It is always hard to say goodbye to friends new and old. This week we made some incredible new friends. These new friends are teachers and staff at the Furaha school who treated us like family, students who hugged our necks so sincerely and melted our hearts with smiles all week long.
Both Josh and I are thankful for so any moments! We both had an opportunity to spend time in the classrooms with kids, learning with them and getting to know them. I (Jenn) spent quite a while hanging out with the grade 6 students. Their curiosity about everything was so exciting. They leaned in and learned a new silly song from me, we made graphics and mini movies on my phone, and talked about computers and art (by the way none of these students own an iphone or computer, many of the parents do have a phone called Impesa that is used to help find jobs and transfer money around). One student drew a rooster on the board and I tried to draw a picture of my dog and car, which was actually quite comical – his drawing was much better. Meanwhile, Josh spent time with the 8th grade students talking about how lungs work – and specifically how his is a bit different since he only has one lung.
The amazing thing we discovered this week is how easy it is to connect and find joy in spending time with these students and teachers from a completely different culture. We are both equally fascinated by one another and have completely different worldviews. At the end of each day, I was left with a desire to keep learning more about how the kids and teachers think, about their hopes and dreams, and about their deep sense of faith. Even today, I want to better understand how each of them maintain hope in a place like Huruma (one of three large slums around Nairobi).
While the people are incredibly beautiful in so many ways, there is no denying the fact that this is a hard place to live - and the complete poverty does create many questions of faith. How could this be a real place? Does God see this? (And yes he does.) I find myself torn by how to balance the life I have as a middle class American – with a house that is the size of about 10 shanties (homes) in Nairobi, that is average size in Minden – with all of this poverty. Now that we have seen this, how do I respond, how do we respond?
God totally grabbed my heart yesterday morning as we prayed alongside a teacher who lives in the Huruma slums and gives back so much everyday to help change the future of this community. This woman is talented, educated and could move out of the slums but she stays because of Furaha. She prayed, “Lord forgive us for forgetting about you, for the times we snap our worship away from you and think only of ourselves.” Yikes!
Today, we ask that you take a moment to consider how you can make a difference in the lives of people living in extreme poverty. Pray that God will continue to open your heart and lives to this issue.
Take some time today to see what When I Grow Up is doing or to research extreme poverty in the world. Click here to go to When I Grow Up's site.
When you first get a glimpse of Huruma there is so much to take in – your heart breaks at the poverty and kids who stand on streets hungry and just the hard life that is there. In the middle of this you discover a drive for work – and a spirit of entrepreneurship. On our first day, our Matatu driver said to us, as he described the work ethic of people in Nairobi, “If you don’t work you die. You die on the streets or you die in your home.”
Working isn’t about getting a great paycheck, having a nice office space, vacation time, and a lot of amenities. For the businesses we visited today it is about providing for the basic needs of their families and the people in the community. Many of the business owners are doing things they enjoy – they are tailors who love to make clothes, cooks who specialize in a dish that provides a basic need, and suppliers. For Mary, a grandmother of 4 – her fruit market business allows her to eat and also have enough money to send three kids to school. View photos
Furaha’s main focus is providing education – that changes lives and provides for basic needs. But because of the shear number of kids and people in the slums not every kid can attend the Furaha community school. So while Furaha may not be able to accept a family’s child to school, they can still make a difference for a family by helping provide a business microloan. These loans allow people to generate enough income to feed their family and send them to another fee-based community school. (The kids who attend Furaha do not have a fee to attend but are carefully selected based on various factors and needs.)
The people we visited today are growing their businesses and providing food and shelter for their families because of microloans. A microloan is a loan of a small amount that has a short repayment period, and a favorable interest rate. As a small business proves their ability to consistently pay off their loan they can reapply for larger amounts.
As an example, let me tell you about Ann, she has a home goods business – selling basic household items, dishes, mattresses, etc. In starting out her business a great opportunity came her way. A local school came to her seeking to buy a large number of mattresses. Ann did not have enough mattresses in stock and she needed capital to purchase the stock needed to fulfill the order. This business owner, seeing the opportunity, applied for a microloan through Furaha, and was awarded $100 loan (10,000 shillings) to be paid off within six weeks. She immediately bought the mattresses, fulfilled the order and paid off her loan within one week. She made enough money from this transaction to bring on a new employee and position herself for an even larger order of plastic chairs from the school.
With Ann’s second loan, she received even more capital to buy stock and make needed improvements to her store. The first $100 loan helped launch her business and changed her life, and the life of her new employee. With the second loan, Ann positioned her business as a dependable source for goods and services within the community. More and more opportunities are pouring in and it is clear this is helping Ann and also providing for the needs of people in Huruma.
In all we visited eight businesses today and each business told a story of how these microloans have changed their lives. One story stood out beyond the rest. This is the story of Rose a local seamstress/tailor. As she stood in her shop, surrounded by fabric of all kinds, she had a creative look in her eye. It is clear she is working in a field that gives her life. She has been part of Furaha for 11 years and was one of the first loan recipients. She serves as a guardian for kids at the Furaha school and also has been able to send her own kids to school. (Guardians help care for kids who may be orphaned or are not being cared for by their own parents). Her relationship with Furaha started with a $100 loan so she could buy material to make dresses. This created an opportunity for Rose to make enough money to send her oldest child of five to primary school. After several loans and much support from Furaha over the years, today Rose has two children attending University, one in secondary school, and two in primary school. That first loan changed Rose’s life and the lives of her children.
While $100 may seem like very little to us, it is life giving and life changing to have an opportunity to borrow this kind of capital to expand, start or develop a business. In the end, these loans are fueling hope within the community and strengthening the relationship Furaha has with people in need. The have a growing reputation as an organization that cares for and provides for people. As we talked to the business owners, many of them shared their dreams for what is next – either expanding their business, providing jobs for more people, and most of the time making it possible for all of their children to attend school and eat everyday.
Today we ask that you pray for the business owners that are being supported and cared by the Furaha community.
Today, we continued our venture by heading out of the city into the country where the Furaha high school is located. Traveling through the busy city streets and on through the bumpy and adventuresome roads, we stopped on the way to pick up fresh fruit for the students at the school, and were part of the bargaining process for 10 watermelons and 10 pineapples at the Ruai fruit market.
The school’s location is remote, which provides a great opportunity for students to focus on their studies – free from the stresses and distractions that living in the Huruma slums can have. This distance is hard for students but really does provide the best opportunity for focused study for all of the 127 students. The school has developed a lot in the past several years with a full school building equipped with a science labs, a boys and girls dormitory, a water well, and much land for agriculture projects.
In talking with the school’s Principal, Moses, we hear his heart for the school – to become a place of academic excellence where students believe they can succeed. Moses shared the hardest part about leading the school is trying to convince kids of their value and potential. He shared that so many of the kids come from home lives that have left them emotionally scarred – these scars echo lies like, “You aren’t good enough, you can’t make it, you will never succeed, you can’t pass, go ahead and quit while you’re ahead...” Through the love, dedication and continued personalized education, the leaders and teachers at the high school are able to remind each student that they are more than conquerors! They remind them over and over of the hope and belief they have in them as teachers. This continued positive influence is making a difference - the school continues to have high passing rates and the commitment to excellence continues to rise.
During our visit, we stopped in each class to meet the students. One student, who wants to be an engineer, showed off a science experiment with much enthusiasm. Another student focusing on agriculture showed us the progress of his corn-growing project. The school also recently started raising chickens as a way to teach business and agriculture together. The chickens are fed left overs from the kids meals (so there is no waste). The hope is that this will some day become a sustainable business model that the students at the school can operate as they learn real life skills about things like supply and demand.
As visitors to the school, we once again were able to participate in a celebration assembly. This year WIGU is celebrating 10 years. Together with the students we cheered and danced to celebrate! Our whole team had a blast – not only watching the kids perform but hearing the laughter, and seeing the huge smiles and the joy that reflected out from the students performing poems, dances, and songs and from the fellow students listening and watching with us. The energy from the students filled us with the same feeling of joy.
Over and over again – Furaha meaning of joy rings true. In a middle of a rigorous academic setting, where students begin studying at 4:30 a.m. and continue until 9:30 p.m. (with a few breaks for food and activities but mostly studying) we continue to discover something special. When you look into these student’s eyes, we can see the joy in their hearts because they have found hope. As Principal Moses said today, “It is not about where we come from but where we are going.”
Today we ask for you to pray for these high school students. They are currently preparing for the exams, which is an important time for the school and the students. Pray for these teachers who are committed to making a difference.
Furaha Community School is an oasis in a desert. It is not that it looks very different from its surroundings (it is located in the middle of slums and space is still at a premium) but there is something unique and different about this place. Today, I think we found out why. Jennifer and I were part of a team lead by Josephine, one of Furaha’s social workers, and Christopher, a social justice advocate. On average, Josephine conducts 500 home visits a month, and today she took us along to meet some of the families being positivity impacted by Furaha. We visited seven families in all. Each home was similar yet different. We walked through dark alleys, often crossing running sewer water, up or down various flights of tight stairs, through short metal doorways, and into a 10 ft x 10 ft room that serves as the living room, bedroom, and kitchen – where often an average of 5 people live. Each home has its own style and each home has its own story about God’s transformative work. Here are a few of these stories:
We entered into Grace’s home and we were warmly greeted. We were invited to sit on her couch as she sat on the only bed in the one room home talking to Josephine about her child’s academic performance. As the conversation continued, we learned Grace had recently moved into this apartment because where she had been living had been marked for destruction.You see, about two months ago a building collapsed just a few hundred yards from the Furaha Community Center. Grace lived in a building that neighbored this failed structure. With cries of public safety the Kenyan government has moved to condemn and destroy several, “At-Risk,” buildings throughout the Huruma slum; and Grace has been impacted these actions. As we sat in Grace’s home listening to her story I was reminded of God’s provision and faithfulness. Yes, Grace’s roof leaked; yes she has been forced to find employment outside of the home, and yes her apartment is cramped beyond knowledge. Yet, there is a joy in her when she speaks about Furaha and their support, there is hope when she describes all that her daughter is learning, and there is love in her eyes as she embraces Josephine. The road ahead for Grace will be difficult but she is not alone.
10 years ago, Esther married and had a beautiful little girl. After five years, Esther’s husband passed away and after a short time Ester remarried. Since being remarried she has had two other children and this has put her oldest daughter is a vulnerable position. Frequently, within Kenyan culture stepchildren are mistreated. In Esther’s case her new husband feels no obligation to the daughter from Esther’s previous marriage. This has resulted in this little girl receiving various kinds of abuse. The one good thing to have happened to Esther and her little girl is that she is a student at Furaha. When this girl’s grades began to plummet her teacher became worried and notified Josephine. As more information came to light Josephine was able to help Esther see that the best way for her little girl to receive an education and have better opportunities in life was for this daughter to be removed from the home and be placed in a safe house operated by Furaha. This is not a permanent situation but it will be a safe home as long as it is needed. For this 4th grader, the safe house is a dream – she is gaining confidence again as she is provided with a warm bed, safety from abuse, consistent meals, a caring house parent, and a place to focus on her studies. On holidays and long weekends she is able to go home and be with her mom. As a result this girl’s grades have risen sharply, and her sense of safety, security, and trust are being restored.
Iglee’s story is one of community. Iglee has five kids and one them is a student at Furaha. A few weeks ago Iglee brushed her foot up against something, which left a long scratch. The scratch did not go away and in fact it got very bad. When we stopped by to check on Iglee late this morning we found out she had just returned from hospital. This amazed Josephine, and then me, as she explained. Another Furaha parent notified the neighbors of Iglee’s situation. One neighbor stepped in to care for Iglee’s 5-month-old child, another grabbed all of Iglee’s laundry and did it for her, two other neighbors prepared meals for the family, and yet another assisted with care for the other 4 children. This happened with very short notice and allowed Iglee the opportunity to the seek treatment she needed for her foot. This tight-knit community responded with great care and love for one of their own. This picture of community amazed our group but for these Kenyans, this is just what you do as a neighbor and friend. As we talked about the visits with Josphine during the day, she shared that IT IS hard work – that sometimes leads to “Compassion fatigue” -- but at the same time, she loves working for Furaha and seeing the hope and joy that the school brings to these parents, who more than anything want to see their kids' lives be better than their own. The word Furaha is Swahili means Joy. And, today this is the difference I saw. The families connected to Furaha are different from those in every other corner of Huruma because of a consistent joy that echoes throughout the small homes, businesses, and sewer-filled alleys.
Everyone lives in abject poverty but Furaha families are marked by a miraculous joy – that truly is God given. Today we ask that you pray for the social workers who make hard decisions everyday. Pray their compassion grows stronger and is sustaining. Pray for parents who are struggling to balance what is best for them personally and what is best for their kids.
This week Josh and I are off on an epic adventure with an organization called When I Grow Up. We had the honor of going to represent LifePoint and this organization. We are traveling to Nairobi, Kenya to a community of deep poverty. Here is a look at what we are seeing and experiencing. We hope this will encourage you as you imagine life beyond what you know today.
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Traveling a Browns
This page highlights many of our adventures of traveling our nation and world.