Why I’m Spending a Week with Children in Kenya

How do you feel about your life? Are you settled in? Are you still searching for meaning?

A Little Background About Me

When I was little, I didn’t have much. Some of you may have read my blog post “How We Become Good Decision Makers.” It describes my childhood and how I learned about the world around me through observation.

As an adult who had a career in the corporate world before children, now settled into my picture perfect neighborhood with my husband and two boys who are approaching their teenage years, I often find myself reflecting back to my childhood.

I think about how my unique and tough life as a child helped shaped who I am today.

I remember watching my friend’s mom give her hugs and wishing I could get hugs from my mom. I saw my friend’s dad goofily joking with my friend, making her roll her eyes, and thought about what I’d give to hear corny jokes like that from my own dad who passed away when I was 9. I remember meeting my friend after she returned from a shopping spree with her mom, in disbelief at all the items – marveling at how it must feel to be given those things so easily.

Affirmations from adults affected me much more than for my friends. Since I had no supervision at home or parents to “look out for me,” any type of acknowledgement from an adult was both meaningful and memorable. I hung on to every word spoken to me by an adult. I listened. And the words repeated over and over in my head.

When you don’t have something and then you get it, you don’t take it for granted. You soak in the moment, sit in it and stretch out the feeling for as long as you can. You know what it means. You know what it feels like to not have it.

My Life Now

My life now is very comfortable. After working in New York City as a CPA in Public Accounting and Corporate Restructuring for 8 years, then helping my husband start and run his medical practice for 12 years, I am now slowing down with “work.” I’m home for my kids, but they are becoming more and more independent each day. And I’m more of a “free range” mom with their time (as long as my tiger mom requirements have been met). My husband is very supportive of me and how I spend my time.

This freedom I have now- to spend my time exactly how I want to, without worrying about what I “should” be doing, is liberating. I spent most of my life mapping out a plan for how I would succeed in education and a career so as not to end up helpless like I felt my mom became after my dad died. In my 20’s I was lost in the cut throat world of ladder climbing, business school acceptance and CEO aspirations. My 30’s were spent obsessing on creating the perfect childhood for my kids, to give them all the love and attention I did not get growing up.

My 40’s and 50’s will be about me. About what life means and the mark I want to leave behind.

My Trip To Africa

My husband and I had Africa on our bucket list ever since we met. We were excited when our kids finally seemed old enough to handle a safari vacation. We booked a trip to Kenya for this summer. See A Traveler’s Perspective on Planning a Trip to Africa for how I planned our trip. I highly recommend the travel company we used.

It takes about 25 hours to travel to Kenya. In looking at our trip, I wanted to experience the humanitarian side of Africa as well as the vacation side. I have seen and heard so many reports about despair in many areas of Africa.  How could I travel across the world to this continent without taking a look?

Source: Volunteer Ellen St John

So I started researching. I wanted to find an organization that would resonate with me. I wanted to visit, help and understand the issues they are facing.

Matanya’s Hope

There were so many choices when I looked online. But one organization stood out to me- Matanya’s Hope. When I saw this video of founder, Michelle Stark, describing the purpose of the organization, I picked up the phone and called them.

Video produced by Lauren Major of Major Productions

After speaking and writing with Michelle, reading about other volunteers’ experiences and speaking with Ellen St John (a volunteer who spent 3 weeks with Matanya’s Hope last year), I decided to travel before the rest of my family to spend time in the areas this organization serves.

The Focus of Matanya’s Hope

This organization focuses on helping underprivileged children in Kenya receive an education to give them a chance for a better future.

dilapidated classrooms completely packed with children

Public Schools and Community Help

Matanya’s Hope provides resources to help thousands of children and their communities with clothing, shoes, school supplies, blankets, pillows, medical supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, etc.

Kids elated to receive ball point pens as gifs.

Rain Water Containers

They provide rain water containers for clean water so kids don’t have to walk miles to the river.

Unbelievable.

Residents often place small plastic and/or rusty, old, unsanitary metal bins outside of their homes during the rains.

The water they collect in these bins serves their families for drinking, washing utensils, bathing, laundry, etc.  When this water is gone, the family must depend on local rivers and streams (very brown water which contains animal waste).

The rain water containers allow for up to 10,000 liters of rainwater storage.

Rainwater container donated to orphanage.

Porridge Program

They administer a Porridge Program to about 850 children (3 schools). They are in the process of adding a 4th school (500 children). The program provides 1 cup of porridge, per student, per day.

Many of these children don’t eat otherwise, as their families lack the resources to feed them at home. Without the Porridge Program, some of these kids go days without eating. Since the implementation of the program, school attendance has more than doubled.

Waiting in line for porridge.

Sponsorship to Boarding School

At the sponsored public schools, the teachers and local volunteer workers identify children who show promise of succeeding with higher level education. These children are matched with sponsors from Matanya’s Hope who give them the opportunity to transition to boarding school.

Boarding school allows the children to focus on their education without having to worry about basic necessities such as food, housing, electricity at night to study, books and clothing. Boarding school allows the children to attend school all day instead of also working at home.

Sponsorship for one child costs $125/month with progress reports, letters and opportunities for interaction with the student. Matanya’s Hope meets with these students and their schools at least once a year to confirm educational goals are achieved. Note: A few years ago, sponsorship was $75/mth but the past several droughts led to extreme inflation causing education and cost of living to increase.

Progress

  • To date, Matanya’s Hope has sponsored 325 students since its inception in 2005.
  • 40 students have graduated from college/university or trade school.
  • 40 are currently attending college/university.
  • 250 students are being sponsored today.
  • 45 rain water tanks have been provided to orphanages, schools, villages and homes.
  • The porridge program at the public schools feeds approximately 850 students each school day.
  • They provide school supplies, clothing, toiletries and even have a livestock program to help these children’s families.

My Journey

One cup of porridge costs about 3 pennies. $1400 will feed a school of 250 children for 1 year. This is hard to imagine. But it’s true. The poverty in these areas is so great, it’s difficult for families to provide their children with even 3 cent porridge.

My focus from now until my trip in July will be to help Matanya’s Hope with their Porridge Program.

I love how the availability of food is increasing attendance for school. Many times, parents of these kids keep them from school to do other work at home. The promise of feeding their kids gives these children an opportunity to learn. To me, this is a chance for life. They also have an opportunity to be recognized if they show signs of succeeding in higher education. This is hope.

Although the troubles in my childhood pale in comparison to these kids in Kenya, I feel a sense of coming full circle. I remember the feeling of hope when someone “saw” me and gave me a helping hand to become who I am today. I am grateful to be in a position to see these kids.

Thanks for reading this. I will be documenting my journey as I prepare for my trip. I will soon share a link for those who would like to donate to this program.

Anything you give will be handed to these kids directly, in person, by me! What an honor. Stay tuned for more soon.

*Picture source unless otherwise noted: Matanya’s Hope

Flavor Your Life with an Ounce of Salt a lifestyle blog by Jen Oliak.