Outcasts, Glue Sniffing, Death and Dirty Water. What 2 Wild Weeks in Kenya Taught Me.
Yes I’m a work and investoholic, but I like to try new experiences to recharge my batteries.
In late June I took a trip to Kenya to get a taste of what my church does in Kenya. Since I give personally and through old school value, thought it would be a great idea to tag along.
But first, an important point I want you to keep in mind is that I have no interest in getting a pat on the back for anything I write here. I am not a philanthropist. I’m not on a mission to make the world a better place.
I’m just curious to see what good things are happening around the world. There are far greater people out there who really make a difference and I’m just lucky to have been part of this for 2 weeks.
Here’s what went down.
I met a kid named Junior.
Liked to play with friends, kick a ball around, and literally climb all over you.
The usual kid stuff.
But I met him in a special needs home in Kenya.
Turns out that he has a disability I couldn’t even notice, but there were plenty of other children with severe disabilities. The home cares for around 50 children with only a few helpers.
Some can’t walk, others drooled uncontrollably, a couple had down syndrome, most had some form of mental or physical disorder.
It wasn’t just limited to a single type of disability.
After about an hour of running and jumping all over each I’m panting from exhaustion, and then I hear how common it is for kids with disabilities to be locked in the closet or tied to a tree when the parent goes out to work. Instead of letting them go out and play, they are hidden from sight as it’s an embarrassment to have such a child.
Many people still considered it a “curse” and disgrace to the family which is why they are dumped at the home or asked to be taken as the parents can’t take care of the child.
But what was crazier was that, it was literally the most exciting and joyful place I’ve experienced.
The place echoed with shrieks of laughter, joyous hugs and outstretched arms from kids wanting to be held.
In a country where these kids are shunned and treated as rejects, they are free to run around, be loved and just be kids.
And all I had to do play with them.
Then There’s John
He was a kid that one of our leaders had kept in contact with and visited a couple of times a year for the past 10 years.
we were all excited to meet him and say hi.
But we never got to say hello in person. We had to say it to his coffin.
You see, he was a street kid in a town called Kitale (Kee-Ta-Lee). When he was 5 or 6, he left home for the streets believing that it was a heavenly place where young boys bounced around with friends, with plenty to eat and lots of work to make money.
Once he arrived to the streets of Kitale, he discovered that life was hard on the streets. There were no jobs, no food, no shelter.
To numb the cold.
To numb the boredom.
Glue to numb the hunger.
There was a group that went to Kitale 10 years ago and made a documentary called “Glue Boys” detailing the life of street kids. John was in it.
In the video you’ll see that he’s just an adorable innocent kid… living on the streets.
But John didn’t die from the glue that wipes out a lot of kids when they get to their teenage years.
No, that would be too easy.
Somebody working at the homeless shelter poured bleach into his porridge because he was considered a nuisance and wasn’t liked.
He was poisoned a month before we arrived.
Until we arrived, his body was sitting in the morgue, decomposing. Nobody claimed him or bothered to bury him.
“It’s a waste to spend money and give a burial to a street boy”.
But a miracle happened.
A bunch of Americans came, claimed his body with the help of local guides, and organized a proper funeral – in one day.
Gave him a proper farewell that he deserved.
Throughout his entire life, John was unclaimed.
That day, he was put to rest as one of us.
You then meet a guy like Evans, who was also in the documentary as an innocent and playful 5 year old. Evans is a success story of being taken off the streets, rehabilitated and then placed into a family.
It’s sobering to think that some of these kids met the next day were literally taken off the streets less than a week before.
Lastly, There’s This Village Guy
I don’t know his name, but you can tell what the story is about.
I wasn’t interested but he kept telling me to take his photo. Boy was he excited.
And rightfully so because he and his villagers were drinking clean water.
His previous water source was this.
But for $150 USD, a well was made with basic materials purchased from local hardware stores. Nothing like the fancy $10k to $20k wells dug by huge organizations and then left to rust when it breaks down.
The goal is to create sustainability with these wells to create the cheapest and easily fixable wells, so that the locals can raise funds to make it on their own without foreigners intervening.
Because in a country like Kenya, there’s a dependency mindset.
“We’ll wait for the foreigners to come and fix our problem”
The 3-in-1 Lesson from Kenya
From Junior, John and the water guy, if there was one lesson I took away from all three, it was the importance of helping in the right way.
Because we live in a first world country, it’s so easy to throw money at a problem to clear our conscience.
I see a homeless guy on the corner like John and give him a dollar to get him off my back OR to get rid of that uncomfortable guilty feeling.
“Killed 2 birds with one stone today. YES.”
Or I’m at the grocery store and the cashier asks whether I want to donate $1 to a foundation.
“How much have you donated?” I mutter to myself before pressing the NO button.
Either way, it’s a selfish act – disguised as a generous motive. I’m not giving money because I care. I do it to feel not guilty and to shove it to the back of my mind for another day. I find myself throwing money at a need or cause so as not to get too involved.
“Oh, I’ve donated already. Thanks. Bye”
The greatest lesson I’m reminded of is that it isn’t about the money. Our donations and support obviously helps.
But the kids don’t care. It’s all about the heart.
They just want to play and hang upside down on your shoulders.
What the homeless kids want more than glue is acknowledgement and belonging.
The smiling water guy didn’t need a Ferrari model of a well. He and his community needs sustainability.
A reader once asked me why I give money now instead of building it up, investing it and then giving it away at the end – like Buffett.
My view is that you only live once and it’s awful hard to run and throw kids in the air when I’m 70 or 80.
Junior is going to remember and tell his kids one day that some lanky Asian came to see him from across the ocean and spun him around like helicopter.
Just to experience the moment, share those memories and pour out love and receive love back is priceless.
This world is so broken.
But in the midst of poverty, disabilities, homelessness and death, there was so much hope and joy that I was reminded of how beautiful life is as I lived it instead of watching from behind the safe confines of my office walls.
Trips With a Purpose
To see some extra short clips, or just get a better understanding of the organizations behind the scenes, here are the groups that make all this possible.
These people are the unsung heroes.
- Trips with a Purpose – basic overview of trip
- Precious Kids Center – serving children with disabilities
- Agape Children’s Ministry – reintegrating street children back into homes
- Until Then – caring and loving street kids + water projects + partner of Agape Children’s Ministry
Thanks for reading and allowing me to share.
You’re the best.