Friday, February 11, 2011

What Happened in Africa Pt. 2

Francis playing with pipe-cleaners at House of Hope Orphanage

Realizing the need for a local orphanage, Serv Ministries purchased a one-hundred acre plot of land with a bunkhouse that had previously been a boarding school. Serv gained the confidence of local Lodwar leaders, and with their aid, identified those children with the most immediate need for housing, and the House of Hope orphanage was born. Three years later, Serv Ministries provides housing, meals, and education for NUMBER orphaned children through generous donations and sponsorships.

Part of the playground at House of Hope Orphanage

Visiting House of Hope after walking around Lodwar is like breathing a breath of fresh air. Trees flourish in the desert landscape as they are watered by employees. Children yell and play happily on a set of playground equipment. While it is still an austere place by Western standards, it is far nicer in its accommodations than any other place in Lodwar. The children are safe from their pasts, receive medical care, have a safe place to sleep, eat three meals a day, attend school, and are well loved and tended by the orphanage employees. It is hard to avoid falling in love with the children during a visit.

Playing dodgeball in one of the classrooms at House of Hope Orphanage

But, for a select few of Serv Ministries board members, the provisions for the children at House of Hope are not enough. They began to question what would happen to the children as they age out of the orphanage, and even what that age (as it is as of today even unidentified) might be. These persons began to feel an ethical responsibility for the entire lives of the children at House of Hope and wondered if it is right to return them as teenagers or young adults to the poverty from which they were rescued. From this group of people, Kenyan Education for Youth Society, or KEYS was born.

Me teaching some children to draw outside Kisumu, Kenya (that is their home behind us).

There is an old Kenyan fable that goes like this: The jungle was on fire, and all the animals ran from it for safety. An old lion watched as a tiny hummingbird flew to the lake, got his wings wet and flew over the fire. During his flight the old lion observed tiny droplets of water falling onto the fire. As the hummingbird returned to the lake again the old lion said: “Why are you doing this? You can’t possibly stop the fire.” To which the hummingbird replied, “If we all tried, we might.” Such is the philosophy of the founding members of KEYS. Recognizing that individuals lack the ability and the finances to save and educate every orphaned Kenyan child, the organization focuses instead on aiding specific children; on making a difference for one child. It is their hope that by sharing both their passion for education and the stories of the children they aid, that others might join in and help as well.

Seeing balloons for the first time. You can sick how sick the little guy in the chair is.

The purpose of my visit Kenya was to help KEYS identify children within and without House of Hope orphanage that might benefit most from a stronger education, serve as maternal big sister to the children, and to help both the children and KEYS navigate the school enrollment process. As KEYS members had already identified British-Curriculum-based Greensted’s International School, as their school of choice on a previous visit, my “job” was often very easy and pleasurable.

My new family members outside the Reception building at Greensted's International School (l-r): Gershom, Ann, Rebecca, Cyrus, and Monti).

This past December, KEYS identified four Kenyan children ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. Two are boys, two are girls. Two come from the House of Hope orphanage, and two come from nowhere other than their own volition. Their stories are strong, profound, and have forever changed the course of my own life.

Tiny Obama showing off his newly learned "self-portrait" skills outside Kisumu, Kenya.

And so it is, that I find myself, a pale Southern American woman of British and Scottish descent hopelessly entwined with the lives of four dark-skinned, orphaned, Kenyan children.

Rebecca killing it on the pitch (she is second from right).

Rebecca, age thirteen, lost both of her parents due to illness. Little is known about her life prior to ten years of age. Rebecca either doesn’t remember much of it, or chooses to not dwell on it. She was found living with her younger brother and her grandmother. Rebecca’s grandmother could not financially afford to support the children, and as of three years ago, Rebecca has called House of Hope her home.

Rebecca at House of Hope Orphanage.

Rebecca has done well at House of Hope. She is outspoken, a natural athlete, and leader. Her demanding nature has enabled her to survive her past and perform well at the orphanage. When she feels her circumstances are less than what they should be, she is not fearful of speaking up. She openly told visitors to House of Hope that she wanted to go to a better school because she dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. And so it was that Rebecca was put on the short list for an educational sponsorship from KEYS. What was concerning however, was that the schools Rebecca had been attending, while being the best Lodwar has to offer, are significantly behind other comparable schools. KEYS was unsure of her eligibility to attend a Greensted’s International School.

My Dad with Monti at House of Hope Orphanage (Monti loves my Dad so much).

Monti, age fourteen, does not speak of his past, and virtually nothing is known of it. He has no known relatives and was encouraged for shelter at House of Hope by community leaders in Lodwar. He has lived at House of Hope for three years. He is strong and quiet with an easy and warm smile. Visitors to House of Hope notice how he quietly aids the younger students and helps everyone whenever he can. As the oldest boy at House of Hope, KEYS members felt he was the most logical choice for an educational sponsorship. Yet, KEYS had the same concerns for Monti’s past educational performance as Rebecca. Would a British-Curriculum based International school that often caters to the wealthy, even consider such students?

The last part tomorrow!


  1. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story Amy! Looking forward to reading the last part tomorrow.

  2. I love reading this story about your trip. It is very touching! I have tears in my eyes and look forward to the rest!

  3. I am very thankful to you post these stories. i hope i can join with you, someday