My trip to Kenya was far different and far greater than any expectation I could have imagined. I wasn’t quite sure what my role would be specifically. I knew that I would be working with disabled children, perhaps holding them, washing them and giving reasons for smiles and laughter, helping them forget, for a moment, the stigma of their disabilities. I knew that I came to show love to these children, but in all honesty, I was not prepared for the emotional exchange that took place and the personal significance this time would represent.
When we arrived at the school for disabled children, called Gede, we were greeted by a great number of the students. About half were deaf students, ranging from ages 5 – 21. The rest came on crutches, in wheel chairs, or crawling on their bellies to welcome us. The students are accustomed to lot of tourists driving by the school, throwing candy through the fence, but never have this many “masungus” (Swahili slang for white person) come inside to meet them. African and American – we were all a little overwhelmed but excited to start the anticipated work we’d been preparing to do.
Shortly after we arrived, I was asked to meet with the special needs teachers. It was here that I discovered the specific role I would play over the next 10 days.
The coordinator for Kupenda had mentioned to me previously that I would be doing some painting. But I was not expecting what came next. “You are artist, yes?” the head teacher asked. “Wonderful, wonderful. We would be very grateful for you to paint the walls.” He began to explain all that needed to be done – the alphabet in hand signs, numbers, letters, shapes and an uplifting illustration for the children.
By the end of the week, we were able to cover the walls of 5 classrooms with learning materials for the children. Almost immedietly after we finished the first room, students were already using the images, counting out loud and signing. I couldn’t paint fast enough to keep up with their desire to learn.
Along the way, I picked up two “apprentices”, Karissa and Mabruk.
They are both deaf students who showed great talent and eagerness to help.
Karissa, who is 21, and the oldest student at the school, was especially gifted. His story touched me deeply. He was brought to the school when he was 16 years old. His father never allowed him to go to school because he was ashamed of him. Eventually, his father left the family, leaving him and his mother alone. She was illiterate and never brought Karissa to school. Instead, he spent his days herding goats, without any system of communication. When the head teacher told me this, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. He had no way to communicate with anyone. He couldn’t express his thoughts or his feelings. When the head teacher found him in a field, he knew that if he did not bring him to this school, he would become no more than a beggar. Although he was technically too old, they made an exception in the hopes of saving his life.
Karissa has been at Gede for 5 years now. His mother passed away last year, leaving him as an orphan. But he now has hope since coming to Gede. He is able to communicate through signing and is learning to read and write both English and Swahili. When I saw that he had a real talent in art, I made it my goal to encourage that and he worked with me everyday. I guided him in painting and he taught me signing. At the end of the week, the head teacher told me that if Karissa develops this skill, he could very easily make a life for himself.
Looking back on this trip, I am so grateful and so humbled to have been apart of what Kupenda is doing in Kenya. They are truly saving lives. Children that came to Gede, crawling, are now walking and running. Children that would have been dead in a year are being cured. It is happening because people are seeing the need and discovering that their contributions are purposeful. I would never have imagined that I could be used so specifically – but I trust that my time spent was relevant. If even only to Karissa, or to the cerebral palsy children who sit in the same position for hours, who now have something other than a dirty white wall to look at. A few weeks before I left, a friend asked me why I was going to do this work. I told her this: It doesn’t have to be Kenya. There are needs all over the world, even in our own backyard. But the opportunity was given for me to go. And though I may feel my small part is insignificant I remember the words of Mother Theresa when she said, “What we do is less than a drop in the ocean. But if it were missing, the ocean would lack something.”
I truly can’t put in to words well all that I have seen or felt those two weeks but I will give you a Little snap shot…..The first day at Gede we got welcomed by all the kids, teachers and with in just a few moments I had a little boy holding my hand for most of the day. We spent a few hours playing, lovin on them, smiling at them and at the end of our first day we needed to set up for awareness day moving chairs and what stood out at me was all the kids getting up helping us, taking chairs from our hands! All I could think is how crazy is this we help them for a few hours and hear I am getting chairs taken out of my hands (kids showing me love)…Through the next week I was in awe of these kids teaching me how to sign to them or learning there language and befriending them was awesome. Kupenda means love and I felt three kinds of love, God’s love, the kids’, and my own for them. Speaking of Kupenda I really like how the mission was not only to feed kids, teach them but to stand with them and love them…
When I got home friends and people in my life where asking did this change your life? My first response was “how do I answer that question?”…But since I have had a month or so to look back I can say this trip did change my life and that only happens because of God moving through Kupenda for the children……..
NAKUPENDA (Swahili for “I love you”)