Travels through Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania

Where to start?  Let’s see… I could tell you about the boy on the side of the Tanzania road selling a fish the size of a goat, or how I watched our driver create jumper cables using only his car key and a found piece of wire and then how we got our Jeep jump started by a passing motorbike. Or I could tell you about riding in a van for 8 hours with a 2 year old who didn’t need toys or an Ipad or videos to keep her happy and who never made a peep the entire ride!  Or how I watched local African kids fret in concern over an American baby whom they were sure must have some sort of terrible mouth condition, only to realize that they had never seen a baby with a pacifier before… African babies don’t use pacifiers.  Or I could start with the warning I got from a stranger in South Africa…

“My husband doesn’t think it’s safe.  So if you want to turn around, I will take you back to your hotel.”  That’s what Cathy told me seconds after picking me up in her car as we drove to visit a creche for 120 children in the township of Dunoon in Capetown, South Africa.  I had never met Cathy or visited the creche, and in fact this was my first visit to Capetown (a beautiful city that resembles Malibu).  Seems the township had some riots the day before, and Cathy’s husband didn’t think it was safe for us to into the township (slum), but Patricia, the woman who runs the creche (kindergarten), said things were quiet today and we should be fine.  I told Cathy to drive on, and indeed we had no trouble during our visit.  Patricia was quite impressive, having started the organization after losing her own child to AIDS. There is a lot of need in the township, and I’m hoping to bring in my friends at PPC (the leading cement company in South Africa) to partner with GO Campaign on project to help the children at the creche.

PPC is our partner in Johannesburg at the ‘Time for Change’ center where GO recently funded some renovations for the youth who live there.  Even though we only funded some couches and a TV and some bunk beds, you would think we gave them each a pot of gold.  The children and the staff were so uplifted by the new furniture – it’s completely shifted their attitude and they are all walking with heads high.  Moreover, other donors who had been visiting regularly for years, suddenly saw what GO did for the youth, and then they were inspired to further renovate with a new refrigerator and washing machine… It just shows that you never know the ripple effect that one small act of kindness can have.

Days before in Nairobi, I saw how some chicken and chips (french fries) could make 20 orphans at the Gatanga Furaha home light up.  I also brought them some bread and peanut butter and juice.  (Last year I brought them peanut butter only to discover it was the first time any of them ever had it, and they of course loved it.)  But the best thing about Gatanga was hearing how all the kids were so motivated to do well in school.  2 of the older kids had recently gotten scholarships to boarding schools and it was a great source of inspiration and motivation to the rest of the kids, who now see that if they work hard, they too can improve their lot in life and get the chance at education they deserve.

My taxi driver got lost on the way to Gatanga and the taxi broke down on the way home, so I was tired and hungry when I finally got back to my hotel down a dark Nairobi alley street, but it is always worth the effort to visit this happy group of kids.

I spent another day in Nairobi advising our partner grantee Kawangware Vision Center about their land dispute.  They are located in a slum in Nairobi where land rights are often the source of dispute, and KVC’s neighbor seems to think the new building we funded is half built on their land.  It’s still unclear how this will unfold, but in the meanwhile the youth are still engaged in their eco-friendly shopping-bag business, and I saw them all hard at work silkscreening the bags for their corporate customers.  There is not a lot of hope for employment in this slum, so these youth are quite fortunate to have this training and to have a place to come and learn and work and earn money every day.

I also got to spend a day visiting Shining Hope for Communities, a remarkable project in the slum of Kibera, Nairobi, run by my friends Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner.  GO doesn’t have anything to do with this project, but perhaps one day we will partner on something.  They are so deserving of all the positive media and all the grants and prizes they receive.

The highlight of my trip was, however, Tanzania.  Back to Moshi, a village in Kilimanjaro, a second home to me, where I have been visiting the same group of kids since December 2005. Now they are all under my care and I have about 15 kids.  I have most of them in boarding schools, except for some of the older ones whom I’m helping to find employment.  I’m quite proud of them all and it’s heartwarming to spend time with them.  4 of them (siblings) lost their biological father to suicide just days before my arrival, leaving them completely orphaned and in my care, so it was a good time for me to be there.  We ate a lot of meals together, went to church, went swimming, and went on field trips together. One field trip was to a day care center for kids with HIV whose parents have died from AIDS. One of the girls I brought with me, Suzan, age 20, was so moved that she asked that I please find a way to help this small center. Even though she has little herself, she knows how lucky she has been to have the support of GO Campaign all these years and she requested that we share some of that support with these kids who need it even more than she does. She recognized that she at least has her health and that she has so much to be grateful for.  Abdul, age 22, also appreciates all he has, and he introduced me to two handicapped children, one in Kilimanjaro and another in Lushoto, who have had difficult young lives and whom he is hoping he and GO Campaign can find a way to support. He’s seen the good effect of how GO has helped him and his siblings and he would like to pay it forward to children even less fortunate than he.  It’s nice to see these kids already starting to think about giving back and helping others, even when they have their own day-to-day struggles.

Other trip highlights in Kilimanjaro included a visit to Gabriella Center, a day care center for autistic children, where kids who were once discarded or hidden by shamed family members now thrive.  It’s a wonderful place that GO Campaign is happy to support.

Not far away is the Kilimahewa school, funded by GO Campaign, and they surprised me with an official opening ceremony complete with ribbon-cutting and speech and song. Mama Grace, who founded the school, told us the story of how they started with a few women and kids under the tree by the road, and each month each woman in the group had to contribute 500 shillings (about 30 cents), and once they had enough money they started loaning it to each other and the women started small businesses.  They also talked about all the problems plaguing the community – alcoholism, TB, HIV, domestic violence, and lack of nearby schools. While the women discussed these issues, their children came to learn.  The room where local brew was sold became a classroom.  They started with one teacher.  Children who had no other schooling option, whom the community called  “leftovers”, started showing up in droves.  Now, years later, their first student just graduated from college.  And now, thanks to GO and all the little and large donations folks have made to us, they have a real building and a hope to become an accredited school.

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