Published: April 28th 2006April 28th 2006 Kenyan Merry-Go-Round
Curiosity Of The Camera
Children are amazed at their photo being taken and then seeing the image instantly on my digital camera.
My recent trip to Africa (see my last three blogs)
weren't inspired by visions of setting off on a safari in the Maasai Mara or mounting a camel in the Egyptian desert. It was a trip that would not have been complete if I hadn't accomplished the one task I had come to Kenya for in the first place: to build a playground.
The organization I started in the wake of the tsunami, Operation Playground (OP)
, was the realization of a dream to build playgrounds for children that had been either effected by a natural disaster, or simply lived in a region of the world that could not afford them a place to play.
And so I found myself, once again, online depserately trying to organize my trip to Kenya. Airline Ambassadors International (AAI)
, a United Nations affiliated NGO based in Washington, DC had organized a humanitarian effort to provide aid to an orphanage outside Nairobi. As a member of AAI I decided to partner with them with OP on this mission. The orphanage, The Caroline Wambui Mungai Children's Home
in Wangige, Kenya, supports around 20 children orphaned by either parental neglect, death of a
The Dynamic Duo
Travis (left) and I enjoy a stroll through a Kenyan village outside Nairobi.
parent by HIV/AIDS or other ailment, or simply lost in the poverty of Kenya. The means to which they had become residents of this orphanage was not what interested me as much as how much I can make their living here more enjoyable. And I thought building a playground in Thailand was a challenge. Nairobi offered me little time and even more scant resources to find equipment. So the effort began...
I arrived in Nairobi from Bangkok where I am currently Project Manager for a trade school being built at Wat Arun Rajawararam
aka Temple of Dawn, under the direction of AAI and funded by the Stowe Foundation of Naples, Florida. The opportunity to go to another continent to build a playground was one that I could not personally ignore. If I were to get my organization to grow and be respected by future donors, I would have to let them see that I am serious in my efforts and willing to fund the projects personally. My goal is to make OP a large NGO that is supported by private and corporate donors and make it my full-time life's work. To begin, I need to build smiles one teeter-totter
Giving The Peace Sign
The kids at the orphanage copied me when I held up my 'peace' symbol.
at a time.
The team from AAI arrived two days after I had settled into Nairobi while my good friend and travel buddy, Travis Mitchell (he's actually my luggage carrier, but don't tell him that!) once again met, this time in Africa and not in tsunami-torn Thailand. The first two days we were greeted most graciously by George Muguro, a local pastor and caretaker of the orphanage. He reminded me so much of a past friend that I immediately bonded with him and our time together was a wonderful experience as he shuttled me and Travis to various parts of nearby Nairobi; Rift Valley, Wangige, downtown Nairobi, Sunday service at his small church, and even a Mexican restaurant which served a good burrito. Not realizing the difficult task at hand to find equipment, I felt I misused valued time. It would catch up with me soon.
Along comes the rest of the AAI team. Nearly 18 people are now here and as you can imagine, its chaos. New faces, new personalities and new endeavors. The focus of the AAI team is to provide support and give the children some time with adults that can give them a big
Pasta For Lunch...yeah!
Pastor George Maguro and I enjoy an Italian meal in Nairobi with Travis.
hug, some tender loving time and present gifts, teddy bears, clothing, living essentials and in one case a new life. AAI has provided millions of dollars to aid throughout the world, but one thing money can't buy is love. These children, though they enjoyed the trinkets and new paint on the walls, they mostly enjoyed the attention given by these incredible souls that catapulted themselves from the comforts of their own homes to a destitute and impovershed region of Africa for one reason only: to extend love to children that have not felt wanted. It was a circus that came to town and they rode the ferris wheel and didn't want to get off!
Let me get back to my mention of "a new life". His name is Zachariah and he's five years old, though his fragile body appears much younger. He has AIDS and he is unresponsive to tactile stimuli and cannot even muster the will or power to look you in the eye. He clings to anyone willing to pick him up and hold him but he cannot speak or respond as his body is weak and unable. His demise is grim and a few of the
Getting A Smile From 'Chiko'
Though not her real name, Travis visits the orphanage and the children enjoy his company and attention.
team members, Michelle Campbell among others, has grown emotionally attached to Zachariah and desperately tries to get him better medical care and personal attention to his health. I could write paragraph after paragraph to explain the hardship they had gone through to get Zachariah better care; a lost cause in the eyes of the Kenyan medical field as children die of AIDS-related illnesses every day and those without parents are last on the list. But within a week of racing him to one hospital to another, shouting at the medical staff to 'do something' and demanding that he be cared for, Zachariah has come from being spoon-fed to chewing meat on his own, drinking vitamin-enriched liquids and even saying 'good-bye' to the hospital staff when he was discharged back to the care of the orphanage staff. A life saved. Zachariah is happier than he's been for a long time. And maybe now he can also enjoy the new playground with the other children.
Ah...the playground. Every night I go back to the guesthouse I am in personal turmoil that I may not find the equipment to build a playground and my mission to come to Kenya will be disappointing.
The Other Dynamic Duo
George Maguro and Francis Njuguna host the team at the orphanage
We shuttled, in the horrendous Nairobi traffic, from place to place to see other playgrounds in the area trying to find who built those so I can hire them to help me find the same product. I even took photos to share with potential welders and fabricators to build one for me. One problem: I have four days. Then along comes Francis Njuguna to the rescue, co-owner of Savuka Safaris and Tours (though his wonderful wife, Joyce, does all the work!). He is the uncle of the departed Caroline Mungai for whom the orphanage was named and is also the director and adminstrator of a private school with over 500 students. He is quite aware of my intentions to build a playground and if it weren't for him, it would not have been realized.
One morning I was greeted by Francis and along with Travis, we were to meet a man that has some old playground equipment I may be interested in buying. When we arrived I didn't expect what I saw and nearly balked at the idea altogether. But what were my choices? Entangled in a large mass of rusted sheetmetal, broken chairs, old conduit and even a
The Orphanage Staff
Our new friends at the Caroline Wambui Mungai Children's Home in Wangige, Kenya
refrigerator was what resembled some sort of merry-go-round. Upon further investigation I noticed there were two of them. A bit rusty, but strong. The three of us dragged them from the pile of debris and stood them upright. I gave one a good spin to see how difficult it would be to rotate and found the greased bearings to be holding out well. It spun effortlessly and that gave it my immediate approval. Now for the negotiating.
Expensive. I thought I nearly lost the deal when Travis, bless his heart, told the proprietor of the debris pile that "you've got to give us a good deal...I mean, what are you going to do, let this rust here in this junkyard?" The man's reply, "Junkyard? This is my shop!" Travis realized he was not in Kansas anymore, that he was in a very poor part of the world and what he envisions as a shop in beautiful Boulder, Colorado is not what you find here. This was, in fact, the man's business and he was as much proud to be a business-owner as anyone would be in any part of the world. Travis apologized profusely and he accepted, realizing that
Me and My Reason for Being Here
One of many orphans here and all of them are precious.
Travis meant no disrespect. I think, however, it helped close the deal. Load it up!
Ever been to the circus and the clowns stack up those chairs and try to sit on the top one? And its teetering and ready to fall and tumble to the ground? Well, that's what the playground equipment looked like stacked up on a truck that was two-times too small for the load. The CHP would have pulled them over, but in Kenya there are no rules, just a means to survive and get things done. The delivery was successful and the chore to install the playground was to begin. The holes were dug, the concrete mixed and the playground was coming alive. Once in the ground and newly painted, the children were invited to give it a whirl (no pun intended). Not knowing what I would find in Kenya, it was not how I envisioned the playground to appear, but it really didn't matter. Just look at those smiling faces. Mission accomplished.
I'd like to thank those that made this playground possible by their volunteering and assistance in locating the equipment:
Francis and Joyce Njuguna of Savuka Tours and Safaris
Hey! That's My Hiney You're Showing!
Michelle, unaware of the exposure, carries an orphaned child outside to play.
Pastor George Muguro of the All Nations Gospel Church, Nairobi, Kenya
Travis Mitchell, Boulder Colorado
Isaak, Maasai Warrior and orphanage guard
Michelle Campbell and Kelly Lee of Airline Ambassadors International
for a mission well-organized!
Next stop? Who knows?
There are more photos below