a Future and a Hope
One of the fringe benefits of moving onto The Shire (our almost twelve acres here in rural Kenya) was Kate was able to rekindle her love for horses. Almost immediately after we moved she began a search for a horse. She learned quickly that finding a horse that we could afford here in Kenya was not easy. In fact it was almost impossible. She met many people with horses and made new friends along the way. Still no horse. When she was almost frantic with the quest, her search led her to an organization in Nairobi that used horses as therapy animals for disabled children. This organization gave her a horse that was not suitable for their use. This began our journey with horses and more importantly gave us a way to help more children.
I do not understand the bond Kate has with horses. They are not animals that I appreciate and I have never had a bond with anything other than a dog. Yet it does exist with some people, and especially with children. A child and a horse share something between themselves. There are benefits to the relationship, even if it is a fleeting encounter. Reminds me of a scene from this documentary we watched about horses with a guy named Martin Clunes. He ends up in a pen with a horse and just after looking into the animal's eyes has an emotional moment. If I remember correctly there were tears and all. Seemed silly at first to me, but I try and respect other's experiences. I tried it out. Stared into a horse's eye. It did not have the same effect on me, but after observing the eyes and the sense of thoughtfulness behind them, I can understand the connection some people feel they have with these animals.
Horses make good therapy animals. The children get to ride the horse and it actually helps with their muscle development. Really. Amazing to think about. It is no miracle cure, but for these children even little advances can seem like miracles. It has to do with the way the horse moves and then the children have to utilize muscles to stay balanced and sitting up. These muscles do not normally get this exercise. Over time it can help them to sit up better and perhaps even walk better.
There is also the emotional boost to the child. Unfortunately disabled people do not have much reason to be happy here in Kenya. We have encountered almost unbelievable situations involving disabled children and young adults in Nakuru. Including one young man chained to a wall. What I am trying to say that bringing even an hour or so of happiness to these children is worthwhile. They get to ride a horse. Many if not all of them have never even seen a horse, and now they get to touch and sit on one. The smiles and giggles have an impact on their well being.
Currently a campaign is running that is ongoing to build a couple more stalls, buy equipment, and finish leveling a piece of The Shire for this horse therapy program. This is one more way we will be working towards bringing hope to children here in Kenya.
Here is another video where Kate talks about this Horsepower:
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
That is a quote from the character Galadriel in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. One of my favorite lines from the movies. It captures one of the core truths of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; that size does not determine fate. Size can also be translated to power or in our context of 2017 access to resources (funds.) Even the smallest can have an impact on someone's life.
Kate and I are little when compared to other folks and organizations working with orphans. We do not have the fund raising abilities of bigger organizations. We cannot hire a professional fund raiser who will do the work for us. We have to do it ourselves. Which honestly is alright by us.
Back in 2004 when we were planning on coming back to Kenya I really felt that we should not attempt raising money in typical missionary fashion. Meaning that we would not travel around raising a certain percentage of support before moving to Kenya. Instead we sent out a letter to everyone we knew and got on a plane. We arrived in Nairobi with four hundred dollars to our name and have not looked back since. Not the smartest thing to do when compared say to most mission agencies or something like the Red Cross. However, going against the grain is something we do well, and we needed to learn to depend on someone other than ourselves.
We survived and have in fact thrived over the past twelve years. Sure we always need money (currently we need money for paying school fees, plus we want to get at least five more children in school this month,) and we are jealous from time to time of those folks working with organizations that can provide them with salaries, vacations, vehicles, and access to resources for the work. (We are especially jealous of those vacations.) We do enjoy our freedom and ability to connect with those we want to help and we even have relationships, bonafide relationships with our donors. We know the day to day struggle and that helps us to help others.
We are small, but we are changing the future. One child at a time. Frodo in the Lord of the Rings story, was a tiny hobbit. He did not have any power or influence outside of the world of hobbits. Yet it was him and his trusty servant Sam that changed the course of the third age. In fact it could not have been done by anyone else. There is a place for those big organizations. They can do wonders in disaster situations and when it comes to distributing large quantities of relief aid. There is also a place, in fact I believe most places, for the small guys. We can pinpoint aid in ways that an institution cannot. We know those we assist. We can tailor that assistance to best help them and bring them to a place where they no longer need us. It is in the interest of those working for big organizations for the people they assist to keep needing that assistance. Kate and I are interested in the opposite. We want those we help to grow and be able to stand on their own. Then they stand with us and turn around and help the next guy up. Being small enables us to do this.
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: