As I await things to settle following the referendum voting and my desert home, I am in Nairobi working with Kenya Children of Hope (http://www.kenyachildrenofhope.org/). I am so thankful for the opportunity to basically tag a long and learn from them while I am here. The fact that it is in walking distance from where I am staying (well, 50 minutes each way) is a gift as well. I am not brave enough to brave the Matatus (brightly colored run down vans that rush around the city and serve as the form of public transportation) yet on my own. The staff is totally Kenyan, except for the founder and a gal from India who just recently joined the team. Their approach is a bit different from what I have seen before. They work with the Kenyan government’s rehabilitation center. When police arrest boys for walking alone in the city, this is where they take them. All of them have spent at least some time living in the streets. COH goes there 3 days a week to talk with a handful of boys one on one. During this time they build relationship and trust with the boys. They learn their story as to how they got there, about their family, and will ask multiple times over the course of a few weeks until the story seems consistent and they have enough information to start tracing the family. They always pray with the boys when they are done talking, as well as the team before and after the visits. They also hold informal school Tues-Thurs because they are not in school at all while at the center, and they want them to be able to catch up as quickly as possible once they are back with their families and in school. Once they have enough information they are able to start tracing the family. This usually involves a visit, meeting with the family, and figuring out the issues that are there and how to bring reconciliation. The goal is to place every boy back in his family, and if that is not possible they find foster care. COH provides help with good parenting seminars, school fees, support from local leaders in the community where the family is (teachers, church leaders), all with discouraging dependency and working to empower the families. Once they are reconciled they continue to follow up and make sure that everyone is doing well. Many of the boys are from single parent homes, slums, families with drug or alcohol issues. COH restores boys to their families while helping the families lift out of difficult circumstances. It is really awesome to see, and their approach is really intriguing.
COH spends all of Monday morning every week fasting and in prayer for the boys, their families, and the work they are doing. Then the rest of the day is spent planning for the week. This is done at their not yet operational halfway house. Tuesday-Friday the day starts at 8 with prayer, praise, and devotions, which lasts until 9:30 or so. And…yeah, I am in Africa! Haha, their time of devotions is very different from what I am used to. It consists a lot of everyone praying out loud, loudly, all at the same time. Sometimes breaking out into songs in Swahili, breaking here and there to read a few verses. Ends with some sharing of praise and prayer requests for the boys and their families, of which, each one is followed by everyone praying out loud. Tuesday-Thursday they go to the center for the rest of the morning, but on Fridays they go to a slum. They go there to meet the boys on the street, build a relationship, and try to reconcile them to their families one by one. This Friday will be my first experience with that.
At the halfway house they have a small farm, a greenhouse, and some goats and chickens. They are selling the produce currently to raise revenue and one day they plan to teach farming skills and other vocational things as well. To see a place like this, a place of healing for kids with all kinds of goodness coming up from the earth, was a bit like seeing something I had been picturing in my head for a long while. It is encouraging and exciting to see that in existence.
Like I said, this is a really incredible opportunity to observe and learn from these lovely folks. I am really limited in my ability to communicate as I know no Kiswahili, but I plan on learning quite a bit in my (hoooopefully short) time here. I have experience with all kinds of kids, but this is my first time with working with street kids. It is a wonderful chance to get a little insight before I start over in my desert home, learning Arabic and working at the street kid’s center there.
Hope those of you back in the US are not buried under too much snow. Love to you all the way from Africa!