"A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."__ ____ _ - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., 8 March 1841 - 6 March 1935 Living in Kenya, I have become “numb” to certain aspects of life – illness, poverty, and even to some small extent, death. I have become used to seeing mothers desperately search for a way to obtain mere cents to buy their babies life-saving medicine. I have become used to young, drunk, street children begging and crying as I pass through different cities. But one thing I haven’t become used to is turning away children from our home, physically from our home. Increased abuse on the streets coupled with word-of-mouth communication about our relatively stellar living conditions here has greatly increased a trend that we first saw many months ago - street children coming to our home by themselves. In the past week, EIGHT (yes, eight) orphaned street children have arrived here at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home. Four came together one day (three were brothers, aged 6, 9, and 10 years; the other their 12-year-old friend), two came together another day; one four days ago. Alexi (Fanta) arrived here from the streets two days ago. I wrote about Fanta (in the photo below), in this blog from over one year ago. I explained why Alexi's nickname is Fanta and even showed where he sleeps in the streets at night. From the streets, Fanta has begged to live with us from day one.
These children travel by foot from various cities (mostly Kisii and surrounding areas) without food or water for hours. They do so because they know that Arrive's home may be their only chance of a life not lived not on the street; a life with hope for a brighter future. They show up down by the boys' dormitory, greet their friends they knew from the street who now live here, and then ask for me. The routine is the same – we sit on our benches by the bonfire pit, I talk to them, they talk to me, we feed them, and then in the nicest way possible, I say, “You can’t stay here because we don’t have the money, capital, infrastructure, or resources to support you. You need to go back to the streets, now.” These are encounters I have not become “numb” to. I feel like it is me, alone, saying, “Go back to where you came from, go back to where you will suffer from starvation, physical and sexual abuse, and illness. Even though you made the trek here; even though you have proven you want to live here, I cannot let you.” I feel like it is me, alone, who is closing the door on their possibly bright and different future and forcing them back to a life of misery and suffering. This aspect of our work is one of the hardest for me to internalize. Like the quote above says, because of these heartbreaking encounters, my mind will never shrink back to its old dimensions.
In order to aid and empower more people, part of my job as the President of Arrive is to get money and grants; it’s as simple as that. With money, when used responsibly, we create sustainable, expandable, long-term, beneficial growth in infrastructure and standard of living. But one thing I am bad at is simply asking people for money (but we are always grateful when it comes)! So I did a bit of research and found an additional way you can support Arrive. By clicking here, anytime you shop online through Amazon.com, they will donate 0.5% of the money you spend to Arrive through a program called AmazonSmile. You shop, Amazon donates to Arrive. Of course, this alone will not allow us to expand exponentially - but it will help generate support. Please share this information with anyone / everyone you know who may have a small addiction to online Amazon shopping. I've even heard that these days Amazon is now selling megayachts and vacation homes online, so don't be afraid to treat yourself to something expensive!
The sad parts of life in a third world country are to be expected, but not all tears shed here are tears of sorrow. In this blog from a year ago, I introduced Deborah and her story of coming here to live with us. In this blog, I wrote of how she is excelling. And now: a final update. After over one year, her grandmother raised enough money (roughly USD $6.00) to come visit her granddaughter for the first time since Deborah arrived at the KRCH. It wasn’t only Deborah and her grandmother who were crying; we all were teary-eyed as we watched them run to hug each other in a ten-minute long embrace. After, Deborah's grandmother pinched Deborah's cheeks and was amazed at how healthy and "fat" her granddaughter had become (being fat, for a member of the Maasai tribe, means you are being well fed, and is a rare but sought-after characteristic). She was thankful that the skin diseases which plagued Deborah since birth had disappeared. And Deborah was equally excited to see her grandmother, the person who played the role of her mother for so many years of her childhood. It was truly a moment nobody will ever forget. The day after, Deborah stayed here and her grandmother left on the six-hour journey back to her village; both full of happiness and gratitude.
Now to Arrive's happiness and gratitude - since my last blog we were lucky to welcome a number of GE employees from Nairobi to aid us in the completion of the fish pond project. Together, we made the final touches and now our pond is stocked with tilapia. We cannot thank GE enough for their funding of the running water and fish pond - two projects that have greatly helped, and will continue to help, the children of the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home. We look forward to working with the amazing people of GE again in the near future.
Furthermore, I was thrilled to reconnect with one of my great childhood friends. Benjamin and I were great buddies growing up together in Connecticut until he and his family moved to Wisconsin when we were in fourth grade. While we stayed in touch, I had not seen him since he moved. It just so happens he took a position with GE, was placed in Nairobi, and now, after so many years, we were able to meet again thousands of miles away from home! Benjamin can be seen in the above photos (in the group photo, on the right with the hat; in the top of the left photo, holding the post).
Last night, after the other GE members retired to their beds, Benjamin and I sat by the bonfire and talked about life, home, sports, Africa, food, and every topic in between. Catching up was long overdue, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't get one thought out of my head - the benches we were sitting on were the exact same benches where I sat and told Fanta he could not live with us. It made me think that a place is only a place, and the true sentimental value of any place is based on what happens there. At that moment, as Benjamin, the kids, and I chatted and laughed late into the night, these benches brought us joy. I remembered the land we were on: complete with new houses, the fish pond, the field, everything. It all used to be just a farm, and now it has brought hope and a renewed chance at life to countless kids and new, mind expanding experiences to countless international volunteers. One day, these benches will bring that same shining happiness to Fanta. One day, not only the current Arrive children will open taps to drink clean water, catch fresh tilapia from our pond to cook, and sit happily around a bonfire, but Fanta will be here too, sitting, smiling, and laughing on these benches.