Welcome to the year 2015! Here in Kenya, the year 2014 ended with celebrations and dancing. Just take a look at the above Arrive Family Holiday Photo to see everyone’s beautiful smiling faces! As for me, the new year has started with some well-deserved treats – most importantly my first hot, not bucket shower in more than one month (read my last blog post for more info). While I am still living full-time with the boys at the orphanage, I have given myself the opportunity to indulge in true western style showers and toilets that flush.
Until yesterday, a teacher’s strike throughout the entire country of Kenya closed all public schools and universities. A teachers’ strike is something that is more than common here as both involved parties seem resistant to negotiate; and has happened at least three times since I have stayed here in Kenya. However, the strike came to an end today and the entire country’s pupils returned to their respective schools, meaning the eight girls Arrive supports to attend secondary boarding school traveled back, with their luggage and mattresses in hand, not to be seen again until the end of Term 1.
As for Emmanuel Lights Academy, we are a private academy so the strike did not affect our students or teachers. In fact, 2015 marked the highest number of new students to enter Emmanuel Lights Academy since it came into existence! Now, the school serves over 250 village students while still being the only school to offer completely free education to any orphan, while at the same time being the highest academically performing school out of the surrounding 52 academies. As Confucius said, "If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children."
But I would like to focus on one special and most deserving new student this year – Alexi. Many of you know Astarico, one of the first 15 street boys we rescued, and whose life story is heartbreaking and inspiring (and can be read here). So when he explained to me that his younger brother, seven-year-old Alexi, was still struggling, the choice was clear: reunite two lost brothers. Alexi was tossed out to the street by his prostitute mother after his father died, and lived homeless on the streets sniffing toxic glue to get by. When I first met Alexi, he was malnourished, barefoot, suffering from some skin disease, wearing the only pair of torn clothes he owned, and visibly sad. Astarico, who loves his brother with all his heart, begged me to allow him to stay at the Keumbu Rehema Childrens Home, and the choice, well, really wasn't a choice at all. As Paulo Coehlo writes in The Alchemist, "Because you’ll know its [your heart's] dreams and wishes, you will know how to deal with them. You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say."
Two orphaned brothers, once separated, both former homeless street children, united at last: now living together under the same roof (and sleeping in adjacent beds). Astarico and Alexi couldn’t be more delighted to spend their days together again, but an even greater phenomenon is at hand. Their personalities, joint chemistry, and manner of living most closely resembles what Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist referrers to as “communicating with the Soul of The World” than anything I have ever witnessed. They are so in tune with the world, nature, and their feelings, it is truly something you must see to feel; and when you do, you’ll know in your heart that these two brothers have overcome some of life’s toughest obstacles and are meant for a much brighter future, finally together at last – a future only Arrive In Kenya is able to provide.
Unfortunately, the new year has brought some disappointing news as well. Madam Terry is an integral role both at home and in school and serves as the mother figure to more children than one can count. Earlier last week, her own mother passed away. While Madam has been mourning at the home of her mother, the Arrive children have walked the long distance to comfort her and be with her at this time of sorrow. In the next coming days, Madam’s mother’s body will be transported from the mortuary to her family plot of land in the village (in what would some people call a parade of sorts: motorbikes, old pickup trucks filled with five times their capacity, screaming, honking, and everything else you can imagine). Then, a funeral will follow which will be attended by hundreds of the many people who Madam’s mother touched during her long time on earth. In this part of Kenya, death is an all-too-common part of life and we will move forward to honor Madam’s mother’s memory.
Lastly, I was able to travel with Melikzadek, a member of the Giriama tribe, whose land resides on the coast of the Indian Ocean, to locate and retrieve his birth certificate. The birth certificate, so we thought, was located in his home village - only a short 18 hour (turned out to be 23 hour) bus ride to the beautiful city of Mombasa. We met with Melikzadek’s father (an embarrassment of a man) who provided us with no help at all and no sense of urgency to help his son who he once threw into the streets. We met with village elders, relatives, chiefs, friends, neighbors, and other relevant parties to make great progress in obtaining his birth certificate – an absolutely essential document so Melikzadek can register for his Standard 8 (8th grade) national exams and continue his education next year into secondary school, and one day university. Between the slums and the city, I was able to engage with street children of Mombasa as well. They came from every tribe and every location up and down the coast: from Somalia to Tanzania. But one thing remained constant: they wanted to come home with us, for a chance to study, a chance to live a successful life, a chance to be happy.
Melikzadek and I were also lucky enough to experience the gorgeous Indian Ocean and the many beaches Mombasa has to offer. It was a much-needed two-afternoon vacation: swimming in the ocean, picking fresh coconuts out of the trees and drinking their nutritious water and meat, enjoying freshly cooked indigenous Rwandan style flame-grilled kebab by my new Rwandan friend Bikorimama, relaxing in the sandy coastline, and (me, not Melikzadek) enjoying ice-cold Tusker beers while watching the giant cargo ships pass into Mombasa’s seaport. "Paradise" in Swahili is peponi, but it might as well be called Mombasa. I will most definitely by visiting pwani ("coast" in Swahili) again soon!
Looking forward, we are in the process of unveiling a new aspect of Arrive that will reshape and rejuvenate the organization in the best ways possible. In my next blog post I will explain this development and tell you how you will be able to help not only Arrive, but yourself and mother nature too. I will introduce ArriveFit: a program to enable Arrive to be the leading orphanage in terms of instilling healthy habits and earth friendly practices for children in the developing world. We are very close to saving the kids who will save our world, and we invite you to join the team and transform yourself as well. Stay tuned for major developments coming your way!