Entries in Kitale (4)


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.


Going back to Kitale/Seed of Hope

I will be traveling back to Kitale, Kenya, come March 11th!  For perspective, I have been able to visit two main groups of kids during my travels to Kenya.  The primary group (the one I've visited the most) is from the Baptist Children's Center in Nairobi.  When I travel in December, as I've done four times, these are the kids I get to see.  The second group is from the Seed of Hope orphanage in Kitale, a town located in western Kenya near Uganda.  I have been to the SOH twice - three days in December 2008, and an afternoon and morning (took a side trip) last December.  The Seed of Hope is a larger orphanage, hosting 60, 70, 80 kids, maybe more...I'm not quite sure.  I also believe it is the more rudimentary of the two, less developed in terms of foster/kinship care, etc.  They have less space for more kids, fewer beds...you get the idea.

But fear not!  The staff I have met there on my two previous trips are absolutely amazing.  As has been my experience with Buckner, there are very competent, caring staff surrounding these kids.  Fine people looking after their health, their education, their spiritual life, their needs.  Good, good people.

And great kids.  I am beyond excited to see these kids again.  I just saw many of them in December and am thrilled to be going back so soon.

Finally, say a prayer for me (and the group!) as I'm going as the volunteer leader.  Certainly I have some anxiety about such a responsibility, but I'll be in the capable hands of Buckner in-country staff (Tom Alexander, one of my very favorite people in the world), so we should be just fine.  Still...

I'll update the old blog as time draws near, and hopefully while I'm over in Kitale.  Not sure what kind of internet access I'll have, but I'll do what I can.


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