"Where body and spirit meet earth and sky"

Kenya

 

Our Visit to Kenya

“Tell our parents to give us enough to eat.” “ Don’t give us work that is too hard for us.”  “Save the money to send us to school.”  “Don’t beat us.”  “Listen to us.”  These were the pleas that the 18 boys between the ages of 9 – 17, who were rescued from a life on the street wanted us to deliver to their parents.  These street boys had been beaten so badly at home that some had broken bones.  They had run away and turned to a life that included stealing, drinking, drugs and working the sex trade among other less-than-desirable activities.  They now reside at St. Michael’s Rescue Centre in Maragua, Kenya.  In preparation for an upcoming seminar that my husband Lou and I were to present on discipline alternatives to caning and beating for their parents, we asked the boys what they would like their parents to know.  And these were their messages for their parents. 

I was in Kenya with my family, my husband Lou and our two daughters Suzi (14) and Amanda (turned 13 on April 29 ~ in Kenya!) at the end of April – beginning of May this year.  With all the travelling time, we were gone for nearly three weeks.  We had become acquainted with the Rescue Centre through with the help of Joe DiMino, former director of Livingston County Catholic Charities who visited last year, fell in love with the boys and is now on the Board of Directors of the Centre.  Joe has made it his mission to help these boys.  

Before we left, I wrote a letter to the greater Geneseo community, a term I use loosely because I know no other demographic boundary to describe the people who contributed.  In the letter, I noted that we will be going to Kenya to visit the Rescue Centre.  The two cows that had been at the Centre had died last August of hoof and mouth disease because the Centre had not been able to afford to vaccinate them.  The boys had not had milk since then.  I was hoping that maybe some people would read my letter and contribute toward the $1600.00 that it cost to purchase a good milk cow and if by some miracle, there would be money left over, perhaps we would be able to pay to vaccinate the cow as well.  One cow and the vaccinations were asking a lot, but I had a dream. 

This trip would be the culmination of a lifetime dream of mine to go to and work in Africa.  I would be turning 50 on Easter and my husband Lou kindly agreed to support me in this by helping make it possible for our whole family to go.  I asked for help in reaching this dream of supporting the boys in Africa and requested that people donate money to help purchase the cow.  My letter was placed in the bulletin of the five Catholic churches that are included in St. Luke’s Parish and the Livingston County News.  In addition, Lou let friends know that in lieu of gifts for my birthday, people could contribute to the cow. 

There was no way I could ever have predicted the outpouring of generosity.  Friends and family donated a total of $825.00 for my birthday.  $1175.00 was donated as a result of the letter in the Livingston County News.  And a whopping $4770.00 was donated as a result of the letter in the bulletin.  A total of $6700.00 was donated from this amazing community to support these boys who have known such rejection and who live a world away.  There was a wide array of donations including a $10.00 bill and a variety of checks and bills in other denominations.  One donor who requested anonymity donated $1000.00.  Two donors, unbeknownst to each other and who also made the same request regarding anonymity, donated $1600.00 (a whole cow) each.  This community heard the need, opened their hearts and rallied. 

Joe was also doing some fundraising and when this was combined with our donations, a total of $13,700.00 had been raised.  This was more than enough for the cows.  Joe arrived in Kenya during our visit and before he left, he purchased two pregnant milk cows with vaccinations, and the boys now have milk!  In addition to the cows, the money will be used to provide food and shelter for the cows, develop a clean water collection system that has been sorely lacking at the Centre, develop an irrigation system for the crops, repair the non-working flush toilets, install two showers and two sinks in the dormitory; currently there are none, repair the hot water system in the kitchen; at this time there is no hot water in the kitchen, and add a sink in the dining hall so that the boys and staff can wash their hands at mealtimes.  Prior to this, the Centre obtained water from a neighbor.  Should this neighbor move or become unavailable for some other reason and the water supply cut off, water would have to be carried by the bucketful from a not-so-nearby river until another means of obtaining it were put in place.  At home now, I am grateful every time I turn on the tap and water appears.  So simple when you have it.  So devastating when you don’t.   

These boys told us their dreams.  Francis wants to be a doctor and a pastor.  Peter, a pilot so he can see the world.  Another Peter wants to be a teacher while Lawrence and John would like to be doctors.  They live bunk beds lined head to toe in a dormitory.  A small trunk around 2’ x 18” x 18” holds all of their private belongings.  There is a barren dining hall with food storage rooms and a kitchen, a toilet that is a hole in cement, a room with desks that the boys can use to study when they come home from school.  The staff have a small rather barren office.  There are outbuildings for animals.  The boys play games outside including soccer, on the same field where the goats and cows roam.

The boys mingled easily with our girls.  They taught our daughters a Christian song, “Higher, Higher,”  with motions and dancing.  Then our girls taught them the theme song from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which they had performed in a few years ago through the Geneseo Community Players, complete with dance moves.  I think that the videos of the boys singing “Go, go go Joseph” as well as the ones of our girls stumbling along with the snake-train as the boys wind their way through the room singing “Higher, higher,” will provide us with laughs and merriment for many years. 

We had so many other experiences in Africa and I want to tell you every one of them.  Alas, time and space will not allow this so I will tell you just a few more.  In my efforts to convince the parents that there other and better ways of getting a child to follow directions than beating them, I showed the DVD “1, 2, 3, Magic” by Thomas Phelan, Ph. D.  After the video, we role played counting to three and then telling whoever was acting the part of the child to go to time out. (I found out that time out is a completely foreign concept in Kenya).  At one point in the role plays, I was the child and one of the parent-participants the parent who counted to three and then told me to go into time out.  As I turned to comply she punctuated her words by giving me a sharp swat!  I had all I could do not to burst out laughing!  At the same time this made the magnitude of the job ahead all the more clear. 

One of the activities that was most poignant and perhaps made one of the most lasting impressions was the talking stick circle.  The experience of speaking and being heard respectfully is both healing and powerful.  The parents participated fully and should we ever again have the opportunity to offer such a workshop (and I really hope that we do!), we will have talking stick circles both days.

I was exhausted at the end of the two-day seminar.  Exhausted and discouraged by the magnitude of the job.  I wondered if we had made an impact.  I wasn’t sure that the parents understood me well enough through the interpreter to really understand what we were saying.  I wanted to bury my head and sleep and not emerge for days.  I was rejuvenated a short while later however upon hearing that on her way home, Agnes, one of the moms who had attended the training had stopped a woman who was beating her child and told her that she did not need to do this.  “There is another way,” she said.  It was all worth it after all.

On a very different note, I just have to get one more story in here.  We visited the Nairobi National Park and went on the safari walk.  The walk offers the opportunity to see many of the animals that one might see on a safari. They are all in cages however.  I stayed behind while everyone else moved on so I could get a better picture of the cheetahs who were just beginning to sit up when I was approached by one of the keepers who offered to allow us to go in and pet the cheetahs.  They are tame, raised by the keepers since they were three weeks old, we were told.  Quickly we calculated. When would we ever be offered this again and could we live with ourselves if we did not take this opportunity?  Holding our breaths and against the wishes of our guide, we walked in and were rooted in place prepared to flee as the animals approached.  One lay down in front of us.  We gingerly reached out and petted it upon being told that it would be okay by the keepers.  The second cheetah slunk toward us with its shoulders up and it’s belly down. The keepers told us to stay calm and to reach out our hand keeping it flat.  As I did so, this second one began to lick my hand and then moved up my arm (checking to see if it would be good meat?) with it’s rough tongue.  Slowly we began to hear a low rumble and I wondered what one did when the cheetah licking you began to growl (last rights?) until we realized that the cats were purring.  Really the cheetahs were purring!

How’s that for a great Christmas picture?!

I again had the opportunity to re-learn some lessons I have already learned.  I learned that in this world where there is so much conflict, there is still so much beauty.  With the support of our incredible community, we were able to forge bonds that could grow in the future.  These beautiful young men who want to be heard, who want food, who want to be cared for by others even and perhaps, like all of us, especially when they have done wrong, these children who have experienced such pain and rejection who want to know that someone cares, that they matter enough for someone to make sacrifices for, found out that a whole community of people a half a world away care enough to give them water and sustenance.  I wonder when the great powers of the world will discover the power behind forging bonds of support between the peoples in habiting it?  Maybe we just have to keep learning it, a few people at a time.  I will always be grateful to the very kind people in our community.  Should anyone wish to continue contributing to this very worthy cause, you can reach me at lombardolm@aol.com or use my address: Maria  Benzoni Lombardo, PO Box 31, Geneseo, NY 14454.  Thank you so much!  Or  as we learned to say in Kenya, "Asante Sana!"

                                       
Presenting a check for the amount of money donated to the Centre, and as a woman, not withstanding the fact that I am a vegetarian, it was understood that I would cook the hot dogs along with Nelius the Centre’s social worker and only other adult female.  Eventually, because they became very hot to handle, the boys were pressed into work helping us. 

                                  

                              Wash day!  I’ll never complain about loading a washer again!

 

                                          

                          We brought a treat of hot dogs for the boys.   They shared a two to a plate.

                            

Jackson met us at the gate.  They were doing face painting earlier in the day.  This is a picture of me with Fr Peter Ngochi the visionary priest who started the Rescue Centre.  Fr. Peter is a kind and gracious host.  He cares deeply for the people he works with and in turn, they love him.

                                                                      
                                                                  food storage at the Centre 

                                         
                                                                

                         Lou and me teaching the seminar on discipline ~ alternatives to caning and beating.

                                        

The boys run around on and play soccer on the same field where the goats and cows roam.  Suzi with Francis and Simon

 

                                

              The boys teaching me Swahili proverbs.    Suzi and Amanda were right at home with the boys.

 

                         

                                                        Sitting outside their dormitory

 

                                               

The talking stick circle which we introduced on day two of the seminar is a powerful tool for dissipating conflict.  If we ever get the chance to do a workshop like this again (and I hope we do!), we will do a talking stick circle each day.

 

                                                   

We were allowed into the cheetah cage to pet the cheetahs on the Safari Walk at the Nairobi National Park. 


                                               
                                                            I love this picture of Suzi!

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