A few years back I took a trip that changed me as a person. It made me see life differently. It opened up my heart and soul, and taught me about grace and humility. The whole journey started on a whim. My friend sent me an e-mail about an upcoming trip her church was taking. I read the details and realized that going on this trip would fulfill the number one item on my bucket list: work with the children in Africa. Without a second thought I sent in an application to go. Within a few days my application was approved and my whirlwind journey began.
Going on a trip for two weeks is no small expense, and a mission trip is no different. In order to make my dream a reality a lot of people stepped up in very big ways. I had friends and family members who donated large sums of money, and some of my very closest friends on my roller derby team even put together an event in my honor to raise money for me.
The day finally arrived and we boarded the plane for our 14 hour trip. Each person had two suitcases. One filled our personal belongings, and another full of items that we would share with the children at Anajlai Primary School. After a few very long flights we arrived in Kenya where we were greeted by the man who ran the school and our host for the next two weeks. I now know that that man would be one of the greatest people I will ever meet in my life. Do you ever get that feeling when you’re standing next to someone that you are in the presence of greatness? That’s what it felt like standing next to Wellingtone.
A couple days into the trip we made our way to the school for the first time. That drive in on that first day was the moment I very clearly saw the hardships the people we would be working with were facing. There was garbage all along the sides of the road because they had run out of other space to dump it. The buildings were made of tin and had dirt floors. Stray animals littered the streets and were eating from the garbage.
We slowly made our way to the green gate that would bring us into Anajali. When we entered the school I knew that place was going to change me. The children there took my heart and a huge piece of it still lives with them.
It is important to share some background information about these children. Anajali Primary School serves children in preschool through eighth grade (Pre-Unit through Class 8). The older children attend school for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. On their day off many attend church for a good chunk of the day. Many of the children only eat one meal a day, and that is given to them by the school. It consists of corn and beans. Recently the school did not have enough money to buy all of the supplies needed and this meant the children were getting very little or going without. The government can shut off their water supply whenever they want. For the two weeks we were at the school there was no running water. It was being brought in from ten minutes away in containers so the children would have something to drink.
The children of Anajali live in the Kibera Slum. Sewage runs through the slum, and walking through the area can be dangerous due to the jagged edges of tin sticking out of the roofs. The children live in homes that are probably comparable to a small bedroom in your home. Some families could have 7 or more people living in these homes. They do not have beds, and the children do not have many toys. Sexual assault is very common place as is AIDS.
With all of that being said, The people of the Kibera Slum were the happiest people I have ever met. The children danced and sang everyday. They smiled, laughed, and enjoyed being together. During their church service people danced down the aisle and the men who testified did so with such passion that even people who were not terribly religious (like me) could feel God’s presence in the room. I wish I could have bottled the love and kindness we were shown to bring home with me.
If we wanted to compliment someone on their appearance we had to tell them that they looked smart because if we told them that we liked their clothes they would literally have given them to us. That is the kind of people that they are. They want to make each other happy. For them life isn’t about who has the biggest house or the nicest clothes. It is about being joyful, being thankful for what they do have, and about seeing the blessings that everyday has to offer.
I genuinely wish everyone could take a trip to Anajali. I know people say that Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth, but for me Anajali was that place.
*With the holiday season upon us I know that some people like to give a little extra. If you would like to donate to Anajali please feel free to visit the website at hecareskenya.org. You can also leave a comment with your e-mail address and I will happily contact you. A 5 dollar donation will buy a fleece blanket, composition book, colored pencils or crayons, a sharpener, a ruler, pencils, and erasers for a child. A 30 dollar donation provides a child with meals for one month. You can also sponsor a primary school child for 20 dollars a month, and a high school child for 1,000 dollars a year. I can personally attest to the fact that all donations go directly towards helping the children.*