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Archive for October, 2008

Day 4 And Very Early Day 5

October 4, 2007

The mornings start very early here at St. Monica’s.

Doors are being pounded on at 5am and showers are taken. There is no hot water here. So even on a cold morning, like this morning, the 5 year olds start their morning with a cold shower. Yesterday, I took one too. And let me tell you, I miss sitting in my hot shower.

The girls then get dressed in their school uniforms. The word “tattered” doesn’t begin to describe the condition of the clothes. Socks with large holes at the heels. Dresses with rips down the sides and every single sweater that is worn here has large holes. The shoes they wear are so run down, that if I had them they would not be good enough to donate to the salvation army. They would be headed straight to the trash can.

Amazing Self-Respect

The most beautiful thing is that they take such good care of them all. They take special care in getting dressed to look the very best that they can. They take great pride and they have amazing self respect. One of our friends, Terri, our cousin John, and a women I had never met before who lives in Hawaii, had made large donations right before we left. The donations totaled $1500. That money will buy them all new uniforms, including shoes, socks, dresses and sweaters. We’ll be measuring them after we eat breakfast.

The breakfasts.

Well, yesterday was a handful of white rice and chai tea. This morning it is shortbread cookies, chai tea and bananas that Juli and I bought yesterday at the Nakumatt, which is like a Kenyan Walmart, only smaller.

I took a break from writing for a few moments just now to measure the girls for their new uniforms. Now I have a few minutes to rest before breakfast and the morning chores. After breakfast yesterday we were put to work. Dishes for about 25 people were washed. Floors swept and scrubbed. Even the outside cement surrounding the house. The dirt was swept and all the plants were watered by hand.

After the cleaning was done, we had to clean the rice for the night’s meal. We sifted through platters of rice picking out small sticks and bugs. This was tedious work and I didn’t like this one. I don’t like sitting still for too long, unless I’m at the computer and my mind is going 100 miles an hour… or just out cold asleep.

We took a break and had chai tea and shortbread cookies. Yes, the very same ones the girls had for breakfast. Then we started to clean and sift through corn, picking out the pieces for dinner. After all the work, we told the house moms that we were not going to clean tomorrow until Juli and I got new cleaning supplies. They all laughed.

My back is sore from bending down so much yesterday.

I can’t imagine how they feel. They scrub the cement outside every morning on their knees and dry it down with towels afterwards. These women work hard every single day to keep this house running smoothly and organized. I have learned a few things from them already.

MatatuSo we headed to the Nakumatt to purchase scrubbers, soap, brooms, a very large pot to cook over a fire – no stove here – and school supplies for the girls. Then jumped into a Matatu (that’s an entirely different post describing public transportation here. Photo by Boyznberry) with goods in hand and headed home. They were all so pleased to get their new equipment. I was too. Maybe today the work won’t be so tough.

We passed out clothes and underwear to the girls after they got home from school. They were all so happy to receive them all. Then games were played outside and then suddenly the electricity went out for the entire evening. We went to the dining area and prayer and songs were sung for at least an hour before dinner.

We ate seperately from the girls tonight because the Father of the orphanage had arrived and joined us for a bite to eat. We told him about our plans and he was excited about the uniforms. We then passed out tooth paste, tooth brushes, pens and school notebook paper to them after dinner. We prayed and sang for another hour before they went around the room formally introducing themselves to us and thanking us for the gifts.

Juli with two of the girls.We were then asked to speak. I was so happy Juli went first. She was so eloquent with her words, telling the girls how amazing and special they all are.

When it was my turn, I broke down in tears and I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do it. So they broke out in song and danced around the table until I was able to speak.

I told them that I was so happy to be there and that they had made me feel so welcome. And that even though I had known them for only two days, I had fallen in love with them already. I told them that in America I had two daughters and now I feel like I have them as daughters here in Africa and I knew that I would be back next year to visit them.

I hope they understood.

The evening came to an end and we turned off our flashlight and fell asleep quickly. Day 4 is over. And it is now very early morning on Day 5. I will be back to tell how the rest of this day has gone.

Much love to all of you. Peace my friends.

[transcribed from a voice mail message]

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“In order to find yourself you must first loose yourself in the service of others.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

As Gandhi emphasized, service to others is a crucial part of personal growth, which I am in complete agreement, as I have experienced such in my life. There is nothing in life that brings me greater joy than helping others. Serving others completes me, it is part of who I am, it defines me, as it is through the people that I understand the meaning of a living faith, and God’s abundant love.

I eagerly began my journey on Saturday July 19. After 27+ hours of traveling, I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Once the plane landed, I was flooded with a mix of emotions: excitement that the experience was about to begin, fear that I would not find my coordinator waiting for me at the gate, and disbelief that after months of planning, the day had finally arrived. As I de-boarded the plane, it struck me, what was I thinking, coming to such a place alone? No turning back now! After a stress free clearance through customs and the quick claim of my luggage, I walked out into a sea of people and within seconds, spotted my lovely name on a piece of cardboard, held by my coordinator at Global Crossroads. The first few days of orientation were a blur, as the shock of being in a country that was literally the extreme opposite of mine, began to sink in. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. My brain was on overload trying to take it all in and process the fact that this devastation was reality for the people of Kenya.

I finally arrived at my project on Tuesday July 22nd. The drive to the project was spent in silence, as a thousand thoughts danced through my mind, painting unclear images of what it would be like at the orphanage. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by the Home Supervisors and the Director with open arms and a very warm welcome. The Director of Saint Monica Children’s Home (SMCH) is Father Augustine Kariuki, a Catholic priest. The first thing I noticed about Kenyans is that they are very hospitable, often tending to you even without request.

The director gave me some background info on Saint Monica Children’s Home, thus equipping me with an important sense of knowledge that was necessary to gradually acclimate me to their lifestyle. I stayed in the volunteer room at the orphanage where my accommodations included a toilet, electricity and hot water-all rare commodities in Kenya. A typical day at SMCH is as follows: the girls wake at 5am and prepare themselves for school. Since the girls are spread out among six different schools, they leave at between 6 and 7am. Each girl has to walk 2 to 4 miles just to get to school because they do not have funds to provide transportation. School lasts until 4 or 5pm, in which they return to the orphanage to complete their daily tasks of hand-washing their clothing, preparing meals, and cleaning their dormitories. They are extremely hard working and focused on their mission of teamwork. Every night after chores they gather in the common room for song, rosary, and prayer–it is here where I was able to witness their true love and devotion to God. Dinner is eaten at 7:30, followed by study tables from 8-10pm.

When I arrived, all of the girls were at school. As 4pm approached, the butterflies in my stomach began to increase with anticipation of our first meeting. The first girl I met, I will never forget. She was five-year-old Alice, the youngest girl at St. Monica’s. She walked through the gate, right up to me and shook my hand. The whole time she had a vibrant toothless grin spread across her face. It was then that I truly felt the power of God’s plans and knew that I would not return home unaffected. That evening the staff and girls welcomed me with song and prayer, making me feel so loved and appreciated; I was finally home! Spending time with the girls enabled me to understand the depths of their true love for life, as well as the endless joy and compassion for everyone—it was unlike anything I have ever witnessed and it was the most precious gift that they could ever have given me. My main service was to help the girls with their studies at night. I went on this trip with the mindset that this would be how to help in an obvious way. Yet I soon realized that what was really important was being able to share my talents and expressing my love, care and interest for each precious girl. I made it a priority to not only get to know each of them by name, but to give each girl my individual attention and love, while learning about them and their country. It was because of this that I was able to create such a strong bond with all of Saint Monica’s and I have no doubt in my mind that I will continue to nurture and maintain a long lasting friendship and love for ALL of them. Apart from my time spent at the orphanage, the director made it his priority to fully immerse me in the beauty of Kenya and its culture, constantly making sure I tried a full variety of Kenyan food and understood the cultural history and different tribes of Kenya through a trip to the Bomas of Kenya. I also experienced the beauty, grace, and nature of the African animals through the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, as well as a weekend Safari Trip to the Masai Mara Reserve; a full tour of Kenya’s largest and busiest city, Nairobi; and visits and tours of each of the different schools attended by the orphans. All of these experiences in addition to my work at the orphanage created in me, a sense of belonging and understanding.

Kenya is a beautiful country with rich cultural roots and a strong history.  Unfortunately HIV/AIDS is rampantly spreading, leaving children orphaned as a result and thus affecting the already devastatingly poor economy. Despite the daily struggles and hardships, the people of Kenya are truly an inspiration. Even though they have nothing—their faith in God is so strong. I have NEVER in my life, experienced such dedication to God and to faith. For the Kenyans, their faith is a way of life and because of this they find happiness in simplicity and therefore can live without fear because their faith pursues above all else.

Amazing is an understatement when describing this experience. It was powerful, life-changing, and eye-opening. During the three short weeks that I was in Kenya, so much growth occurred within me. It gave me a greater appreciation and knowledge of a new culture; I learned a lot about myself, and most importantly the impact it had on my faith is indescribable. I was blessed with an amazing opportunity to see life without the material evils of the world, thus faith becomes of the utmost importance. As Americans, we may be rich in material wealth, having everything readily available to us, but Kenyans have the extreme richness of their faith, making everything else seem so unimportant, truly an inspiration for all.

This experience is just the beginning. Before going to Kenya I pictured that this trip would do just what Gandhi predicted; I would find myself. And that I did, but in ways I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined. God led me to Kenya, and little did I know how intense the power of His calling would be. SMCO houses orphans who have lost everything they ever knew, their family, their few possessions, and what it feels like to be loved and cared for. If it were not for the love and grace of God working through a dedicated staff, they would have remained that way, possibly not even made it out alive. Everyday is a constant struggle for them, as they are unsure of how they will get their next meal, let alone, how they will be able to afford the constant medical costs as the girls fall ill rather frequently. To top it off, all 31 girls are in school, which entails a whole other realm of expenses, as it is essential to be educated in order to have a future. I was blessed to be part of such an incredible experience, in which I now have the opportunity to fight for these girls. To use my talents to reach out around the globe, informing, captivating and encouraging people like you to be a part of this fight. Little IS Much for these girls.

For more information on how you can contribute please contact me at: presar18@uwgb.edu Through God’s love and prayers we can be the answer to Saint Monica Children’s Home prayers.

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