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As we began our descent over the immense Lake Victoria we could see grasslands stretch to the horizon stopped suddenly by a towering mountain range. While the city of Kisumu was boasted to be one of the larger cities of Kenya, its meager single room airport with the words Kisumu International scrawled on the side seemed to tell a different tale. Although the airport is dwarfed by the ones we’ve flown through such as Chicago’s O’Hare and London’s Heathrow, we can see several school groups flock around the airport and marvel at the sight of lumbering metal planes gliding gracefully to the ground. As we gather our luggage and step forth onto Kenyan soil for the first time we are greeted enthusiastically by the orphanage staff who help us pack our luggage into a large safari van. After we are loaded we travel down a dirt road from the airport into the heart of downtown Kisumu.
The city itself is a burgeoning metropolis of poorly constructed buildings that host many businesses from banks to construction agencies; although it is apparent that modern technology such as motor vehicles and electricity is starting to seep into the area, the growing pains are glaringly apparent. The area lacks any form of traffic signs or signals even though the streets are packed full of traffic, ranging from lumbering trucks, smaller vans, even smaller trikes called Tuk-Tuks, motorcycles, bikes, and even pedestrian pulling carts. The only way to keep the faster vehicles from traveling at dangerous speeds is the installation of speed bumps periodically down the central “highway” along with the many pot holes that dot the side roads. The highway if it could be called that is a poorly laid slab of asphalt that cuts through an endless shanty town constructed primarily of tin. After a short while of traveling on this highway we exit onto one of the side roads that runs through a small more modern neighborhood; at least modern compared to what we have seen previously. Although the area is more modern, the roads still remain dirt and the concrete fences are topped with electrified wire and broken glass to deter any would be thieves.
Finally we arrive at St. Anna’s Guest House, a quaint little compound where we are staying. The reason I use the word compound is because although buildings themselves were quite inviting, like a little villa you would find in the French countryside; it was surrounded by garish barbed wire and an iron gate which kept you in constant reminder the poverty that lay just outside these walls. We stepped inside to unload our luggage, although the rooms were very minimalistic, it was still rather comfortable. After working a full day at the orphanage the beds felt more welcoming than any hotel back in the US, and the showers like a brief trip to heaven even though the water was heated by a makeshift appliance strapped to the end of the shower head. Once finished packing we marched into the dining hall where we were served a delicious lunch. Originally we anticipated that our palate cultivated by lavish western living would keep us from enjoying our meals so we packed many snacks, the very opposite was true. The tilapia caught freshly from Lake Victoria was a great treat, along with the rice complimented by a delicious rich sauce that the kitchen prepared. Although the food was consistently fresher and more wholesome than what we were used to back home, it didn’t prevent us from pouring seasoned salt on just about everything.
After a delicious lunch we loaded up inside the van once again to finally visit the orphanage, the reason we found ourselves halfway across the world. Going back the same way we came we once again traveled along the highway and exited on the opposite side after a short while. The dirt road we got onto cut between a couple of makeshift shops set up on the side of the highway and back into the wilderness. Although the dirt road was clear, it was often obstructed by various holes, dirt mounds, and large ponds of water; luckily the van we were in was large enough to overcome any obstacle we found on the road. While traveling to the orphanage Maisha we came across many small houses and huts constructed of mud and brick surrounded by fields of maize; the main food of the people here. When passing these dwellings the children would run towards the van screaming and laughing; often asking how we were in English or chattering in their native Luo language. We came across a rather large river where many of the people would walk many miles to wash and gather water to drink and cook with. Finally we could see the orphanage down the road but the path was obstructed by a large crowd singing with glee. We exited the van and were hugged and greeted excitedly by all the children and widows. Although weary from all the traveling and lack of sleep you couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear as the children held onto each of your hands as you walked to the orphanage. After attempting to join in the many joyous songs we finally reached the orphanage where they set up a small tent with many chairs set up under it. Our family took our seats at the front while the widows and children sat behind and all around us. The staff then introduced themselves to us and subsequently us to the children. We then enjoyed ourselves as the children performed several songs, dances, and even a few plays and dramas they created themselves. You couldn’t help but be in awe of the harmonious sounds of their voices or their synchronized movements to their song, nor the creativity and brilliance in their story telling and poetry. One small girl recited a poem about both of her parents succumbing to AID’s and yet was still joyful of her life and her chance at a future; a surreal experience that would drive any person to tears and to question their perception of life.
After the fun and festivities we set off to begin our work. The compound was divided into two main sections, one where the widows tend to the chores of running the orphanage and where the orphans sleep and the other main section where the food is served and the younger children are taught. In the smaller section lies Momma Grace’s house, the mother of Beatrice and the woman who maintains Maisha. In front of the house lies a single metal pump where everyone draws water for washing clothes, cooking, or drinking. The process is tedious, having to pump a handle up and down for a couple of minutes before a water of gallon is drawn, but the only other manner of gathering water is walking several miles to the river and walking back . To the side of the house lies several chicken coups and a kitchen directly behind it. The kitchen itself is a mud shack with a tin roof with some mesh wiring at the top to allow the smoke to ventilate, albeit not very well. Inside the kitchen are three open stoves molded from hardened clay and a single counter to prepare the food. The widows prepare the food while having to weather both the elements as well as the immense heat that emanates from the open fires and the smoke that tends to clog the air inside. Even though the women have to work in unbearably uncomfortable conditions, they always carry themselves in a jovial way, either singing while hunched over their cooking or humming cheerfully while preparing the meals. Whenever I would come to the kitchen to help in whatever way I could to prepare the ingredients they would always greet me with a cheer and long hugs along with trying to teach me the ways they cook; which took an obstinate amount of patience on their part. Even with the few amount of ingredients and amount of mouths they had to feed, they would always prepare a mouth watering meal that never had any left overs.
The main area holds the school where the children of the community are served lunch and where the younger orphans are taught basic things like mathematics and English. The reason English is so focused on is due to the tests that allow children to attend high school are partly written in English, if any child in Kenya does not have a basic grasp of English they will not be able to achieve a higher education than that of 8th grade. Even then all of the schools in Kenya require a large amount of money for tuition, if a child does not have a sponsor, more often than not the family cannot afford to send their child to school. The school at Maisha has one smaller room and one large room on the bottom floor. The smaller room serves as a classroom for the younger orphans who cannot attend any of the schools yet, while the larger room serves as a cafeteria. While it holds about 6 tables that can hold about sixty kids in total, the room often holds a little over a hundred while they eat lunch. The floor above that holds four rooms total, two more that serve as classrooms, the third serves as a sewing room where a few widows work old fashioned Singer sower machines where uniforms are made for the orphans that are schooled here, the fourth serves as a computer lab where laptops are used to teach the children computer literacy; many have never seen one or even heard of what one is. Next to the main building lies a couple of small huts made of reeds that serve as extra space for teaching. The central area in front of the building is often used as a play area for the children where they can be seen running about and playing with soccer balls or hula hoops or whatever toys are donated.
As for what our group did to help out at Maisha, several women in our group were career teachers and sought to find ways to improve the experience in the classroom for the kids as well as the teachers. For the most part the teachers at Maisha lacked the supplies and knowledge on the most efficient way to teach the younger children mathematics nor English. With their help they established effective teaching methods to teach the kids the English alphabet along with essential spelling and grammar rules. Rodney Huffty, the father of the other family, was a Young Life leader and used his expertise in working with teenagers to help mentor teens here with insights about life as well as instruct the men of the staff on how to handle them as well. The kids from both families that were working at Maisha helped by reading books to the children individually to help foster English skills. They also helped with the food preparation for when lunch time rolled around literally hundreds of children would line up outside of Maisha’s gate to be served some meager helping of beans and rice. A couple that is currently volunteering for a year here named Ian and Amy would draw water from a water pump have the children form a line in front of the tub of water. From there they would take a cup full of water and pour it over each kid’s hands as they scrubbed with soap passed to each one. After they have washed their hands they would then form a line in front of one giant room that served as a mess hall. Each would then take plate of rice and beans that was tediously served by the missionary families. The food would first be put into smaller buckets and than carried from the kitchen another 100 yards to the cafeteria; overall the process takes about twenty or so trips. Once the food is set up in the cafeteria it is then served to each of the three hundred or so kids. Even though the children that came here for meals had no chair or table to sit at nor any silverware they were happy as could be for having a filling meal. Even as we would walk by the younger children they would offer handfuls of their meal to us even though most of them if not all were starving; such is the generous cheerful nature of the children of the orphanage. After serving out about 200 lbs. of both rice and beans, everyone assists the widows in cleaning the plates and pots. The way this is accomplished is by drawing water out of the pump into plastic buckets and carried about 50 yards behind the house. Soap is then added to a couple of the buckets and the dishes are sanitized by briefly washing them in the soapy water and then rinsing them and letting them dry in the air. Normally the few widows that take on this chore daily spend around two to three hours hand washing hundreds of dishes, with the assistance of about five people from our families, the entire process still takes around an hour. Once this is all accomplished, the day is just about over and the sun is just about to set; we load up in the van and head back to St. Anna’s for dinner and a good nights sleep.
The following day instead of going to Maisha Orphanage first, we went to the slums instead to visit a health clinic that is being operated by the orphanage. There people in the slums visit the clinic to test and get treatment for the HIV virus that runs rampant and untreated in the area. Currently about two million people reside in the slums as squatters that live in mud shacks and tin shanties in even more disrepair than those found in the countryside. Garbage litters the streets as the only way to dispose of it is to toss it in several heaps scattered around the area. The clinic itself is nothing more but a small single room hut that holds a bed and some supplies that is run by widows who are also infected with the virus and other women who are just doing it out of the grace of their heart. After grabbing several bags of supplies for the afflicted families we set out on foot to deliver the supplies as well as offer any other assistance whether through prayer or other means. While most of the adults are weathered from years of disease and poverty, there are still children that run through the streets giggling and laughing. Seeing their joy gives a bit of happiness, but that happiness is quickly squelched when we meet the first man afflicted with the virus. He sat outside of his house in a wooden chair, looking more dead than alive. Even though he lacked the energy to move, much less speak, he and his family were very gracious for the supplies we brought. Because he was sick, the only other male in his family, his thirteen year old son, was forced to work and provide for the rest of his family which included several sisters and his mother; a feat which was very well impossible. After several minutes of talking with their family the man accepted Christ and the group prayed for his healing around him; the whole experience was surreal and difficult to explain in words, other worldly is perhaps the best way to describe it. After walking through the rest of the slums and visiting the other two families it was much of the same. Extreme poverty forced on a people with no escape, families devastated by a virus often garnered just through birth, a place although dominated by surrender and despair often showed sparks of hope.
For the next few days although the chores remained the same, there was always a new experience with the children that could only make you smile. From them finding an otherworldly excitement and glee from a puppet show, to two older boys who turned in a roll of money that was lost that could of provided for them for years. I find difficulty in trying to describe these children, whenever I try to think of a way to describe them I find myself at a loss of words. The only thing that comes close is that in my eyes, these people were what God intended us to be, selfless loving pure spirits. Entering this country I was overwhelmed with a sense of despair and hopelessness from the widespread poverty, disease, and corruption that strikes down these people; but now as I leave, I only feel a sense of hope both in these amazing people, and the human race as a whole.
July 15th & 16th, 2012
Helloooo from Maisha!!! My name is Alecia…I’m with the group from Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City. We arrived safely in Kisumu on Sunday. During our drive in we were greeted by HUNDREDS of children running toward us. It was the best greeting anyone could ever dream of!
Welcome To Maisha
We had a beautiful time touring the facilities and seeing just how much God has done in the last five years. I know the Lord will continue to do more. The women and children prepared for weeks for our arrival and they performed songs, dance and poetry for us. They are very smart and talented. They made us feel so welcome by including us in their performances. It was so much fun…they would sing and call out one of our names and pull us up to sing and dance with them.
One of the wonderful performers
Some of the young ladies performing a song & dance
Blake, Meg & Eric getting’ their dance on
The next day a group of us visited three different people in the slums that are living with HIV/AIDS. It was a great time to reach out and love on these people who have been shunned by friends and family due to their illness. It was important to share with them the love of Christ and to let them know that they have not been rejected by Him. I was so humbled to be invited into their home and listen to their stories. To lay hands on them and pray for them, to hug them and let them know there are people that care for them and will continue to lift them up in prayer. They have NOT been forgotten. There was one gentleman in particular that wasn’t doing very well at all. He didn’t have the strength to sit up, couldn’t eat and had lost a great deal of weight. It was a privilege to pray with him and share God’s truth. Praise God, he received Christ last week as his savior.
Please keep the ones I’ve mentioned in your prayers, and the many more we didn’t even meet, that are facing such hardships. It’s incredibly hard to live with this disease anywhere, especially here. They are neglected by family and it’s hard for them to keep work due to their illness, in turn, making it near impossible for them to afford their medications and even their rent.
July 17, 2012
Today had to be the most amazing day ever. Tricia, Callie & I got to spend our morning and afternoon in the kitchen with this beautiful woman, Suleiman. She has the most beautiful spirit. She is funny, sweet, VERY smart and a new believer as of five days ago. We had the privilege of cooking lunch for the rest of our team with her. She’s an incredible cook. What I enjoyed most about our time together was getting to talk and hear her story.
She recently received Christ five days ago. She has never read a Bible and Tricia started telling her the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. She was amazed by the story…Callie then told her the story of Zacchaeus. She started putting two and two together. She said one time she saw a movie out in the field and there was a man carrying a heavy cross, she asked if that was the same man. We said yes then Tricia, who is an incredible story teller by the way, told the story of Jesus’ birth and how he died on the cross for us. It was quite the emotional moment and she just couldn’t believe Jesus would do that for us. There were lots of tears…she ran over and hugged Tricia and we all just cried. We then sang some worship songs together while we cooked. It was incredible. What an honor to serve with her.
July 18, 2012
Today was a packed day….but GREAT! As you know, Maisha not only ministers to Orphans, but widows and widowers as well. I worked with a couple of women gathering information from the men and women that want to start their own businesses. It was a nice time but very busy as we had over 100 people show up. My part of the job was to take each person’s photo. I used that as an opportunity to speak truth into their lives. To tell them they are loved by God and to offer words of encouragement. I didn’t have a lot of time but it was sweet.
Today was day two of soccer camp…the kids run through drills with the coaches and scrimmages.
Each day a different coach shares their testimony. Bea shared that Meg’s testimony was really simple and something the kids could relate to. Bea was prompted by the Lord to translate the testimony in their language to make sure they really understood what was shared. Every night after our team dinner we go around the table and share our highs & lows from the day. Today, Austin shared that his high for the day was when the kids from soccer camp raised their hands to receive Christ! As if that wasn’t amazing enough…Bea shared that it was 59 of them!!! Praise the LAMB!!!
Another team went out into the village for home visits again today. As hard as the home visits are, they are also a huge blessing…God really uses those moments to reach out to those who are sick & hurting. During our high-low’s tonight we found out that two people received Christ during the home visits as well!! God is doing amazing things here at Maisha…please keep the prayers going up…it’s working!
Every day at Maisha is special and God’s grace abounds. But today was one of those rare days where God’s glory shined so brightly, it soaked us all until we overflowed and danced in a river of delight. Even the 3 and 4 year olds from the Academy picked up on the atmosphere – one of them grabbed a drum and the rest of them formed a straight line behind, singing and dancing in unity!
New Shoes For All
Team Maisha discusses “highs and lows” (thanks Kally Huffty) at dinner each night, and we were all hard pressed to find a low tonight…but the highs were never ending. All 85 Maisha Academy students (ages 3-9) got new shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste. What an absolute joy to put on their new socks and shoes and spend a few moments wiggling their toes and loving on each of them! Their smiles of pure delight were so sweet.
Mary Awaits Her New Shoes
Class time in the Academy was extra special as Kristen modeled teaching techniques and our teachers eagerly grabbed hold of the new ideas and made them their own. I heard Kristen comment how it was one of the best moments she’s ever experienced.
Our cooks, the hardest working ladies I know, have been relieved of dish duty this week as our team takes on the challenge. If you ever wonder if we really feed 450 every day, just come join us in doing dishes. Thanks to Kristen, they have new tubs and real dish soap. Anastasia was happily crying and just kept saying she had no idea how to express how happy she was.
The Maisha building contractor and site planner met with Beatrice and I today to unveil the long awaited plans, giving us a view of the future completed Maisha property. It was a realization of years of dreaming God’s dreams and finally getting an ordered layout as well as seeing how far He’s already brought us. We will post the final plans on the website soon which include a primary school, chapel, flush toilets, sports grounds, expanded farming area plus more!
Sunset Over Lake Victoria
In over a month, we’ve yet to see one of the famous Kenyan sunsets as clouds blanket the skies in the late afternoon. But today’s Glory was crowned with a stunning sunset as we cruised Lake Victoria in an old dhow fishing boat, gliding among the hippos. Thank you Jesus for such a peaceful, awesome display of your majesty!
I’ve saved the best for last. We’ve all been inspired by Bea’s story and moved to action by the hope and future each of us can give one child at a time. Most of you know when Beatrice was a child, she picked up and returned a visiting missionaries wallet; through which God opened a door of opportunity and blessing to her future. Her heart’s desire is to give that same opportunity to other children. Well today Bea’s story came full circle. Two young boys that have been coming to the Maisha Feeding Program for the last several months were faced with a momentous decision. A considerable sum of Kenyan Shillings fell unbeknownst from Joy’s pocket – funding for a basketball goal. Wycliff and Stephen found it on the ground and came to Ian, one of our local leaders. They told him they’d found something special and called him outside to show him in private. He was stunned by the size of money Steven pulled from his pocket and even more so that they were returning it. Their clothes were tattered, they had on no shoes and had just taken a small portion for lunch that would be their last meal most likely until Monday; yet they still chose to return what would easily be the equivalent to support them for a couple of years.
Beatrice and the New Maisha Champions
Ian marched the boys over to where Beatrice, Joy and I were standing and told us the story. We listened and looked at each other in amazement. I finally shouted in excitement “Bea, it’s your story! They’ve just done the exact same thing that started this all!” Afterwards, we agreed it was like God was shining an extra bright spotlight to point these boys out to us today and ensure we partner with Him to get them on the right path. Bea was ecstatic as her childhood flashed before her eyes. God blessed her today by giving her an instant replay now that she has the wisdom to understand the significance of what happened when she was a child.
Talking with the boys, we learned they were total orphans which makes this tale even more extraordinary. The integrity and character they showed today is tremendous. Beatrice promised Wycliff and Stephen they would be given the best education and opportunity to attend high school in the U.S. through our new exchange program Maisha Scholars.
I don’t know how a day could get better than this. We have truly tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord!
Kristen Teacher In-Classroom Training
In Kenya there is a definite hierarchy on the roadways. The Kings of the Road are the large vehicles – the vans and pickups and cars. All of them are old, with the occasional glaring exception, and the bigger the vehicle the higher up on the food chain they rank. Next are the piki-pikis, the motorbikes that ferry around single and sometimes double passengers on a vinyl-encased cushion of foam. These extra seats are often emblazoned with slogans such as “Ride in Comfort” on the very back of them, which seems like a bit of an exaggeration to me! After the piki-pikis are the bicycles, again ridden by 1-3 people. Although somewhat lowly, the bicycles command respect from those at the very bottom of the pecking order – those on foot. At least 1/3 of the traffic on any given street is on foot, and the farther out from the city you go, the higher that percentage grows.
Kally Talking About School With the Kids
There are no signs indicating this particular hierarchy to people. No one gets a ticket for challenging the established order. But you’d better beware if you do challenge it because you’re in for a rude awakening! Cars and other large vehicles push through the streets with what appears to be little regard for anyone or anything in their way. Pausing only to avoid the frequent potholes, they brush by walkers, squeeze through lines of bikes and piki-pikis and frequently honk at herds of cows or a clucking brood of hens who happen to be in their way. Too bad for the unwatchful pedestrian who is next to one of the massive puddles in the roadway when a car comes driving by, even a slow moving one. Most people jump back off the roadway or stop in their tracks so as not be get murky road water splashed all over them. They must wait till the driver has passed them by so that they can continue their journey once again. We’ve been told that if someone gets run over by a vehicle, the driver probably won’t even stop (mostly out of fear that those who have seen the accident will take the law into their own hands, and the offending driver could lose his own life!) No one messes with these vehicles!
Kelsy Hanging With the Kids
Sitting inside of a Toyota Safari Van, being driven safely by Beatrice’s brother Frank, I can’t help but think of how I as a Westerner am very much like a 10 passenger van on the highway of life. Because of my very make up I am afforded privileges, given respect, and am deferred to, even if it costs someone else something. I have the freedom to go barreling through life with little regard as to how it impacts others. If I’m not careful I can roughly brush by the people outside, even injuring them, and never stop. Some view me with distrust, for they have had run-ins with others like me. Some envy me for the ease with which I maneuver through life. Some ignore me, for I am not part of the world which they inhabit. There will be those who try to pass me or maneuver around me, but because of my size and importance I may never see them… unless I choose to. Being in Kenya is one reminder after another that I cannot ever take my life for granted. Being born into comfortable circumstances doesn’t give me a free pass in life, nor does it make me a better, more worthy person. It simply is what it is.
My job, as I travel down life’s highway, is to keep my eyes and ears open. To maneuver carefully and with deliberate thoughtfulness. To show kindness and respect for my fellow travelers. To stop, get out and help those who have been injured or are weary or cannot carry their burdens alone. And ultimately, it is to show others that there is a God who knows every traveler by name, who loves them dearly (dents and all) and who wants to give them a life that is rich and full. There may be flat tires on the journey; detours, potholes and long, dry, dusty stretches of road. But the God who carefully and thoughtfully created them will be with them till they reach their destination. Just as He is with me on this journey I am on.