Empowering Nairobi

Here we are, a new week, a new blog, a new beginning.  If you’ve followed to this point, you’ll know I recently hopped on a plane and flew around the world to Nairobi, Kenya to spend a week learning about Missions of Hope International and the work they are doing to empower the community in the Nairobi slums…

The Nairobi slums; three miles long, half a mile wide, home to an estimated 800,000 souls.  According to www.kiberia.org over 60% of Nairobi’s populations live in the slums.  A society so far removed and different from our culture that immersing yourself there for a week barely allows you to grasp their reality and creates a tremendous challenge in relaying the experience.

Rooftop view overlooking the Area 2 slums.

I have be honest with you, I have so much on my heart that I don’t know where to begin.  I’m going to attempt to keep myself in check and not get off course.  My goal is to present my experiences in a manner that builds upon itself.  It’s going to be difficult because my heart is full and on fire in a way I’ve never experienced.  Evidently, so is my ADD, so communicating a steady stream of thought is taking strenuous effort!  I want you to know and feel every single experience I had, and that can never happen.  All I know for certain is that if someone cleared the way for me to go back tomorrow I absolutely would without a moment’s hesitation.  Why is that?

“Why” is a question I’ve asked a lot over the past couple weeks.  Sometimes in desperation, sometimes in awe.  Why was I born in America?  White, middle class, wealthier than a large majority of the world, yet feeling ‘poor’ in my culture?  Why were they born in the slums? Uneducated, poverty stricken, yet singing to me that they are rich?  Why do ‘we’ as a society feel so lost at times when we don’t face half the daily battles they do?  Why did I feel that flying across the globe to visit this community and ministry was a worthy venture when there are so many hurting and suffering at home?

Rooftop view overlooking the Area 2 slums.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to answer any of that.  Pretty sure I’ll never come close.  I will forever continue to seek to understand though.  What I do know is that sometimes there is an undeniable pull on your heart and spirit.  Each step you take in the direction you’re being pulled only empowers the strength at which you are pulled.  My heart was pulled to Kenya, and I’m pretty sure a part of my heart forever has and forever will reside there.

Anyway, let’s start “easy.”  We went to learn about “MOHI,” Missions of Hope International.  You can learn a very detailed account of who they are by visiting their website, and I highly encourage you to: www.mohiafrica.org.  They have a few fantastic videos that illustrate who they are as a ministry and what they are working on in the communities.

Our trip was a vision trip.  An opportunity to learn more about what MOHI is attempting to do the in the community.  I use the word attempting, but the reality is, they are doing it.  They are turning the community around, one child, one family at a time.  They are growing at an exponential rate that is transforming the lives of thousands.  With each life transformed, the ministry is empowered with new visions and plans to reach further into the communities and beyond their current boundaries.

I felt a little unsure of myself prior to the trip.  People would ask what we’d be building or doing there, and I didn’t have a solid answer.  I was at a point of feeling almost apologetic when I explained it was more for evaluation. There’s another “why.”  Why do I feel the need to justify what I know in my heart is right?  Sometimes, you just need to trust the process and steps you’re compelled to take.

Our first day with MOHI we had the honor learning from Wallace, one of the founders of the ministry.  He led an orientation on what the ministry was doing in the communities.  In Nairobi, there is a slum that is home to an estimated 800,000 people.  It spans 3 miles long and half a mile wide.   Most people live in shanties that are about 10 ft x 10 ft made of tin walls and wooden beams.  These dwellings serve as home to families ranging from two to ten people.  Let that sink in for a moment.  For comparison’s sake, I’m currently sitting in our home ‘office.’ It’s about 10×10.  This size space is where these families sleep, where they commune, where they call home.  Rooms are divided by hanging sheets or laundry.  Each home typically had a bed and futon sized couch and coffee table.  Some were slightly bigger, but most were still a very confined space.

This isn’t something to be mourned, this is their way of life.  This is what most of them were born into and what they are accustomed to.  For some, the slums were an area they moved to seek work and improve their quality of life.  There is an extreme lack of education on some of what we, as Americans, would consider the most basic human needs.  I want to stop right this moment and emphasize that this is all a matter of circumstance and upbringing.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  That’s why education is so revered and valuable.  Of all the things I’m thankful for after this trip, the fact that education and opportunity abound in our lives might be the absolute highest.

Most of these community members are kind, gracious, and loving.  They are no different than you and I when you break it down to core values.  They want the exact same things that we do: health, security, and provision for our families.  They seek hope, opportunity, and promise for their future and future generations.  That is what I fully believe MOHI is creating in their lives.  That’s why we were relatively safe in an otherwise dangerous community.  The community has seen how MOHI has provided for and transformed their students.  A change that was so desperately needed that the community now guards it with reverence.

MOHI considers children to be the access point to transforming the community.  They developed schools that provide better learning conditions than the public schools available.  The desperation in some public schools is so extreme that MOHI leaders spoke of children going as far as to run away from school because they were hungry.

Missions of Hope created schools within the community that serves the most desperate needs of the students.  Based on the comprehension of the needs of the community, MOHI developed a school that serves meals to the students, provides materials for learning, two uniforms every two years, and a structured curriculum incorporating lessons on proper health, academics, and faith.  The focus is to empower the next generation of children within the slums with an education in order to transform the community as a whole.  There is a vision that the educated children will come back and serve to improve the dire conditions in the community.

Group of primary aged MOHI students.

Children are recruited from the neighborhood by social workers.  We spent most of our time shadowing these social workers throughout the slums.  They will go out and create relationships and bonds with the families of the children either already enrolled in the school or identified as school age on the streets.  MOHI social workers invest their time identifying children who need to be enrolled in school and developing trust with the parents and families.  All elements of life, school, community, family, work, faith, are incorporated into supporting the education of these Nairobian children.

I spent a lot of my time in awe of the strength each social worker and teacher had to be equipped with every single day.  Their days are full, start to finish with having to help families navigate despairing situations.  They confront the depths of poverty, illness, crime, and addiction frequently.  Yet their passion for a better future, their passion to protect and provide for the children they love propels them forward each day.  A social worker can be responsible for anywhere from 150 – 200 student families.  I promise you, each social worker I spoke to could tell you extensive detail about where each family came from, what their challenges were and where they are headed.  They are invested mind, body, and spirit in their mission as employees of MOHI.  Their passion was evident as they spoke of MOHI’s humble origins, a school of a mere fifty children. MOHI now serves over 16,000 kids.  When we took a moment to appreciate the magnitude of their growth and reach, the social workers only responded that they have merely scratched the surface.  Their hearts are on fire to grow exponentially.

MOHI leadership team who blessed us with insight into their community. They are a big part of the heart of Missions of Hope.

With focused attention and energy, the social workers bring the children into the schools for a greater opportunity for an education that encompasses mind, body, and spirit of each student.  The energy was so high at each school we visited.  The children regard their education as a gift.  We were consistently met with smiles and joy.  Most of them seem consumed with a hunger to learn and tremendous pride in that which they have learned.  There were many times students would recite a verse or greeting, or sing a song to welcome us, and they would beam at the opportunity to share what they have worked so hard to learn.  These kids are a reflection of the love and investment made into their lives.  I began to realize that anything contributed to this ministry and this school isn’t a “donation”, it is an investment in the minds, hearts, and potential of each child.  The kids are all there battling against what the world says their potential “should be” versus the comprehension that they are children of God and inherently treasured and capable of all things.  They are worthy of an education.  They are worthy of a happy and healthy life.

I believe they know their value because of the personal investment MOHI has assured that each social worker makes in the lives of the children and their families.  The social workers are the hands and feet.  They are the hearts and minds who give of themselves tirelessly to bring wholeness to a disjointed community. Missions of Hope delves in with hearts full and spirits free to transform not only the children, but the families and community in its entirety.

One of the many MOHI students who welcomed us into their lives with joy.

Moving forward, I’ll share a lot more about personal interactions and experiences to offer insight into a bit of what life is like in the Nairobi slums.  For today, I wanted you to know of the amazing works being done as we go about our daily lives. I see the reach of this organization already extending beyond Kenya borders.  I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the U.S. who are making the trek to help MOHI expand.  They have dreams of improving the quality of life not only in the Nairobi slums, but as far as they can go into the world.  This wasn’t just a trip, this wasn’t a blip in time, this was insight into a movement that has the potential to transform countless lives, and by its ripple effect, I believe the world.  I can say without hesitation, it has transformed my life.   I am forever grateful.

8 thoughts on “Empowering Nairobi”

  1. What a heart-warming article. Wow.. Very eye-opening. Thanks for bringing attention to this. It seems like our mainstream media outlets tend to overlook the plight of people around the world (particularly African Countries).

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I’m glad it struck you as it did. It’s so challenging to convey what awesome things are happening over there. I 100% agree with you regarding media. Media does see to overlook the plight and in so many ways overlook the valuable impact organizations are having in underdeveloped areas.

  2. Living the way we do, it is easily forgotten in our day to day how ppl thers in the world are living. It sounds like you had a truly eye opening experience

    1. It truly was Jess. I wish there was a way to create the experience for everyone. It’s transformative. Thank you for taking the time to visit the blog and read about the experience.

  3. I am in awe of this and you. Never forget to honor your curiosity because it will lead you places and to a deeper understanding that you never would have believed possible. <3

    1. Thank you so much Mila. I’m humbled that you’re able to sense the impact I experienced. Honoring my curiosity is a beautiful way to phrase that, I hope the same for you!

  4. I am so happy for your experience Jennifer. Kibera is a place full of people with the most intelligent minds, biggest dreams, sincere joy and beautiful hearts. People with a lot of faith and hope that most people don’t have, towards the future. Most people there, resemble the rose flower that grows from a crack and being in the area can really humble you, make you appreciate every single thing and even transform your heart. As you can see with your experience. I see that Nairobi has stuck with you too like white on rice as well haha …. they say once you go _______ you never go back!! Karibu tena nyumbani!! You have so much more to explore and fall in love with. Thanks for this beautiful article. Keep up the good spirit.

    1. Faith,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. Kenya is a wonderful place and I’m honored I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the land and the people a little. Your imagery about the rose is a perfect illustration of the people I encountered. Haha and yes, it totally stuck like white on rice! I hope to make continued visits and develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the people and the communities. Thanks again!

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