a Future and a Hope
We talk about bringing hope to orphans and abandoned children here in Kenya often, daily in fact. The truth of the matter is that for the majority of these children the future does not contain that much hope. There are exceptions of course. Kenya does have some families that provide for these children, but those families are the exception rather than the rule. Most of these children end up watching life from the sidelines, often while they are working as maids and/or herders.
Our mission, or goal, here in Kenya is to put these children into the game. Get them off the bench and in a place where hope can blossom. I wrote yesterday that loving them is easy, which it is. That is the first step to creating hope. Unfortunately it is not always enough. Many of these children have become so accustomed to not being loved nor wanted that it can and will take a lifetime for them to get to a place where they can embrace that love. In the meantime we have to be creative in our efforts to break through. We have to show love by providing for material needs, but we also have to go beyond that. Kenya has a culture of receiving aid or perhaps it is better to say there is a culture of expecting aid. These children really do need help with food, school, health, and clothing. No doubt about it. Yet there needs to be a person, not an institution behind that help. Someone who can be loving and tough at the same time. You know, parental where there are no parents willing to step up. (Big example here is sex. Teens here in Kenya engage in unprotected sex at an alarming rate. Partly because there are no parents teaching them the dangers of casual unprotected sex and the beauty of sex in a committed relationship. Sex education is coming primarily through media.)
We all have stories of someone in our childhood who had a profound impact on us. Teachers, coaches, pastors, uncles, and anyone who took the time to put some effort into our lives. Kate and I want to be that someone for children here in Kenya. Certainly we have and are having a major impact on the nine girls that came to live with us more than eight years ago. Their lives are full of hope and dreams for the future. (Not all of them are reasonable dreams, but each year the planning of the future gets more realistic. Just the dreaming of the future is a huge breakthrough.) They not only have us in their lives but other people that we know as well. Friends and family interact with them and have a chance to be a part of bringing them hopeful futures. Because they do not have to fear for tomorrow they have a chance to develop relationships and experience life on their own terms.
These girls needed us and we needed them. (Why we needed them is a post for another day.)
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I do not do resolutions, but I do take a moment each January 1st to reflect back. This morning I take a look back at the past year and try to evaluate not if I was a success or a failure at my endeavors, but rather was I human or not. Did I do the things that make Johnny a better man or did I just coast through life? Am I a positive or negative impact on life?
My forty-third birthday was in November. There is no doubt about it, I am a grown up. Full size. I no longer need to be told what to do and when to do it. (Though I am still learning how to do many things, but then again so should everyone.) Mommy does not need to hold my hand as I cross the road. I know what it is I am to be doing with my life, and in 2017 just like 2016, I will continue to do what it is I am meant to be doing.
Which is what?
I, along with my wife Kate, work here in Kenya to bring as much hope for a future, to as many children without hope, as possible. Each and everyday in 2017 will be spent working towards that goal of hopeful futures. You see we learned a secret about nine years ago; it is not hard to love a child. Love is easy. We learned to unlearn all the platitudes, cultural hype, and marketing that taught us that love is hard. It is not. Loving a child who has lost her parents is one of the easiest things in the world. Try it, you will find it to be simple. (Liking a difficult child, that on the other hand is not easy. Loving and liking are two different things. It is nice when they work together, but when they do not one can still love a child or adult whom one does not like.)
The hard part is caring for that child day in and day out for as long as it takes. When we took in the nine orphaned/abandoned girls that became part of our lives we found loving them came easy. In fact from the first moment we laid eyes on them we were able to express love towards them. Inviting these young ladies to live with us as family was one of the easiest invitations we have ever given. Feeding them, now that has proven to be more difficult. Clothing fifteen children (9 plus our 6 biological) makes you appreciate nudist philosophy. Working out disciplinary issues is not as simple as hugging and saying "I love you."
We are still loving and caring for these children in 2017. Not everything looks the same as it did in previous years, but the love has not waned. In fact it has increased. Combining love and care is the way to start restoring hope.
I hope your New Years celebrations are fun, we will be celebrating Starlette's first birthday today. I look forward to continuing to journey with you and working together as we strive to bring hope to the hopeless in 2017.
Years ago before moving to Kenya, Johnny and I bought a house in Port Arthur, TX. We felt so happy to have a bigger home that we decided to 'give back' by taking in homeless people. We received so much negative feedback from the 'church' asking us why we would do such a thing. It was the beginning of our pulling away from religion.
But what we learned from that experience was that we can help people with things that we HAVE. Start small. Step out and be bold by doing just a little with what you have where you are...
Often times, when people hear that we care for orphans in Africa, they gasp, "Wow. You are so special." And it makes me feel as if this idea exempts them from thinking they, too, can do something 'great.' I am no one special. Johnny might think he is special, I don't know... But the reality is we are normal folks who had to start somewhere. I knew that children in Kenya didn't have taxpayer dollars helping them when they lost their parents. I also knew that I loved being a mom so I decided I could offer the little I had to fill a need. I decided to be a mom to more than my own children. Now we have a small homestead in Kenya helping orphans and people in the community thanks to people like you who support us.
Fast forward to 2016, we have lived through raising 15 children. I have learned many lessons along the way. When we started taking in children (mostly preteens and teens at the time), we had expectations that our new children would be so overwhelmed with love that they would just fit in and be like our own kids. We knew they had traumatic pasts, but we didn't expect it to be difficult to connect to them. We loved them as our own, but for some reason they wouldn't talk to us, or they would do strange things like hide food in their shoes, or urinate in weird places. It was hard. We needed help, but we found that there wasn't any place in our area of Kenya that would fit the bill. Our Kenyan children had issues with trusting people because people hurt them in their pasts so counselling with a 'human' wasn't exactly the answer.
So here is where we are now: our orphansnomore are growing up. They have turned into beautiful girls who are still in our care for a few more years, but our dynamic is changing. Johnny and I feel as if we can't continue raising new batches of children forever. We are developing our farm to be a model for future orphan care projects. We also are helping orphans stay in school by paying their school fees and buying uniforms, books, etc... but I have this fire in me to fill another hole by doing something I am passionate about using things we have on hand. Once again, I find myself excited to be starting something new.
Having the farm and having the gift of having a horse that was given to us as well as tack that was donated is such a wonderful thing. (I believe every child should have a pony and learn from them if possible. Here is a good article on that.) And being the person that I am, I don't want to just keep a horse to myself. I want to use our horse to help kids in need. Why not combine the two things I absolutely love: horses and helping people? (Not to mention Kenya is the perfect place to do just that because horses are inexpensive to keep in Kenya costing around $39 or less a month for a good doing pony up to $74 a month for a guzzling Thoroughbred. That includes shoeing, hay, feed, salt, vet. That's less than people spend on a dog per month.)
This is not an 'all of a sudden' thing. I have been planning and preparing for this for YEARS. It is only now that I am feeling bolder and more confident about it. I attended a bit of training in Nairobi on two different occasions. I have studied, and I am still studying. Am I completely ready to do therapy with horses? Not quite, but if I wait until I am completely ready, I will never start. So, I will do what I always do. I will start with what I have where I am. I have people asking for this 'service,' and I have been preparing to a point where I feel like we can take the first steps to starting this endeavor.
I have a friend who works with disabled children who she believes will greatly benefit from this venture. She is not the only one hoping we get this going. Another friend who works with orphans wants to bring them here as well. Not to mention my own orphans-no-more who will and do benefit from this.
With that said, we are starting small where we are with the horse that we have. We are doing our first 'riding for disabled children' this Wednesday with three children who have cerebral palsy. I am so excited about this. I want to make children feel special, loved, and give them hope. I want to help disabled kids develop confidence and muscle tone. I want to give orphans a place they can feel love and acceptance, and I want to give struggling orphan guardians a place where they can see their children heal from traumatic pasts.
I don't think horses are THE answer nor will this be all we do, but I do believe they can be a part of how we bring hope to the hopeless.
There is a school, a nursery school, in Nakuru run by a good friend of mine. Nursery school in Kenya goes for three years. You have your baby class, middle class, and top class. When one graduates top class you move on to class 1 (first grade.) Nursery school is an important step for these children to prepare for primary school. Unfortunately not all students can afford to pay, or have trouble paying all the fee or paying on time. Without fully paying the fees the student cannot take the final exam and move on to the next grade.
We committed to pay the school fees of two of these children a couple of weeks ago. Part of our mission of bringing hopeful futures to children here in Kenya is helping them to get access to education. Paying fees, lunch fees, uniforms, and even sometimes paying for school trips is part of how we are keeping kids in school and in reach of a hopeful future. I would like to pay for more students in this school to help them be better prepared for class one.
Since I know the owner of this particular school well, I know the funds are needed and will be used to improve the school. Thus improving the education of these little ones just starting out on their educational path.
There are seven students we have identified that need help for this term. I have already paid one school fee at 5,500 KES, which is about $54 U.S. dollars. If we can raise another $324 for the other six fees this will go a long way to helping the school, and the students.
I am not committing to sponsoring these students for the rest of their school career, just would like to give them a boost for this final term of the year. In fact some of them will graduate from top class and move on to first grade next January.
We would appreciate any help you could give towards this project. Just follow this link for information on how to donate, and make sure to include a note that it is for the nursery school fees.
Let me help you understand our dynamic now. Firstly, we are celebrating NINE YEARS of orphan care in our personal home this month.
We took in one preschooler, and 8 preteen and teenage girls nine years ago (2007). None of them had a consistent education before moving in with us. With that said, most of our Kenyan daughters are grownups now, but they are still in our care because they are going to high school. We cater for all of their needs, but going to high school is a huge transition for Kenyans.
Let us talk about the oldest 4: Grace is 22 years old and in 11th grade. Sarah Apiyo is also 22 and in 11th grade. Mildred is 21 and in 11th grade, and Sarah Muthoni is 19 and in 11th grade. They all attend the local school near our home. In January of this year, I had just given birth to Starlette, so informing everyone of the changes was difficult because I was busy with a brand new baby... But three days after she was born, we started renting a house closer to the girls' school so that they could start learning to manage themselves as 'grownups.' They receive a monthly allowance, and we pay their rent, school fees, and medical stuff. In other words, we are still caring for them! We just don't see them as often. Instead of having to walk 45 minutes to our home from school, they only walk 3 minutes to their house. I hope to get some good video of it for you. It is quite adorable! I am so proud of them. So far, they have really managed themselves well!
Now Mercy is 20 and in boarding school because she received a full scholarship. Mary and Teresa are also grownups being 18, and have chosen to return to their biological families against our wishes.
Beatrice is 17 and also attending boarding school because she made high marks on her exams. We still have BT visit every holiday when she is out of school.
Lastly, Edith is 13 and living with us in our home. She is the one who has opened up so much in the last two years. She is in 7th grade and is just one of us. She is thriving and doing well.
So there you have the 'orphansnomore' update.
Taking orphans in as our own children is not easy nor is it finished. We are still raising them and guiding them and funding them. The dynamic has changed a bit, yes, but they still require us in their lives.
The financial demand is still there, but the time demand is a little less. We only have 7 children in the house now. So we are able to plan what our future holds as the girls begin to grow up and out. They still have some time under our wings, but in the meantime, we are doing new things.
We are currently working on a new biographical page and thought you might enjoy what we have so far. Keep in mind this is not the final draft, we will add some pictures and possible videos, but it gives you a good overview of our lives.
Thanks for stopping by our little corner of the web. My name is Johnny Brooks, and together with my wife, Kate, live in Kasambara, Kenya. We moved to Kenya in January 2005 with our children from Texas and have been enjoying the adventure ever since.
We are working towards providing hopeful futures to orphaned and/or abandoned children. The sheer number of needy children in Kenya is overwhelming, so we decided to put the big number on the back burner and help the ones we could. Nine girls moved in with us a little more than eight years ago. They have lived with us as family ever since. Our basic orphan care philosophy is that by replacing the missing family parts of their lives we can provide them with hopeful futures. Years later we are still connected as a family, and all nine girls have more chance to become productive parts of society.
Fifteen children, nine Kenyan orphans and six biological children, are more than enough for any family. Yet we still want to provide for more and more children. To that end we are expanding our efforts to keep children in school. Unfortunately here in Kenya school is not free. There are a myriad of fees, uniforms, books, and other expenses that have to be paid. If you fail to pay the lunch fee, for example, then you are sent home and not allowed to continue learning. We are paying lunch fees for students so that they can stay in school, and at least eat one meal for that day. This way we can keep needy children on the path to futures with hope.
We also believe that agriculture is a way that more orphans can be cared for. To that end three years ago we purchased nearly twelve acres of land in Kasambara. The main goal being to learn farming methods, produce food for ourselves, and then use any excess for relief in needy families. We call our farm, The Shire. We now live on The Shire and love it. The learning process for farming is time consuming, and requires a lot of trial and error, but we are well on the way to achieving our goals of producing food for us and others.
Kate is also expanded the project to include educating women and girls on reproductive health and dealing with menstruation. Child birth is dear to Kate and she is quite passionate about getting information into pregnant women's hands here in Kenya.
That is us in a nut shell. Follow us on Facebook to get a more day in day out glimpse of our lives:
This is the text of our recent newsletter, which if you are not currently receiving please subscribe. The video in this post I created several days before the newsletter was written, but it goes along with it well.
The World Is Not O.K. Right Now.
We have been reading about the shootings in the U.S. today, have read about the recent terror attack in Istanbul, and on and on and on. Houston, we have a problem.
I spent most of today mowing grass and weeding around our baby fruit trees. Plenty of time to ponder on the world and the dire straits we find ourselves in. There was plenty of brooding time, lots of chances to become down and disheartened. Ample opportunity for the total lack of control I have over any of this to grab me by the neck.
Yet I did not spend time dwelling on this negativity. I am staying informed, but I am not allowing it to dominate me. You see, I think I have found a solution for what ails us. We need more good people. We need good people to stop watching the news and to go out and do something. We need the good ones to show a better way. Violence begets violence. Love begets love, Peace begets peace.
It is not easy, and honestly does not always thwart the violence. We took in orphaned and abandoned girls here in Kenya. Embraced them whole heartedly. Our biological children adopted them as sisters and learned the new girls language to help them feel at home. We hugged, kissed, disciplined, and tried to show the love of God to them. It worked, is working. Though not perfectly. A couple of the girls have rejected our embrace and chosen other paths. However the good that has been done outweighs any of the bad.
These girls, the majority of whom are now adults (though still in school as they missed much in the early years,) are good people. They will not take up sniper positions and shoot at some just because they are different than they are. Our girls will not hurt/kill someone they have power over. They are good.
This is the solution. We need more good people.
We can make good people. It takes effort, love, and lots and lots and lots of time.
The past couple of days I have been loading soil into a wheelbarrow and hauling it over to my raised beds. Not particularly difficult work, but tedious labor. I keep finding my mind wandering and questioning the purpose of all my digging. I am not a farmer, at least not yet. I can understand that the digging and hauling is important for the here and now. The food we will eat this season will be worth the effort, and it is rewarding labor. Yet consumption of all organic home grown food is not the end goal here on The Shire.
Enough food to share and/or market to generate income that can be used to care for more orphaned/abandoned children; that is the goal. The main thing is rescuing children. Creating opportunities where none exist. Giving the hopeless a hopeful future. Loving and being loved is our purpose.
That is why I dig. That is why I will continue to learn to farm. That is why I will try and grow pumpkins. The future of these children and the ones we have yet to save depends on the digging.