after died from alcohol poisoning. As a young boy with nobody to care for him, Amos fled to the streets - where he searched through dumpsters to find food and slept outside under cars and on sidewalks.  He began to huff toxic glue and smoke opium, was beaten and abused, and sustained serious burns on his scalp as a result of being thrown into a fire. His aunt eventually found him and brought him home to her small hut. While she loved Amos, she was not financially able to support him; he never ate breakfast and drank only chai tea for lunch. Because he is an orphan, he was able to attend Emmanuel Lights Academy for free. Amos loved school and showed up early everyday regardless of the fact he was forced to walk 45 minutes to school each way.  Amos knew about Arrive’s children’s home and desperately wanted to live here, and because he was an outstanding student in and out of the classroom, Mama Terry agreed. But at that time, there was no space. After months of waiting, we are delighted to welcome Amos into the Arrive family! Even though two of his brothers are still street children, Amos and his aunt are thankful and excited for this opportunity for him to live and thrive at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home. All of the children are ecstatic, Amos is thrilled, and now he will be able to put his past behind him as he continues his education entering first grade next year.

Kwa hivyo kijana huyu akakata tawi ya mti.  And so the boy cut off her branches

Na akazibeba mbali  And carried them away

Ili ajenge nyumba yake.  To build his house.

Na mti ulifurahi.  And the tree was happy.

Left: Improving infrastructure. Top: Pastor Robert stands in front of a brand new classroom. Middle: Cement floors instead of dirt and mud! Bottom: Workers knock down walls, lay cement, and expand classroom sizes.

Left: Improving infrastructure. Top: Pastor Robert stands in front of a brand new classroom. Middle: Cement floors instead of dirt and mud! Bottom: Workers knock down walls, lay cement, and expand classroom sizes.

As Arrive grows, so does Emmanuel Lights Academy: the primary school that all of our children attend and that Arrive supports. Emmanuel Lights is the only school in the area to give free education to any orphan. Started in 2008 by Robert and Terry Nyamwange (yes, Pastor and Mama), Emmanuel Lights went from very last to ranked #2 out of 51 surrounding schools. This is especially mind-blowing when considering Emmanuel Lights is the only school with one, let alone 20 former street children attending. But as pupils increased in numbers, the classrooms stayed the same time. That is, until, this month when major renovations were done at school. To meet Kenyan government regulations, extensive changes were made. Walls knocked down, classrooms built and existing classrooms expanded, cement floors laid, and totally new bathrooms erected. With amazing support from Pockets of Hope, a student run organization at Scotts Ridge Middle School in my hometown of Ridgefield, Connecticut headed by my former English teacher, we have been able to financially support some of the essential rennovations at Emmanuel Lights Academy.  These changes will provide for all of the students an improved learning environment for years to come. As the school receives more Arrive volunteers as teachers and mentors, the renovations will ensure a school that gives its students the quality, well-rounded education needed to live a happy and fulfilling life. A life they will be grateful for.

“Pole sana,” mti ukatanafusi. “I am sorry,” sighed the tree.

“Ninaoma niweze kukupa kitu… “I wish that I could give you something…

Lakini sina vitu vyo vyote vinavyobaki.  but I have nothing left.

Mini ni gutu pekee. Pole sana…”  I am just an old stump. I am sorry…”

“Sina vitu vingi sasa,” kijana akasema.  “I don’t need very much now,” said the boy.

Mahali pa kukaa na kupumzika bila kilele.  Just a quiet place to sit and rest.

Nimechoka sana.”  I am very tired.”

“Haya, gutu ni mahali pazuri kukaa na kupumzika.  “Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting.

Kuja kijana, kaa hapa.  Come, boy, sit down.

Kaa hapa upumzike.”  Sit down and rest.”

Evans at home.

Evans at home.

Many people in this amazing nation of 42 different tribes see me and see money.  These people would take my "apples," my "branches," and even my "trunk" without a trace of gratitude.  And then there are people like Evans "Siginya" Omari. Evans is 12 years old has lived with us for almost one year - in fact the one year anniversary of when he and rest of the first street children came home is June 26th! Evans was a street boy in the most complete sense of the  term - addicted to glue, starving, slept outside, and very ill (you can read Evans' story by clicking on my previous blog post).  Just a few months ago, I asked Evans "What do you want to be when you grow older?" He paused a second and responded, "I want to be in the Army, and I want to help children like you've helped me." I was blown away. He was at the lowest point of his life not even a year ago and already he has shown the desire to help people not given the opportunity he was given. Then, to my bewilderment, he starting not finishing all of his food at home. When I asked why, he told me about a boy name Bifone. Bifone is a few grades younger than Evans at school and is an orphan. Bifone has no shoes, no school uniform, no books, and no food. Evans has taken it upon himself to help Bifone by giving him food and sharing his books. Evans is incredibly grateful for the opportunity Arrive has given him and after years of being neglected, he is already helping someone less fortunate than himself. These small actions speak volumes not only about Evans but about all of the children here at home.

Maybe our kids are different because they've perservered beyond horrific pasts.  Maybe it is the influx of foreign visitors, or the opportunity for quality education. Maybe they are different because of the hard work we do and dedication we have at home every single day.  Maybe they aren’t different at all and are just exceptionally talented young actors and actresses. Or maybe our kids are different because of simple story, a story written 26 years before I was born, a story about a certain tree and a certain boy, a story which most nights I read to our kids just as my parents used to read it to me. Maybe just a story can change their lives.  Maybe just a story can change the world.

Na kijana akakaa.  And the boy did.

Na mti ulifurahi.  And the tree was happy.

The End.