Published: September 24th 2009September 24th 2009
Today was only a semi-early morning. We had breakfast, had a ‘discussion’ with reception as I needed my room for one more night and our travel agent had misunderstood our various itineraries, Charles arrived at our hotel at 8:30 and then we were off to the Mercy Children’s Centre, Kawangware branch.
Mercy Children’s Centre was started several years ago by Charles, Pius who we met in Kisumu, and an American couple. The original school is in the slum of Kawangware here in Nairobi. As it’s near impossible to buy land in the city, they’ve rented several residential units in group that kind of form a compound. Problems are, the landlord keeps raising the rent, he keeps putting up more units, which is slowly taking the play area away, and the units that we do have possession are scattered amongst units with people living in them, so security is very poor. It’s the complete opposite to the spacious, quiet and peaceful, safe environment we’ve created for the kids in Bumala.
We only have around 150 students, from Baby Class all the way up to Class 8. We got the grand tour, and then it was recess time. The younger kids all came out into the dirt play area and started skipping, kicking a soccer ball around, drawing hopscotch grids in the dirt, and then the crowds around the 3 wazunga started to form (sorry, I’ve since learned that mazunga is singular, wazunga is for more than 1 white person), trying to see themselves in the video cameras or get pictures taken of them. Heather started playing with them, singing songs, dancing, etc. I was a bit more overwhelmed at the conditions that these children live and go to school in, and hung back. Low and behold, within 5 minutes, I had my own following of the quieter, more timid girls, who were excited to see someone with different colored skin and straight shiny hair to touch. A little girl, I think in Baby Class grabbed hold of my hand, and started playing with my fingers, twisting them around, feeling the hair on my arm, etc. She then found my camera and tried pushing the buttons (luckily it was turned off). Then she discovered my new beaded bracelet. So it was off and then on and then off and on, for over 10 minutes, she played, not making a sound. She was such a darling. Just the kind of cutie I’d love to bring home with me. But she was quite possessive of me too. Whenever another kid got too close or tried to play with the bracelet, she’d smack them or push them away. Cute, but exactly the kind of behaviour we’re trying to get rid of in the schools. Our kids, especially the ones in Kawangware, live in harsh environments, and there was a lot of violence in the streets of Nairobi and the slums in December 2007 after the election. Since then, Charles has noticed a lot more violence between the kids, fighting, hitting, etc. So I tried to intervene when she started pushing other kids, but how do you explain it’s wrong to a 4 year old who barely speaks English??? We sat for a long while, and then the kids noticed my sunglasses on my head. They all wanted to try them on. I got some great snapshots. You really see their character in the photos, and in their reactions when they see their picture on the camera. We only had a few hours with these kids, but they opened right up to us and made lasting connections as if we’d been there for weeks.
We had a little presentation ceremony for the school, presented some of the teachers with the Certificates of Recognition - Todd got the list of teachers’ names to make the certificates only about a month ago, and already most of the teachers have left and been replaced. The conditions are so harsh out there that very few teachers are willing to do it for the small salary we can pay them. Makes it even tougher on the kids when their school life is as unstable as their home life.
We said our goodbyes and the children followed the car out of the alley as they were going home for lunch. We drove thru the slum to the apartments that we have for the orphans who don’t have any family at all to care for them. I’d seen Todd’s pictures of the slum before, but it really hit me that these people are living in garbage and open sewers along the road, and they can still smile and the kids are playing. This is normal life for them. I wouldn’t be able to spend one night out here. After only a few hours of playing in the dusty school ground, I wanted a shower so bad.
We got to the apartments and the cutest little neighbor boy, around 4 years old, started following us around. We have 13 boys and 13 girls. Each apartment has a kitchen, small toilet stall and a shower stall, and 3 rooms (I guess it would be 2 bedrooms and the living room). One of the bedrooms is for Charles when he’s in Nairobi. One bedroom sleeps the matron, who lives there 24/7 and cooks for all the kids, with a few boys in bunkbeds, and then there’s more bunkbeds in the ‘living room’ for the rest of the boys. The other apartment is the same set up, but no matron as Pius stays in Nairobi most of the time. The matron stays with the boys, because she’s there ALL the time, and the girls are a little more responsible than the boys ;) The apartments are actually quite nice, although very bare, but clean and safe. There are some ideas of moving these kids out to live in the volunteer centre in Bumala so we don’t have the costs of the apartments, but it’ll still be a little while before all the bunkbeds, etc are ready for them out there. I would personally love it if we could re-locate all the kids out to Bumala. The environment is so much better for growing up and learning. But those decisions aren’t really in my hands.
Charles stayed at the apartments to continue his work there, while the 3 of us went back to the hotel. I absolutely love Charles, there are very few people that I’ve met in this world that have as much dedication and vision to his mission. Heather and I both promised we’d be back soon.
We had a little lunch, and then Todd and Heather headed off to Embu. Heather sponsors a child thru Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan) and this trip was a perfect opportunity for her to go meet her 13-yr old child, Caroline, in person. The trip to Embu is about 2 hours by bus and would cost only about $4 each way. So they head out today, spend the night in Embu, drive 4 hours into the country, spend a few hours with Caroline, drive 4 hours back to Embu, and then return to Nairobi on Saturday morning.
So this leaves me in Nairobi, alone, for 31 hours. After they left, I walked to the Nairobi National Museum. Don’t worry, it’s just around the block, about 5 minute walk. And I was very aware of everything going on around me. My biggest issue was crossing the street (which I actually didn’t have to do I found out, so I had to cross it a 2nd time) as there’s no real crosswalks or lights and you’ve already heard my opinion on the traffic. It was a typical museum, some art, a lot of stuffed animals, all the human evolution fossils (that Prehistoric Anthropology class came flashing back). There were 2 school groups, and as I was looking at some exhibits, 3 secondary school students came up to me just to shake my hand. I still can’t get over being an attraction that people like to look at and meet.
I made it back to my hotel, safe and sound. I have planned a nice quiet evening for myself, and a bit of a sleep in for tomorrow. I only have one more day here and while it’s been a trip of a lifetime, I’m almost ready to come home. It might be a different story if I was still in Bumala, but seeing Kawangware today really makes me appreciate what I have, and I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.