The Universal Language: Smiles


According to The Hunger Project (, 98% of the world’s malnourished people live in developing countries, with 214 million residing in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (, 91% of all children in the world living with HIV/AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Transparency International (, Kenya is the 136th most corrupt country out of 177 total nations. Needless to say, living in rural Kenya is synonymous with living with hunger and in extreme poverty. In my experiences I have seen time and time again that poverty dehumanizes people, plain and simple. How can someone see starving street children and give them money for food if he or her has no money himself or herself? Fortunately, we  - me, you, and anyone else lucky enough to be born in a first world or affluent society with the desire to leave the world a better place than when they entered it - have the ability to help and are doing so diligently and with integrity. However, this week we faced a challenge from a local man who combined his frustration of poverty and his jealousy of our greatly successful and appreciated aid to create a “Why aren’t they helping me?” attitude. Acting on feelings of frustration and desperation (and most definitely influenced by a few too many glasses of chang'aa - illegal Kenyan moonshine), he physically attacked our home, our kids, and anyone else living here. The attack, which was meant to deliver us a physical and emotional blow, was quite unsuccessful and quickly dealt with. In fact, it united us as the Arrive family even further. Nobody was hurt and the damage he did was trivial at best. His absurd actions, however, reminded me that the combination of poverty and jealousy easily leads to irrational decisions by people suffering from both conditions. Just one day after the incident we were lucky enough to welcome a new guest - Vicki from England.  While she was only able to stay for one night, she brought with her a bundle of energy and joy. Immediately her car arrived at our home and the kids saw a large box in the trunk: a subwoofer. Precisely 137 seconds later, the car (and house, and dirt, and chicken coop, and neighbors’ huts) were booming and shaking to the beat and bass of Swahili tunes. An impromptu dance party ensued and after a short while, kids from all over the village heard the music and ran to our property to join along and dance with us. Just a day after an attack on our home, kids from the entire village joined our children to dance, sing, and play in our yard.

Vicki also brought with her gifts for the kids: futbol uniforms, toys, school supplies, and a Nintendo Wii. It was difficult to say goodbye to Vicki less than 20 hours after initially meeting but we couldn’t be more thankful for her selflessness and desire to visit us; making the seven-hour trip each way from Nairobi. Like Winnie The Pooh says, “How lucky am I [are we] to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

While I mentioned earlier that living in rural Kenya is synonymous with living in poverty, living in poverty is absolutely not synonymous with living with sadness. In fact, people here have more joy and appreciation for the smallest things than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Plus, they are some of the most generous and giving people I have ever been around. That’s why Mirna, Arrive’s current volunteer, and I decided to decorate Arrive supported Emmanuel Lights Academy’s new preschool. You read in my previous blog post that we renovated the school and built a separate unit for the three, four, and five-year-olds; complete with two classrooms and latrines. While there is never a shortage of smiles there, we wanted to paint the building to portray a welcoming, learning environment for the young ones.

I stuck with the background colors and let Mirna whip out her creative side to beautify the building with drawings, shapes, the alphabet, numbers, flowers, a rainbow, and more. Mirna was able to use base colors to create the colors that the local hardware store lacked, which were many. We used the bottom of a jerry can to mix and hold the paint, as the store did not have trays or smaller brushes. Still, the finished project, which took close to a week to complete, turned out awesome and the kids couldn’t be happier or prouder of their new classrooms. Now the once plain structure looks like a true and happy preschool. As villagers pass the preschool they are in awe of the bright and vivid, inviting design and cannot help but smile.

Through poverty and obstacles, trials and tribulations, a smile is the only true universal language. We are lucky enough to choose to see difficulty behind every opportunity or opportunity behind every difficulty. We choose to embrace the opportunity. Here in Nyaturubo, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by smiles every day and fortunate enough, thanks to your support, to be able put more smiles on even more peoples’ faces. What more could I ask for?