The Heart of Africa

I’ve been to 12 countries, but this is the first time I've ever ventured into third world country. The moment I stepped out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport I was in for some serious culture shock. 

The roads were congested with cattle, children with sticks trailed along behind herding them. I saw toddlers wandering alone alongside the road barefoot. I wondered if they were lost, or if they even have a home.

I arrived in Africa with very few expectations. My life has been a complete whirlwind the past few months; I’m still trying to process the fact that I’m actually here in Kenya.

I came to volunteer at Kinonia, a school founded by my friend’s parents for underprivileged children who live in the slums. We believe that the best way to give these children a future is go give them a quality education. 

I instantly fell helplessly in love with the students. I have never met children that are so happy, cheerful and full of life. I wonder if this is what all children were like before the era of TV, videogames and computers. They run around for hours rolling wheels with sticks. They tape together plastic bags to make haky sacks. 

They love to laugh and hug and sing and dance. They are sharp, and inquisitive. They will steal your heart. 

After school one day we walked the kids back to their village. The image of such extreme poverty will forever haunt me. They live in small rusted tin shacks, an entire family in a single room with a dirt floor. There is no running water, the women need to buy water and carry it home in order to wash clothes, cook and clean. Toddlers and babies sit in the mud dressed in tattered clothing. 

Many of the children stroke my hands and arms saying that my skin is "so soft." Stacy said that her hands get hard and cracked when she touches the "brown water". 

These children loose their innocence so early in life.. they are exposed to so much at such a young age. Some children have mothers that are prostitutes and bring men back to the house. So many have been beaten, abused, and rejected. Many are responsible for taking care of their younger siblings, even though they are merely children themselves. 

The irony is that alongside the slum are huge mansions for the  UN ambassadors and the Mexican Embassy. The surrounding neighbourhood built a tall brick wall around the village and hires guards to lock them in after a certain hour in the evening.

Despite their circumstances, these kids never fail to amaze me with their love, generosity and compassion. Phyllis is 8 years old and the sweetest girl you will ever meet. She is standing with her brother outside their home in the photo above. I didn't bring my purse to church on Sunday, I prefer to leave my valuables at home. When the offering plate was handed around Phyllis asked me if I had anything to put in it. I was so ashamed when I said no ... she gladly gave me half of her coins.

My eyes welled up and I squeezed her tightly. In that moment I felt so incredibly humbled. I remembered the story in Mark 12 about Jesus  watching the widow's offering and saying “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others."

I understand why Jesus had a special place in his heart for children. They are absolute treasures, more precious than silver. 

This has been the soundtrack to my life the past few days:

Disclaimer: all the photos in the slum were taken by the one and only Debbie Hahto. She is remarkable. (Check out her facebook page here