The week so far has been a real rollercoaster of emotions and it looks like the ride’s not over yet. Poverty is on such a wide scale here and when you walk out of the compound into the slums I’ve found it too easy to accept it as the norm. To accept that this is the way things are and will continue to be. My attitude has frustrated me, I never want to become complacent or desensitized to the extreme poverty that is so obvious here. Yet if you allow it to affect you too much you will despair. It’s a hard thing to balance, and something that I really struggle with.
Here are two stories that have really got to me this week.
My old friend Iso came into the office yesterday, having heard that I was back in Kenya. Iso used to work in a small ‘café’ in the slums, and when I was here in 2007 I used to spend one or two afternoons a week working with him. We had so much fun, and he would take me to visit people in the community that were ill or unemployed, that he supported. He didn’t earn much – maybe 70p for a days work, but he was doing well. When I saw him yesterday I didn’t recognise him. He was unshaved, his clothes were dirty and his shirt had no buttons but was sellotaped together. He stank of alcohol and smoke. He was incoherent and very confused. Ai, it was hard to see. That someone who had been doing so well is now in such a condition. I don’t know what’s happened to him, why he’s turned to drink. But life is hard here. And it’s sad to see someone turn that way. I’m not sure what I can do to support him, other than not reject him when he comes in to see me, but listen to his ramblings, and be a friendly face. And pray. Pray pray pray. It’s all I can do. God bless Iso.
The other story I want to share is of a little boy called Calvin who has really got my heart. Calvin is 8 years, is at St John’s school and is part of the sponsorship programme here. I’ve been trying to find this boy the last week or so to see how he’s doing and get an update for his sponsor, but he’s not been in school. The teacher told me home life was difficult and there are periods when he doesn’t attend. Yesterday, Joyce (who I work with) came into the office with this little boy who had an infected wound on his ankle. I sat and talked to him (with the help of Stacey who translated for me). He ‘lives’ with his mother and younger sister in a corridor of some slum houses. His mum cleans sewers to earn a tiny amount of money, although recently there have been problems where she’s not been getting paid. So often they don’t eat. This sort of story is certainly not uncommon here. I’m continually hearing and working with such cases. But this one got to me. He touched my heart. After talking with him, I took him to see James, the community nurse who works here. Calvin was so brave, and enjoyed playing with my phone while James cleaned and dressed the wound.
I struggle when I compare Calvin’s life to some of the 8 year-olds I know in England. I can’t compare it. If I begin to question why he was born into such harsh conditions, while other children are born into such luxury my head begins to explode. The lifestyle is so so different it can’t be related. But that doesn’t mean Calvin shouldn’t have the love that any child deserves. I want him to know how precious and treasured he is. I don’t want him to be just another child who lives in the slum. Just another face, another name, another story to add to the long list of desperate cases. Just because he lives in a slum corridor, in dirty, polluted conditions doesn’t mean that he should be forgotten and left. Calvin’s story reminds me of the parable of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. How the shepherd left his flock to search for the one. Even though it was just one sheep in a flock, that sheep was important to the shepherd. And Calvin is important to Jesus. And therefore should be important to me. To us. Please remember Calvin, pray for him and his family. And the millions of other children here, whose stories are similar if not worse and who are just as important.
These stories are hard to see, to hear and to write. But I must also focus on the positive. The work that St John’s does to support such cases is phenomenal. That Calvin has a sponsor so he can come to school. It not only gives him an education and therefore a chance of escaping the poverty trap, but school provides him a space to come and be an 8 year-old boy. He can come and learn in a safe environment. He can be with his friends, and play football (he supports Arsenal!). There are so many positive stories to share. And I will, I will. But not today – today I must stop dwelling on my thoughts, but get on and do some work!
My jobs for today include continuing to follow up sponsor cases, get reports and write letters. I must start writing some articles for SJCC’s website. And at 3pm I’m teaching a small group of children who struggle with English lessons. I love this part of my work, we have so much fun!