Today was our first day on the farm. We are all very wiped out. We are suffering from major jetlag. Much more then we originally thought. Some of us like me and Lee Bass find ourselves falling asleep at inopportune times. I felt asleep on the train to the airport, and would have missed my spot if it weren't for Chris. I also fell asleep on the tour of London. Lee fell asleep during a prayer and also on the train back to London.
When we arrived at the orphanage today, all of us got a burst of energy. The kids ran up to us all eager wanting to shake our hands. We spent quite some time just shaking the kid's hands and saying hello. They had us over for lunch and sang songs for our arrival. We heard some speeches of the orphans who are know in college studying either law or medicine. It was real heartwarming. All took a tour of the orphanage and the farm. We also got our jobs for the week of our tasks such as farming, cleaning, painting, and many others. Look in our multimedia section for podcasts, videos, and pictures.
ENTRY ONE: After 48 hours in country...I've not only shaken my jet-lag, but most importantly...my America-lag. Being without a TV, internet access cell-phone, laptop (OK, we did bring computers to blog), email...etc...has been a trip. I pride myself in always being connected and available...and it's great to be so...NOT.
I don't want to be all "this is just so amazing, there are no words to describe the way I feel about how touching...affecting...changing this all is..." But, um...there are no words to describe the way I feel about how touching...affecting...changing this all is. J
We've come half a world to do some good...but I think we'll leave having received much more than we've given. Check out the multimedia site, the pics and video say it better than I'll ever be able.
ENTRY TWO: We woke up early Monday morning to head over to the farm. It was raining pretty hard the night before. It was freezing outside. The bus only took us to the top of the hill where we had to walk the rest of the way. I was only wearing my t-shirt and kaki's. I was freezing. The cold rain penetrated my hair making me even colder. The wind was also starting to pick up adding to my coldness. We all trudged down a muddy path to the farm. I only had tennis shoes. The mud started crawling into my socks. When we got to the farm, the sun peaked out from the clouds and started to warm us up. We all grabbed machetes to make a clearing for more crops. As the sun began to beat down on us we were all scattered among the field clearing, amd making piles of brush. I hate manual labor, and many people in the group felt the same way. What was remarkable was how all got over it and how well we all worked as a team. No one complained, we all enjoyed the work. In many cases, people had to force others to take a break to hydrate themselves. There is nothing better then whailing a machete, sweating your heart out. A group member came to relieve you and give you a bottle of water when they wanted to help. I now have a different appreciation for manual labor, and kind of like it. While I was chopping all the brush, I realized something about the orphanage. I couldn't understand how the kids could be so happy even though they do nothing but work. They live day to day. And finally I realized, something I always heard, but never understood. Life is a matter of percpective. These kids talked while they washed. Sang while they cleaned, and made chores into a game. They got their happiness from their community. The states isn't big on community compared to materialism, and this was what I wasn't understanding. Community is what is important. Not money, not how much free time you have, but the relationships you make. I think all of us learned that on some level.
Now here is the amazing part of my day. Around 11:00am the kids came to the farm to help us, out of their own free will. They were teaching us how to cut and clear the farm. A ten year old cleared more farm land in 10 minutes then I did in one hour. Now these kids liked teaching us. They could have just played all day, but instead, wanted to help us.
For lunch, we fed them pizza for the first time. It is hard to put in words the kids reaction. A few of us got sun poisoning and didn't realize it. Lee even used sun screen, and still got majorly burnt. When the day was over, we couldn't move our hands, our shoulders were like grinding wooden gears, and our eyes were foggy from the sweat.
At the end of the day, I felt great. I wanted to help these kids, do everything, but I was not the only one. We all felt like that. l learned that our presence their attracted so much national attention. I'm not sure how much, all I know is that we helped start some chain affect that got them more money and positive feedback. I hope the rafiki project is a booming success, and more orphans will be takin in. Their primary goal right now is the sustaining of life. Next it is education, then a community. They prize education so much in the orphanage. The kids love it, which is a really compliment to the teachers their.
FIRST ENTRY: Believe it or not I have not had any trouble adjusting to the time change- actually it is 11:15 pm as I write this- those that know and love me realize that in itself is a life change. That is exactly what this is.
I helped do laundry today for 33 kids by HAND- in a bucket with lye soap and no pink gloves. Yes I know you are all laughing but that's ok the kids had a great time looking over a giving me a chuckle and helping show me the properly way to wash clothes by hand. I can't even begin to tell you what an experience this had been so far and it is only Sat. We have packed a lot into the last two days taking lots of pictures.
SECOND ENTRY (11-8-2005): Every time I try to reflect on my impressions of this trip, I come back to something V.S. Naipaul wrote in "A Bend in the River." He said "The airplane is faster than the heart" and that's just stuck in my mind. We left Columbus and a group of family and friends who supported this trip on all levels...with their finances, their encouragement, and their prayers. It wasn't until a day or so on the ground in Kenya that I began to feel like I had "arrived." Now, as we wind up the trip....I feel anxious about leaving. The children in the orphanage have just started to warm up to us. They each have their "favorites," as do each of us visitors.
Before this trip started, I told people I was "going to Africa." Now...I will tell people I went to Kikuyu....outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Africa was a theoretical construct in my mind...a "mind movie" of lions, vast veldts and black people in colorful dress. We've barely scratched the surface here, but I have a better feel...and a deeper respect, for this Kenyan culture than the simplistic travel guide mindset with which I arrived.
The people I came here with have each found their way to contribute. The images I'll take away are Lee Bass and his guitar and bright yellow music sheets and a crowd of smiling faces, concentrating on every word of his songs...of Michel O'Hara leading the effort to take pictures with 15 separate "Thank You" banners...Janet Vaughan running from table to table of crafts like a General executing a battle plan...and the tear in the eyes of the housemothers when they learned that Judie Perkowski had spent her afternoon buying them a washing machine so that they could retire their metal tubs and washboards.
The airplane is faster than the heart...and I know that, for all of us, it's going to be a long time catching up from this one.
HEATHER: Today, NOVEMBER 5th, was amazing. We spent most of the day at the orphanage helping with their daily chores and then went to the farm for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The children singing and reading poetry brought me to tears. The people here have all been so warm and welcoming and I feel blessed to be even just a tiny part of their lives. I look forward to the coming days ahead getting to know the children better.
JEFF: Words cannot express our experience today. Thirty-three Kids who have every reason to be bitter, show all the happiness and hope in the world. They need everything and ask for nothing. They are the most disciplined and respectful kids I have met. All have been well educated and the Rafiki staff works 24/7 to make sure they all have a good life. Their happiness is not a result of the latest PlayStation game or the latest pair of designer jeans...It is about the companionship of their fellow orphans and the hope that is being created for them by the staff and all of us who are contributing to their futures. You all will be impressed by the organization, the kids, and the mission.
FIRST ENTRY: Wow! What an experience. It is overwhelming to really see how other people in the world survive....and are happy. Remember no electricity, almost no paved roads, very few cars, and large families. They walk or run everywhere. Water is delivered often by donkey. The children at the orphanage are very well polite and ask for nothing. We cook, and wash clothes only after heating the water to boil in black pots. The children do everything for themselves mostly outside. The children are great, and the orphanage children are lucky as many, many children have no place to stay. Hi to Bob, family and friends. Wish you were here. We are safe and working hard. Need sleep.
SECOND ENTRY: Africa, Kenya has breath taking beauty and extreme poverty, and yet the people everywhere, and on every social level are extremely polite to us. They are patient and appreciative. The work on the farm is extremely labor intensive in a very warm sun. Animal containment means---our team and the children clear the (not a fence row) but use long machetes to cut through a thick jungle. My swing was great, as I just used by old racketball swing, and flipped my wrist. The children have sandels on their feet in rough terrain. (ages 6 to 17) The children loved the crafts we brought as they do not have any toys. Our team has bonded well and had many laughs. I will have many stories when I arrive home. Miss you all.........can't wait to see you. Love to Bob.
Hello to everyone at Grand Haven, especially My love, Ed, and my friend Harry. You would have to be here to appreciate how lucky we are.
The kids are great. I'm thinking of adopting all 33! (just kidding, Ed.)
Hello to everyone at The Jeffersonian! Wait till you see our pics!
Will blog again soon.
RACHEL: This is a country full of love. Since the moment we arrived, I felt totally embraced. Everyone we have encountered has made us feel not only welcome, but part of their family... it's a wonderful feeling that I've never experienced outside my "own" family. The community, the church, and the children have completely embraced us ... they make us feel loved ... isn't that funny, I thought we were here to make them feel loved??? I love Kenya!!! (P.S. Miss you Neall!!!)
Nov. 2 2005: Got on lots of planes. 4 cities, 3 continents, a day and a half. Not easy, but group builds camaraderie. 9 hour layover in London, "look kids, Big Ben. . . Parliament." Surprise attack of horizontal rain. Also English Breakfast at pub.
Nov. 4. 2005: Very little sleep in days, and arrived in Nairobi at around 6am very scatter-brained. Reverend Nagna (executive director and founder of the Rafiki orphanage) met us wearing an OSU Maurice Clarett jersey. 3 hour recovery at hotel then on to orphanage.
At first the kids were very shy and giggled when I looked at them, but they have slowly started to warm up to us. I was very amazed at how pristine the orphanage was. It was very small and cramped, but the kids still managed to keep everything as neat as humanly possible--down to each bunk was tucked perfectly and symmetrically--not a single wrinkle. They made us lunch that they called "cooked meat" and I can only assume it was goat.
We spent some time with the kids then a few of the kids gave some speeches. One was high school grad that came through Rafiki and is now trying to get into law school. She gave a highly emotional "tear jerker" speech--I can tell she will be a talented attorney .. . that is if she can obtain the financial support to make it through.
After the orphanage we went to the new land where the farm is and the new orphanage will be after they can raise enough money to build the dormitory. They also want to build a school, a church and a medical center there. So far thanks to Rotary there is a small barn that houses some cows and chickens that our club bought them last year. It was especially wonderful to see our efforts going to work for the kids. However, seeing the farm first hand only confirmed how much work still needs to be done.
Nov 5. 2005: Woke up at 4:30 am and was off to the orphanage by 6:00 or so. We then proceeded to make the kids breakfast and helped them with their chores like laundry. They cook and eat outside, and their kitchen is about a ½ step above camping (except no Coleman grills . . . only real fire). In any event we were able to make about 150 pancakes and scrambled eggs for everyone, even though it took us a couple of hours! By the time breakfast was over it was time to start cooking lunch. As cliché as it sounds, this made me realize how lucky we are to not have to spend all day on life's basic necessities. We're hungry and we pop something in a microwave or hit a drive through. Done. No pealing carrots for 2 hours like the kids did today.
After lunch we gave the kids a bunch of football (soccer) equipment that some people in the group brought--shoes, socks, shin guards, balls, etc. They were thrilled. We then had our first song session with the kids, which was a bit nerve-racking for me at first as I had no idea what to expect. The kids were of various ages and grew up in a completely different cultureb. Not to mention the fact that it has been at least 10 years since I have done any song leading! Oh yeah, and although I may not be all that religious these days, I am Jewish. These kids worship Jesus like fish worship water. But we managed to get through "Amazing Grace" with the help of Katie Harper, who sings in her church Choir and did a great job helping with the song leading.
What an experience though. At first I had a hard time reaching the kids. They love to sing however, and as soon as I pulled out my guitar they were there sitting about 2 inches from my face breathing up my oxygen. I had no idea if they would like the songs I had in the song book, but it turned out to be about the best way we could all finally interact with each other. They hung on my every word as I taught them the Peter Paul and Mary version of Shel Silverstien's "Boa Constrictor" song and they loved it so much they sang it over and over again, even long after we were done with the song session. We also sang "Puff The Magic Dragon", "We Shall Overcome" and Swahili song that I got off the internet but couldn't really read and had no idea what the melody was. But the kids knew it and taught it to me and some of the others in the group.
Then came the dedication of the new farm land, barn and water well. The service had about 200 people or so, including all of the kids, local supporters and benefactors, board members, local clergy and government officials including a bishop, and a member of parliament, and finally the members from the other Rotary club that meets in downtown Columbus. The service was a bit long for me (probably at least 3 hours) and had way to much religion in it for me (it was led by the bishop and several other clergy), but the highlight for me was being asked to lead the kids in front of the group in "Amazing Grace".
Following the dedication about maybe 40 of us were invited to a board member's house for a traditional dinner. I'm not sure what most of it was, but there were several kinds of meat (probably goat again among others), some green paste, some meat stew and some Indian style chippatta bread which is like warm thin pita (very good). Oh yeah, and they still drink pop in glass bottles here.
Overall it was an EXTREMELY long day but also amazing to be a part of everything going one here. I'm completely exhausted but can't wait to do keep it going tomorrow. If I had any anxiety about coming here, I can say that its all gone now. Except that OSU is playing right now and I can't even get the score . . .
SECOND ENTRY: 11-8-05:
Before we left my thoughts kept returning to my own personal reasons for being on this trip. What can I add? I don't know anything about farming, building new buildings, business plans, or water wells. Will I be helpful? Will it be a waste of my time? There time?
WHAT was I thinking? These kids would probably not be alive if it were not for this orphanage. And if it weren't for the efforts of all of the of people that have come here in the last few years to help it, there would be no orphanage. When visitors from the U.S. come here, it seems like the entire Kikuyu community knows about it. The impact is substantial. All of the wealthy Kikuyu fight for just a few moments of our time, and demand that we come to their homes for tea, lunch or dinner. We spent almost a whole day in the community on Sunday, going to church and a couple of homes. I was flustered by this because this seemed to do nothing for the kids; however I now see the big picture after talking to Reverend Nanga. There was no community support for this orphanage before the Rotary clubs starting coming. Once they saw that there was foreign support, they all wanted to be a part of it. A board of well connected people was formed, and things started rolling. Although I wished we had more time with the kids, I now can see that our presence in the community alone was extremely helpful for our ultimate goal of supporting these kids.
Our time with the kids has also been wonderful. They are the most well-behaved kids I have ever seen. They somehow know how lucky they are to have a place in this orphanage and they don't take it for granted, even the very young ones. They seem to know that for every kid in the orphanage there are probably 4 that don't have a home. They have absolutely nothing aside from a bed and some shared clothing. No toys, TV's, CD players, or X-boxes. They have almost no play time because their chores take up all their time. They participate in laundry and food prep and cleaning, and outside of school that takes up their whole day. They still do laundry by hand and it takes hours.
The laundry thing will change now, however, because yesterday Judy from the Cambridge, Ohio Rotary club bought them a washing machine! The kids were so excited they dancing when they heard the news: "no more hand washing, no more hand washing" they screamed.
Yesterday we got back to directly helping the orphanage. We awoke very early and went to the farm and future home of the orphanage once they raise enough funds to build a dormitory, church, school, and medical clinic. Currently it is just a barn with 4 cows, some sheep, goats and chickens, and a lot of land with a fence around it. They just got electricity in the area last week, but the land value in the area is rising fast and soon will be a developed area. When we got to there area we had to get off the bus and hike in because the bus couldn't navigate the dirt road in the morning rain.
We spent the morning clearing trees and brush from part of the field for future farming. That was some of the hardest manual labor I've ever had to do. We had machetes and just copped away and made piles of shrubbery for burning. It was exhausting! The kids also came out and helped us and they were obviously much more familiar with the machetes than we were. We also planted some banana trees.
We then all chipped in and bought each kid a small pizza and French fries ("chips") from a pizza shop in Nairobi. Most had never had pizza before or even French fries. Some had no idea what it was--there is great video on the website of this. One kid looked at the box and shook it like a Christmas present. Another asked "what is this" and a friend replied "its like chapatti with tomato" (chapatti being the Indian flat bread that is popular around here). They loved it all (except for one kid). Then we went back to the orphanage and did dancing and crafts with the kids.
At least now I know that I'm helping the kids, whether by making a presence that encourages local support, by improving the land or even by helping put smiles on the faces of these children. While we still have a LONG way to go with fundraising, I can tell we are off to a good start.
The day at the farm was incredible- started bright and early clearing bush and weeds with a machete- wasn't very good at it because I was very tentative with my swing thinking I was going to cut off a body part or wack a TEW. So I switched to hauling and stacking the debris. Wait until you see the photo's on what got accomplished. Only one snake!!!! Remaining part of the day was spent planting trees and having a planning meeting with the Rafiki management team.
The most touching moment was when they delivered the pizza and french fries for the kids that the team had purchased. This was the first time most of these kids had every tasted pizza- they had no idea what it was. The second exciting part of the day was the excitement the kids had with the crafts. Having a wonderful experience and can't wait to share with all of you
Hi everyone, it is nearing 3:30 pm on Wednesday and I wanted to get a message out. This has been an unbelievable experience. The Rafiki children have touched us all. The needs are many, and I know that with the help of Rotary, we can make a difference in their lives. The children do not lack humor, compassion, discipline or the desire to learn. What they need are the necessities to live a better quality of life. If these wonderful children had just the basics, such as better living conditions, a place to study, the tools to plant crops, proper clothing and funds to help prepare the Rafiki farm to become self sufficient, they would have all they need. We are making a difference, but there is still much to do. It will be hard to say goodbye, but we can leave knowing we have left with a broader purpose and with many new friends. I miss my family, but I'll see you soon. Love you.
Hello to friends, co-workers and most of all my family back in the States. I wanted to share some of my thoughts and meaningful events that have happened with this great service project of the Capital Square Rotary Club. I left the Columbus airport not knowing quite what to expect or what was in store when arriving in Kenya and if I would be able to eat anything over here which was a misconception - I've probably gained a few more pounds.
The Rafiki children are just wonderful and so very well behaved. It was so hot at the dedication service on Saturday of the Rafiki farm and water well site and the children never complained although the sun was shining so brightly on them. We helped the children wash their clothes - actually they showed us how to do it. And, I have learned that I do not like washing clothes by hand in large plastic containers (on the ground with my back bent) - nor do I really know how to do it as the clothes that I was washing were taken from me by the children and I was given instructions as to how it was done. Washing their clothes is a chore that they do every Saturday. I've also learned that I do not like using a machete as the children are better at it than I am and also it was very hard work cutting and clearing away the bush (small trees, weeds, brush) at the farm. Later that day after clearing the land, the Rafiki orphanage children enjoyed making their crafts that we had brought with us. It was so enjoyable interacting with the children as they made their crafts and were having FUN.
It was just wonderful to meet the friendly people here. They welcomed me in their homes and really made me feel very welcome, not just with words but with their actions and even wanted us to let them know how they could have made things better for us. One thing that I know from interacting with my new found friends here in Nairobi, the Rafiki Orphanage children, those who are in charge of the daily running of the orphanage, board members and the others involved with the orphanage, is that they walk, talk, live, trust in Jesus, and praise God. I will never be the same again.
To all my family, friends, business associates, and Rafiki contributors let me try to find words in the English language to express my heart felt emotions of being involved in the Rafiki project. I got involved to help some people whose names I did not know, in an orphanage some where in Nairobi, in a land that I had never visited. I am staying involved with people I do know, the staff, the Board and the children involved in the Rafiki Aids Ministry that I have grown to love, and a country and a city that I hope to visit often.
I arrived in Nairobi expecting to find children full of despair, unwilling/unable to trust and give love. What I have found is children full of hope, with the capacity to find the "silver lining behind every cloud", to dream for a better tomorrow, to love unconditionally and a steadfast knowledge that God is watching over them. Isn't it amazing how our preconceived notions are shattered when we take the time to know the REAL person?
I must say how much I have learned to appreciate Rev. John Nganga as heart big enough to love and provide for children on two continents and thousands of miles apart. I have observed John loving and parenting the orphaned children I have also seen the children return that love by being very respectful, following his direction, studying hard, cheerfully doing their chores, and being truly thankful that John adopted them into his family.
I also must include Ben Nganga (John's brother) who works 16-18 hours per day providing for the needs of the children and the staff. I have witnessed Ben's love and devotion to his brother John, the staff of Rafiki and most of all to the children. I have had long discussion with Ben and I listened intently when he told me that he had not been paid for two months, the conversation was not an employee feeling sorry for himself, but rather was simple statement of the facts that the children came first and their needs must be met before he paid himself a salary.
I have to mention Moses one the Rafiki's Board members. Moses has taken money out of his own pocket to pay for the Geological Survey and the Permit to drill the "Borehole". I have communicated with him on several occasions and found his attitude to be "Whatever it Takes". I have also learned to appreciate that he is a man of vision and clearly sees the time in the near future that the 15 acre farm site has the capacity to house 550 children, a primary school, a chapel, and a large medical facility.
I would be amiss if I did not mention Ezekiel (are you picking up the theme on the names John, Benjamin, Moses, Ezekiel?) the orphanage's day to day manager who has gone out of his way to provide help and support when needed. He has also become a close friend and trusted advisor on the project.
Oh yeah the project (The Borehole") we hoped to have the well drilled while on site but due to paper work and red tape that has not happened. We do believe that we have a local Rotary partner that will facilitate/expedite the process. We all have been working very hard to make the borehole a reality and plan to start construction in a few weeks.
Please keep the Rafiki project in your thoughts and prayers and soon the borehole will be in place and producing clean fresh water to Rafiki.
Your friend and fellow Rotarian, Gary
It's another beautiful day in Kenya. We have done so many things it is difficult to get it all down. We have cooked for the children, washed their clothing, cleaned dishes, cleared farm land and spent "fun" time with them singing, dancing, sharing letters and doing crafts. As you have read, the needs are great but their hope and their belief in God is equally as great or greater. They believe that God continues to do great things and give testimony to the great things he has done every day. This is both refreshing and inspirational. I had expected to witness more despair as is the case with our needy in the U.S. but this is not the norm. For me, it has been an opportunity to reflect on my own faith in the power of positive thinking.
The Rotarians have not only immersed themselves in the project by fundraising, but now have "adopted" the Rafiki children and made a commitment to continue their support in assisting the orphanage to become self sustaining. I have full faith that this will come to be.
I am already planning in my mind my return to Africa to spend more time with the orphanage. I invite you join me.
Be well, Michel