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The Educated

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“Send me to school” a thin voice begs. A small bottle dangles from his upper lip, glued firmly in place so that both hands are free to grasp each other in prayer. His large pupils are coated with a buttery glaze. He is one of the many street children in Kitale who struggles with addictions. “Send me to school”, he echoes as though the first try didn’t have the impetus to reach me.I purse my lips, and no words are able to force their way through. I can only take his hand gloved with callous and grime. School. What positive connotations the word has in Kenya. It is a privilege to go to school. However, despite the free education policy that the government has instated, some families are still unable to afford a uniform and basic supplies. Children with disabilities are even less likely to be enrolled in school. According to Fatma Wangare, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped, “Many children are denied admission in schools, especially children with [an] intellectual disability. The denial is based on disability - for example not being toilet-trained, lack of speech and language - which is very unconstitutional,” she explains. According to Deaf Child Worldwide Internal Report, only 4% of deaf children attend school (2009). Deaf children simply cannot fit into a conventional school system. In fact, some of the deaf children we met in Kenya didn’t know their own name. ReACT now sends 39 children to Saint Anthony’s School for the Deaf. They learn to communicate. They learn a trade. They find purpose. They discover hope. Still, I press the small hand tucked into my own and feel at a loss. Children from the slums are equally disadvantaged. He reevaluates his priorities: “Seesta, give me bread”. For today, that is something I can do.

Manon

War

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Lying in bed last night, my six-year-old daughter asked me, “what is war”?My textbook answer withered and my words rang hollow. I never understood war less than in that moment. I realised that it is beyond my capacity to process war when I explain it to a child. Her innocence robbed the word of meaning.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that children, too, are caught in war.

I thought of children her age in Syria right now. I thought of the children in Paris, who lost parents and the semblance of safety.

How could she process that man is wolf to man?

I elected not to tell her that many children she will one day play with in Kenya have also been displaced and orphaned because of violent tribal clashes. In our home-based care program, four children still grieve for their blind mother who died after she ran for her life and stumbled into a well. Seven orphans and their aged grandmother were also forced from their homestead and now live in an old water tower, far from their community and tribe. And these are the lucky ones, whose basic needs are met. Whose wounds are starting to heal.

God, save the children.

Would heavy words like “war” float aimlessly around their heads instead of piercing their hearts.

These thoughts jumbled in my mind and words stuck in my throat as I watched my daughter peacefully drift asleep. Safe, sheltered, as children should be.

Hope Floats

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Aaron’s movements are dictated by the radio’s reedy sound waves, which ebb and flow over and through his frame. His elbows swing outwards as his knees sway rhythmically. His little body, which seemed as hard as flint on the soccer field, now wobbles and bobbles like rubber. His eager limbs respond to the pulse as rolling sea swells. Aaron is pulled into the tide and other children follow, shimmying in his wake.Even the tiniest toddler in this place learns to swagger before he learns to walk. The children at the Veronica Home astonish me with their athletic ability, their endurance, and their rhythm. They are buoyant, animated, and oh-so-joyful as their bare feet rain down on the rust-coloured dust. In that moment, one can forget that they are sick or that they depend on antivirals. How they thrive despite their circumstances.

Aaron begs me to join and I find myself caught up in a dance where I have to outleap my partner. We become a heaving wave of jumpers vying for height, lurching upwards like bubbles trapped on the ocean floor. Aaron nicknames me the White Masai. I’ll take it.

Manon

Alive

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Children squeal with delight as they hurl paint powder into the air. They are reckless in their aim and let it fly with abandon. It shrouds their bodies as it explodes into fireworks of colour. It splatters clothes, which are flung off; it speckles skin, forming a rich, proud contrast; it rains into open mouths and eyes; it coats teeth, transforming smiles into cartoonish leers. Opponents cough, sputter, and retaliate with fanaticism. This is war.

“May”, I marvel, “you are a genius”.

May, who has always dreamed of travelling to Africa, is making her trip count. Her unlikely idea transforms children’s laughter into paroxysms of glee - into veritable eruptions of colour. She is giving these children an experience they will keep forever.

In a sense, though, they do the same for us. Each day, fresh life seeps in and saturates us like tempera paint. During her first week here, May observed: “I thought I would spend my time here sad and feeling sorry for people, but I couldn’t have been more wrong”. Instead, we witness ingenuity, community, trust, and vibrant hope.

We unearth simplicity, which, I discover, is a key pillar to genuine joy. We stumble upon the essence of life itself.

We laugh. We develop community. We hear God’s still, small voice. And in the process, we find ourselves.

SPLAT. I receive a faceful of magenta that speckles my cheeks and scalp like fiery eczema.

Here, I am truly alive.

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Centurion Ride for ReACT 2015

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Tomorrow, Sunday March 15 is the last day for Riders to sign up for the "Early Bird" rate for this year's Centurion Ride for ReACT.  (Sign up here). Sign up now and make the commitment early as well as save on the entry fee.

We have a Charity Team forming already and are planning practice rides and team building events for this spring and summer, all with the ultimate aim of raising funds for the Kenyan children of ReACT.  This year's ride is again at the Village at Blue in Collingwood, Ontario, an epic base for an epic event.  The ride is scheduled for the weekend of September 18-20 and riders can choose between a 25, 50 or 100 mile course criss-crossing the Escarpment.  There are some changes to this year's event with the C50 and C100 being held on Saturday and the C25 on Sunday.  Join us and about 3,000 other riders for an unforgettable event.

Stay tuned for upcoming practice events for the ReACT Team and in the meantime, get those legs spinning!

Juma

When we visited Kitale last year we were fortunate to have time to meet with Daniel Juma and his family. The Juma's received support from ReACT for several years, but have been self-sufficient now for quite a few years. In 2011 the Juma family was able to move onto 5 acres of land. Here you will see the greenhouse where they can grow vegetables year-round and you can hear Daniel tell us about the changes in their lives. He and his wife, Anastasia, are truly inspiring people.

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and watch this:

Daniel Juma video

2014.

As 2014 draws to a close I don't find myself evaluating how I did with this year's resolutions or planning the ones for next year. I am a naturally self-reflecting person, yet I'm not looking back on my year as a mother, a wife, a friend, a child of God. As my mind drifts these past few days I find I'm thinking about Kenya. I am mulling over what kind of year our friends there have had, what things have changed, what has been good and what has been hard. Below is a series of photos of some of the changes that we have seen in 2014. The pictures have all been sent over recently from Mark Kamondi (thank you, Mark!)

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There are now 45 chickens and 67 chicks at Veronica Home. The children are regularly eating eggs and sometimes eating meat.

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These bags of maize (white corn) are stacked on the porch of Veronica Home. This is the harvest from the fields that were rented for the first time this year. Mark figures that with what they will save on maize this year and with the profit they will make selling the extra, this stack of maize is worth $1400 for Veronica Home.

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Here is the happy Shikuku family in front of their new home!

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The school on the Shikuku`s new property is available to their own children as well as children from the surrounding community.

This sweet little guy is one of two new children at Veronica Home this year. He looks so much healthier than when he first arrived.

We look forward to journeying through 2015 with you. Happy New Year! Kathryn

waiting.

In Kenya, there is a lot of waiting. You could invite someone for lunch at noon, but wait an hour or more for them to arrive. People wait on the side of the road for transportation to the nearest town, with no knowledge of when a van might come. If it does come it could be too full and pass right by, or it could be empty and have to wait until there are enough people to warrant a trip. Service in any shop or office is slow and a small errand could take the better part of a day.

Here in North America we are always rushing. Even when we are not busy we seem to be able to manufacture an air of hurry. It makes us feel important, like our lives our full. December, in particular, becomes a time when everything ramps up and the very event we wait all year for becomes something we dread.

The advent candles in the wreath on our table burn slowly, inviting us to wait, to focus, to draw nearer. This time is a gift, the only time of the year that we are reminded that waiting is a blessing. In Kenya people say "haraka, haraka, haina baraka" - hurry, hurry brings no blessing. When I feel myself getting swallowed by the preparations and the fuss, I am reminded of my time in Kenya and it grounds me. It reminds me that there is blessing in the slow, the quiet, the waiting.

Kathryn

Faces

I had a dream. A toe-curling, unnerving dream that makes me shudder every time I revisit it.

I was a single mother, living in a shelter downtown Toronto. I was despondent, wearing a faded, burlap robe knotted together with a frayed rope. I remained so fixated on my plight that I didn’t notice my five-year-old daughter slip out to work as best she could along the city’s busiest streets. I didn’t even perceive her return with a meager offering. It was only after she left again that I came to my senses with a mind-numbing jolt. I panicked and dashed into the cacophony of the city to try to find her. It was to no avail. No one had noticed her either.

I awoke and couldn’t find sleep again for a long time. It was then that I thought of Kenya.

I thought of the child who suffers the stigma of an incurable disease. Rejected.

I thought of the disabled child who cannot attend public school. Marginalized.

I thought of the child whose caregiver is so stretched, she has to fend for herself and brave a harsh, preoccupied world. Unnoticed.

That child finally had a face. My daughter’s face.

Manon