We recently returned from a two week visit to Kenya. This was the first time we took so many people on an organized mission trip for Kupenda. There were 20 of us in total from America visiting the Kenyan coast from America. After a very long flight through Amsterdam to Nairobi, we traveled by bus through Tsavo National Park. It was a good time for the group to know one another before the real work began. Most of the group was either from the Baltimore area or the Boston area and all were young single adults between 18-34 years of age.
We started out the week by meeting up with the Local Kupenda committee which included Leonard (fulltime director/coordinator), Rev. Mangi (chairman), Gabriel (treasurer) and Zuhura (secretary). The group was warmly welcomed by the committee in the new Kupenda office. The group brought many toys, books, school supplies, assistance equipment, etc. for the children that were greatly appreciated.
The American group was introduced to the children at Gede special needs unit. This is where most of the children attend that are supported by Kupenda. The children and visitors seemed to hit it off right away. The visitors tried their best to speak Swahili and use Kenyan sign language. The children helped to teach them as well. The children and the visitors helped to set up for the special needs awareness day which took place the following day.
The special needs awareness day was a big event with over 500 people in attendance! The day started with a parade led by the visitors pushing the wheelchair bound children while singing a popular Swahili song. The day was long but the message was received. 8 of the special needs schools that Kupenda supports performed dances, songs, poetry and plays. Speakers included the district education officer from Mombassa and Kupenda’s founder, Cynthia Bauer. The overall message was that the community needs to support and encourage all children, no matter what their ability, to become what God intends for them to be. Be reminded that people in this area are still of the belief that those born disabled are cursed and are often, hidden away, abandoned or even killed at birth. More children were brought to Kupenda because of this day. We even had people come from as far away as Lamu (4 hours by bus).
Every person used their unique skills and abilities to serve these children. Each was so valuable from simply playing with the children to leading special needs workshops for the special needs teachers. Although all were so important highlighting some specific contributions is worthwhile.
Sarah Frost led the painting crew. She is an art teacher and used her talents to create educational materials on the walls of the classrooms while brightening them up a bit too. She had the children paint with her as well as some of the other volunteers. At least a couple of the Gede students who are deaf became part of her permanent painting crew because they really loved to paint and discovered they had some great talent. The special needs head teacher at the school said these kind of skills may actually be something they can use as a vocation one day.
There was a learning disabilities and autism workshop led by Melissa Kane and Kim Watkins. They both are educated and work in the field of special needs education and were sharing their knowledge with the special needs teachers in a two day workshop. Although things are very different in Kenya verses the US the teachers said they learned a lot and want them to com back. The teachers are very eager to learn more about helping the special needs children they work with.
Maria spent most of her time at the school putting her occupational therapy skills to work assisting Koffa. Koffa is the Kupenda funded therapist who works miracles. Maria learned a lot from him and she did a lot to help get his therapy room in order as well as assisting him in his work.
While the teachers were in the workshop the other American volunteers entertained the children. They helped with teaching computers, feeding the children, doing art projects for supporters back in the US and playing games.
We had a ground breaking and the beginning of digging the foundation for a new classroom at the Gede special needs school. Dan Hammons was responsible for leading the volunteers. The work was big and by the end of the first day it was decided that it might be better to contribute to the local economy and hire a Kenyan crew to continue the work. The volunteers weren’t used to the direct sun and the back pain from digging. Dan continued to work side by side with the local crew.
At one time or another each member of the volunteer team came with Cynthia and/or Andrew to some of the home visits to see those children in need of schooling and/or medical assistance for a disability. This was so that the volunteers could see where the children at the Gede school had come from and to understand how much work we have left to do.
The entire American team left with tears in their eyes and life changing memories. The best way to understand their experience is to hear from the volunteers themselves. We will add more individual’s thoughts as they come in. Here are some of their thoughts on their experiences…..
The greatest sound came from that of a beautiful young girl named Asia who I met in Watamu. Asia is a deaf child at the Gede school we worked at while in Kenya- she made the most awful scowl faces everyday, so I made it my goal to make her smile. The last day I was at the school, I over exceeded my goal and made her laugh! Asia had the most beautiful and joyous laugh I have ever heard! This moment touched my heart and left a permanent memory in my mind! 🙂
The reasons I thought I was going for were not as such. I found that for the first time since college my degrees earned were worth the effort. The passions I once had for Sociology and Public Health had faded (and left me feeling I had gone in the wrong direction); however this trip sparked that passion in me again and made me realize that the degrees I sought and earned were meaningful to these beautiful people and the land where they live. I found Malindi to be a simple, gorgeous and beautiful place (so untouched by the technology, chaos, and social norms we have created here in the more developed Countries)!
When I first arrived at the school I was greatly disheartened by what I saw – the school and the children were of quite harsh conditions (the kids were dirty from lack of baths and having to sit in their own urine some of the time, they slept on these thin and very dirty mattresses, they had no toilet paper, the place reeked like that of a dirty bathroom, they had nothing but each other and merely enough teachers to show love and one on one attention). However, towards the end of the trip I was fortunate enough to go on a home visit to a village where two of the girls from Gede came from – we were to visit their families to make an assessment of a third child from the family who was born with the same disability as their daughters. We took the girls with us on this visit. When we arrived (though these parents and family members had not seen their children in months) the parents showed no care or concern for their daughters. They simply smiled at the girls and walked away to join the rest of the family at the village. When we were leaving one of the fathers tried to get his daughter, Faith, to walk over to him to say goodbye and she grabbed on to the leg of Maria (one of the girls on this mission with us) for fear that we would leave her at home.
At that moment I realized how truly amazing and what a blessing Kupenda is for these children- that a child rather be at that school then at home with their families. What seemed to be horrible conditions to me was a palace for these children. Kupenda has given these children hope, happiness, smiles, full bellies, a place to sleep, friends like themselves, and yes, though no toilet paper, a toilet at least! Instead of being at home where they are hidden away and left with no love and/or attention from their families, they are at this school and beyond blessed by our Lord to run freely with others like themselves, to see they matter, to feel they matter and to laugh!
I have been truly touched beyond words. I am grateful for the heart and passion in both Cindy (Founder and President of Kupenda) and Andy (Vice President) to work so selflessly hard for an organization and cause that brings hope and life to many children!
One of the hardest things I felt to deal with came the day I went into the boys sleeping quarters. There was just old metal style bunk beds with a mattress and pillow, some had no sheets. What really struck me was there was nothing in here being their personal quarters. No toys, dressers, pictures of family, nothing. The one worker explained most of the children only have 2 changes of clothes as far as possessions. I wanted to take a picture of this room but could not get myself to do it. The twist here is for most of the children this is “posh” compared to where they came from. Some were “outcasts” with no home or family before Kupenda was started. Many of these children are only deaf, they are just as or smarter than everyone else. Just rejected and trapped because they cannot communicate by regular standards. There are other more severe cases, everything from wheelchair bound, cerebral palsy, and retardation.
These children were so happy and fun to be around it was addicting. To step back and watch how they took care of each other was a true gift. There were two little girls-(3-4yrs.old and cute as can be) that had one of their legs deformed so it just curled up below the knee. I watched an older child carry the one girl while the other girl squatted down and hooked her crutches in her crocked leg and carry them over so she had them when she was let down.
One of the benefits of this trip I feel was the fact that everyone that went showed their everyday Christian testimony. It is hard to put to words but it was like how we live Tuesday thru Friday and not just Sunday’s.
I couldn’t imagine a better “fit” of people for this Mission trip. Everyone had their place in the puzzle to make a complete picture of God’s Love. Although many times I felt my place was small I am grateful the Lord called me to be a part.
Anyway this is getting too long so I will wrap up for now. We did encounter some snags getting home via air travel. Andy and Cindy the leaders of the trip handled every situation honorably although I am sure they were stressing on the inside. I just looked at it like what the Lord called us to do was done. Gods Grace and Mercy along with your prayers kept a great hedge of protection around us. No matter how many flights got changed or where I ended up sleeping my inner peace and joy could not be diminished. Just goes to show that devil just never gives up, and I think we got him pretty mad 🙂 those 2 weeks.
There are too many highlights to count. Sitting with the kids and given them love was awesome and then I think the biggest one was finding a calling. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the kids on the home visits knowing that is where the kids from Gede came from. It broke my heart. And at the same time amazes me how much the ministry has helped these kids. The trip changed me forever in more than a billion ways. I saw Christ’s love in everyone and I love that Kupenda means love because that love is so clearly shown.
This trip was a great opportunity to see the work of Kupenda first hand. I was very impressed with this organization – in particular with the love the committee members and teachers have for the children they serve and their love for the Lord. This love motivates their work and drives a very effective ministry. We were all touched by the smiles, laughter, and joy that we saw in the children at the Gede school. The happiness and health of the Kupenda children was in stark contrast to the isolation and neglect of the children we saw on some of the home visits. Kupenda is filling a great need and is working miracles in the name of the Lord, to His glory! Meeting these children allowed me to fall in love with them and to learn more about their needs. The opportunity for us to be a channel of God’s love to these kids was also a great blessing. I will now be a much stronger advocate for these precious children that Kupenda serves.
We have all been born into a life in which we have been given much – much in terms of material wealth, much in terms of opportunities in education, work and life experiences, and much in terms of our knowledge of the Lord and the ability to tell others about Him. The time we just spent in Kenya really magnified for us in our minds these blessings. Yet as we met people who have so much less that we do (in terms of material wealth), I was really struck by their happiness and joy. I think that we were all charmed by the smiles and laughter of the children! I was also impressed by the joy in life and joy in the Lord (Phil 4:4-7) displayed by the teachers and the Kupenda committee members. It was moving to see how hard they work for the children. They are role models for us about how to work as if working unto the Lord (Col 3:23).] We must have all wondered why we were born into lives of privilege and opportunity, while they were born into lives of poverty and struggle. It seems so unfair and I don’t understand it. Their lives are very rich and each child there is very precious in the Lord’s sight. We came away from Kenya seeing their value and worth in God’s eyes and loving them with the love that the Lord has for them. Perhaps this is one lesson that we are to walk away with: how to see others as the Lord sees them. We also saw the truth of the passage that Cindy always quotes about the man born blind. John 9:3 “…this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
This morning I am also thinking about something Gabriel told me about something he saw and how he reacted to it during the Disability Awareness Day. During the ceremony some tourists drove by and began to throw candy to the children at the edge of the school yard. Garbriel asked them to stop, but invited them in. He told me that it bothers him when the tourists throw candy like that, because the children “are not dogs.” But if the tourists would like to come in and meet the children then they would be very welcome. Thinking about all of this, I realize that I have also learned that people who live in poverty (or those who have less material wealth than we have, although they may have more spiritual wealth) do not want our pity. What they want is our friendship, our fellowship, our compassion, and our understanding. Aren’t these the same things that we all need and desire? And when we give of ourselves in this way, we benefit so much more in return. These relationships are true blessings and great rewards. What an honor and a privilege it was to get to know all of the people we met in Kenya and to share in their lives, albeit for such a brief time. Hopefully we will all cherish these memories, hold onto those friendships, and keep giving of ourselves.
In Acts 22:15 Ananias tells Paul,“For you will be His witness unto all men of everything that you have seen and heard.” I can’t imagine that when Paul heard this statement, he was eager to share his experiences with the Jews. He knew he would not be accepted, and may possibly suffer physical consequences for sharing his testimony. Despite these barriers he was obedient and God used him to touch thousands of lives. Obedience is submitting our will to God and allowing Him to work through us. When we are obedient, God can use us in ways we would have never imagined. I wasn’t really sure why God wanted me to go to Kenya, but was open to whatever He wanted to do. My prayer is that, above all, I will be obedient to Him.
After meeting the children on the first day at Gede, it was clear that my purpose in being there was simple, to love the children. I wondered before arriving how the children would respond to us, and if it would be difficult to communicate and interact with them. My questions were answered soon after arriving at the school, as I was greeted by a long line of children, each one holding out their hand to shake mine. The smiles on their faces were comforting and their joy was contagious. It was amazing how quickly we were all able to communicate with one another although many of the children were hearing impaired and others had physical or mental disabilities.
Most days at the school were spent painting classrooms, teaching the children how to use computers, and organizing different activities for the kids such as coloring, painting, and games. Each activity allowed the kids to reveal their creativity and knowledge, which was quite impressive. I learned a lot from the children. Most of the kids were very outgoing and eager to teach us things, such as sign language, songs, or games they enjoyed. Many were skilled at sports, such as soccer and netball, or enjoyed dancing or singing. Others were more reserved, but were skilled at painting or drawing. Although they all had different personalities and interests, they were all eager to help out however they could and serve us and one another. Every morning a group of kids would run to meet us and carry our things for us. They would also help each other by pushing wheelchairs and carrying younger children around. I feel privileged to have met each of them and feel like they have taught me more than I could ever have taught them.
I would encourage anyone seeking God’s will for their lives to not be afraid of the unknown. Sometimes I think we can become so concerned with discerning what we have heard from God, that we never get around to taking the first step of obedience. Fear of being wrong often prevents us from experiencing what God may have planned for us. 2 Corinthians 2:9 states: “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye are obedient in all things.” May God bless you, and may He use you to bless others.