Bu this is really a story about the orphanage. The orphanage run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart (nuns, founded in
There were 51 girls. (About 5 were off at secondary boarding school – girls about 15-18 years old. It is the custom to send the children to boarding school at this age, and a good reason is that sending 16 year old girls to walk a few miles to school in the slums is an easy way for them to get taken advantage of or possibly drawn into prostitution.) The sisters ran a kindergarten – ages 3-6 on premises to earn a little money for the orphanage. They also took in a few poor children. I say poor, and here it means super-poor: living in a tin roof one room shack with no water and dirt floors. For this you have to pay a slumlord $10 a month rent. One of the sisters had typhoid because the sewage problem is so bad it taints the water.
When we first arrived we met the kindergarten boys and girls. It seemed to me they were all sick. One boy I recall had yellow eyes among other apparent maladies. Well, rather than grasp him into my arms and give him an embrace – I drew away and washed my hands with Purel. I found out that I was not the Mother Teresa I thought I was. I was disappointed in my reaction. We met the girls when they came home from school. Wow they were excited to see us! They were fascinated with our skin and hair. They would constantly stroke our hair and examine our arms. My freckles, veins (which show through my pale skin) and fascinated them as did hairy arms.
This was a trip of many humiliations. I didn’t know what they would want us to do there. But what they asked of us I was terribly inept at: mending, cooking, peeling (no peelers), washing clothes by hand, and teaching kindergarten songs, making Play-do figures etc. Didn’t ANYONE want to know about Excel spreadsheets? Anyone for a hot stock pick? (It would make for a funny movie scene: the big city girls stride in with no practical knowledge of running a household and basic domestic tasks and are asked nonchalantly to do them and their attempts are quite comical – humiliating!) The worst day was when my friend Cathy was not there and the girls were at school, I remember getting disturbed by the physical labor, social problems, poverty and but really a feeling of alienation.
The girls were so sweet and with them I always felt at home. It is hard to believe they come from such horrible circumstances and yet they are really kind. About 95% of them had their parent’s die from AIDS. Some of them had lived on the streets, been molested by relatives, or mistreated by other institutions. Many of the girls were sibling groups. There were two 4 month old babies that had been abandoned. They appeared fairly healthy although one was just skin and bones when found, having been thrown away.
Their lives were very ordered. They returned from school around 3pm and washed clothes. At 4 they ate porridge and relaxed a few minutes then it was time for preparing food, mostly peeling chopping large quantities of vegetables. Then at 5 they had a shower and continue with chopping. At 6:30 they have prayer and singing Christian songs. At 7 they do schoolwork and then eat and go to bed. Saturday mornings everything is cleaned at washed – all by hand with minimal cleansers. Sunday is mass and some leisure time – we took walks in the neighborhood. I think they can watch 1 video a week. I wondered why the kids were so good? I suppose they had the luxury of not being spoiled or overly influenced by toxic media and bratty friends. They were very respectful, disciplined, not cynical, seemed to have a lively, educated faith, and were very grateful. I thought if only our American teenagers could learn from them! Oh and they loved music and were great dancers. They liked to sing The Sound of Music songs which was very endearing. The most rewarding part was when I helped the girls with their studies or peeling or when they constantly held your hand at mass.
The sisters were completely inspiring models of Christian charity. Staying with them was also very eye opening. They were mostly fairly young Kenyans. There were about seven staying at the house on the grounds of the orphanage. They had different jobs such as catechists, social workers, and teachers. Only one was totally focused on the orphanage. They lived an upper class life for that neighborhood: electricity, running water and even a clothes dryer they rarely used due to electricity cost. They maintained a nice, simple and orderly house and prayed about 2 hours or so a day. One day I think I had just heard one too many sad Kenyan stories (this one about how one sister worked with street children – the many who literally live on the streets) and I realized how peaceful the sisters were about their work. They just kept pressing on and not getting down about the circumstances. They were quite cheerful. They looked after themselves as caregivers spiritually and physically. My MBA side might have said why don’t you lessen your prayer and spend more time tutoring the kids – but I knew that type of thinking is a common American error. The sisters were fun and when we cleaned up after meals I recalled my own childhood with five sisters – not too different. There are a lot of vocations in
There was a Catholic Church next door to the orphanage, St. Jude. They had wonderful respectful services if a bit long, with great singing with awesome Kenyan music. I felt like the Christianity was the best thing going for the future of
We did some other things like visit the sick in the neighborhood. We also came across a Rwandan refugee school near the orphanage where we spoke with one of the teachers. These were Hutus who had been in
A few words about AIDS. Yes, it’s horrific!
One of my last days there the boy with the yellow eyes saw me from far away. He ran like a linebacker pushing aside several people to jump into my arms. Yes he had become my little buddy during my kindergarten working hours. I threw away the Purel after I got sick anyway (a minor cold). The alienation and humiliation became a lesson on Christ suffering during the Passion. (Yes we know it was terrible physically, but what about the emotional alienation Christ suffered, when your so called friends turn you in and deny you.) I cried when I left the orphanage and said goodbye to all the people who touched my heart there.
I will be raising money for the orphans. Let me know if you have any ideas about how to do this: sponsoring orphans, a party, a bike ride, going on the radio, making presentations, a website. I know people don’t like to send money to
The Daughters of the Sacred Heart have one small house in the