The Kenyan Orphans.
When you hear the word “orphan” a mental picture comes to mind. When you attach Kenyan to it an even clearer mental images pops in to mind for most people.
These photos are a very small sampling of the 700+ orphans we photographed. We worked very hard to get them to have a pleasant look on their face (sometimes using the nearby kids to make them laugh), I wanted to show a different side of these precious lives. We have all seen the graphic photos used in poor taste to market things like this so I really wanted to take a different approach. These kids are happy and full of life. I hope that comes across in the finished product to the sponsors.
This was my very first time out of North America (Canada and USA only) so I really picked a heck of a trip to be my first. Traveling about 17 hrs by plane to Nairobi and then to the very remote West Pokot region of Kenya, then headed north 16 hours over extreme “roads” to help work with children in orphanages.
When you think of Kenyan orphans and you might visualize images of poor, dirty, sad, lonely, starving and sickly children with no future that most have forgotten about. Some of that is true but what I experienced is 180 degrees from the mental images I had before leaving.
Poor. Poor is a very relative term. Throughout most of the country everything you see driving past villages would be considered well below poverty by American and many other countries standards. But most seem to be doing just fine. Going about their daily work. The only thing you see people trying to get more of is water and food. Basics that we have within 10 feet of where you are standing right now. These people aren’t looking for the iPhones 6, 80" LCD tv’s, a vacation home or a weekend sports car, instead they need water to get their family through the day and will walk 4 hours just for that water that may be filled with disease.
Someone once asked a visitor helping “are their poor people in America?”. How do you answer that?! Even our poorest person can walk into a public restroom and get fresh clean water to drink. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of anyones situation in the states but it makes you think. What od we really need in life? The Pokot people seemed to have a different moral compass, a VERY strong sense of community especially in the younger children. “If I have two and you have none then I will give you one of mine”. This was refreshing and almost envious to witness. It is hard to pinpoint but it was just a totally different feeling, less selfish maybe?
Dirty, Sad & Lonely. These are all words that popped into my mind before the trip. Dirty, yes there is LOTS of dirt, a very bright rust orange color that gets in and on everything! But the children in the orphanage for the most part (excepting the very little ones) were very clean. Some of the cleanest uniforms and clothes I’ve seen. I don’t know how they get their clothes so clean. This is just one benefit of having a clean water well onsite. They now have the ability to take showers, wash clothes and dishes… in CLEAN water. Again all very common things in the states but are just now being presented to them.
Sad. I was prepared to be an emotional wreck, since I have my own two-year-old son of my own and one more on the way I figured I would be in the corner crying every day. But i wasn’t, in fact the tears I did have were tears of joy and happiness. These children were THE happiest kids i have ever been around. You never heard kids crying, yelling or arguing with each other. It was odd. You would also see and hear these kids praising God for “all that He has given to them”. WHAT?! This was a very large helping of humble pie for me. Listening to a 14 yr old boy speak to his peers, giving a testimony and thanking God for providing water and food for that day. It gave me such a sense of appreciation for all that I have. Not a feeling of “I’m blessed” (meaning they aren’t) or guilty but just one of true appreciation for all the basics and more that my family has. They are blessed in a way that we will never know. Humility, thankful, joyful and just all around happy with an uncluttered life. (i say this as I sit at my iMac with my iPhone notifications going off, my iPad streaming a movie streaming in my basement filled with “stuff”)
Lonely. You could definitely see a longing for love and affection from many of the little ones. It was very common to be shooting photos and feel a little hand on your arm or just leaning up against you wanting to hold your hand. They were to sweet. Of course I don’t know all that goes on in their life. What goes through their heads when they see us or when the lay in bed alone at night. Many of these kids are there because their parents died when they were very young and were forced to be the provider for their younger siblings. I can’t imagine what goes through their minds. But again, you have kids that went through all that and still praises God for all He has done for them. Their positive outlook is one to admire. This was a comment from a 15 yr old boy- “I am thankful God blessed me with the skill to go long periods of time without food so that I can feed my brother and sister first”. This gives me hope, and it should give hope to you with any trial you may be going through. I am a glass half full kind of guy so my thoughts may seem a bit off, but its food for thought. There is always someone worse off…
Sickly. We all have the image of what I call the “Sally Struthers kid”, that naked toddler with a bloated stomach and flies all over their face. This is what you expect to see, but I didn’t, not in the orphanages. We saw some devastating scenes while traveling through villages that didn’t have clean water yet. I will not ever post those images, I don’t think its morally right to exploit this, we have all seen them and we get it. (Don’t use guilt to market, use joy -editors note) But the children we worked with were very healthy looking; running, laughing and they did not appear to be in any pain. This is mainly due to the clean water wells that were placed at the orphanages. Members of our team said that just 2 years ago the health of these kids was totally different and looked very grim. Because of clean water and the drastic health change in the children local villagers are now understanding the difference in the water they drink and the clean water from the well. It was explained to me that to them it was like looking at sugar and salt side by side, both are granulated and white, but of course have a totally different outcome. Now they see that they can help prevent sickness from the water they drink, again a basic item that we wouldn’t even think twice about at home.
To close I can say that my perception was altered drastically (understatement). Not only of Africa and the orphans but of America and my world. THE question people ask me is; “What was the most impactful thing you saw?”. All of it was! But seeing the joy in these kids, the gratefulness and the eagerness to learn was amazing and humbling. There were so many emotional roller coasters on this trip. One moment you are filming a women sharing her story of how she used to be a FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) “cutter” and found God, did a 180 and left the practice, then 20 min later you are listening to a children’s choir blow the roof off with their praise and harmonies, then went on a walk to a nearby village to see how people really live and get invited into their hut. It was like that for the whole trip. You leave Africa saying “What Now?” How does someone process that? Luckily we had a great team and group of leaders who help us with that. We have become a very close family with friendships that will last many years….
Thats all for now, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at all about this experience. firstname.lastname@example.org