I would venture to guess that a good number of people who read this blog have some familiarity with the holiday of Lent. For those of you not familiar, I’m not sure I can help you much. I suppose I should be embarrassed that after 16 years of weekly church attendance I can’t give you the biblical origin of the holiday, but none of us at the centre could come up with that the other day when we were talking, so I don’t feel that bad… The conversation came up when Marie, one of our volunteers, decided she wanted to make the kids pancakes for breakfast last Saturday. It was in honor of pancake Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, which I believe marks the beginning of Mardi Gras and the 40 days leading up to Easter, and since it’s easier to make the big breakfasts on the weekends, we did it on Saturday morning.
Marie wanted to give the kids a little summary of why she was serving them pancakes, which is when it became blatantly clear to all of us that our combined religious education was woefully lacking. We were talking about Fat Tuesday and how it marked the beginning of Lent; people often celebrate by stuffing their faces with fatty foods in anticipation of giving them up for the next 40 days. As I’m trying to work this out, it feels like the ceremony of giving something important up for the 40 days preceding Easter is not entirely Christian-derived. I imagine Jesus’ trip to the garden (?) inspired the Mardi Gras celebration, and I’m not sure who came up with the act of giving up something of importance to you (I imagine it has something to do with the idea that Jesus was without everything for that period of time), but it all seems to tie together somehow. While Lent is at its core a religious holiday, it is not exclusive to the religious community; the practice of giving something up has become a more secular than religious experience for many, myself included. I remember having Jewish friends in high school who would give something up just for the challenge of it, to see if they could go without for so long.
We were discussing how we would explain this all to the kids, being very uneducated about the religious significance of Lent ourselves and realized that it would be very difficult to explain to a group of orphaned and vulnerable children who came to us with nothing, that people make it a game to give up the luxuries of life. How would they be able to grasp the concept of having so much that they had enough to give up? It seemed cruel to tell them that one year I gave up my iPod, or that my sister gave up cheese, or that Marie gave up trashy television, or that Sarah gave up her daily Starbucks fix.
It got me thinking; we (you all who are reading this, and myself) are so fortunate that we have so much that we can give some of it up for a period of time and not suffer to the point of physical harm. While I know that ultimately, Lent is about more than just giving up something you “can’t live without,” that’s largely what it’s become for many people.
So here’s my challenge to you – my readers. What are you planning to give up for these next 40 days? Your expensive take-out habit? Sushi lunches? Your weekly mani/pedi appointment? Your Saturday nights out in the city? Most of what we choose to give up has some financial value; I’m asking you to redirect that value to our orphans. When you stay in on Saturday night, put the 60$ you would spend on cover charges, cab rides and Jagerbombs in an envelope, and after 40 days send the contents of that envelope to Flying Kites.
For those of you who hadn’t planned to observe this holiday at all, either because you don’t observe this particular religion or it’s never been a big deal for you, I challenge you to challenge yourself. I know and you know that there are things you can live without for 40 days; conversely, there isn’t much that our children can give up and not suffer without for 40 days; there is nothing that the children and families in Njabini Village can give up without suffering. These families are in a perpetual state of Lent – they don’t have the luxury to stop their voluntary deprivation after a period of 40 days. There is nothing religious about attaching significance to helping orphans and the poor; think of this as a 40 day challenge, not a religious based tradition, if it eases your mind about the idea I am presenting.
I apologize if I’ve managed to insult anybody or trivialize your problems in any way; I understand that most of you (especially my peers) have a lot going on in your lives and are lucky if you make rent every month, but the beauty of this challenge is that it doesn’t ask you to spare anything more than you already have. If you’ve already been spending $2.50 a day on a coffee anyway, you’re not going to miss the money; you’ll only miss the caffeine high for 40 days. But think about how many days our orphans will be able to eat for $2.50 x 40. The reality is, this is money you’ve been spending for something you are going to deem non-essential. How about for 40 days you spend that money on something that is essential?
I must wrap up now because I’ve been writing this while waiting for Francis’ wife Jane (one of the co-founders of the SWORD group) so that we can go visit a family and bring them some wonderful news. One of the women who reads my blog, Leslie, over in France, was so moved by the plight of a particular family I described in my Christmas post that she has made a donation to the SWORD group and I to help them. We are on our way to visit this family of 10 who sleeps on the floor without mattresses, blankets or pillows in a house which I can see inside of very clearly because it is so dilapidated. With Leslie’s generous donation we will be able to do a great deal for this family; whether it will be reinforcing the structure of their house, buying mattresses and blankets or purchasing food and clothing, we are visiting this morning to determine the best way to spend the money.
Leslie did not give a massive donation, but it was what she could spare and it was extremely generous and selfless; in Njabini it will go ridiculously far. We should all take a page out of Leslie’s book and spare what we can for these people. There may have been a particular blog post of mine that has moved you, or the pictures of our children have made you think of something you’d love to see them enjoying; if you have a particular desire for the way your money should be spent, then by all means specify that. If you’d prefer we help the SWORD group continue in their work, or help to provide funding for a community project that has been proposed (such as the Rabbit Rearing project, which we were able to finance fully last week), let me know! I want to serve as a means for you to feel as if you’ve made a difference in this community, either to our orphans or to the town as a collective.
I urge you to give this challenge the consideration it deserves, but personally I can’t see the downside. You will be able to feel good about helping an impoverished area of the world and know that your money will be spent directly helping these people; you can I’m sure write this off on your tax return if that’s important to you and you will be helping me help an organization that has become near and dear to my heart.
If you have questions or concerns, please e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org . I hope that I can look forward to assisting you in helping these families 40 days from now.
Postscript: I just returned from the family’s home with Jane. I was mistaken in only two respects. The family is of 11, not 10 – 10 children and a mother. Apparently the father comes and goes but can’t be counted on for anything substantial. There are 5 boys and 5 girls, and they do not sleep on the floor, rather, they sleep on makeshift bedframes with their clothes piled up to serve as mattresses. I’m not sure if it was more depressing to see than to imagine. We hadn’t been inside the house on our Christmas visit, and when I was inside today I asked if I could take some pictures, both so Leslie could see where her money is going, and so I can illustrate to all of you the desperate need of this family and families like this one.
We have decided that the best way to spend Leslie’s donation is to literally rebuild the house. We will be using timber instead of mud, which is better for so many reasons, and we will be reusing the bits of the roof that are intact, and supplementing with new tin roofing. We will also be expanding the house just enough so that the boys and girls get separate bedrooms. Children get to a certian age where it is no longer appropriate to share a room with their brothers or sisters, and I think that a number of them have certainly passed that age.
We did realize, however, that while we are going to be able to provide this family with a house that doesn’t leak or need to be repaired every morning (you will see in the photos that there is fresh mud in places where they fill in holes that have formed – I shudder to think how many times they have to do this), we are not going to be able to furnish the house. I don’t think it’s necessary to give this family satellite television and a gas stove, but I do think that sleeping on clothing and sitting on peices of wood nailed together is no way to live.
Therefore, for those of you looking for a specific project to invest in, supplementing this family’s furnishings would be a wonderful place to start. Because of the size of the house, we can’t provide 11 beds but even if they had mattresses and pillows and blakents they could spread on the floor at night it would be a significant improvement. We got our beds for the orphanage and Francis and Jane have gotten their sitting room furniture through a contractor who charges a nominal fee to build, so all we have to do is buy materials. A full sofa set could be built for 4000KSH ($60 – about one night out) and I imagine we could purchase mattresses, blankets and pillows for about 10,000KSH ($130). Just something to think about when you’re contemplating the money you spent at the bar or on dinner or a new pair of shoes this weekend….