It has been 2 weeks since I traveled to Kenya with Compassion International. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking… processing what I saw and what it means for me, my family, and even you. The trip encouraged me to create more financial margin in my life so that I can better help Compassion and other causes that are important to me.
If you feel any similar inclination, I deeply encourage you to act on it.
MEET ELIUD OTIENO
What I’ve thought most about over the past two weeks was my chance to meet Eliud. He is an 18-year-old total orphan, who has been without parents for 3 years. He lives in one of the world’s largest slums – Mathare.
For 11 years, Eliud has been sponsored through Compassion International, which provides him with spiritual, educational, physical, and social assistance. This includes purchasing him a 8′ x 8′ cardboard, wood, and tin shack to live in after his parents died (this is standard Mathare living).
I was humbled and honored to be invited into Eliud’s home. I was inspired to hear his story. He wants to be a doctor or a graphic artist. He wants to see his slums transformed. Despite his circumstances, he is wise and happy and has hope.
Today I met 14 year old Nelson Juma Dbongo of the Mathare Slums. He wants to be a journalist and an actor.
He has what it takes. In his free time, he goes to the library to read and learn how to improve his writing composition. He has already written 8 comedies and a few dramas on tough topics like AIDS and drug abuse. Since 2001, Compassion International’s Mathare Community Outreach has made this possible. It takes him 30 minutes to get there (or 1 hour if he walks slowly).
Nelson wants to attend university, hopefully in America. He wants to be a successful actor and journalist so that he can help the poor and the sick. He offers this wisdom:
If you have money, you can’t just keep it for you alone. You share with the poor people what you have.
Nelson says that many kids in the Mathare Slums are unhappy, have bad habits, and don’t go to school. But he says that you can help by praying for them, visiting them, and sponsoring them. Nelson is very grateful for his sponsor, Kevin.
NELSON THE PERFORMER
I hope Nelson does attend university. His speaking ability, poise, and confidence stunned me! I hope to one day see him in movies. He is a good performer and will only get better (college talent scouts should snatch him up!). You just have to see it for yourself:
The video doesn’t do his performance justice. His eye contact and engagement was amazing!
He hasn’t always had the opportunity to read, write, and practice his gifts. By age 4, both of Nelson’s parents were dead from disease. His brother George (who was 14yo at the time) has raised Nelson and his other three siblings for the past 10 years. As a baby, Nelson was diagnosed with a heart problem, so he can’t play soccer with his friends. But he can act and joke with friends, particularly his best friend, Charles.
Becoming a sponsor of a child like Nelson is easy, simply visit Compassion.com and sign up.
A mist of alcohol hit my face. We were downwind from moonshiners.
This is the Mathare Slum, where the streets are made of garbage. These 3 square miles of winding alleys are home to 800,000 people. It is Kenya’s second largest slum. It houses drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves, and gangs. And children are routinely exposed to alcohol, drugs, and pornography.
But admist the oppression is a bright shining hope… the children and staff of Mathare Community Outreach.
It provides the normal services of a Compaasion International project, but it also gives its kids special programs to identify each child’s passions and talents and nurture them through art, cooking, drama, singing public speaking, crafts, sports, and many more clubs. The Compassion International children of the Mathare Slum showcased their talents to us. Impressive doesn’t even begin to describe it.
These children are the hope of the Mathare Slum. They give credit to God, their teachers, and their Compassion International child sponsors. You can play a part in the latter. Sponsor a child today.
For 5 days, I am touring Kenya to see, learn, and blog about the incredible impact Compassion International’s 287 projects are making in Kenya. Each day teaches me more about the importance of child sponsorship. And each day teaches me more about how child sponsorship dramatically changes a kid’s life.
Today I had the honor to take Owen to a Kenyan amusement park. I’ve seen the local poverty. I’ve heard the stories. But this was the first time I saw with clarity the gritty reality of what my child sponsorship means to Owen.
Owen is a smart kid. He knows 3 languages. He loves school. And he works hard. But the gritty reality is this alone will statistically never get him out of extreme poverty. Without the support of Compassion International, children like Owen spend their lives in a cycle of poverty constantly struggling against hunger and disease.
We get that story. Many of us have seen the photos, watched the videos, and listened to the stories. But many of us are still detached and unable to truly grasp the gritty reality of what extreme poverty is. We get the concept of the bad, but it is not until it is benchmarked against the good (that we’re so often desensitized to) that I was able to understand how important of a role my family will play in Owen’s life.
I’ve never seen chicken bones picked so clean. Owen’s smile was heart gripping as he cleaned a few inches thick of food off his plate. His eyes were wide and voice filled with “ahh’s” as we looked at photos of my wife (Evie) and son (Eli), who were unable to make the trip.
“He has so many toys!” Owen exclaimed about a photo of Eli with a bag of erasers and preschool basketball goal. His comment wasn’t necessarily surprising, but I was amazed by the stark contrast between his perspective and those of U.S. kids.
What did surprise me was Owen’s excessive joy when he climbed into an inflatable playground. I don’t think he had ever experienced such a thing. It overwhelmed me, and I began to cry. I held back my tears not wanting him to rob him of an ounce of joy by thinking that something was wrong. But after years of children’s ministry, I have never seen a child so thrilled with an inflatable playground (watch video).
The smiles continued as we rode rides, gave presents, watched crocodiles, and spent the afternoon together.
But this story also has bitter to go with the sweet. I had to leave Owen. And Owen had to leave the park. I cannot take him back to the park (at least anytime soon). I want to return someday with my family to visit Owen, and I wanted to promise him I’ll be back soon. But it is not a promise that I can guarantee soon or ever. The best I can do is write him often. It is hard to say goodbye to Owen. It is hard to say goodbye to each Kenyan child I leave behind, like the Masai boys who grabbed my arms and legs and sat on me saying that I couldn’t go… that I have to stay.
If you let yourself become detached from child sponsorship, it is easy to look at it as an inconvenient $38 per month. Some even consider it expendable when budgets get tight. But if you ever have the honor, the privilege, the life changing opportunity to meet your sponsored child, you will no longer think about the $38. You will think about how can you give more to that child.
In Kenya, there are 3,000 children waiting to be sponsored. If this story touches you in the least possible way, please try to make the time and money to write and sponsor a child monthly through Compassion International.