The thing about kids is they are inherently selfish. It is biology and it is necessity. A baby that doesn't cry for food is going to starve. Insistence and self-interest are key to our biological imperative to live. As my children start to age though it is interesting to watch them wake up to the plight of others. At first they become aware of mom and dad, that sometimes they have to wait while they take care of something else, like do a potty break that's been put off for seven hours. Then they start to be aware of their siblings. "You hurt your sister, can you apologize." Then their area of awareness extends to friends. But the big jump is social awareness and responsibility. I can't really tell you when I first developed that, maybe my mom has a better idea, but I know that at some point I had it and it was one of the things that really united Dr. J and I. By the time we met in college we both knew that we wanted to travel the world and help other people and we wanted our children to understand that they had an obligation to do good . My children are immensely blessed. They have been born at a time and place where all of their basic needs are met by no effort on their part and almost all of their wants are granted. They have scientific discovery and exploration, political freedom, safety, security, access to education and healthcare and great nutrition, and almost unlimited opportunities for their lives. They are the lucky ones who fate and God have chosen to highlight and we want them to understand that they possess gifts that must not be hidden away. When Dr. J and I had only been married a few year and were still very young in our parenthood journey a new girl moved into our ward (church congregation). She got up to give a talk and in it disclosed that her father was a well to do surgeon. While driving home we both mentioned it, saying that we both could have easily guessed that, and then it occurred to us that one of the greatest compliments to our parenting would be that if our kids told someone that their father was a doctor and that person thought, "really, I never would have guessed."
That has been in the back of our minds as we've worked together on research, as we've done service, and as we've laid out plans for what we hope to do with the rest of our lives. This trip to Kenya as well as the work we plan to do after this we hope will open our children's eyes to the conditions of those around them. We hope that they will realize that they have been blessed beyond measure, that there is great needs around them, and that their hearts will be opened to looking for ways to improve the conditions of others. With this in mind while in Eldoret we made a choice not to just stayed locked up in our fancy compound or spend all our weekends on safari. Don't get me wrong, those things were great, but we knew that if we wanted this to be an experience that mattered we needed to expose our children to other parts of life. We took them to fruit market and the used clothes market. We walked them through town to get groceries, to go to church, to meet people, and see the different living conditions around us. Two of my favorite things that we did while in Kenya was we took the kids to the Neema (Grace) Orphanage and we also brought them to the hospital more than once to meet with their father's patients and colleagues as well as spend some time at the Sally Test Center.
The Neema House is an amazing little place. The couple that runs it have adopted 48 orphans who either infected with HIV or affected as the disease took their parents. Joshua and Miriam have been running the house for 10 years after having worked at another orphanage for the previous twenty. Miriam is a nurse and takes care of all the children's daily medical needs, which with more than half the group on antivirals is a busy job. Joshua runs the home and the school. They maybe six classrooms on the property that they have opened to the neighboring community. There are another 50 or so kids from the community who come to school at Neema house. It is a busy place, full of laughing children, looks of hard work, and a lot of joy. One of the things that I found most touching was that Joshua knows all the kids by name, they function as one huge family, and he takes time to wrestle with the kids, and talk with each of them as he bumps into them throughout the day. They do have some helpers. I counted four woman who have a full time job doing laundry for the home, there are a few other woman who sleep in the rooms with the babies and toddlers so they can get their night feedings and diaper changes, as well as a cook who provides all the meals. They are run entirely on random donations. There is no one sure place that money comes from, unless you count God. Joshua says that whenever they think they are the end of their rope, the Lord provides. We did not come empty handed.
When we had come out to Kenya we had loaded one bag with books and activities for the kids to do while we were there. We had always intended to leave our books and activities, so before we headed to the orphanage we gathered up all our supplies. At first the kids were a little bummed. It is hard for kids to give, but as I started gathering up workbook pages they got excited and put together bags to carry themselves. Then we headed over. The compound is on a beautiful property just a few miles out of town. They have a huge garden that could almost be called a mini farm, they have the school, they have an office building in a smaller house, and then they have a gigantic house where all the kids live. My kids had a good time exploring and at a couple of points the teachers let the Neema kids out of school so that they could come out and play with our young ones for a little bit. The Kenyan children were fascinated by our little Mzungus. At one point while surrounded by twenty little kids Peach called out, "I'm completely surrounded and everyone is pushing, I don't know how much longer I can stay standing." But stay standing she did. I was really touched by how much joy the kids living here had and the faith of the adults running the program. It is beautiful to see charity and love like this.
Peach and Cheetah check out the garden.
Making friends with some little boys in the office.
This is the little school. The teachers were very proud to show me all the cartoons and inspirational sayings that cover the walls. Each grade had their own room. The floors are made of concrete and they all have a chalk board. This is a fairly nice school and each kid has a desk and chair (in the younger grades they are around big tables). The children wear uniforms. In the house there are huge bathrooms with three sized toilets, normal size, medium, and baby sized toilets. At the school there is a little outhouse maybe 50 yards away. There is lots of room for playing soccer or jumping rope. Everyone here, teachers and students alike seemed pretty happy.
Cheetah making friends with a student.
Cheetah enjoying hot chocolate outside. Kenyans love their tea, but they love it with lots of milk and sugar so hot coco is not a far stretch for them and almost everywhere we went where we were offered tea we were also offered coco. The kids were in hot coco heaven as was Dr. J!
We also took the kids to the hospital. Before we took them we gave them a couple of warnings. "Children we are going to walk by a mortuary. There are going to be people outside. They will be singing and sometimes they will be crying, maybe even wailing. When people die their families need time to morn. We need to be respectful of that time and move through quickly." We also felt it important to warn them about the smell of the hospital. There are so many people squished into those wards and so few nurses that sometime bodily fluids sit for much longer than they should. It can get pretty ripe in there and we worried about what Peach in particular would say. (This is the girl who sometimes when I'm reading her a story will complain if she thinks my breath could be a little freshers...thanks a lot kid). So we pre-warned them and we warned them about the conditions of the hospital. We told them it was ok to be grossed out, or scared, or bothered but whatever happened to wait until we were walking home to talk about it. Then we took them. They did great. For weeks I'd heard adults complaining about the stink of the wards or the deplorable conditions. Our kids just took it in strides. They were polite to the staff. They played with the kids on the ward, never mentioning the smell, the kids with tape completely covering half their face (that's how they do NG tubes), dirty IV lines, or mismatched clothing, or every girl having their hair shaved, or huge tumor filled bellies. They just joined the game of tag the kids were playing in the entry way. The kids in the hospital just sort of roam the four rooms of the ward and every once in awhile a nurse or mom will try and push them back toward their beds or to the Sally Test Center. My kids admired the library and toys there and pulled up a chair to play with some of the patrons. They didn't complain when they were surrounded by kids who wanted to feel their hair or poke at their skin. I realize we still have years to go with them. Bob (Jason's adviser who has been doing this sort of work since his boys were babies and they are now practically our age) and I had a conversation about teaching children about charity and he told me that he really thinks kids don't start to get in until they are 12...and that's the mature ones. I laughingly said to him, "So does that mean it take boys until they are 15." "15," he laughed, "Oh no, at least 18." So I know this is a work in progress, that charity is taught by continual example by parents but I'm excited that my children had this opportunity and I'm excited to continue to give them more. I think of what a blessing it was for them to see the little peds patients hugging their dad as we left the hospital in our second to last night in town. This journey through medical school and residency has been a sacrifice for them as well and it was nice for them to see that their was purpose behind the madness. This trip cost us a ton of money (most of it spent on the 18 plane tickets we had to buy) but experiences like this made it worth it. It is the gift I want to give them, rather than fill their rooms with items they don't really need, I want to fill their minds and hearts with with experiences like these.