April has been a jam-packed month here at FKLA. Our Country Director Sarah Medway is off on holiday in America, as are our kids for the entire month (I’m not convinced that it was a coincidence that Sarah decided to take her holiday at the same time the kids are on a month-long vacation…). But we’ve been managing to soldier on in her absence and actually have had a very fulfilling month, both for children and volunteers.
We’re lucky here at the centre in that we have a static group of volunteers for the entire month, which has made our daily routine a lot more reliable. We had a new staff member arrive just about a month ago, Brian Jones; he’s here to get our Magnet Effect Program off the ground, starting with organizing our celebration for Day of the African Child in June. It took him a week or two to adjust, but he very quickly completely fell in love with Njabini, our children and his work. Additionally, we have been fortunate enough to host Peter and Tamia, retired friends from the states whose boundless energy keeps us all going day after day! We are also lucky to have our first resident Kenyan volunteer with us this month. Vivian is a 19 year old Kenyan from Kisumu who recently learned she’s been accepted to Carthage College in Wisconsin; her American mentor is bringing her over to spend a month in NYC preparing for college later this summer and we’re all so excited for her.
In addition to some free time, the kids are receiving some individual tutoring from Vivian (it’s amazing what an asset it is to have a volunteer who has gone through the Kenyan school system not too long ago). Tamia is helping the kids with their compositions (things like punctuation, spelling and sentence structure) and half of our teaching staff is here everyday giving lessons to the kids so they don’t fall behind in their studies. We’ve instituted a new rule recently, upon learning that we had a few children arriving to class with incomplete assignments. Before kids can sit down to the movie at night, they have to come get their homework checked by Auntie Hannah, Tamia, Vivian, Uncle Brian or Peter; it’s a very heartwarming sight night after night to see our children cuddled up with each of our volunteers as they check their work.
Speaking of movie time, I have been fortunate enough to have stumbled across a movie store in Nairobi where I can purchase DVDs for 150sh/each. Needless to say, I have a standing order there and am waiting on the rolling delivery of about 20 movies for both kids and adults. It’s been great for the kids because every time I get back from Nairobi (where I spend 1-2 days/week) the kids know I have new movies for them, and great for me because I get to choose movies that I want to watch as well. I get to watch movies I love night after night like Toy Story, Aladdin, Night at the Museum and Free Willy; very clearly a win-win situation. It was so exciting to watch Home Alone with the kids for the first time and to witness their reaction to one of my favorite childhood movies (who am I kidding, it’s one of my favorite adult movies as well!!). They will be quick to tell you, however, that Home Alone 2 is their favorite of the two. They’ve already watched it 4 times in the past week, so I guess they’ve made their preference clear. It’s so adorable to hear them quoting the movie during the day; “Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.”
Easter was a very memorable event for all involved. On Saturday, we dyed Easter eggs, which was an interesting project, as we can only purchase brown eggs in town, which don’t take to the color as well, and the only dye I could find was in powder form, but we managed to make it work. The kids got a kick out of drawing on the egg in crayon before dying it, although I will admit that not all of them quite understood the concept of coloring on the egg BEFORE placing it in the dye.
All the volunteers attended the Full Gospel church service on Easter morning; after a handful of services there, I feel as if I’ve paid my dues, so I was eager for an excuse to cut out before the 2 hour sermon began. We were able to sneak out after the fun singing part and prior to the 2 hour sermon with the very convenient excuse that we had to go hide the Easter eggs before the children arrived home. Having witnessed firsthand the result of an unfound egg inside the house left to rot for 2 weeks, we decided that hiding the eggs outside was our best bet. Brian and I were trying to think of a way to make the Easter egg hunt especially exciting and soon enough, the “golden egg” was born. Brian very adeptly bedazzled an egg and showed it off to all of the children the night before. James insisted on seeing the egg before we hid it, so that “I will know what it looks like when I win.” Funnily enough, James did win, although 4-5 of the kids must have been staring 6 inches to the right and left of it and totally missed it.
James is 13, and smack dab at the beginning of his adolescent, “I’m too cool for anything, especially posing for a picture” phase, so it was very out of character when he won and was more than willing to pose for pictures, holding the golden egg up in the air like a world series trophy. Better than the Obama t-shirt and chocolate bar he was awarded for his efforts, was his claim on anything up for grabs over the next few days. Whenever a disagreement over the remote control or a seat on the couch or a ride on the bicycle arose, we inevitably heard “the winner of the golden egg gets (the privilege in question);” nobody ever had an argument for that.
Community Service Day
As I’ve noted in the past, it’s hard to tell children who have come from such unfortunate circumstances that they are lucky and that they owe it to others to give back, but we all agree that it’s important for them to realize that despite the troubles many of them have been through, they are very fortunate to be where they are today, and there are always going to be people who don’t have as much as they do. While the concept of giving something up for Lent may not yet be appropriate, we have begun doing little things to help the kids understand their place in the world. Little things like giving them the option to place their 10bob weekly allowance in one of two jars labeled “charity” and “fun” has impressed me greatly, as every week, more often than not, the bulk of allowance goes towards charity (incidentally, they are currently saving up to “adopt an elephant” at the elephant orphanage in Nairobi. I think they really related to the idea of sponsoring an orphan, as they are all sponsored children).
Last Saturday the kids had their first hands on experience with community service. I took James, Hannah, Ann, Joseph, Moses and Miriam to another nearby orphanage where they could appreciate how much they have and how lucky they are to be at FKLA. We arrived with some Frisbees and a soccer ball and I was reminded of family holidays when I was younger where you see cousins you haven’t seen in a year and have an awkward hour or two of interaction before you’re long lost friends again. Our kids took a little while to come out of their shells, but after whipping out my supply of nail polish I’m grateful I had the presence of mind to grab, we quickly made friends. While the home we visited was very adequate, I think the kids appreciated the differences between FKLA and the nearby home. Even little things like the quality of our kids’ clothes and shoes vs. the other children made an impact on them.
Meanwhile, the eight younger children, Peter, Tamia and our matrons were part of a very special afternoon. Our initial plan had been for the children to collect firewood on our new site to bring to an elderly woman who could not collect her own, but that plan was nixed when we realized the place we were to go collect was firewood-free. A quick fix plan actually turned into a humbling experience for all as the volunteers all chipped in 1000sh each to purchase foodstuffs for needy families in the area. On 4000sh (~52USD) the children and adults were able to purchase flour, salt, sugar, cooking fat and tea for 12 families. Tears threatened to spill over later that evening as I looked at pictures of our kids handing 2-3 days worth of food over to families that would otherwise not have eaten that night. Speaking with the children about the experience over dinner, I could tell that each and every one of them had been affected in a way, however small. They also felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that they were able to perform such an important deed that day.
I’m so proud of our kids for understanding the importance of giving back and know that this is something we will certainly continue to develop as they grow older. This weekend the older kids are going to assist our caretaker in the shamba for the afternoon; a little hard work never hurt anybody!!
In addition to their lessons and chores, the kids have had their share of fun experiences this April. Yesterday was no exception as we welcomed a comedian to FKLA. I wasn’t sure what to expect of a Kenyan comedian, but my questions were answered soon enough. The comedian’s routine required audience participation, which Daniel was fully prepared for, having already stuffed his stomach and butt with spare clothing. This little getup is something which the boys often do during our dance parties; I had no idea where they got it from and at first thought they were imitating the women’s bodies, but was told that they dressed this way because “that’s how the comedians do it.” Sure enough, our comedian came with a pre-stuffed shirt and fake beard. He did about an hour of improv with the kids (we had class 2 in for the day so they got a nice little treat in lieu of a full day of classes) and while the majority of the skits were in kiswahilli, we were all rolling on the floor laughing. It was one of those instances where a picture is worth 1000 worrds. I had fully expected that Daniel was going to ham it up during this session, but was floored when Joseph (our newest child who arrived just about 2 months ago and has been quiet as a church mouse until recently) got right up there with Daniel and joined in on the skits. There was a smattering of participation from the rest of the kids, but Joseph and Daniel stole the show with their antics. I’m such a sap but I had tears running down my face while I watched Joseph make the 25 other children and adults collapse into fits of laughter. I think of where he was 2 months ago and compare to where he’s evolved to over the past couple of weeks, and it simply astounds me. Not only is he a bright child, but he’s funny and has finally come out of his shell around everyone. I feel lucky that we were able to facilitate in the evolution of his amazing personality.
Winnie and Josie Jeff
Some sad news for all you dog-lovers out there (myself not included). Winnie and Josie Jeff’s sibling rivalry came to a head a couple of weeks ago when they were engaged in a savage fight to the death that took 2 grown men to break up. Both were the recipients of some nasty gashes and lost teeth. Needless to say, they could no longer be left alone in the same place, so Winnie has gone to live with one of our watchmen, Charles, indefinitely. While the kids were sad (especially Daniel, his special caretaker), they now look forward to field trips to go and visit Winnie, and I don’t think any of them have complained once about the reduced volume of dog poop to scoop up…. Plus, Josie now has her large, custom made doghouse all to herself.