As my airplane touched down on the tarmac of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, and I walked out of the plane’s door into a torrential downpour (they have no terminal ramps to enter; you must de-board outside, walk across the runways, then enter inside into customs), I couldn’t have been happier to return to Kenya. Of course I was only part way through my 36 hour journey from my door in Connecticut to my door in Nyaturubo, but the time had finally come for me to return to my second home.
I want to personally thank each and every one of you who made my time in the United States so enjoyable and productive. When I was in America for two months, I received so many generous gifts from people like you, for the kids. Each and every item made it back safely, and the only people more excited than I was, were the kids. Everyone was given clothes, backpacks, jewelry, keychains, school supplies, toys, and more.
Settling back into life in rural Kenya is always a welcomed challenge. Saying goodbye to family and great times is difficult, but saying hello to a life full of opportunities to help people makes it worth it. When I got back to Nyaturubo, I was greeted at our home with sprinting kids, smiling faces, and a few very happy dogs. There were even some new guests who I had not yet met – two sheep, three puppies, 50 baby chicks, and Cynthia.
I had known that all of the children had been doing well, studying, and happily falling into the daily rhythm of society, but I had only heard about Cynthia. She was the newest member of the Arrive family as her arrival came during my absence. This meant that while I knew her story, I didn’t know her. Cynthia never knew who her father was, if he is dead, or alive. Her mother was a prostitute and, like most prostitutes in a country plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, passed away last year. Cynthia was left in the hands of her mother’s co-prostitutes. A mutual friend who knows about Arrive requested that Cynthia live at the KRCH when her mother’s friends began to sell Cynthia’s body and introduce her to prostitution at the age of nine.
Imagine that – a girl, orphaned, in fourth grade, a mere nine years of age, being forced to have sex with men five or ten times her age. These are the children who, if not for Arrive, would end up as just another depressing statistic in a cynical study of our world’s evil. But each one is more than a statistic - it is a life saved. Now Cynthia is a beacon of happiness in our home: always laughing, never complaining, visibly happy (as you can see in the photo above). But in terms of sheer gratitude, I believe Amos has one-upped the other children in the few short weeks I have been back.
Remember that Amos, as a street boy sleeping under cars and on sidewalks, huffed toxic glue and was even thrown into a fire that resulted in serious burns to his scalp (you can read his full story here by scrolling down just a bit). He has since lived with us for many months, not only attending but thriving in school, and has been nothing but a positive influence in every possible way. Last week, I found Amos sound asleep...even snoring! (look at the photo to the right). When asked why, Amos told the other boys in Swahili, “Tonight I'm sleeping like this to remind myself of how I slept in the streets, so I never forget.” What?! I could not believe my ears. A boy of nine years so self-aware that he not only realizes this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he has been given, but goes a step farther to make sure he never forgets how far he has come in his short but terrifying life? If you look up “gratitude” in the dictionary, a photo of Amos may just pop up.
As we live in Kenya, I find the follwing quote extraordinarily relevant: In The Lion King, Rafiki (which means friend in Swahili) tells Simba (which means lion in Swahili), “Yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either learn from it, or run from it.” Amos, at nine years old, blows my mind with the maturity he has continued to show us. His past most definitely hurt, but unlike so many others who are older and more materialistically wealthy, he has been able to use his horrific past to propel him into a brighter future. Other wazee (elders) may have more years behind them, but Amos' experience and wisdom at such a young age is a force to be reckoned with.
These types of stories give me inspiration to continue this life-changing work. Everyday, I see a miracle, and that is not an exaggeration. One day it is a nine year old boy forcing himself to sleep like the chokoraa (homeless, Kenyan orphan child) he once was so he never forgets the umbali ametoka (the distance/farness he has come). The next day it is Janelizzer and the other Arrive girls, mustering up strength as village boys laugh and bicker, learning how to ride my pikipik: a common form of transportation in East Africa typically reserved for men, taught by whom else but their Arrive brothers. The next day it is ChaCha, an orphan and former street boy, improving from last in his fifth grade class to the top five based academically. The reason? Hard work and determination. And as our primary students like ChaCha continue to improve, the six girls Arrive sponsors to attend secondary boarding school continue to build for themselves a life in which they will accomplish their wildest dreams.
Traveling all across this beautiful country, all of the girls made it back to their respective boarding schools safely, Grace, whose thatched-roof-hut burnt down killing her parents and leaving her hopeless, took a second to thank her sponsor for supporting her secondary education. For Keyan girls, education is the key to success, and an opportunity that is very hard to come by.
I cannot deny that the majority of people here face extreme difficulties – starvation, lack of clean water, disease, HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, lack of education, female genitalia mutilation, droughts and floods, frightenedly high infant mortality rates, among other repulsive and unfortunate happenings. But progress is being made. We are continuing to find sponsors like you to support a child’s education; a child who otherwise would never have been able to go to school. Increased livestock and lifestyle changes have enabled us to become more sustainable, and the future looks even brighter. Thanks to you, Arrive, and the extreme resilience of our inspiring kids, together we are empowering tomorrow’s leaders.
And what about me, you my ask? I struggle to find a balance between two nearly opposite cultures: America, where everything is so goal-oriented and fast-paced, and Kenya, where due to different cultural practices, life moves at a much slower speed where even the smallest, seemingly insignificant things never go unappreciated. There is even a saying in Ekegusii, the local tribal language, which says, "Koyewakorie lero kelalituko," which means, "Even if you do one thing in the day, that is enough."
Through my adjustments, there has been but one story that has not left my mind since I read it - it helps me find a balance between two cultures, which, at times, seem to contradict each other in just about every way. The story comes from a book, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, which has rapidly become one of my favorites. The story, found on pages 32-34 of the HaperCollins edition published in 1992, reads:
"And don't forget to follow the language of omens. And, above all, don't forget to follow your destiny through to its conclusion. But before I go, I want to tell you a little story. A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.
"Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed with everyone, an the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man's attention.
"The wise man listened attentively to the boy's explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn't have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested the boy look around the palace and return in two hours.
" 'Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something.' said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. 'As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.'
"The boy began climbing and descending the many staircases of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was.
" 'Well,' asked the wise man, 'did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?'
"The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him. 'Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,' said the wise man. 'You cannot trust a man if you don't know his house.'
"Relieved, the boy picked up with spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceiling and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.
'But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?' asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.
" 'Well there is only one piece of advice I can give you,' said the wisest of wise men. 'The secret to happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never forget the drops of oil on the spoon.' "
Why does this short, seemingly simple story have such a great impact to me? Because it identifies how I strive to live my life. My "spoon of oil" - the thing I must never lose focus of - is helping people: my responsibility to empower the less fortunate. I was blessed with such a privileged life that it is my duty to give back, and in Kenya, with your support, that is exactly what I am doing. But at the same time, I must appreciate the marvels of the world around me. Without finding magic in the most peculiar places, my life would be one of boredom and repetitiveness.
I invite you to bring Arrive to the next level. We create hope and a new life for Kenyan orphans and street children who need it most, but we also take the time to appreciate all of the wonderful surprises our world has to offer. We need more sponsors for our children; more donations; more fundraisers; and more Arrive ambassadors willing to work to make the world a better place. We have been given this opportunity to change the world...we mustn't let it go to waste.
As for me, you may find me awake for 48 straight hours working tirelessly to further Arrive's undeniable impact in the local Kenyan community and in the hearts of each and every child we rescue. That is my "oil." But you also may find me on an evening hike, a pikipiki ride through the village, trying new and exotic local cuisine, engaged in a conversation with village elders about how life used to be under colonial rule, or engaged in a discussion with drunk, orphaned, homeless youth about how they wish life would be if they recieved the opportunity to study and start fresh. Without the balance of the "oil" and the "marvels," Arrive would be just another group of people trying to make the world a better place. But we're not. We're different. We're special. We're succeeding. And we invite you to join us.
So, what are you waiting for?!