Entries in Kenya (5)


Seed of Hope - Kitale, Kenya

Kitale, a smallish town located in far western Kenya, is home to the Seed of Hope Orphanage. 

Kitale is an agricultural town, surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of small farm plots ("shambas" in Swahili) and fewer, larger operations. Our visit, in December, coincides with the tail end of the yearly maize harvest, and many people are busy sifting, spreading and drying the corn.  Piles of cobs sit here and there, waiting to be sold as fire "wood."  As best I can determine, the economy here depends on maize, although the strategy of a once-yearly harvest makes the area susceptible to 1) famine and 2) price gouging.  This year, however, the harvest appears robust.

The pace in Kitale is much, much slower than in Nairobi.  However, to my American eyes it still comes across as somewhat chaotic.  As elsewhere (everywhere?) in Kenya, there is a steady stream of people, bicycles, motorcycles, carts, donkeys, goats, cars, trucks and vans along each road.  Vendors crowd the strips of land adjacent to the road, selling all manner of goods and food.  Near the center of town, a large market is permanently in place, where hundreds of merchants offer clothes, shoes, bags, fabric, carvings...just about anything that can be sold.  People are busy going to and fro, trying to make a living.  For such a "slow" village, Kitale is certainly a lively place from my point of view.

To reach the Seed of Hope Orphanage, our car travels along the main road through Kitale, and then heads out of town to the west.  A short distance further, we turn right onto a dirt road.  And what a road it is.  Gigantic ruts, dips and gouges serve as constant obstacles, forcing our driver to creep forward, wincing each time the car's undercarriage jams against the road.  People, cows and motorcycles pass us, equally slow and deliberate in their progress.  The rain is great for the maize, not so much for roads as this.

Shortly, we pass the church and school used by the Seed of Hope, the Seed of Hope Academy.  We turn left onto a long, straight Kenyan road, lined by small huts and tin-roofed homes.  Groups of huts designate family compounds called "bomas," and several bomas line the road to the orphanage.

Soon enough, we reach the Seed of Hope Orphanage.  The compound is marked by a new gate, new paint and a new sign. The gate swings open and we pull into the compound, a grassy lot containing several buildings, a small playground, two water wells, a grain storage building, a tractor and trailer, and a seating area protected by a thatch shade.  Overall, it is a very pleasant place.

The reason we're there, of course, is the kids.  Oh, the kids!  As it is the break between school years, there are not as many kids present as is typical (although orphans, many of the kids do have relatives to visit over the break).  However, many of the kids I've come to know and love are present, and they come to us the second we step out of the car.  Sharon, Heron, Farida, Christine, Caren, Linah...all these kids and more surround us and welcome us back.  This moment, this specific time of reunion and joy, is indescribably sweet.

We've only a short time to visit, less than 24 hours, so we waste no time in greeting the kids and visiting the staff.  Also present is a small group of Germans, including the founder of the orphanage, Carsten Werner.  His is a fascinating story, which you can read here.

Carsten and the others make us feel welcome, share their lunch with us, and soon we're all sitting in the shade, laughing and sharing stories.  Carsten, who is phenomonally good with children, begins to plan a stroll to visit the cows.  (The Seed of Hope recently moved to a zero-grazing system for their three cows, but still puts them in a field on occasion.) 

The short stroll is a hoot.  We move down the road, about 25 of us, greeting the local families and children.  We make quite a spectacle, I'm sure.  We make our way to the cows, who seem to be doing great, and listen as Carsten explains some of the details of the grazing and Seed of Hope maize crops.  Apparently, the Seed of Hope is trying to get a second maize crop and is, thus far, quite successful.  After spending some time with the cows, we make our way back to the compound for tea.  ("Taking tea" in Kenya is one of the greatest joys in life, I'm convinced.)

Afterwards, Carsten motions for everyone to make their way to the Dining Hall building...apparently the kids and staff were going to gather for some sort of performance.  Having been here before, I figured it would include lots of singing, and I was right.  What followed was about 45 minutes of praise and worship, mostly singing.

How can I describe such a time?  Worship stripped of all bells and whistles...no drum kits, no guitars, no light shows, no song leader in strategically torn jeans and hair gel.  Nothing but the passionate, resounding voices of a few people praising God.  And what people?  People who have so little compared to us Americans, people who sometimes struggle to eat and survive and stay healthy.  People who go without the very basics of life at times.  Yet, these people truly love God.  They find the blessings in their life, they find ways to be thankful.  How much I learn from these kind, genuine people!

Knowing who these people are, and understanding somewhat how they live, I can't help but be moved, humbled and inspired by them as they sing "let your will be done."  Enjoy.



Kitale, Kenya - Singing at Seed of Hope Academy

Just down the road from the Seed of Hope Orphanage is the Seed of Hope Academy. This is where the orphans attend school, along with many other kids from the area. At the end of the school day the kids gather around the flag pole for a closing session of singing and announcements.


Christmas in Kenya - Recap 3

Our last day prior to the safari featured two quick stops: The BCC campus and the New Life Babies Home.  I have written quite a bit about the BCC, so I'll keep it short.

The BCC (Baptist Children's Center) is a Buckner-managed facility.  Here is a blurb from the Buckner website:
Buckner began operations in Kenya in 2002 with the assumption of the Baptist Children’s Center (BCC) located in the Njiru location of Embakasi Division, Maili Saba Village. In 2001, Arms of Jesus requested Buckner assume responsibility for operations of BCC. Actual ownership of the campus remained with the Baptist Association of Kenya as it does to this day. The Manager’s house and cafeteria buildings were added in the same year. They were followed by the girls’ and boys’ dormitories in the following year and in 2004 the first two education buildings were added with one for the preschool and kindergarten while the other for the technical training program. In 2006, construction was initiated for expansion of the BCC school with the goal of expanding through the 8th grade. Completion of the 1st through 4th grade building was finished in 2007.

The campus now has 3 school buildings in addition to the Technology Center.  As I've previously written, this is a huge advantage for many of the children as they no longer have to walk long distances to school.  In addition, BCC/Buckner have more control over the quality of education to which the children are exposed.  Since the children have so few options upon leaving the BCC, education is paramount in providing avenues for employment. Here is a photo showing some of the school buildings:


The Technology Center is used, currently, to teach sewing to young ladies.  The goal of this program is, of course, to provide a marketable skill so they are able to find employment.  As Tony Wenani (BCC Manager) explained to us, the girls are taught and tested up to a certain proficiency level, and then leave to find an internship or further instruction.  Once this process is finished, the girls are (typically) able to find work.  The photo below shows the sewing tables (with the machines removed and locked away).

Because fabric is expensive, and thus rare, the girls learn and practice using brown paper.  Only after they have perfected their technique using paper are they allowed to progress to using actual fabric.  I found the paper dresses to be fascinating:

It was a quick tour of the BCC, but as always I was very impressed with the facility, the program, the commitment of the staff...everything.  It was good to see Tony and his family, and I also got to see one of my all-time favorite kids, Charles (Charles and I have a close bond).


After the BCC, we traveled to a babies home in Nairobi, the "New Hope Babies Home."   This amazing facility serves to provide a home for abandoned babies, most of whom have HIV.  As you might imagine, a baby, particularly an HIV-positive baby, born to a poor family, would be considered great burden.  As such, many such babies are abandoned.  You can read about the New Life Babies Home here. Once we arrived, those who had been to the facility before were able to immediately jump in and play with the babies.  For those of us making our first visit, we enjoyed a tour of the facility first.  Some thoughts:

  • The buildings and facilities were very, very clean and well organized.  There was a critical care room, complete with incubator.  There were several different "units" for different age babies.  There was a room for potty-training.  There were play rooms, feeding rooms, sick rooms...this place had almost everything you would need to raise 50+ babies.

  • According to our guide, almost all of the staff were volunteers.  People from around the globe (it seemed) would show up at the home to spend time with the babies.  Administration and management staff was paid, I assume, but there were many volunteers there.

  • According to our guide, many of the HIV-positive babies had reverted to HIV-negative after receiving care and treatment.  I had never heard of this even being possible, but our guide insisted this was case.  Amazing!

Below are some photos from the Babies Home:

All in all, this day taught me (or, reminded me) amazing things are going on in Kenya.  God is using all sorts of people to accomplish all sorts of things.  He is providing teachers and buildings and sewing machines and paper so young ladies can have a chance to earn a living.  He is providing people like Tony Wenani to manage the BCC in such a way that both the orphans who live there and the surrounding community benefit.  He is providing volunteers and funding and facilities and medical assistance and generous, open hearts so that abandoned babies can live.  And He is, in some mysterious way, allowing these babies born with HIV to escape from the clutches of this dread disease.

Yes, God is doing these things.  But I am reminded time and time again that his instruments are people, and this, I suppose, is the greatest lesson I've learned.  I'm a "people," you're a "people,"...we're all "people."  And as such, we can, and should, all be instruments for God to use is some fashion.  What a challenge, what a calling.

Next up: the Safari (Lions and Hippos and Secretary Birds, oh my!)

Christmas in Kenya - Recap 2

Ah, the kids from the BCC. The ones I met for the first time in December of 2005, and the ones I’ve thought about every day since. I love these children and finally, after almost 2 years, I was able to return and see them once again.

If you just want to see photos, jump to the "Photos" page for a sampling, using the link at the top of the page, or go to my SmugMug site for the entire complement of BCC Kids photos.

By way of background, here’s a very general outline of the BCC and the children who live (or lived) there:

The BCC – Baptist Children’s Center – is located in Nairobi, a little bit on the edge of town. The BCC property (a compound, really) sits in the middle of a an “informal settlement” slum called Maili Saba. Amazingly, I was able to find the BCC on Google Earth:

As you can see, it looks to be a pretty hard-scrabble place.  There isn't much grass, it's located in a pretty rough part of town, and the infrastructure (water/power) is practically non-existent.  That being said, it's a God-send for the kids who make their way there.  As I've explained repeatedly, these are children orphaned by AIDS, typically.  Many were abandoned or left alone, forced to fend for themselves at a very young age.  Most were malnourished when they arrived at the BCC, and many were sick.  A few arrived infected with AIDS themselves.  Some of the stories I've heard have caused me to almost fall down with heartbreak.  (For example, one child was found alone, about 5 years old, naked, living in a trash pile in a slum.  No one knew his name or where he came from.  The social workers figured he was about a week away from dying.  They named him Musa (Moses), brought him to the BCC, and he's now a strapping teenager with a quick smile and gentle heart.  And he loves the Lord.)

One of the primary goals of Buckner and the BCC is to place the kids in foster care.  This allows them to learn all the things kids learn when part of a family: how to fetch water, clean house, obey parents, clean up after themselves, etc.  The BCC is great, but it is much more desirable for these kids to be placed with a family.  Some of the kids we visited are in foster care, scattered about the country, but they return to the BCC over the Christmas break so they can come to Brackenhurst and have Christmas.

Most of the children, though, live at the BCC in one of the dormitories.  As for school, the BCC is in the process of building a school complex, and is currently set up to school younger kids.  The older kids must travel by foot to school, sometimes walking back and forth quite a distance.  The grand plan, as I understand it, is to construct enough school buildings to accommodate all of the BCC children, up to 8th grade.  This will be a major accomplishment and will benefit the kids enormously.  After 8th grade, the hope is they can move on to High School, typically a boarding school. I will write more about the BCC in my next post, so I'll move on.

Our visit with the BCC kids occurred at a retreat center outside of Nairobi called Brackenhurst.  I wrote about it in one of my recent posts, so I'll skip the boring repeat of details.  I did, however, also find Brackenhurst on Google Earth (I love Google Earth!):

As you can see, there is quite a difference between the BCC and Brackenhurst.  Brackenhurst really is a treat for the kids, a lush playground that is very much a luxury in their lives.  (I've heard a story about the very first group of kids to travel to Brackenhurst.  They stepped off the bus in wonder, not really knowing what to do.  Suddenly the kids all burst forward, laughing and rolling around in the tall, green grass, something they had only heard about.)

As at Seed of Hope, we did VBS, games, activities and visiting.  Unlike Seed of Hope, however, we stayed at Brackenhurst alongside the kids.  This afforded us much more time to be with them, more free time to just hang out and visit.  We ate all our meals with the kids as well, which was a blast.  All in all, it was less rushed with the BCC kids, more relaxed.  As a result, and despite a bit of a slow start, we ended up probably digging deeper into the lives of these kids that those at Seed of Hope.

One of the joys of traveling to Kenya repeatedly has been the chance to see the same kids, and to be able to see them grow and mature.  This was really brought home on this trip as I hadn't seen them in almost two years.  (There were no trips to Kenya last Christmas as the country was shaken by violence surrounding a presidential election.)  I was a bit curious if the kids would remember me, and if I would remember their names, but it really was as if I had just left.  Many of them called out to me by name as we arrived, and their names came to me, in most cases, pretty easy.  As I said above, I've been thinking about these kids every day since December 2005.

And they've grown!  The little ones aren't quite as little, and the older ones are now well on their way to becoming young men and women.  It was so very encouraging to see how the kids had progressed, how their English had improved, how their frames had filled out, how their confidence had grown.  It was very, very satisfying to sit down, after 20 long months, and catch up, listening to their stories of school and life and everything.

Josephine: 2005

Josephine: 2006

Josephine: 2008

As I sat listening, and, later, as I ran around playing, I was solidly struck by the overwhelming feeling these were MY kids.  Not my biological kids, of course, but the kids, above all others, I know and love.  I hope to come to know the Seed of Hope kids just as well, but for now, the BCC kids have my heart.  It was heaven on earth for me to just see them again, to hang out and play, to goof around, to hug and tell good night.  I hadn't realized how much I had missed them.  Thank you Lord!

As always, time flew.  We did VBS, played games, went to the tea fields, watched the Polar Express (the kids would laugh at the oddest things...very different than watching the movie with American kids), and prepared Christmas gifts.  The morning of our last day, I donned the Santa suit again, made my appearance (these kids weren't quite as frightened...more amused, I'd say) and watched in joy as we delivered the gifts so many (of you ) donated.  Oh, the kids loved it!  The toys, the clothes, the stickers, the candy, the dolls, the books...everything!  They were so very, very excited and happy.  I couldn't help but tear up watching the kids, old and young, dig into their gifts with such excitement, such appreciation, such wonder.  I particularly watched some of the younger kids, a few whom I knew had never before had Christmas.  Man, what a party.  What an absolute joy to be there.

Unfortunately, we had to shortly thereafter hit the road.  Tough, tough, tough.  As always.  We said our goodbyes, got in the vans...and waited.  And waited.  So a few of us got out and said goodbye again, threw around a few more hugs, gave our addresses out a few more times...then got back in the vans, this time to leave.

I'll be back.  I hope to always go back, God willing, to go see "my" kids.  It's a sacrifice - it's expensive, and a long trip, and tough on the body - but it is always, always worth the effort.  Perhaps there will come a day when I don't go back, when I have taken my last trip to see the BCC kids.  I can't imagine such a thing, but I suppose all things end at some point.  For now, however, God has given me a heart and passion for these children, and the countdown to December 2009 has begun.

Next post: BCC Campus and AIDS Baby Home

Christmas in Kenya - Recap 1

I'm back, of course.  I was unable to post while on the Safari, then spent a couple of days traveling back home, a day wandering around the office with jet lag, a day sick in bed...it's all good now, though.  Let's write!

I think I'll approach the trip logically: since there were four distinct "stages" of the trip (excluding travel...who wants to read about that?), I'll follow suit with my recaps, chronologically.  I'll write about each of our stops and, when warranted, include some photos.

If you just want to see photos, jump to the "Photos" page for a sampling, using the link at the top of the page, or go to my SmugMug site for the entire complement of Seed of Hope photos.

I'll start with the first part of the trip, our visit to the Seed of Hope orphanage in Kitale (pronounced "ki-TALL-ee). To help paint the picture, here are a few gee-whiz facts:

  • Kitale is a medium sized town in the western part of the country, not far from the Ugandan border (in sight of Mt. Elgon).  We flew from Nairobi to Eldoret (45 minutes), then drove the rest of the way (1 hour). Here is a link to a decent map that clearly shows Nairobi, Eldoret and Kitale.

  • Although Kitale appeared pretty peaceful while we were there, the town did experience considerable violence after last year's presidential elections. In addition, there was a violent attack on an elderly missionary couple last summer.

  • There are many, many orphans in this part of the country. It is a rural area, tradition bound, and AIDS is rampant. You can google thousands of articles about the causes and effects of AIDS in Africa...here is a link to just one short article (the town mentioned in the article, Busia, is not too far from Kitale).

  • Buckner just recently joined with the Seed of Hope orphanage; the kids have had only a few groups come visit.  Here is a blurb on the Buckner website.

  • The orphanage sits on the edge of town, as best I could tell, and the roads leading to the compound were quite...interesting.

  • The orphanage houses around 80 or so orphans on site (rough guess), and has another 35 or so in foster care.

  • This was my first time to visit any other group of orphans besides the BCC kids.

My initial impression upon arriving was one of pleasant surprise.  To reach the orphanage, we were forced to take a bit of a detour over a decidedly tortuous road (the usual route was blocked by an overturned truck).  Along the way we passed through several sections of huts/houses, constantly accompanied by small children running after our vans shouting "howareyou!", "howareyou!", the standard child greeting shouted at Muzungu (white people) tourists all over Kenya, if not the entire continent of Africa.  Once we arrived at the actual orphanage, I was struck by how orderly and peaceful it was.  Although not nearly as spacious, in terms of available land, as the BCC in Nairobi, it all appeared neat as a pin.  The grounds were somewhat landscaped, and there was real grass growing where the kids could play.  There was a slide, a shade tree, a small clearing for the kids to play soccer, and quite a few buildings scattered about.  All in all, the facility really reflected the pride the staff obviously felt.  Below is a photo of a small corner of the SOH.

The kids were great.  I won't belabor the point, as I wrote somewhat about the kids in a previous post, but...they were great.  Almost all of them were so eager to visit, to hold your hand, to just sit and goof around.  They loved to laugh and talk Swahili, knowing we had no clue what they were saying.  They liked to feel the hair on our arms, sing for us, teach us how to say things in Swahili (Habari Gani? = "what's the news?", kind of a "how are you?"), anything, really.  It was obvious early on these kids enjoyed our company, and thought it quite the treat we had come to visit.

During our VBS activities, the kids would sit very quiet, paying close attention to everything going on.  When we did crafts, they would pour themselves into the activity, whether it was making caterpillars or Christmas bags or Christmas cards.  They really liked to create and use markers and draw and write Bible verses (of which they knew many)!  It was so enjoyable to watch them at work.

Throughout the first and second day, we played games ("Red Rover, Red Rover, send the fat Muzungu over"...that would be me), did VBS activities, ate lunch and visited.  It was a very, very good time.  I got to know some of the kids better than others, and, as always, was so touched by their spirit of kindness and gentleness.  These kids have a "soft" way about them.  They don't scream and yell too much, and rarely seem to get angry or have conflict...some, but not very often.  They like to sit and talk, maybe sing.  They're pretty content, oftentimes, to just watch others play, and laugh.  Truly, the way they play together, hang out, visit amongst themselves, it's all something to see.  They aren't perfect, and I saw some things on occasion that clearly indicated these kids are missing a parent's influence in their lives, but overall, they really are amazing children to be around.

On our last day, Sunday, we went to church with the kids in the morning.  It's almost impossible to explain what it's like to attend a Kenyan church, but suffice to say there is lots of music, lots of children dancing and singing, lots of movement...very Kenyan!  The sermon was very good, but just being in the church, worshiping and singing with the kids, that was what it was all about for me.

After church, we walked back to the SOH to distribute Christmas gifts before we left.  Our group leader, Jessica (bless her heart), brought a Santa suit for someone (guess who) to wear.  So, properly suited up, with white beard and rosy cheeks and everything else, I made my grand entrance to the excited sounds of...gasps of fear?  Seems the kids had never really seen Santa, or Father Christmas as they call him, in real life before and it was, perhaps, maybe a bit much for some of them.  Luckily we calmed everyone down and proceeded to hand out gift bags full of goodies: toys, stickers, candy, sunglasses ("goggles"), and the like.  The kids also received clothes, paid for by donations made to the SOH (by some of you, perhaps!).  All in all, it was a wonderful time observing the kids with their gifts.  For some, it was the first time they had ever received any sort of gift at Christmas...what a blessing to be a part!  As it was for most of our time at the SOH, the kids were fun and laughing and happy and really having a good time.

Sometimes, though, during all of this fun, it was necessary to pause and remind myself with whom it was I was spending time.  It was tempting to allow the laughter and joy and fun to somehow ameliorate the sorrow and misery and pain most of these kids have experienced.  It wouldn't have been right, or fair, to forget they are there, at the SOH, because one or both (probably both) of their parents have died of AIDS.  To forget they are there because they have little or no family.  That they are there because they have no other place to be.  There were plenty of reminders; several of the kids bore pretty frightening scars, from what cause I never found out.  Some had AIDS themselves.  If I spent the time and looked hard, past the fun and games, the real tragedy of what's happened, and is continuing to happen, in Kenya, in Africa, would come sharply into focus.  It's a tough thing to ponder.

I don't know what will become of these kids.  I think this thought, more than any other, is what affects me the most, what discomfits me so intensely.  Where will they go when they get too old to stay at the orphanage?  What will happen to them if they aren't able to complete their education?  What will happen to them even if they DO finish High School?  How will they make money?  How will they buy food?  A house?  Live?  There are a hundred roads these Kenyan orphans can travel, I suppose, and I get the feeling almost all of them are dead ends.  Is it hoping against hope for them to find joy and meaning and purpose in their lives?  I honestly don't know...I don't have a real grasp yet on what the opportunities will be for them down the road.  It's a terrible mystery to me, and it angers, saddens and frustrates me.

That being said, however, I can't ignore the good things.  Undeniably, through the blessings of God, these kids have found themselves in a loving environment, surrounded by talented, caring, Godly caregivers and social workers.  They are fed, clothed and cared for physical and emotionally.  They attend school.  They learn the Bible, and of God's love.  They sing and play.  Additionally, Buckner seems to do a very good job in terms of organizing support systems for the kids, establishing educational opportunities, obtaining necessary funding, coordinating staffing and supervision...all the myriad of things which must occur for the kids to live and eat and grow and learn.  Undoubtedly more can be done, and living in a center is certainly not ideal, but to think about where these kids could be versus where they are now...well, they are in about as good of hands as possible, given the circumstance.  In the end, I guess, I just move along in faith that God's plans will be realized, and that He has plans for each and every one of the kids.

Next post: BCC Kids