For those of you who followed my trip last year, you will remember hearing about Mary, the very special little girl who stole my heart with her falling apart shoes and gentle spirit. I wasn’t certain I would get to see Mary this year. We never know which kids will be able to attend camp; family and living situations change constantly in Kibera and we only have the supplies and staff to accommodate 150 children each week.
I tried not to get my hopes up. I knew that regardless I was going to get to spend time with so many amazing children. But I found myself holding my breath as the kids arrived the first day. You can hear their little voices screaming, laughing and singing way before you can see their faces, a joyous cacophony of sound. They rounded the bend and begun sprinting down the hill. Returning kids searching for old friends form America, the new kids looking to quickly make a connection. There are kids swirling all around me and then I saw her running down the hill, her dark round face with a big bashful grin, Mary. In that moment, my heart sighs a breath of relief. So much can happen to these kids over the course of a year, we lose kids to disease and violence, some are orphaned and forced to move in with family members or left to live on the street, little boys and girls face physical and sexual abuse more often than we could ever fathom. I don’t know don’t know the details of what Mary has faced this past year, I probably never will. But in that moment I knew she was safe and happy. She launched into my arms and my heart was bursting with joy.
Like last year, Mary stayed close to my side for the entire week. Her cousin Quinta was also at camp again this year. On the second day, Quinta gave me a note from Mary’s mother, Margaret. We sometimes get requests for money, sponsorship for school, cameras, food, ipods. I braced myself for a request I knew I would have to deny, but this note was different. Margaret simply asked me to come visit her and their home like I did last year. She said she was so grateful I had come back this year and she was praying for my time in Kenya. I learned soon after that Margaret, who has three children of her own and takes care of her niece, Quinta, had also taken on the care of three more children after her second sister had died. Margaret now cared for seven children in a home not even the size of my living room. My heart broke and yet I was amazed. What an incredible, strong woman.
Our team made the trek into Kibera for the first time the next day. My good friend Cecilia, who helps to run Homecare, made it possible for me to visit Mary’s home. We wound our way deeper and deeper into Kibera, where the pathways get narrower and narrower and it is more and more difficult not to step in the waste of garbage, dead animals and human excrement. I began to recognize where we were from my trips into the slum last year. We round a bend into a little 8x8 courtyard surrounded by mud homes. Margaret stood in the doorway of their home and her face lit up. She brought me into a huge hug, tears streaming down her face. Fellow team members and I settled into chairs in her home, as Cecilia helped to translate our conversation. Margaret explained that she had in fact taken on three more children, one who is albino and has a number of health issues. She wanted to know about my life this year and how I was doing. We chatted for awhile and then asked how we could pray for her and her family. Her request was simple, that all of her children be able to go to school and that her relationship with God would be strengthened so that she could show all of the children that kind of love. No prayers for money, or hints that they needed more, prayers for education and relationship. It made me think of my own prayers and how selfish they often were, how little this woman have and her prayers were to be able to give more. I was humbled, heartbroken and completely inspired.
Information is about the children in Homecare is hard to come by but I do know that both Mary and Quinta are attending private schools, which means a real chance at education for them both. Quinta wants to be a teacher and Mary a nurse. I can see them thriving as both. Quinta is the mother hen, always taking care of the little ones and helping the leaders. Mary is a sensitive and caring soul who I am certain will carry a healing touch given the right tools. But what sets my soul at peace is knowing that they have a mother who loves them so deeply and fights for them each day, most children in Kibera are not as lucky. I take with me the hope that I see in their family and the knowledge of what it takes to truly love one another.