Entries in Seed of Hope (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 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


Christmas in Kenya 2008 - Post 2

Jambo! Our trip is has continued to be a spectacular experience for our entire group, with the exception of one young traveler who has really been struck sick. We hope she can recover, but has so far missed much of the time with the BCC kids at Brackenhurst. We prayed over her this morning (Tuesday) to ask for God's will be done in regards to her health. Her name is Zoe, she's only 18, and this is her first trip away from home. Needless to say, it hasn't been a very positive experience for her thus far.

For the rest of us, however, the trip has been almost exactly what you would hope for. As I related in my last post, we left the children of the Seed of Hope Center in Kitale on Sunday. It was very hard to leave (as it always is) , primarily due to the fact you have just begun to form relationships with some of the kids when they are cut short. My impression of the kids at SOH was they have had less exposure to groups like ours (compared to the BCC kids) and were therefore very eager to spend time around us, finding out what we were all about. As we were only the third or fourth group to visit (so I've heard), the kids still had a fascination with us white people (muzungus), playing with our hair, laughing as we lathered on sunscreen, hearing us try to pronounce Swahili words, etc. It was, in all respects, a joyous time, at least for me.

Communication at SOH was not too bad. Most of them understood English to some extent, but speaking it was another story in many cases. Regardless, and with the help of the SOH caregivers/social workers, we made due just fine.

Our VBS program was successful, I would say. We had a lot of fun doing crafts, learning memory verse, playing games, and listening to the Christmas story (way to go, Carson!) Carson, Hilary and I had about 30 kids, ages 7-12, and really, really enjoyed ourselves.

The children at the SOH were very well behaved, polite, respectful, curious, kind...not at all like American kids. According to Peter, our translator, almost all of the children are true orphans; that is, they have lost both parents, the vast majority to AIDS. A few of the children have "tested positive" (as the Kenyan's seem to phrase it), and I spent time with a few of them. Certainly you could tell their health was compromised, but, according to Peter, they are much better off since arriving at SOH where medicine can be obtained. It really breaks my heart to see these children who have the triple-whammy of tragedy: poverty, orphan and AIDS. I can't imagine live being any more difficult.

Once I return home I will post some photos of the SOH kids, and provide some more information. As of now, I am at Brackenhurst, a retreat/conference center in the countryside near a town called Limuru, outside of Nairobi. We have finished our second day of VBS with the kids and are having a great time. As my internet time is almost out, I will have to leave the BCC update to a later time. Please consider the following prayer requests:

- Zoe and her health

- The children of the SOH center

- A special prayer for those at SOH who are afflicted with AIDS. They are truly innocent victims.

- The caregivers at SOH. They work so very hard for "the least of these," and give much of their life to the care of the children.

Christmas in Kenya 2008 - Post I

Well, we made it.  Our trip over was amazingly trouble free: no lost lugguge, no missed connection in London (despite departing late from Dallas), nothing unusual, really.  One trip participant suffered a pretty ugly bout of airsickness but bounced back like a trooper.

The flight didn't seem as painfully long, either.  It was 8.5 hours (or so) from Dallas to London, a quick layover in the London airport, and another 8.5 hours to Nairobi.  We left Dallas in the late afternoon on Wednesday, arrived in London very early in the morning Thursday, and finished up in Nairobi late that evening.  All in all, British Airways did a good job getting our group over to Africa.

Here is a quick sketch of our trip so far:

We spent Friday at the Seed of Hope children's center conducting VBS for the children...about 115 of them.  (I will write about the children later, as time is limited and internet is painfully slow.) We had a great time doing Bible Story, Memory Verse, Crafts and Recreation.  Carson, Hilary and I ended up on the same team (Green Team!) which proved to be a lot of fun.  Our kids ranged in age from 7 to 10 years, and were absolutely, amazingly precious.  We all fell in love immediately.

Saturday, we returned to Seed of Hope for our second day of VBS.  Again, our kids were great.  They are so kind and polite, smart and respectful.  At time, a little chaotic, but always fun. We played some great games of Duck, Duck, Goose, Red Rover, and others...all with a delightful Kenyan twist. By the end of this day the kids were really warming up to us, relationships were forming, and opportunities to really enter into the childrens' lives were becoming available.  Again, I'll talk in more detail about the kids later.

Sunday was our last day at the Seed of Hope.  We made our way to the center, met the kids and walked to church with them, about 1/4 mile.  The service was truly fascinating and amazing.  I will post some video at a later day (low quality...taken with my cell phone.)  Afterwards, we toured the school the children attend and then made our way back to the center for games and lunch.  Finally, we were able to pass out presents to the kids.  They absolutely loved getting their gifts!  It was very touching (and sobering) to watch the kids with their new toys and games and stickers and candy.  It is very obvious that for children who don't have anything, it doesn't take much to make an impact.

The hardest part so far, of course, was saying goodbye.  After gifts and a short, final time of hanging out, we climbed into our vans and left the Seed of Hope.  It is so very hard to leave after such a short time, but we are all thankful for our time with the children, and I personally believe our time there was a positive thing in their lives.  Please pray for the children of the Seed of Hope Children's Center.

Our team is doing well, for the most part.  One participant is somewhat sick and may have to return, and we are all tired, but for the most part hanging in their.  Carson, Hilary and myself are all doing wonderfully.  Continue to pray for the group, if you would.

Well, that's it for now.  I will try to provide another update soon.