This month marks the 10th anniversary of Kupenda’s official existence as a nonprofit and today happens to be my birthday. The two are kind of connected considering I most likely would not have started the organization if I was born with two hands instead of just the one. One of the reasons I decided to help these kids is that I was told that I might have been killed at birth if I had been born in Kenya. Most of you, who are familiar with our work, know that some still believe that people with disabilities have somehow been cursed and/or they lack understanding of what people, with disabilities, are capable of. Many Kenyans are still quite shocked to see me drive. On my last trip a small child in a rural area poked his head in the car as I was driving away and said, with a shocked face “Dema” (Giriama for “she is able”). Although I never liked identifying myself as “disabled” (still don’t feel entirely comfortable), I know it is a bridge to connect me with the children and families we serve in Kenya. A major focus of Kupenda for the children is to provide support for parents of children with disabilities so I often find myself sharing the story of my birth and upbringing when speaking about our work in both Kenya and the U.S. I thought you might like to read the story for yourselves.
My friend is writing about Kupenda which includes the story of my birth so I recently had a conversation with my mom asking her to tell me the story from her perspective. When I was born my mother opted to go under anesthesia after hearing the screams of the woman giving birth in the room near her (a choice for many back then) so was not awake when I first came into the world. When she awoke the looks on the faces of my dad, doctors and nurses caused her to ask them if I had died. Relieved that I was alive, the news of me being born without a hand was somewhat less disturbing. She asked to see me immediately. When asked to describe her emotions at that time she said “Think about the joy you feel holding your first child in your arms for the first time. Now imagine how you would feel if your child’s hand was amputated. Now imagine having those feelings simultaneously…that is how I felt when you were born”.
My parents were pretty young at only 22 and 24 and I was the first child on both sides of the family. Needless to say, I had a lot of attention which might also explain my love of an audience :-). When the rest of the family heard about my lack of a hand they tried to figure out how to “fix” me. My dad’s transformational 4- year-old’s, faith led him to believe enough prayer and fasting could bring about a hand for me and provide a miracle to the world. My mom’s dad just “knew” that there must be advanced techniques in Switzerland that could provide me with a hand. My mom wondered if maybe she did something during the pregnancy to cause this but was determined that God uses all difficulties for His purposes. My dad’s dad said, “There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be someone very special in all her life.” My grandfather’s belief was a lot to live up to.
My family committed to raising me with faith and without limitations. They didn’t question me when I asked for a guitar for my birthday or a kayak….they just decided it was up to me to determine what I could and couldn’t do. This attitude, along with the faith they instilled in me is why I believed that I could do anything including something for the kids I came across in Kenya 26 years later.
When I first met these children I was just a graduate student doing research for my master’s degree in wildlife biology. I decided to get some assistance for the children who were selected to attend the school for special needs I passed every day. However, I didn’t imagine then that the 15 children, I had family and friends support to attend special needs school, would grow into an organization that serves over 600 children with disabilities on the coast of Kenya. I definitely didn’t think we would be an official nonprofit and now we have been for 10 years! Man, I’m getting so old.
It’s been more joy and sorrow than I could have ever imagined but I think a net joy overall. There are times when I’m sure it will all collapse around me and I sometimes question the decisions I made that seemingly resulted in sacrifice on my part. However, the light on the faces of these kids is enough to keep me going even when common sense would say it is futile. Anyone who starts a nonprofit has to be a little crazy in my opinion. Right now the elections in Kenya are still not decided so the children we support are still not in school. I’d hoped my birthday gift would be their return today as they had planned. Please keep them in your prayers as many are in vulnerable circumstances when at home.
I’ve witnessed children walk that could not even crawl, and entire families transformed by what God is doing through Kupenda. However, there is so much to do and so many more children to assist especially during this uncertain time in Kenya.
Would you be willing to join our efforts by donating $10 for every year of Kupenda’s existence ($100) or $1 for every year of mine ($39)? It might lessen the blow as I enter the last year of my thirties.
Thank you for all the ways you support Kupenda and me. We couldn’t do any of it without people like you.
With much love and appreciation.
If you’re interested in supporting one of the many children we serve, head over to our sponsorship page to learn about how you can make a difference.