HUMANITY HOME THRIVES AS KIDS BLOSSOM
UPDATE JANUARY 2019
I lived at Humanity Home from early November until late January. The lengthy stay helped fulfill my dream of spending a lot more time with the kids of HH during my retirement. It gave me a chance to assimilate into the HH family and fill my role as a father figure to the kids.
HH reminds me of an old school college dormitory. It is bursting with life and activity. My visit spanned the holidays. Thanksgiving is not observed in Kenya, but Judy was determined to expose the kids to an American-style Thanksgiving. Turkeys are not common in this part of Kenya, but we obtained two live turkeys, one of which I was dispatched one night to go purchase from a breeder somewhere along the perimeter of Lake Victoria. The turkeys were slaughtered at HH, plucked, and roasted in a makeshift charcoal-fueled oven.
Judy and I really wanted to do something special for the kids for Christmas. We taped a string of blinking lights to a wall in the main room in the shape of a tree, and decorated that with some red, white and green balloons. The kids loved it.
For a Christmas feast, our driver gave us a sheep for a lamb roast. For much of Advent, I got teased that I would have to slaughter this sheep. When the time came, they handed me the knife. As soon as I did what had to be done, people exclaimed, “Oooh, I can’t believe you did that!”
We work hard to make the kids feel how special they are, so Judy and I wanted each child to receive a gift. We enjoyed shopping for a new outfit of clothing for each kid, and knew by looking what sizes would fit. We gift wrapped each outfit. On Christmas morning, we had each child select a gift and present it to the child whose name was on it. When the first gift was presented, the child just stared at it. So did all the kids. They had no idea what a gift is. I don’t think any of our children had ever seen a wrapped present before in their life. Judy explained that, when their families are struggling even to provide food, gifts are not part of the picture. In addition to their new clothes, each child got a toy or a book.
The day after Christmas, we all went to Judy’s mother’s home. For the 20-mile ride, about 24 of us packed into a 12-passenger van. We spent the day with Judy’s mother and extended family. Judy’s mother considers the HH kids her grandchildren and was thrilled to see them. She organized an amazing feast for us. There were tears in her eyes when we left.
Just before Christmas, we received about $500 worth of supplies – rice, flour, cooking oil, ten live chickens etc. – from a pastor and his wife whom Judy has known for years. They arrived at HH in a tiny car packed to the gills.
We did number of projects to improve HH. These included:
- Having an additional dining table and 8 chairs made by a local carpenter;
- Construction of a wardrobe for the boys’ clothing, shoes and other items;
- Repaired, cleaned, and partially re-covered the couches in the main room;
- Poured a cement floor in the outdoor kitchen;
- Built a pen to hold live chickens destined for the dinner table;
- Replaced a failed power line to our building;
- Bought school uniforms, backpacks, school shoes, and schoolbooks.
- Received 4 a.m. delivery of a bale of 80 bed sheets.
A favorite activity for the ten older kids was going swimming at a hotel pool in Kisumu. We did this several times. It continues to be spectacular fun.
When it wasn’t too muddy, I walked with all the kids, including 3-year-old Baby B and five 5-year-olds, the mile or so over to the River Nyando to throw stones and pass the time. On the way back, we would detour to a tiny, ramshackle roadside store for sodas and cookies. This treat for 20 cost about seven dollars. The kids were extremely well behaved and courteous. I was so proud of them. Sometimes the older kids took me for walks around the neighborhood.
Another favorite activity is story time. I read to the kids virtually every evening at bedtime and often during the day. The HH favorite? “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The kids made me read it probably fifty times. They could recite practically the whole book. I had the delight of working with one girl as she put together all the pieces of learning to read.
In making decisions about Humanity Home, Judy and I constantly seek guidance by asking ourselves the question “Who are we?” At any given time there would be two, three, sometimes four visitor kids staying at HH, sometimes for more than a week. These kids were relatives or friends of our kids. They would just show up at the gate. Without being asked, our kids shared beds and clothing with them. At mealtime, they were fed like everyone else. If we went somewhere, they went along. At story time, they nestled in with everyone else. If our kids got a new dress, they got a new dress. This is who we are.
It is hard to explain to American readers the cultural obstacles that we face in raising the kind of human beings who will change their community. Our kids go to a private school, which is much better than the public schools. However, we still have to deal with issues. The school’s bus has disappeared, so 30 kids get packed into a 12-passenger van, which terrifies us. Despite corporal punishment, referred to as “caning,” having been outlawed in Kenya, it is still widely practiced. We absolutely oppose this. We work extremely hard to provide our children, who have come from circumstances of God-only-knows-what abuse and deprivation, with a sense of security and safety. We teach them that children are complete human beings entitled to respect, not animals that can be beaten into submission. We tell them “Nobody hits you. Nobody.” We are going to fight this battle for our children and we are going to win it.
Overall, the kids at Humanity Home are doing great. We have 12 girls and 6 boys. The growth and development of the girls is inspiring to see and frighteningly fast. A great example of this success is Joy (I use pseudonyms on the internet), who just turned 14. She arrived at HH in September 2017 undernourished, frightened and timid. She only knew the tribal language and she hardly spoke to anyone. She did not know how to get along with the other kids. When tested for placement in school, she was in the 20’s in percentiles in all subjects.
Today, Joy is well nourished, extremely healthy and vibrant. She has become fluent in Swahili and her English is improving by the day. She is relied upon by house staff and the other kids to keep the key to the storeroom. She helps the younger kids, often without being asked. She is becoming a house leader. She performs in the school’s choral groups, and love to sing in our in-house music lessons. Her closest friends are the house leader and an age-mate with whom she is so inseparable that they are known as “the twins.” She is admired and respected by everyone in the house. In school, she now scores in the 80’s and 90’s. She is on top of the world. Her story parallels those of several other kids in the house.
Words cannot describe how marvelous it feels to see these kids on a day-to-day basis doing their thing, absolutely thriving, especially knowing what their lives would be like without Humanity Home. They have basic necessities and so much more. They have a childhood and the opportunity to grow into outstanding adults. They have hope. They understand what love is. Each of them makes every bit of the expense and sacrifice that goes into HH abundantly worthwhile.
As in any family, not everything is roses. There are challenges and disappointments. One boy absolutely refused to do any schoolwork, was constantly misbehaving, refused to comply with any disciplinary tactics, began injuring other children, and announced that he wanted to go home. We suggested he try that for two weeks and let us know if he wanted to return. The boy’s grandmother said he had harmed other children in the past and she was not comfortable with him in a house full of other kids. He never returned.
Another boy was constantly misbehaving and breaking things. He went on a spree of climbing on a sink and breaking a mirror, tearing off a toilet water supply line and then, while we were dealing with that mess, trying to break a sink off the wall. That boy has living parents, and we dismissed him.
Those two cases were heartbreaking and they required us to make difficult moral and ethical decisions. Our fundamental premise is that every child is inherently worthy. However, there are countless kids dying for the opportunity that HH provides, who are being denied the opportunity because no place is available for them. At some point, considering all the resources that we devote and ask donors to devote to these kids, there is a compelling argument for admitting kids who want to take advantage of the opportunity that HH provides. We also have to consider the welfare of the other children, and we cannot have somebody deliberately inuring others or destroying the building upon which we all depend. We plan to admit girls to bring our population back up to twenty.
Nobody ever said that operating a children’s home in Kenya was going to be easy, and it isn’t. We are meeting the challenges and totally changing the lives of these precious children. Anyone who sees the kids at Humanity Home and experiences the family that we have become would be delighted to be a part of it.