Day 54 to 55 - Nakuru...East Africa Mission Orphanage
Mar 12, 2012
|Driving through Nakuru, a town about two and a half hours drive north west of Nairobi, I began the task of navigating to the East Africa Mission Orphanage, based on some sketchy directions given to us by mum and dad's tour guide. My folks had booked onto a 14 day Kenya/Tanzania Gecko tour with three other couples they regularly go on 4WD jaunts across oz with.
Stopping to ask various people by the side of the road it was clear no one had heard of the East Africa Mission Orphanage (EAMO). I googled EAMO on the iPad, found a local phone number and was quite surprised when an Aussie voice answered the phone. It was Ralph, the Australian owner and founder of EAMO who gave me clear directions. Ten minutes later we were bumping along the dirt road leading to the orphanage which we would never have found without modern technology.
The Gecko's had arrived a half hour before us so had pitched their tents and were doing a group bonding session, introducing themselves and telling their stories. 18 people were on mum and dad's tour plus a cook, driver and guide.
We set up camp as quietly as you can with three children fighting over who does what chore, trying not to disturb the gecko powwow. In the 8 weeks we've been on the road, camp Horne has become something of a well oiled machine. The kids job is to set up the dome tent while I help Jason with the roof top tent. Next, two kids assemble our camp table while the third loads mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows into the dome tent.
We finished set up in time to join the Gecko's and listen to Ralph give a talk on how the EAMO came into being. Ralph, his wife May and two children (aged 14 and 12 at the time) arrived in Kenya 14 years ago with two suitcases and a desire for a different kind of life. Ralph had not long been given the all clear from cancer and this health scare prompted the family to come to Kenya in search of a higher purpose. They hired a taxi to the Nairobi YMCA and made their plans of what they were going to do. They purchased a used vehicle and drove till it was dark stopping in Nakuru.
Once in Nakuru, the family decided to care full time for one Kenyan orphan. Realizing there were far more orphans than orphanages, a fifty acre plot was purchased from their own savings and the first dormitories were constructed. The orphanage now cares for 220 children aged from eighteen months to 21. Classrooms followed with four primary classrooms and two high school classrooms being built within the grounds.
Ralph gave us a tour of the dormitories and play rooms, the nursery for the under 5's and dining hall, the vegetable garden (where up to 70% of the vegetables for the EAMO kitchen come from), chicken run and playing fields. Ralph is also building a tented camp for paying guests to stay in as another means of generating income for the orphanage. All throughout our tour the orphans kept their distance, knowing they have to wait until the end before meeting the visitors. The kids call Ralph "Dad" and May "Mum" - all 220 of them. Saba put up her hand and asked Ralph did he tuck all the children into bed every night? "We take it in turns" Ralph replied. Sometimes he does the boys and May will do the girls, then they swap the next night. All I could think of was the time it took me to put three kids to bed and how much the book Go the f***to sleep had resonated with parents who live in the first world (me included). Did Ralph share these same frustrations at bedtime? I mused
At the end of our tour, a tiny hand made it's way into each of my palms. Looking back at Saba, a small boy of 2 reached his hands up to her asking for a cuddle. She picked him up and held him close. An octopus still wouldn't have enough arms to catch the cuddles of this sea of orphaned children. "Who wants to show me their room?" I asked, desperate to make as many little people I could feel important. They all did so first we went to the girls dorms then the boys. The little beds in the small kids dorms broke my heart. Row after row of tiny beds with brightly painted animals on the walls bringing comfort to their tender hearts.
A crowd of children gathered around us. Complaints murmured from my three "I'm thirsty" or "I've had enough. I want to go back to camp." I couldn't help thinking how spoiled and indulged Australian children are, the Hornes leading the charge of the pamped army of kids who know nothing of hunger and hardship. A sentiment I shared with my Dad. "They're good kids though Barn" he reassured me "They know what they know and you can't change that". Still I pulled the three of them aside and crossly told them about having to be gracious guests and sometimes in life you have to do things you don't necessarily want to do in order to make others happy.
Chastened the three obediently joined in a game of Crocodile Crocodile Can I Cross your River? This game has proved to be a wonderful ice breaker in similar situations so I snapped my hands together and paced up and down the row of smiling kids calling out colours at will. I went easy on the kids to start but such measures were unnessecary. Such skillful dodging and fast sprinting left me gasping for breath in the middle of the dusty playing field. Finally when I caught my first victim, my hand closed around the tiny arm of a girl and I had of moment of fear that this delicate limb would snap.
After the game of crocodile, we joined the kids in the vast dining hall for dinner. Vegetable stew and chapatti were on the menu with the children patiently waiting for grace before inhaling their food. The orphanage follows Seventh Day Adventist doctrines and therefore all meals are vegetarian.
I sat up the girls end of the dining room on a table filled with mostly 8 to 10 year old girls. All lessons at the orphanage school are in English therefore conversation with the girls came easily. I asked them about school, sporting interests, best friends and what they want to be when they grow up. Air hostess, baker, driver, teacher and nurse were some of their future occupations. I hoped with all my heart their simple dreams would one day come true. The poise and self-possession of these girls is a credit to their teachers and carers.
After dinner the children sang some songs and the haunting harmonies of their voices moved us all. Each of the visitors stood up and introduced ourselves to a chorus of "you are welcome" from the 220 kids. I was very proud of Saba who told the audience her name, age, where she is from and the small white lie that she is in year three at Warrawee Public School. I felt flattered she considered my random home schooling on a par with the fine institution of WPS.
We were allowed to go to the children's dormitories and read them a bed time story. At least a dozen girls gathered around for a story of Tinkerbell. Wendy, one of the 7 year olds lay her hand on my lap while I read and it felt like the bones in her hand belonged to a bird. So light and fragile were her bones, it was impossible to tell her hand was there until I glanced down. Hugs for all the girls before bed then I went to put my own brood to sleep, hearing the shouts and laughter of the dormitory, just like boarding school without weekends and holidays with family.
The next morning the Gecko tour group left at 7am for a visit to Nakuru National park while we spent the day catching up on schoolwork in the chapel of the orphanage. I hope God wasn't watching as my students slowly but surely got the better of me. Being in close proximity to the orphanage classrooms seemed to magnify how incorrigible and defiant my class behaved. I handed over teaching duties to the strict and firm Headmaster Horne who managed to get Harry to write a page in his journal while Olie and Saba completed the maths task set for them. After lessons we caught a chameleon and held it to Olie's red shirt to see if it changed colour. It stubbornly stayed the muted browney-grey of the acacia tree we'd found him in.
Jason had challenged the entire male population of the orphanage to a game of football. "If you support Arsenal you can be on my team" he announced. "Any Man U or Liverpool supporters get ready for a pasting".
Sitting on the sidelines of the the great Arsenal v everyone else clash was both entertaining and heart warming. Football is the sledgehammer which smashes through the boundaries of race, poverty and language. Playing barefoot and though their life depended on it, every boy gave it his all. For his 40th birthday, Lisa, Jason's sister, had given him an Arsenal football top with the number 40 on the back emblazoned with "Hornet" across the top. Before half time a chorus of "Hornet" would greet Jason every time he gained possession. 4 nil up at half time Jason switched sides to even it out. In truth, his less than athletic build and slow motion dribble along the line had little impact on the scoreline. Arsenal won 6-5 and the four heart attacks Jason experienced on the pitch due to over exertion were all unsuccessful.
During the match a group of budding hairdressers had surrounded Saba, led by the charming Minette in a frenzy of hair braiding. In no time the girls had covered Saba's head with tiny plaits, chatting away like magpies during her appointment.
During our stay, Minette and Saba had forged a special friendship and spent a happy hour drawing together at our campsite while I prepared dinner. Minette, aged 11 had been at the orphanage for two years along with her three younger sisters. Minette's mother had run away from her four daughters aged 9,7,5 and 2 as she had been unable to feed them. For two weeks Minette had begged food from the neighbors, fetched water and firewood, cooked for her sisters and washed her babies cloth nappies. At the tender age of 9. Too much for her young eyes to see and her vulnerable heart to bear.
On our last morning we had the privilege of visiting the classrooms and joining in the lessons. Saba got to demonstrate how she solves a subtraction problem on the board while the two boys clung shyly to mum's side. The book work of the children was beautiful and their love of learning so apparent. All children were dressed in smart purple and grey uniforms with black school shoes and scrubbed faces.
The cost to run the orphanage, including the school is about US$17,000 per month which is funded by donations mostly coming from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Britain. Previously the orphanage took babies from as young as four days old however experience has shown Ralph and May that eighteen months is the youngest they can cope with given their resources. We have vowed to help support at least two children when we return to gainful employment.
Saba overheard Ralph telling us of the story of a four day old baby which came into their care. A security guard witnessed a group of woman trying to strangle the baby. When he approached them, they dropped the blanket and ran. He picked up the blanket and found a baby girl with a plastic bag wrapped around her neck. She was sent to hospital where they couldn't care for her then by chance she was brought to the orphanage. She is now a healthy, gorgeous five year old. Saba could not comprehend how anyone could try to kill a baby. I can't either. However, I have never been in the situation of not being able to feed my young nor felt the desperation of unimaginable poverty.
Waving goodbye to the children that had stolen our hearts over the last three days felt bitter sweet. These are the lucky ones. The children given a second chance at life. But it was tinged with sadness knowing their tears must fall onto their pillows at night and their hearts must surely ache for a mother and father they will never know.