Hannah, Madelyn and I joined Laura Rhodes on a brisk walk an hour uphill to a local children’s home, or known in our world as an orphanage. From one side of the station, I have a view of their school–the walk looks like it would be hours away, mountains away, but the paths wind in and out and around all the way over there.
I was afraid to go, for fear that I would break down crying at what I saw. Each of the children, aged eight to eighteen, came out to greet us. Six boys, six girls, living in a barren, cold looking building. One cavernous room for the girls’ bedroom…three twin beds with old blankets, two girls to a bed. Of course, the children’s home has been given gifts of new beds and blankets, but the overseers take them for themselves. And there was string strung from one corner of the ceiling to another for theircloset.A few pairs of shoes and a few outfits, and that seemed to constitute their belongings. No wallhangings. No paint. Just dirty floors, dirty walls. The one exception for the boys’ bedroom: a painted mural of a boy and his shamba in the background….painted by a previous visitor. Otherwise, the same number of belongings, the same lack of asthetic. The building itself was generously funded by donors, but only a quarter of the donation was ever tracked for the actual building. A feeling of coldness, lack of nurture and aloneness pervaded.
These children keep themselves busy, because they plant their garden…a significantly sized maize farm. They plant it, weed it, save seed for the following year. They grind the maize for ugali at supper and eat it with sukimawiki (ugali is a maize porridge, sukimawiki is a spinach-like vegetable). For breakfast, chai. For lunch, maize and beans…apparently a complete protein. So, their diet is adequate. Not to us of course. Not too many of us could tell our children what we ate every day of our childhood.
They clean their clothes, care for each other and go to school, the community school being only fifty yards away. Until the end of junior high, each of the kids has an education. At the end of that year, everyone across Kenya takes a placement test, deciding where they fit in the education system; their grade determines their school. And it costs money to go to high school. If these orphans have a chance of solidly self-supporting themselves in the future, it is only by the generoisity of people that hear about them; otherwise, they have nothing.
The eldest boy, about eighteen, walked with me as we moved toward the school. I shared with him that at about his age, I was pretty hopeless, that I thought that the only solution to the pain in my heart was suicide. I ran away, running to a local elementary school, falling under a tree, staring up into the night sky, angry, lonely, sad, and scared. For one of the only times in my life, I felt distinctly that God spoke to me with the twinkling of the stars: You won’t give up, because I love you. It was the beginning of my real understanding that I was placed on this earth for a reason, and that I was supposed to keep moving forward, to what I didn’t know. For I know the plans I have for you, says God, ones to prosper you and not to harm you, ones to give you a future and a hope. Later, Laura shared that this particular boy hasn’t been doing well. There are no coincidences.
I didn’t cry there, rather I had to swallow hard not to let the pity overwhelm my heart, knowing that a simple visit by me shows these kids that someone cares about their fate.