Brilliantly Proud

brian.jpg

A few years ago, I met Brian. His head was bowed, his shoulders hunched. He wore a thick Christmas sweater with a large, red bow. It was a sweltering March afternoon. No one knew his story. His family was dead and the children’s department had nowhere to place him. I brought him to St. Anthony’s School for the Deaf. I remember the look on his face when he saw his name printed on a blackboard. He was roughly 13, but he was proud to start kindergarten.

I met him again, recently, at ReACT’s New Year’s celebration. When Brian saw me, he broke into a broad smile. He had grown at least a foot, but what was even more striking was his aplomb. His shoulders were broad and square. He grasped my hand with something even greater than confidence - pride, perhaps?

In the past three years, he learned a language - not a second language - he can only now communicate for the first time in his life. This skill has enabled him to have friends. Guests were waiting to be served a mountain of rice, chapati, and freshly slaughtered bull - quintessential Kenyan feast. The loudspeaker pumped upbeat music: synthesizer, drum loop, djembe.

image17.jpg

Suddenly, Brian flipped his hat backward and let it perch loftily on his head, and strode in front 220 spectators, kicking up a heated dance.

His hips gyrated as his arms pumped in the air. The beat of the bass channeled through the ground and cued his feet so that his movements were in sync with the rhythm. I stared, my mouth agape. Then came the whispers: “Isn’t this boy… deaf”?

His audience started clapping and whooping. A woman ululated.

Brian was oblivious to everything but the ground beneath his feet that pumped energy into his limbs. When he opened his eyes, he saw hundreds of fanning hands in the air - crowd cheering in sign language. He laughed, taking it in. Then, he swaggered back to his seat. Yes, he was proud.

Proud, after all these years, to be brilliantly and unapologetically himself.

Manon

Two Worlds

My family has been home for two weeks now, and it’s hard to reconcile two worlds: one in Kenya which draws us into community, and one Canada which propels us into productivity. It’s hard to capture the range of all my impressions of this trip. Each has its own texture, nuance, shade, or hue.

My children were mostly impacted by the warmth of the people.

DSC_8624.jpg

Even that impression was tempered: they achieved celebrity status overnight, yet neither of them likes being the centre of attention. Their smallest action elicited a response from other children. The first week,  Élia refused to bathe until it was pitch black outside and too late to heat water over a fire. She braved a cold bucket shower more readily than teasing.  Anna felt humiliated by 100 curious children on their way home from school. Too late, I realized she was surrounded. And petrified. The children shrieked with laughter and couldn’t get past the little white girl on the road eating something as ordinary as a banana. One reached out and pulled her braids until she was were satisfied Anna wasn’t wearing a wig.

DSC_9002.jpg

Yet, despite some notable differences and a significant language barrier, my girls still managed to connect with children more readily than home. They even managed to communicate a little - on Kenyan terms. Even now, I catch their subtle Kenyan idiosyncrasies - raised eyebrows mean “yes”, and they yell out brief Swahili phrases to one another in code.

DSC_9912.jpg

Our large, round mud hut was perfect - mostly, because it pushed my children to live outside, kicking a homemade ball around the field and chasing chicks and goats. I gave up trying to keep my children clean. Their limbs became the colour of the red dirt. I found this wholesome and even gratifying. Kenyan women took it upon themselves to make up for my evident maternal shortcomings and scrubbed their feet with repurposed netted fruit bags.

Kenya also forced us into a more direct relationship with food. Élia was fascinated to watch a bull skinned for the New Year’s feast. (We held Anna hostage in the hut while its throat was slit - much to her dismay). That said, they both enjoyed watching the fur singed off its head as it roasted over a fire for soup. That day, Élia had complained that she missed our family tradition of watching “BBC Earth” once a week - until Michael pointed out that we were living it instead. True that.

My girls’ hearts were broken the day they met street children visibly younger than Anna, who is eight. They spent the day asking the kinds of questions that I could not answer.

Every day in Africa was a contrast.

We encountered need staved by interdependence; we met suffering embraced by faith. We also found hope lurking in the most unlikely places.

Only in Kenya was I able to define paradox in a way my children could finally understand.

We all returned to Canada more thankful than we left: plumbing, clean water, and fresh bread all seemed luxurious. I fear, though, that the inevitable will happen. Slowly, but surely, vivid Kenya will fade like an old photograph. We will peer into the small photo and try to distinguish features through the grainy black and whiteness.

It always happens.

My youngest said to me today that her dream is to return to Kenya; my eldest acknowledged it’s like Narnia for us, but without the witches or the snow.

And so we must return.

Every visit helps breathe colour back into the stony self-sufficient pieces of our lives.

~ Manon

DSC_9714.jpg

2017

As we reflect on 2017 we are grateful for so many things.  

Six-year-old Lawrence was welcomed to Veronica Home in poor health and is now thriving.

The Chain ReACTion cycling team raised over $20,000 for the work in Kenya.

For three years now we have focused on just three projects:  Veronica Home, Home-based Care and sponsorship for children who are deaf to go to a specialized school.  We are seeing each of these projects flourish and are confident that the decision to narrow the focus was a positive one.

We are celebrating ReACT's uniqueness:  The projects on the ground are managed entirely by a Kenyan team.  The role of the North American board is merely to come alongside the Kenyan team and to provide mentoring, support, and encouragement so that they can be empowered to do this good work.

Donations for 2017 must be received by December 20th so they can be processed before the Christensen's leave for Kenya.  Cheques should be made out to Assists Projects.  Our mailing address has changed, so please contact kathryn (at) reactkenya.com for the new address.

Welcoming....

Welcoming....

We are happy to announce that six-year-old Lawrence joined the family at Veronica Home recently.  He was very, very ill when he first came and is currently being treated for health complications.  His body was so stressed and malnourished that his hair is completely white.  The children at Veronica have welcomed him with open arms and he is getting better day by day.  

(Please note that we always change the names of children when we tell you stories about them.  We hope to post a photo of Lawrence once he is well again.)

Ride for ReACT 2017

Ride for ReACT 2017

We are so grateful to our 15 Chain ReACTion riders and to all of our donors who made this year's ride day so much fun and such a success.  There were people who rode 50 miles, one brave soul who rode 100 miles, and then we all rode 25km together as a group.  The team spirit was infectious and it seems everyone wants to join us again next year.

The team raised well over $20,000!  This amount goes a long way in Kenya and will have real impact in real time.  Thank you to all of you who gave and all of you who shared our excitement as we rode again this year.

Ride Day!

Practice Ride Team 2017.jpg

With only 2 days to go, our cycling team, Chain ReACTion is ready for show time!  This coming weekend we have 15 people signed up to ride one of three races designed to challenge our riding abilities.  Pictured above are some of the Team riders that came for our practice ride in August.  We are incredibly grateful for each one that has sacrificed time to be a part of this years ride as well as for every sponsor that has donated to our cause.  To date, we have raised between $15-$16,000 for the children of ReACT and it looks like this year we will have set a record for the most money raised to date.  Anyone can still donate HERE up until Saturday.  Stay tuned!  

On the Road...

Part of our cycling team, Chain ReACTion met for a training ride this past Saturday morning.  Four of us enjoyed a 55 km ride with 600m of climbing while a couple made a 25km ride on another route.  Riding with great people in good weather is a real treat so come join us on July 22 for our next team ride.  If you are interested in riding, joining our team or supporting a rider on our September event day you can find out more at www.chainreactionriders.com .  If the ride itself does not excite you, I can guarantee you that Brenda’s home baking and coffee after the ride will put a smile on your face!  

Reunion

This most recent visit to Kenya was one of reunion and the continuation of precious friendship.  

ReACT is privileged to have on its Canadian board Daniel Lipparelli who lived in Kitale, Kenya for 8 years and was the founder of Veronica Home.  This February Daniel met Michael in Kitale so they could visit friends together, all of whom Daniel had not seen in 5 years.  

Daniel and Mark leading a training session

Daniel was touched to see how the children have grown and are living such healthy, happy lives.  He saw that the ReACT staff have rich relationships with each other and are thriving together.  "I was overjoyed to see how happy and healthy the children are! I was also blown away by the outstanding staff, seeing their dedication and love for each child. I am so thankful for Mark and his leadership!"  Probably most exciting for Daniel was seeing Mark Kamondi.  Mark is the Kenyan director of ReACT now, but Daniel has known him since he was a young teenager.  Daniel was a mentor to Mark and so is delighted to see how Mark has flourished.  It was a long-awaited reunion of two brothers.

Motorcycles

There is a stark difference in the West in how we view a motorcycle. To me, it is a recreational toy for my personal enjoyment on those few days in Canada warm enough to ride. On my trip to Kenya in 2014, I saw how integral these two-wheeled machines are to everyday life.

 

Mark Kamondi sees his 125cc Jailing as a lifeline to those he serves. As full-time manager, the motorcycle he drives every day is one of the essential tools in keeping ReACT Kenya’s ministry functional. His regular contact and physical presence with those in Home-based Care, the deaf school, and other satellite locations is key to providing feedback and making changes to assist in the most cost effective and culturally relevant ways.

 

This little Chinese bike has been through torrential downpour, knee deep mud, and has seen more dust and stone chips than any Ontario back country road can throw at you. And after many miles and multiple repairs, the time has come to upgrade this and the other ReACT bike to something more reliable.

 

My appeal comes as a fellow motorcycle rider and one who has driven the roads of Kenya first hand on these machines. The dangers of potholes the size of a car, road washouts from rain, and an no-rules driving culture requires a responsive and reliable machine. Keeping Mark and the team safely moving ReACT forward is a goal worth getting behind.

 

We have priced out these machines in the local market with Mark and have come to understand that a median price would be $1,500 - $2,000 CDN for one bike. Our goal is to purchase two this February. The old units will be sold back into the resale market to offset the cost of the new bikes.

 

Please consider partnering with ReACT on this. I know it may not have the glamour of a picture on the fridge - however, I have seen the look on an orphan’s face when Mark arrives – his bike coming down the lane is a reminder to these kids that people care.


Donate now by clicking on the Take Action button. Please indicate “React Kenya – motorcycles” in the memo section.

Mike Smele