Tag Archives: Kids

Popcorn Man

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We’ve been working on learning letters. “B” and “P” ended up sounding the same, so I tried saying “P” popcorn over and over. I guess my little guy liked the sound of the word popcorn. It made him laugh. As far as I know, he has never had popcorn before in his life. But, it is a fun word to say; and it did the trick of distinguishing the letters “B” and “P”.

When I first meet Bradley, I was told that he was deaf and a little bit mute. He didn’t communicate much at first. He played by himself more then he did with other kids and ran around naked most of the time. Adults tended to put up with his quirky behaviors to a certain extent but would then chase him off to go and play somewhere else.

People simply called him Boss. So much so that it took me awhile to find out his given name. He responded much quicker to Boss then he did to Bradley, and seemed content to go about his day climbing trees and drifting from place to place.

Our hut quickly became his new favorite attraction, thanks to the abundance of fruit that people had given us. Other village kids were shy when it came to interacting with me. Some of them had never seen someone with my skin and hair color before. When sharing our wealth of fruit with the neighbor kids, they would come up shyly and respectfully say thank you, giggle, and then run back to playing. Not Bradley. First thing in the morning he would run up to our hut grab the orange or passion fruit and hang around for more. He became my little shadow tilting his head back and forth and looking up at me with his irresistible little grin. After a while someone would chase him off telling him to go home and put some clothes on. He usually came back wearing an oversize t-shirt and would hang around some more.

Even though people told me he didn’t speak properly I couldn’t tell much of a difference because I only knew a few words in my husband’s local language. I communicated with him like I did with the other kids—mostly smiles and gestures. One day I was rewarded with a big hug from my new little friend.

When our time in the village was coming to an end, Bradley’s parents and grandmother agree to let us take him back with us to the capital city. We hadn’t planned on doing this, but seeing Bradley’s need for some one-on-one attention really tugged at our hearts.

We’re not sure how long Bradley will stay with us. Today marks four months of having him as apart of our little family. To tell the truth it’s been an exhausting, but rewarding experience. Everything was new for him—the plane ride, turning on a light switch, turning on a water faucet, wearing shoes. Communication has been a huge challenge, but Bradley has improved so much. He is not deaf and definitely not mute. As time has passed, he has learned quite a bit of Pidgin English and some English as well. He’s slowly learning to play with the neighbor kids here. “No hitting, no pushing, and no pinching” are still frequently used phrases, but they are slowly starting to sink in. He makes friends wherever he goes (the casher at the grocery store, the security lady at the local nature park). He just runs up and starts interacting with people in his own little way, and his contagious belly laugh over the smallest things usually wins them over.

We’ve almost got the alphabet down. The other day in the grocery store I saw a bag of unpopped popcorn and asked Bradley if he wanted to try it. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” was his response as he shook his hands up and down in excitement. He liked it—the popping sound, the fluffy white popped kernels, but mostly he just liked gobbling it up as most five-year-olds do. I left him unsupervised for less then five minutes and came back to half a container of salt poured into one of the bowls of popped popcorn. Oops, my bad. Note to self, don’t leave the salt anywhere near where he can reach it. But, the popcorn and abundance of salt were mostly salvageable. He’s a handful no denying that. But, even on the extremely overwhelming days when my husband and I ask ourselves, “what were we thinking?!” the reward of seeing him improve each and every day makes it so worth it. I love my little popcorn man.

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Take This Cup

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It’s been three weeks of teaching. Something I both love and hate. I love the chance to talk to a group of kids, telling them that they matter and that God loves them. He cares for all of their worries and sees all of their struggles.

But, I dread it. Every week I dread it so much that I can’t think about it for too long before I go or my nerves take over. I hate standing in front of a group and speaking. I feel vulnerable, small, and shaky. I’m not a natural speaker. I’m not a gifted presenter. My comfort zone is pen and paper. There my soul feels free and alive. In front of a crowd my tongue feels tied and mentally I count the minutes until I can sit down again and breath.

To get me through my natural feelings of inadequacy, it has taken a lot of prayer and an intense focus on the Bible story I’m sharing. Each story so far has included a child in some way. I want to show the class of 4th to 8th graders that I have been given the privilege to speak to that they are never too young, to small, or to weak to be used by God.

Last week focused on the widow and her two sons whose story is found in 2 Kings chapter 4.They were desperate with more debt then they could pay. They cried out to God for a solution. I told the row of intent faces sitting in front of me that the story illustrated that no situation is too difficult for God. Following the prophet Elisha’s direction, the widow and her two sons went from house to house collecting jars. Then, as they poured their small cup of oil into the jars that they had collected, God multiplied that cup of oil which they then sold to pay their debts. I told the kids that often God asks us to put feet to our prayers. The money they needed didn’t just fall from the sky, but God provided an opportunity for them and when they followed in faith and obedience their need was met. “God used the little that the widow had,” I told the kids. “It was just a small amount of oil, but from that He multiplied and multiplied. We should expect big things from God,” I concluded. “He can take our little bit, our small lives, our cup of oil and do great things.”

Thankful that the lesson had filled my allotted time I sat down and took a deep breath. God had gotten me through another week. But, God wasn’t done. He took the little that I had and multiplied it. My co-teacher jumped in. He saw the theme that no one is too young or too small to make a difference and ran with it giving a passionate speech about how God wanted to work in each of their lives. By the end of the class time (which had now run overtime) the majority of the class had gathered up front expressing a desire to have a personal relationship with Christ.

God was moving, and to be honest, I was stunned to be apart of it. So we prayed together and then my co-teacher invited those who had prayed to come back later in the day for more a more in-depth talk. I walked away from that classroom amazed, and yet I really shouldn’t have been. God had taken the little cup of oil that I had to offer and multiplied it. Why was I so surprised? Just as I told the class, we should expect big things from God. He moves in His timing and His ways, but He moves. He takes that small bit that we have to offer and when we walk in obedience, and He multiplies it. To God be the glory.

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Hard Wooden Benches

 

Wooden Benches

I purposely left the house at 2pm—the time that the meeting was supposed to start. Even though I got to the school half an hour late, I was still one of the first parents there. The teachers were crowded around the chalkboard carefully using a ruler and colored chalk to draw out a chart cluttered with numbers. I sat down on one of the wooden benches, lamented the fact that I had forgotten a pen, and tried several times to load facebook’s news feed. Yup, no signal. This was going to be a loooong meeting.

Forty-five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, the teachers finally called the parents’ meeting to order. I’m sure parents’ meetings in the US aren’t fun, but ones in Kenya seem especially excruciating. All the parents of class seven kids were required to come due to the fact that the class had scored 18/19 in the district on the recent midterm exams. Hard to do worse then that. The teachers spent the majority of the meeting blaming the parents for not properly motivation and providing for their children. How many parents had bought some type of story books for our kids? In a classroom packed with parents only four of us raised our hands. Why weren’t the kids bringing lunches to school? Why weren’t all of the parents present? The kids whose parents hadn’t graced the school with their presence were pulled to one side of the room to serve as an example of what not to do.

Three hours into the meeting my head began to pound. Concentrating so hard on understanding Swahili, seeing kids marched in front of me while their midterm scores were read in front of everyone, heads down staring at their shoes (which were in various stages of disrepair) did a number to my head.

The class teacher with her multi-colored braids and black and white poka-dotted earrings kept saying, “these are good children,” but would then belittle the child for something he or she did in class or for the fact that their parents where absent. The audience chucked at the teacher’s stories of the kids antics, but I couldn’t. One little girl looked like she wished the floor would swallow her—tattered royal blue sweater and all.

Three out of my four kids were in the top 5 of their class with one of my girls scoring the highest score in her section. I was told to buy her a present, and they called her a Muzungu (an English speaking foreigner). My fourth child didn’t fair as well coming in number 14. I was told that he could do better. I nodded and watched him march in line with all the other students who hadn’t quite made the cut.

Each teacher took a turn defending his or her teaching methods. The clock kept ticking. The chief stood up and told a story about how he gives his son money when he scores well on his tests. Then it was the parents’ turn. They mostly blamed the teachers. The teachers turned it back on the parents saying there was only so much that they could do. I saw no end in sight so finally I apologized and ducked out of the dark class room between parental complaints.

The air felt light on my face and my headache slowly started to subside. It seems hopeless at times. Sure, I can do what I can to help the kids who live at the children’s home where I volunteer, but what kind of future do the rest of these kids have? I’ve offered to help out at the school once a week helping with English or composition. The headmaster appreciated my request but has never taken me up on the offer. I’m afraid that he thinks the English teacher would feel threatened by my presence. So I wait. I go to three hour parent meetings, try to show that I do care, and wonder what to do next. How do you help when help is needed but not wanted? How do you help when the teachers care more about defending themselves then they do about educating children?

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He’s Got Me

I was getting ready to exchange my last 100 dollar bill. I’d tried to get money out of the ATM but for some reason it declined my card, and I was left lamenting once again the fact that my bank in the US is so secure that I can’t even get to my money. Oh, the problems that come with traveling more than the average person. I am constantly getting locked out of my email (yes, that was me trying to access my account from Uganda) and my bank card gets declined more than it gets accepted.

So there I was, running low on options. I had a kid with a dentist appointment and not enough Kenyan shillings to pay the bill. I knew I’d stuck my last 100 in a pocket in my journal during my recent trip to Uganda to get my VISA renewed, but instead of just grabbing my journal and sticking it in my bag, I reached for the book where I used to keep an envelope of American cash (back when I had American cash). I flipped through the pages and saw just an old bank receipt. As I went to put the book back on the shelf, something fell out. 3100 Kenya shillings ($38.00) 3000 exactly the amount I needed for the dentist and 100 for transportation into town.

Some days working at a children’s home can be emotionally and financially draining. I love it, but some days I just feel spent after dealing with a child whose having a panic attack when a repressed memory suddenly surfaces, or when I’m straightening out the same bookshelf for the third time in the same day. It’s easy to get frustrated when you find one of the kid’s brand new sweatshirts outside soaking in the rain, or when your computer battery dies in the middle of a movie because the generator wasn’t on for very long the night before. It’s usually little things, but those little things add up and it’s easy to wonder some days when you find yourself picking tennis shoes out of the mud if anything you are doing is actually making a difference. But, it’s on those days when I really wonder if I can handle it that God has a tendency to show up. Like yesterday when I was struggling with dealing with a staff member who wasn’t doing her job properly and causing a lot of stress. I stewed over the problem as I attempted to tidy up the living room before one of our volunteer’s parents arrived from America. I was on my knees straightening out the bookshelf and mourning the death of yet another hard covered book (these kids have a talent for destroying even the most sturdy of books) when our youngest boy came running through the living room. As he raced past me he stopped ducked his head back out from the doorway of his room and said, “hi, I love you.” I almost cried.

God has a way of bringing little bits of encouragement to those days when you feel like you are about to lose it. He’s got me. He sees me. He knows and even if no one else at the time seems to notice or is too busy with their own problems to fix yours God is never too busy. He takes care of even the little things like making sure there is enough money for the dentist and making sure that you get enough smiles during the day to keep you going.

The smiles keep me here

The smiles keep me here

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Atypical

A month after I got to Kenya I considered writing a blog about what a typical day of working in a children’s home looked like for me. I think I gave up the idea of writing that blog when I was standing in the grocery store that day trying to buy food for a family of seventeen kids and the power went out. That was seven months ago, and I don’t think I’ve had a typical day yet.

So what is typical? Nothing really when you help take care of seventeen kids everyday but some things become slightly more typical, well, at least for the most part. So, I’ve decided to stop waiting for a “typical” day and just write about today. Today was anything but typical. The kids are off school until Friday. Two of our staff members were gone over the weekend saying bye to a friend who was leaving for America.

The day started at 5 am when one of the kids woke up with a headache. We’ve been waiting weeks for his glasses to come in, but we’re still waiting. After giving him some Tylenol and a glass of water I went back to bed for a couple of hours. The one nice thing about the kids being off school today is that I was able to set my alarm for seven instead of 5:30.

Breakfast was easy. I made chai and Richelle, our newest staff member, got out jam and bread that had been cooked earlier in the week. After breakfast the group assigned to dishes started to clean up and Alyssa, Richelle, and I came up with a schedule for the day. We told the kids they had free time until 9am which gave me a small window to wash my hair in the girl’s bathroom sink and then try to scrub the paint off my arms from the weekend’s operation paint the wooden play ground structure before the slides arrive. Only two interruptions later, I even had time to brush my teeth before making it back to the living room by 8:59.

The three of us divided up the kids and the chores in order to make the day run fairly smoothly. Richelle took the youngest kids out to weed around the carrots, I worked on tutoring three of the middle boys in English all while working on braiding one of the younger girl’s hair. Alyssa worked on composition with the oldest three and a second group of middle aged kids worked on finishing up a landscaping project that they had started on Saturday.

As lunch approached, I heated up left over rice and gathari (beans and maze) from Sunday’s dinner. Alyssa cooked up some cornmeal porridge for when the leftovers finished. Once the kids were full, we saved the rest for afternoon snack. Vicky, who cooks for us on weekdays, showed up right before lunch. We chatted for awhile, and then I got chai and a plate of food for two of the people who work for us.

After lunch it started to pour. I mean really pour. It let up for awhile but then started to pour again. The kids did a fairly good job of entertaining themselves. I finished up braiding one girl’s hair and then helped a different girl take her braids out. Sometimes taking tiny braids out takes as long as putting them in. After playing for awhile the younger kids went down for a nap. We worked on a shopping list while the kids played or helped Vicky roll out chapattis (a nice treat). After that we, hung out with the older kids until dinner.

Since there is no school tomorrow, the kids asked if they could watch a movie promising that if they did they would sleep in until 8am. We took a vote for which move to watch and the second Chronicles of Narnia movie won. After family devotions, I left the kids watching the movie with Richelle and snuck away to try to get this blog written so that when we head into town tomorrow to do grocery shopping I can quickly post it while I have good Internet access.

Half way through the movie I heard the generator make its, “I’m almost out of gas noise.” Since there is no way to get more gas before tomorrow, we paused the movie and had the kids quickly get ready for bed before the lights went out completely. After giving out some cough medicine and praying with the kids they were all safely tucked in bed. Now I’ll probably stay up and watch a movie until 11pm so that I can wake up our bed wetter one more time before going to bed so that she can make it through the night without having to change her sheets.

Just a typical day rolling with what life brings and making memories along the way. Life is never boring when you live with 17 kids, and it is usually anything but typical.

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Starry, Starry Night

The kids were inside eating s’mores for the first time. It had been a crazy day so while our guests from the US (one of our volunteer’s parents) entertained the kids with sticky marshmallows the rest of us retreated to the front porch to steal some sweet silence out under the stars.

The generator had run out of gas so we watched the fading sunset in untainted silence and broke into the Reese cups that my parents had sent out. “It’s the little things,” Jason said as he enjoyed his chocolate. He was up visiting for the weekend and with 17 kids to take care of we always welcome having an extra set of hands to help out around the house.

I leaned my head back against one of the porch pillars and watched the stars appear. The kids were squealing in the background as they enjoyed their sticky treats. They brought us marshmallows toasted over the jico, and I thanked God that nothing had caught on fire.

Our semi-silence didn’t last long as the kids (now on a sugar high) joined us outside. They raced each other in the darkness, sang at the top of their lungs, and Zippi started telling us a story about how she was going to fly us all in a rocket up to the moon. Michelle climbed up on my lap with her fuzzy red blanket. She twisted her fingers in mine and as I looked down at those little fingers and then back up at the sky I thought, “this is life, and I won’t trade it for anything.”

Even with the sticky messes and problems that come with working with kids from difficult backgrounds, it’s so rewarding—seeing them grow, seeing them learn, seeing them realize that this is a stable home and it’s ok to just be yourself, seeing them take care of each other, seeing them understand the heart of God. Every minute is precious. Every day so full of purpose. I’ve found my place, my heart, my home. God creates everyone with a purpose a reason to be on this earth and when you find that purpose complete and fulfilled in the middle of a starry night it’s a beautiful thing. I know He has even more for me. I know this is a path, a journey with even more stories to write, but for now I’m content just to be where He has me. To wrap my fingers in His and to take in each moment one starry night at a time.

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Take Me to Maraigushu

“Nakuru?” he asked as I walked through the crowded matatu yard.

“No, Maraigushu,” I answered.

“Marigushu?” the man stopped mid stride and looked at me with a look of complete shock. “People like you don’t live in Marigushu,” he informed me.

I had to smile. “That’s where I live,” I replied. “Maraigushu,” and I kept walking to find my matatu.

He’s right. People like me don’t normally live in Marigushu. They don’t usually take matatus either, but I’d rather pay 70 shillings (85 cents) for a matatu ride than 1500 shillings (18 dollars) for a taxi ride.

I squeezed into the back of the matatu a brightly painted 14 passenger van that is usually shoved full of 20 (or sometimes more) people. When the seats are full they put a board across the narrow aisle and let someone sit on the board balanced between two seats. Yes, it’s crowded to the point that someone is practically sitting on you, but as the van wove it’s way up the mountain I thought, “there is nowhere on earth I’d rather be.” The scenery is spectacular, people are friendly, but best of all I was headed home to the smiling faces of seventeen kids who are my world right now. When I walk through the door I’m greeted with excited screams as they all run to give me a hug or a high five. When they run to greet me I feel like I’m returning from a month long journey in the wilderness not from a couple hour shopping trip to pick up groceries- but I wouldn’t trade it.

I wouldn’t trade the moments when one of the kids crawls up on my lap and asks me to read them a story. I won’t trade mornings in the kitchen mixing up a bag and a half of flour for Saturday morning pancakes. I wouldn’t trade watching the younger kids put together a puzzle for the very first time. I wouldn’t trade being able to watch the kids’ faces as they sing their hearts out during Sunday morning church. I wouldn’t trade seeing one of the older boys tuck his little brother in bed after the little guy feel asleep on my lap during evening devotions. Moments that complete me and make me glad that I live in Maraigushu.

Not every moment is a happy moment. There are times when the kids fight. There are times when they lie or when they ruin a brand new toy. There are moments when the noise level gets so loud that I want to run away and hide for awhile. There are times when I think, “God this is more than I can handle.” But, the good moments far out way the bad.

The hardest moments are when I realize that I can’t always give everyone everything they want. I can’t always be there to protect them from people who want to hurt them, and I can’t take away the pain they have experienced in their pasts.

Sometimes I feel small, so small but then I remember that I serve a big God who can provide for each child’s needs. I serve a God who is there to protect the kids even when I can’t be, and I serve a God who can heal the pain from their past.

Being here in Maraigushu, working as part of a team, serving the kids, watching them grow, having the opportunity to be a family it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I wouldn’t trade it for a minute.

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