Yesterday we visited my friend Joyce and the Gede School had a big day of appreciation for Kupenda. It included a special poem in honor of my dad. I think it is somewhat fitting these two activities happened on the same day. My friend Patty will write about the emotional ceremony in the next few days. I am just going to focus here on our visit with Joyce and a bit of the history behind this visit.
It was raining but Joyce smiled more than I’ve ever seen her smile. There was something poetic about it. Many of you have heard me talk about Joyce or have read about her in the story of Kupenda’s formation “An Unlikely Gift.” Like me, Joyce was born without her left hand when I happened to be in Kenya in May 2009. The midwife who delivered her came to our office in Kenya to let our Kenya director, Leonard, know about her family’s reaction to her birth. Joyce’s mother refused to come out of her house wondering what she had done wrong to have a child born “abnormal.” At our request, the family came to our office in Kenya.
When Joyce and her parents came to meet Leonard they had no idea that there would be an American there who was born like their daughter. Leonard and our local pastor talked to the parents about all the things I do because of the encouragement of my parents. As I held newborn Joyce, they listed things I do like type, play the guitar and piano, drive, achieve master’s level education, etc. They also told them about Kupenda and how it was unlikely to exist if I was born with two hands. At the end of the meeting, Joyce’s mother said that she now knew her daughter could function in society and might also make a difference like Kupenda. I corrected their misconceptions about Joyce’s future capabilities by carrying water on my head and grinding corn…important abilities for rural Kenyan women. I also encouraged them to take her to a mainstream school when she was school age as opposed to a special needs school.
Joyce is now six years old, on the cover of Kupenda’s book, and in her first year of mainstream primary school. She has been carrying water on her head since she was 4 like all the other girls in her village. Her parents say that Joyce is more accomplished than most of the other children in their community. This was affirmed by the woman who delivered Joyce. This woman was at the traditional healer meeting we had on Tuesday. She told the whole group that I could do “everything” and that my example continues to encourage this little girl. It brought tears to my eyes and affirmed my continued visits including the one yesterday.
Maybe it was fitting that I visited Joyce and her family in the rain considering how tough this year has been for me personally. I often think of rain as a negative thing at home but here, with so much direct dependence on the land, it is a blessing….a wet and muddy one. In some ways, the situation Joyce and I find ourselves in is similar. I noticed for the first time that Joyce hides her arm behind her back as I do. I had a feeling it would happen when she started school….the stares can be exhausting. However, when I asked her to put her arm next to mine she had no hesitation. I don’t know what it was but it warmed my heart. Many would say I’m a blessing to Joyce but Joyce has given my life value in a way I struggle to articulate. The best way I can think to explain it is the rain. It’s annoying and difficult to navigate… but brings growth and beauty that sunshine alone cannot produce. Perhaps that is why we both smiled in the rain today.
With love and gratitude,
Kupenda for the Children
PO Box 473 Hampton NH 03843