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Today we celebrate Edith's birthday. She was the first Kenyan girl to move in with us back in 2007. She was a spunky little four year old at the time who adjusted to being with us quickly. Now at fourteen she can be quiet as a mouse or loud as a lion. She is allergic to work, but quick to help out with Starlette (our one year old.) Lasagna is her favorite food, and she likes playing games on the IPad.
Edith starts her class eight this week in primary school. The final year. It is a big year for Kenyan school children. The test at the end determines where you can go to secondary school. We are sure she will do fine and hopefully can even enjoy this final year of primary school.
Since it is January, our hot time of the year, we are going to go swimming in town at a place called Kivu. When we get back there will be a giant chocolate chip cookie made and some kind of beef stir fry thing for dinner.
Happy birthday Edith.
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.
Today I went to town and used my PHONE to pay for EVERYTHING.
See, here in the 'third world' we have this really cool, modern thing called 'mpesa.' Basically, we load money on our phone by going to a little shop, handing the guy cash, and then he sends it digitally to our 'mpesa wallet' on our phone.
In a society where most people do not have bank accounts, and having cash in one's house is risky, mpesa is amazing.
Mpesa is everywhere. I took a taxi and paid by sending 'money' to the taxi driver's phone number.
I paid for our 30 'day old' chicks the same way.
I paid for our lunch, our groceries, our cow feed, etc... all through my cell phone that has now turned into my virtual wallet.
I pay our workers this way, as well, keeping our house cashless and safe.
Pretty cool? Huh? Money from our USA bank can be sent directly to my phone, too! It is INSTANT. No waiting. No going to a moneygram office or an atm. It is like someone handing me cash over thousands of miles right into my hands.
It has its limits, though. It only allows $1,000 worth of transactions in one day, and that is the max amount you can have in your 'wallet' at once. But we find it is a pretty modern thing for where we live.
*We have been using mpesa for years, but thought it would make an interesting article!
Our friend is doing a fundraiser to help us repair our vehicle Dolly!
We need $2,000 in 2 weeks. Please consider sharing our campaign and helping with whatever you feel led to help with. Details are on the campaign site.
If you already help support our project, we don't want you to give to the campaign, but maybe share it with your friends!
One of our readers is enjoying our archive posts so much, he suggested I remind folks that they are there! So for fun, perhaps, or to get to know us better, maybe try reading through some of our old blog posts. We have come a long way since 2005!