Heart Training

by Kupenda

Two males and a female seated on the ground together.

Jessica Charles, Kupenda’s new Development Director, reflections on moments from her first week in Kenya.

We’d been there an hour when she left the table and walked across the yard. His eyes followed her with such intensity I leaned over to reassure him, “She’s coming back, don’t worry – she’s just going to get her camera.” Joseph turned his eyes to me without moving his head and smiled. His family chuckled softly and someone touched his arm.

This is the job training I’m here for. It was Day #6 in Kenya after nearly a week of pastor workshops, board meetings, school visits, and staff interviews for the technical training and these spaces in between for the heart training.

Joseph was the first child I really met here. I’ve shaken a lot of little hands and bantered in the school yard but Joseph was the first to share space and time with me.

Lots of things struck me as we approached his home: a forest of thin coconut trees, a dozen children in the yard, the early twilight breeze — and more than all this, the warmth of his family’s reception – all 20 of them greeting us with the traditional Kenyan handshake but then hugging Cindy and inquiring after her mother – just like true old friends (and nothing like “project beneficiaries”).

After greetings we sat to sip orange Fanta while they told me Joseph’s story.

“Labor. So prolonged,” his mother said in a scowl. “With the umbilical cord wrapped around is neck.”

His aunt shook her head remembering, “He didn’t cry for a whole day. Wouldn’t take the milk.”

“At 3 months he still couldn’t sit up,” the mother continued. “Some said have an operation, while others said I’d been cursed or a victim of witchcraft.”

“They shunned her from everything – weddings, meetings, burials. They wouldn’t even look at her.”

Joseph sits quietly at the end of the table. A teenager now and tall like his father but bent in his chair from the cerebral palsy. Cindy holds his hand while we talk. Occasionally she looks over and they smile at each other. She asks him questions to include him – in an adult voice — and he answers without moving his lips and so soft I can’t hear. Fortunately, the family – all 22 brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles – they understand perfectly.

“Pastor,” They repeat to me. “He says he’d like to be a pastor when he finishes school.” And Joseph beams and smiles because he knows the seemingly impossible has come true again and again for him in these 16 years.

The toddler who couldn’t walk or talk was brought to the Kupenda-supported Gede School at just two years old. This early intervention program and primary and secondary special education allowed Joseph to develop physically and academically – far beyond what was expected.

“He feeds himself now,” the mother says to us while looking at Joseph. “Goes to the toilet by himself and can even go to the shop for me and buy things.”

The older children nod, “You should see him on a phone – he can do everything – take pictures, videos, play music too.”

“And he planted those,” the mother says pointing. “All by himself.”

Everyone turns to marvel at the tall patch of sugar cane while I look back to Joseph. He’s standing now and resting on the back of his wheel chair. Arms and legs bent stiff, head leaned back from weak neck muscles. He catches me and smiles again in flash of white – so proud I blink and swallow hard.

Three days later I’m in a meeting with Cindy and the head teacher. Quality control discussion. Planning teacher incentive program and care training. Joseph shuffles by the door and I stop taking notes to watch him dismount from his chair, turn on the water and wash out his plastic bowl. The whole process takes a full 5 minutes, all of which feel like one great miracle. One great testament to the impact of this work. One great moment I’ll take home between the notes and photographs, plans and goals.

Another chapter in my heart training.

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