Blankets for our Orphans
On 8 May, during an extended visit to Kisii (future site of the Umoja Centre), we organized a small blanket distribution program that benefited forty of the neediest orphan children in the village who we've been supporting for the past few years.
Though there are upwards of 200 in the group, due to budgetary constraints, we selected a smaller target group based on the level of each child's relative need. Generally speaking, all live in a significant state of financial poverty and don't receive the best of care at home. Again, they have lost both their parents in way or another, mostly through disease.
Our dear friend and local community volunteer, Erastus Ombati, who coordinates these programs, informed us of the urgent need for blankets. May is rainy season in Kenya and in Kisii, where it is cool, temperatures descend to about 50F/10C at night. Without a blanket — or two — to sleep under, it can get very cold and uncomfortable. For some of the younger kids, they can easily get sick.
To paint a picture, imagine sleeping on the floor in a mud hut without a blanket in the cold. That was the situation we were looking to alleviate, at least partially.
A Humble Program
Out of the forty beneficiaries, twenty attended our program, which was held at a local tea processing facility. The remainder were away at a type of boarding school and will receive their blankets when they return in August. I, too, questioned (if you are) why beneficiaries were chosen who weren't around but such was the way of things. When you are in my position, you have to learn to surrender and trust a process that doesn't always match expectations.
In addition to myself and my project partner, Jared Akama, Assistant Area Chief, Josepha Gichana, joined us, as well as a handful of community leaders and volunteers.
We began with a welcome and prayer, followed by each orphan introducing themselves. As is quite common, some started requesting further support with school fees and the like. I quickly interjected and asked Jared to translate for me so I could relay a quote from Psalms 94, "He that teacheth man knowledge shall he not know?"
I was saying that asking for help in this way, which is a form of begging and a major psychological root of poverty, is not necessary and even prevents the thing you're looking for. A rainstorm was approaching. I pointed everybody's attention to it and asked if it was necessary to ask for rain, even though without it there would not be water for the plants and so food for everybody to eat?
Our needs are known and as Rumi so aptly put it, "Every need brings in what's needed." These blankets that were given were a good example. The program happened relatively spontaneously with little planning, even the funding came for it without actively seeking it.
One of the older boys in the group shared his appreciation for the support he received early in 2014 when we sponsored the final exam costs of a few dedicated students. He said it really helped and motivated him to continue with his studies. I hadn't heard a word since, so it was good to know what kind of impact was made.
After taking a moment of silence to appreciate the donor who made this program possible, the blankets were distributed along with a large bar of soap, as well as a pair of nail clippers.
To conclude, chai and mandazi (African doughnut) was served much to everybody's delight. We then took a group photo outside and went our respective ways. As is often the case when we do these types of events, we all went home visibly happier than when we arrived.
Umoja Centre Connection
Short term relief like this, as useful as it is, is not sustainable. I personally tend to shy away from offering it because I prefer to focus on and invest energy in interventions that address the root causes of poverty, both the practical and psychological forms. Plus, this kind of support can lend itself to the "handout mentality," which I do everything to try and mitigate, especially in Kenya where it is quite prevalent.
Such is what gave rise to a founding intention of the Umoja Centre. To serve the orphan children of the village in a much more sustainable and consistent way by offering values-based education, health and nutrition awareness, microfinance opportunities, and whatever else may emerge on the journey. We'll see how it goes.
A big thanks, once again, to our dear elder uncle (you know who you are) who supported this program and made all the smiles possible.