My photo
I am currently a student at Texas A&M. I love God, family, friends, and photography

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heartbreak and Hope

This entry is for Tuesday the 19 or June.

As I said on the last one, I expected today to be exhausting, and I could not have been more right. By the end of the day I was totally drained, physically and emotionally. I said before that there are around 62 kids in grade 8, and I read through probably close to 30. Well, we decided that it would be best if we worked with the kids whose bios we corrected. I knew that many of the stories that I had corrected were full of heartache and loss.

By the end of the day, two stories stick out the most, that of Timothy's and that of Festus. I will start with Timothy's story, one that literally churns my stomach when thinking about it. Timothy seems to be a bright boy, but extremely small for his age and class. I have not gotten to talk much with Timothy prior to reading and correcting his bio, so I wasn't sure what type of kid he was. Okay, on to the story. Timothy's story resembles many of the stories of a lot of the kids at New Hope School. His mother died when he was very young and his father remarried. Many of the kids mention how hungry they were t one point, how hard it is to keep food on the table, but few go into detail on the consequences of not being fed. In Timothy's case, he was willing to write down and be specific on what the consequences were. Timothy told me, both in his bio and in conversation, that at one point in time, he was eating trash  and rock, yes, ROCKS, to fill his belly. If that didn't hit me hard enough he told me that he first had to scrape the "feces," yes, poop, off of the rocks and trash before he ate them. Luckily, Timothy's father is very caring and once he found out that he was doing this, he took him to a hospital for treatment of anything he may have contracted. Guess what, Timothy's story doesn't end there. He later told me, again in the bio and in conversation, that his step-mother is an abusive drunk. He told me that the only way he and his siblings dont get hit or kicked is if they hid behind their father. In spite of all of this, Timothy loves the lord and thanks him for his caring father. He prays that the lord would provide for his family. Timothy dreams to go to university to make a better life for himself, and to provide for his father and siblings. I dont know about you but I can honestly say, and am ashamed of it, that a reason to go to college has never been to provide for my family (brothers and parents). This kid, working through one of the toughest lives I can imagine, is driven by the love of his family and his Lord. Pretty sure we could all learn from that.

Now for Festus. Festus' story, while different than Timothy's, is just as eye opening. The first thing that caught my attention while reading his bio was that he said he was seventeen. Seventeen and in the equivalent of 8th grade. Thats a bit off on the age scale. Why was he so old? Well, he explained to me why. Festus' father passed away when he was very young, he says he doesn't really remember him. Anywho, his mother wasnt able to provide for he and his siblings, so Festus went to live on the streets. I'm not sure if he left on his own, or was kicked out (its more likely that he was kicked out). I did my best to figure out how young he was when he began living on the street, I figure he was somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7. Festus searched for food on the streets, and made them his bed at night. He did this for 8 years. After 8 years he was taken in by a children's home where he lived for 2 years. After two years he was released once he learned how to properly act around people, he called it "good behavior," he was allowed to return home to his mother. Mind you he has been gone for around 10 years at this point. I didn't ask how things were at home, but he did tell me that he wants to succeed so that he can provide for his brothers, sisters, and mother. Festus also mentioned that he had found Jesus and had taken him as his personal savior. This kid just wants to love on others and show them the love of God. These kids are teaching and convicting me on a daily basis.

I worked through a few of and many were as heart wrenching but they didn't stick in my mind as much. The thing is that there is no short supply of these type of stories, except they aren't stories that we just read, these are kids lives. I wish I could be as genuinely happy and strong as these kids are, its just amazing. Not to sound like an ass, but Im kinda glad we're almost done with bios, reality sucks. But in the end God is good and uses everything for His glory, even if I cant come close to grasping how He does it.

The cool thing about these kids and what New Hope is doing is that hopefully the cycle of poverty can be broken with the help of sponsors and the hard work of the kids. There is hope, regardless of heartbreak.

prayers: healthy, I have an awful cold and have lost my voice.

- John

Monday, June 18, 2012


Penda means "love" in swahili. Today's post is one of a different tune, a more sobering sound. The first post I made about Kibera mentioned the things I saw and encountered. Today's post is much of the same, but more to do with the kids.

This morning our agenda was geared towards the two grade 8 classes. We were to have the students to write a brief biography for their (possible) sponsors to read later on. Well, we instructed them in what to write about; basic things, age, family, where they live, hopes and dreams, hobbies, etc. Well, when that was going on nothing really came to mind about what they could be writing. I mean, I know they live in Kibera and that many some had lost one or both parents. Another part of my job while here is proofreading and correcting these bios, so I know exactly what these kids have encountered. I was blown away, almsot to the point of tears many different times.

Out of the 20+ that I proofread and corrected, only two said they live with both parents. Many times their mother of father had died when they were young, due to "sickness" or "illness." In almost every case the base cause is due to complications following the contraction of HIV/AIDS. Some have lost parents to car accidents and others due to election violence, specifically following the 2008 elections. I don't know about you, but when I have to correct a sentence because it reads "because father is died" my stomach churns and heart wrenches. Mind you, I am reading these things like two sentences into the bios. There was a lot left to read. But I would often think "well, this is normal," and I would press on with the corrections. I would at some point come across the difficulties they have encountered in life. Almost all have something to do with not enough money to be fed on a regular basis. One I read said that at one point he was living in the streets of Kibera for over a week because he and his family had been kicked out of their home. I encountered similar stories a few more times. Heartbreaking. I wanted to stop reading and just hug these kids, but I had to keep going. Other common difficulties were the inability to pay school fees. In Kibera, if you dont pay they send you home, no questions asked and no argument allowed.

As I read these things, I go back to thinking about the cause of the problems. In many cases its because a father has died due to complications of HIV/AIDS, which brings me to another thing that New Hope does in Kibera, testing. Its estimated that one out of three people in Kibera are HIV/AIDS positive. After testing last year, New Hope found that the ratio of students that tested positive was much lower than 1/3rd, 4/550. Many of you have seen my facebook profile picture with the twins, Amos and Joshua. Well, they have a story of their own. As I said before, last year all the students were tested, and to my knowledge more will be tested next week after I'm gone. Well, last year when they were tested Amos came back ad negative, while Joshua came back positive. They are twins, which means that he must have contracted it somehow like stepping on a nail or cutting his foot. Due to the difference of the twins New hope has tested the Joshua FIVE different times. Three of the tests have come back positive and two, negative. We're all confused about where Joshua stands currently, but hopeful. Those little buggers have been a blast to be around and I would love to see the two of them grow up.

Another hard thing to read, and something I didnt really expect, is the abuse of alcohol. I think four of the bios that I read today said that their father or mother was an alcoholic. Other things that you read about are abuse for family members, usually if the student is living with extended family like cousins.

But there is hope. Many of these children, regardless of the struggles, know that the Lord is their father in whom they find comfort. These kids have genuine smiles and love life. "It may be hard, but the Lord helps" is something I have heard when I ask the kids about life in Kibera.

I think tomorrow we will be sitting with the kids one-on-one and helping them rewrite their bios. I'm not sure if I'm excited or dreading it. All I know is that I will be emotionally exhausted.

Prayers: the hearts of the kids. my heart when working with them. Yes some of us are still sick, but we're alive. Heck, most of these kids have constant mild fevers of 100 F. Pray for the kids.

- John

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Bwana, in Swahili, means God. I felt it appropriate since today is Sunday. possible tangents, I'm typing this straight out of my head, not based on my journal entries.

Sunday! Finally, a long night of good sleep, almost 10 hours. However, I did wake up being unable to breath out of my nose, and coughing quite a bit. Mindy came to my rescue with some airborn allergy stuff. With that, and some tea, I was good to go. We hopped on the van to head to church, the same church that New Hope is building outside Kibera. We did leave one team member at the house, stomach issues, so keep her and everyone's health in your prayers, please. We arrived at church and were greeted by a crowd of children waiting for us to arrive. As usual, within seconds my hands were being held and I was being led to the church by a boy named Ian and another whose name I do not know. Upon  reaching the church building itself the sound of Swahili songs filled my ears. The classes had been broken into three different groups. The high school and older primary students (grade 7 and 8) were in Sunday school being led by Samson. Samson is in-charge of running Penda here in Niarobi. The other two classes were comprised of a choir class made of younger girls and a few boys and a class of all the little ones singing. I was quickly found by Isaac once Sunday school was over and the main service was about to begin.

Isaac was sure that I would have to stand up and introduce myself to the congregation so he tried to teach me how to do so in Swahili. After practicing a bit, I was prepared. Sadly, I never got to introduce myself in a language that I know nothing in (sarcasm). Well, one thing remained the same, even though pastor Simon preached in Swahili, I still almost fell asleep in the service. Old habits die hard, huh? At the beginning of the service Isaac tried to translate what pastors Simon was saying, but that didn't last long. Thought there was a language barrier, there sure wasn't a passion barrier. I was able to see that pastor Simon was enthusiastic about his topic, the choir, about their songs, and the man who prayed to open, his prayer. I did enjoy the service, though mainly due to the children around me. Once the service ended I was once again swarmed by the children. They wanted me to pick them up, throw them in the air, or swing them around. But doing this for the past 6 days has had a toll on my shoulders, so I wasn't too enthusiastic about doing it. My mindset changed when looking at the smiles of the kids, thought process changed from "I'm sore" to "lets do this!" However, it did get tiresome after a while and too my luck I picked up two very useful terms, hapana and seemama. Hapana means "no," and seemam means "stop," though using these doesnt mean that kids will actually stop, who could have guessed.

After church we headed back to the house to eat and then leave for Yaya. Yaya is a mall whose parking lot is turned into a market on Sundays. Honestly, what you see is all the same stuff, and a lot of people trying to sell you stuff at stupid high prices. The prices are high because negotiation is expected, and to take advantage to stupid visitors. I don't like being hassled or taken advantage of, so this place isn't my ideal shopping conditions. Funny thing is, the same words I used to get the children off of my arms are the same ones I used to get the accosting marketers off of me. I did by a few things and was able to talk the price down. I felt proud of myself. I also helps when Karen (Daniel's mother in law) calls the sellers out on their prices, quite hilarious. Before coming to Kenya I really wanted to get one thing, a hand piano (finger piano). A new friend, Ben, a long time friend of Kyle, was able to help me find one and to take the price to about half the original offer. I'm pumped that I got one, but now I have to tune it. It was an adventurous time at the market and I'm glad I went.

I guess we got home at about 7:30 or so (11:30am back in Texas) and was able to just relax, read, write, and watch Despicable Me. A good ending to a great day.

Prayers for this upcoming week: strength, health, diligence to get our work done, and in general to love on these kids well and to show the love of the Lord to them through us. Keep the prayers coming, so greatly appreciated!


So, Simba, in swahili means lion. Yea, lion, saw one. Pretty cool. My mind is scattered, and like the last posts this covers yesterdays entry as well, so just bare with me.

So, Saturday, originally anticipated as a recovery day wasn't really much of one. We were up at 6 and I didn't really sleep that night before. We left nice and early to get to the Kenyan National Park for a safari! I honestly didn't know that we were gonna go on one, so I was pumped.

The park is huge about 151sq miles. In all we spent about 5 hours there. In our excursion we saw a warthog, rhinos, ostriches, water buffalo, wildebeests, giraffes, an african eagle, and finally, a lion. We spotted the lioness as she walked away from a failed attack. She quickly hurried off into the brush, and shortly after we heard her roar, or at least I did. Pretty awesome. Great being able to see some of God's majestic creatures running around on their own.

After the safari we headed to our lunch spot at a mall. The place we ate, Java House, is quickly becoming a favorite place of mine. Anyway, right after we ordered our meal the power went out, not unusual in Africa. The power quickly came back on due to a generator. Blackouts are normal; however, it wasn't a black out in this case. A car had actually hit a power pole and the lines had fallen. Shortly after I saw the car stuck under the pole I heard a fizzle and pop, the transformer had exploded. Crazy stuff, but not unusual in Africa.

After lunch we went and picked up a few high schoolers involved in the Penda Project. We were exhausted after the safai and what we had on the agenda was perfect for some rest. We took the students, about 20 in all I think, to go see the Avengers. This was the first time that most of them had ever been to a movie, pretty neat I think. After we went to an arcade. They seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit, especially at the driving games. Funny thing about the arcade, everything was in chinese. IF you dont know, the chinese presence in Africa is heavy. Any major construction, building or other is usually done by a chinese company. But thats for another time.

After an exhausting and long day we were able to retreat to the house for some rest. Moses had prepared an amazing dinner, chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, salad, and finally, cake. Possibly one of the best meals I have ever had. I have been eating much better than originally expected, and I'm totally okay with that. I also finished my book, The Pleasure of My Own Company, by Steve Martin. If you want an interesting short read, go for it.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Powa is the normal response to mambo. look at that, you now know how to greet and respond like a cool kid in Kenya. Again, brain, not working, tangents inevitable, sorry.

Another night of poor sleep. I bought melatonin for a reason, I really should use it. Anywho, it felt a kinda poor this morning, dry throat and allergies. Still feel the same. Luckily, Moses had prepared a great breakfast of mango and pancakes. Apparently there isn't syrup in Kenya, or they dont use it, so back to the peanut butter and honey. Also, I forgot to mention that we were joined by Ava's brother, Kyle and his wife after the first day of being in Kibera.

This time when we made it to the school, the kids were still outside waiting, screaming, and cheering for us. I was carrying two bags, one in each hand, in addition to my backpack but that didn't stop the little ones from trying to hang off my arms or holding my hands. Something that is weird for us in The States is holding hands. Sure its fine to hold hands with your significant other, in prayer and when holding the hand of a toddler or young child, but in Kibera the all the boys from 5 - 15 years old hold hands with each other. It was weird on the first day when the kids wanted to hold my hand, yes interdigiting even (a germ freak's hell on earth), but you get used to it when you recognize the reasoning behind it. Before, I have mentioned the whole "everyone takes care of everyone thing," and thats kinda the reason for the handholding and the closeness of the boys, as far as I can tell. Two of the boys I talk with the most, Isaac and Eugene, both have been raised by only their mothers, and this is kinda the norm in Kibera. The hardships and the loss that all of the children have faced, or inevitably will face is what makes their bonds so strong. The are best friends, and brothers, regardless if they have the same parents or not.

Our agenda for today was much like yesterday, interviews, video, and photos. However, we focused on students rather than the Biashara ladies. For these interviews we ask normal questions like, "how is life in Kibera, how is school, etc." However, some questions dont get answered. Many of the children are aprehensive to talk about their parents, mainly, as I stated before, because they may have lost one or both. I did get the chance to interview two boys by the name of Peter and Emanuel (I think thats his name, its hard to understand the kids some times, okay?!). Anyway, Peter and Emanuel are in grade 6 and actually asked my to interview them. They both told me what they wanted to be when they grew up, Peter - a missionary, and Emanuel - a doctor. Now, some kids might be like Emanuel in 6th grade and say they want to be a doctor because they "want to help people." Well, Emanuel has thought this out just a bit more than other kids. He wants to be a doctor so that he can help the people in Kibera, Kenya, and Africa. He wants to help those already with dieses and wants to find was to prevent the spread. This is almost verbatim of what he said, coming from a 6th grader. Peter wasnt much different, not to mention that many 6th graders grow up wanting to be a missionary. His reason was "I wasnt to tell those in Kibera and the rest of the world of God's love for them, and encourage them to praise Him in everything." Amazing. I dont know about anyone else, but I sure didnt think the way that these two boys do. Heck I don't even do that now! The reason, as far as I can tell, for these boys knowing how they want to live when they're older is due to the fact that they take nothing for granted. The know they have a hard life but know that the lord has blessed them in one way or another. They understand that they have to work really really hard to get to highschool and even hard to get to University (in the plans of both boys). Guess what, I just got inspired my two 6th graders. God, thanks for that humbling experience.

Another small part of our agenda for the day was getting some photos for the Penda Sock Monsters that are made but the kids in grades 7 and 8. The sock monsters sell out really fast, so If you want to get one, do it as soon as you see that they are in stock. Guess what, you'll be helping pay for school fees. Pretty cool, right?

The last part of the day consisted of the Biashara market. All the ladies setup shop in the church that New Hope is building. We got to browse things that they had made themselves and things that they had bought to sell for profit. A lot of it is really impressive craftswomenship.

Keep the prayers coming, specifically for health!


Jambo is the usual greeting in swahili, but all the cool kids say mambo. My brain is all over the place, so expect tangents, and I apologize in advance. Also, this is from yesterday and taken straight out of my journal.

Last night was not nearly as restful as I had originally anticipated. I passed out before 11pm, woke up at  3am and was in and out of sleep till about 8:15. Apparently birds like sitting right outside my room and sing, but there is a sort of large hole in the wall for air to pass through from the outside which allows sound to travel through quite easily. Needless to say, its kinda hard to sleep when birds are singing quite loud essential in your room. Luckily I got up in a good mood since my cousin knocked on my door with the appropriate Aggie knock, to which I whooped (redass, huh?). Also to my luck, Moses had made much of the same breakfast today with the exception of french toast in place of eggs. I'm not complaining. Oh, and Moses just brought me peanut butter cookies as I type this, he's the best.

Upon pulling up to the Kibera I could see all the kids cheering and screaming for us to come to the school, I think they might have been a bit excited. Sadly, when we got there it was time for class so they had all been rustled up into their class rooms by their teachers. This did work to our advantage, photo/video wise. Our assignment was to get photos and video of the kids in class, as well as the Biashara women. Just so you know, there is no lighting in the rooms, just natural lighting from the windows, which makes shooting video and photo kinda difficult. Dont worry thought, we got it done.

We went from class to class doing our best to get some photos and videos of the kids working/learning in the middle of class while their teacher's taught. We went from youngest to oldest, so K - 3 for today. The goal is to get the kids to be as normal as possible, or to at least look like their involved in class and not staring at the camera. Didnt work too well. I can't blame them thought, in my case, having a 6'3'' white guy with a camera in your face telling you not to look at the camera, I probably would. Also, every kid wants to be in every picture....a little overwhelming.

One of the things that I began to notice was the that each of the kids bring their own cup and bowl for water and food that the school provides. The school provides breakfast and lunch in addition to some strange drink that they gave out during one of the breaks. Today the kids had cornmeal and beans, a change from the rice and beans from the other day. Their cornmeal is something like cornbread, but not sweet or really have any flavor at all. During the lunch break I usually hangut with the grade 8 boys, mainly because the speak the best english out of all the students. They enjoy being in photos just as much as the little kids, but I also decided to let them have a go with my camera. Risky? Very. Entertaining? Oh goodness yes.

The Biashara ladies had been hard at work making their bracelets necklaces and all sorts of cool things. This was good for us. Ava, Daniel and I were able to get some video and photos of the women as there were doing their work. We also asked one of the ladies, Grace, for an interview. Grace has been involved with Biashara for years, possibly since its founding, I'm not entirely sure. Part of Grace's story involves her adopted daughter, Brenda. Bren (as well call her) was left on Grace's doorstep one day, and one thing that you should know is that Grace is a grandmother, she is old. Grace took this emaciated baby and got her healthy and has been raising her I think two years now. Grace is a prime example of something that I have witnessed since coming to Kibera, "everyone takes care of everyone" (note: I heard this from Sandy, Ava's father).

So, we loaded up in the bus and headed to Langata High School, were about 20-30 students sponsored by the Penda Project. On the ride there, I realized just how dirty my arms and hands were. I have done some physical labor that has caused me to get pretty dirty, but my arms and hands were filthy. But what should I expect, most of these kids sleep on the ground. Also, I'm pretty sure it isnt just dirt on my arms, if you catch my drift (gross). Anyway, we got to Langata and met some of the students. For the next hour or so I had the please to talk with Meshach. Meshach was more than happy to speak with me about the different parts of the bible and the application of particular scripture. He essentially gave me a mini-sermon on what we should ask for from God and wisdom. He cited 1 Kings 3:1-15 and Proverbs  - 4. Needless to say, I throughly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to seeing him next week for study hall.

The day has been so much fun, but equally exhausting. Some of the girls are beginning feel ill and I'm not too different. Prayers for strength and health are much needed. Thanks for the prayer's you already sent, keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First Day in Kibera

Last night was the best 6 hours of sleep that I have ever had, I hope tonight will be better and longer. After getting up around 8:15 I walked into the dinning and living room area to find that our friend Moses had prepared eggs, toast, watermelon, bananas, tea, coffee, and some fresh homemade juice, all of which were phenomenal. To my surprise Moses was resting in the living room with the TV on, he had it on one of the Nairobi channels which was airing Christian music videos from the states.

After breakfast we loaded up on the bus to go to Kibera. I could not have been more excited. There were a few times driving to Kibera that I thought we would die, and even more on the way back. Riding with the window open next to me I was once again introduced to the smell of Nairobi, burnt oil and trash, and clutch. We arrived in Kibera after about 20 minutes of driving. I was greeting with the sight of an entire hillside covered with rusted corrugated tin roofing. Walking to the school we crossed a "bridge" that crossed over "doodoo rapids," a river that was completely black due to waste and pollutants, really gross. Kibera smells, a lot. It really is a dump where mud houses have been built.

The fence itself is fenced off with two entrances, both guarded. The compound is comprised by five buildings, three two story buildings and two single story. Only four of these buildings are used for teaching about 600 kids, the classrooms are full as can be. Many of the kids are some of the funniest and cutest I have ever encountered. After walking around the compound and played with some of the Biashara ladies' children we headed out of Kibera for lunch.

After eating we returned to the school compound only to find that all of the children were out or recess. As soon as we were spotted we were swarmed. They loved us, and I can only guess because we were white and american. One thing that the kids kept doing was rubbing my arm, pretty much constantly. What was weird though was that they would rub my arms with their hands, arms and even their faces. I am still unsure as to their reasons for doing so. However, I did laugh quite a bit when a kid rubbed me with his face and declared "now I'm white like you!" Other kids would make similar remarks like "I want your color!"

These kids are just like any others, they want to play with anyone that will give them attention, especially if you happen to be 6'3'' and white (oh, hey look at that!). I couldn't give an accurate number of how many kids I had picked up into the air, arm wrestled, chasing, and just playing with. After about an hour, I was exhausted. Luckily, Isaac, a grade 8 student, was happy to just talk. It helped that he was almost fluent in English and was often translating for his friends who had joined our conversation. Our conversation ranged from my age, my university, my favorite food, different questions about what I owned back home, my family (if I had parents, many of the kids are raised by one parent), to how white my cousin is and really any question that came to their curious minds. After about three hours of conversation and play with a but of kids, it was time to leave Kibera and head back to the house to clean up and eat dinner.

I have been here for a day and the Lord has humbled me and shown we so many things that I take for granted. I am so thankful for Isaac, John, and Andrew and their probing questions that caused me to think about my life and how the Lord has blessed me so and how little I appreciate what I have.

Keep the prayers coming, specifically or strength, one day in and I'm exhausted. Thanks for the prayers so far!

[all of these photos were taken by my cousin Daniel]