In 2006, at the age of 22, Cat Ross volunteered working in four HIV/AIDS clinics in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, Dagoretti Slum, and the Gnando Slums monitoring nutrition and medication intake as well as administering massages and stretching exercises. These slums are communities riddled with orphaned children left behind by AIDS-afflicted parents. This experience changed her life! She could not forget the people she met in Kenya and wanted to help them in any way she could. She returned to Kenya again to work within the Kibera School of Hope, educating the youth on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. In 2010, Cat founded Kenya Initiative for Development and Sustainability Inc., also known as K.I.D.S. Initiative. She then assembled a group of professionals who also are passionate about bettering the future of children globally while inspiring children locally by participating in service learning projects and educational activities. In 2013 their organization was officially registered as a charity through the Canada Revenue Agency. Cat now travels to Kenya every year to oversee the distribution of funds and materials into their core programs that K.I.D.S. Initiative supports until sustainable status is reached.
My husband, Gil, and I had the opportunity to join our youngest daughter, Cat, on her annual distribution trip to Kenya at the end of January of this year. We wanted to see for ourselves what the attraction was for her; why she called Kenya her “second home”. We wanted to meet the people she talks about so affectionately!
We met with Irene Wairimu Ngatia, founder and executive director of Volunteer International Community Development Africa (VICDA) and her staff. She is Cat’s contact in Kenya for the programs that K.I.D.S. supports.
We were so well received each and every place we went! Always offered food and Chai Tea (their daily drink, like coffee is for us) with the little they have; so pleased that we accepted their offer.
It didn’t matter where we went the children were full of smiles happy to greet us; playing with whatever they could get their hands on. They asked if they could touch our hair (“so soft”), Gil’s hairy legs and arms, our skin. They were amazed that they could see the blue veins on our hands, especially, and liked to touch them!
I noted the hardship in the faces of the adults! Their eyes said a lot! Theirs is not an easy life. Yet they smiled and welcomed us warmly!
GIWA Farm Settlement IDP Camp (Rongai District – 1.5 hours from Nakuru) was our first visit. The people in this settlement moved here after the post-election violence in 2007.
The students lined either side of the driveway to Shalom Primary School (500 students) singing “Karibu” (“Welcome!” in Swahili). We were not prepared for the emotion that rose to our throat and eyes! We were made to feel like we were royalty! Students so well-behaved! Cat handed out new backpacks to a class of high school students.
After visiting the schools and meeting the principals of the primary and high schools, we were graciously welcomed into 2 of the homes not far from the school. The government gives them corrugated steel for the roof and sticks of wood to use to make mud walls; dirt floors. Their shanties (homes) are about 10x20 feet. Inside a curtain separates the living room from the bedroom and kitchen. The living room of the first home we visited had 2 couches and a chair, coffee table used for food preparation, serving, eating, etc... a cupboard to store items and lace to dress up the dirt walls; a cloth separated the living room from the bedroom/kitchen. The second home had a much smaller living room with only one couch and a coffee table; cloth to separate the living room from the bedroom/kitchen. Quite stark! Houses were about 10 x 20 feet.
Not sure if humbled is the right word to use, but that is what came to my mind that day, as I thought of the times I compared our home to others that are fancier and more modern than ours. My goodness, we live in such wealth! We realized how much we have taken for granted in our lives!!! Water is a huge deal there! It was hot (just like one of our hot summer days), dry, and the wind swirling the red dust everywhere! We were sweaty, dusty, and very dry! We knew that we would be enjoying our clean, clear water when we returned to the vehicle! When we arrived at our hotel room we looked so forward to having a shower and changing into clean clothes. That hit us hard!!! How fortunate we are! We could not bring ourselves to indulge taking our time in the shower or having a long soak in the tub! That night when we had our dinner, I lifted my glass of water and thanked God for this life-giving luxury, this blessing!
Lemolo IDP Camp A & B (700 families) was the place we visited the following day. Phase 1 of K.I.D.S. Lemolo IDP Project was executed: 250 families received fertilizer and seed to commence the Agriculture & Food Security Project which enables them to manage an income generating and sustainable family business. (The 6th Annual Crossing Plains Gala Fundraiser in March 2017 raised enough money to complete Phase 2. All 700 families planted their crops and had a bountiful harvest!!!)
Wonderful to see they receive this with such gratitude. Had a great opportunity to converse with a group of kids! Then, invited in to meet with the principal, Judy! After our meeting, she invited us to dinner and was thrilled that we accepted her invitation to eat their food (maize and beans boiled in water)! She asked to take a picture of me eating as she said “Mzungu (white skin/person) do not usually eat our food. We know that when they say no they go back to their hotel and eat the food there.”
After each of these days, what struck me hard again was the WATER being such an issue at both places (actually almost every place) – on days when it was so dry, windy, dusty... I could go to our temporary ‘home’, have a clean drink of water, shower, wash my clothes in a washing machine (although I washed them by hand to be in solidarity with my Kenyan sisters), use flushing toilets, etc...
What also struck me is that we consider ourselves to be middle class, doing okay, making ends meet! We now both feel so privileged, so wealthy!!! We are RICH!
The following day we drove to Kieni – crossed the Equator!!! How exciting is that?! We met the woman who founded the Kieni Fighters of HIV/AIDS program. Her name is Charity! So aptly named... She opened her home to women living with HIV/AIDS after she survived being deathly ill with this disease, helped to nurse them back to health, educate, support and encourage them. These women love and respect her! Here we were offered cooked Sweet Potato which we peeled and ate like an apple! Chai Tea to drink... everywhere we went! One of the elders, Mary, came to thank us (in Swahili) on behalf of all the women for the donated clothing we gave them and especially for “Rose”, as they call Cat, for “coming back”, saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the food we ate, for the program and a prayer that we be kept safe in our travels. That truly touched our hearts! These women are resilient, persevering, determined, strong, courageous, hopeful... and have much faith! Remarkable! As we prepared to leave, another elder, Janet, followed us out to our van. She said, “God bless you!” “We remember ‘Rose’! Thank you for coming back, for making a difference! Say ‘Hi!’ to those back home!”
A few years back our daughter, Cat, was lent a biography titled “Father to the Fatherless”. It chronicles the remarkable life of Dr. Charles Mully from Kenya. We then had an opportunity to watch the documentary, “Mully”, the year before our trip to Kenya. Dr. Charles Mully was at a small film festival in Winnipeg 2016 along with the author of the biography and one of the producers of the movie! It was an incredible movie! The film started off with pictures of Kibera so that sure grabbed our attention! Cat decided to get in contact with Mully Children’s Family in Kenya and made arrangements to visit two of their homes: one in Yatta and the other in Ndalani while we would be in Kenya. Unfortunately, Dr. Mully was out of the continent while we were there, but, amazingly, the producer of the documentary and his crew happened to be in Ndalani when we arrived there! He remembered Cat from a small film festival in Winnipeg and they had a good chat! Small world!!!
Another place we visited was Shelter Children’s Home (in Ngong, Masaai land); very well run with cows, chickens, borehole to supply their water, huge vegetable garden as income generating to help support their needs. Great to see!
We were invited to visit Gathiga Children’s Hope Home founded in 1996 by Lucy Njoki Ndegwa (left). She felt called by the Lord to help the street children who had been orphaned by AIDS, abandoned, rejected, alone; no home... Her husband, Duncan, supported this ‘call’ to shelter these children, feed, educate, help rehabilitate and integrate them into their ‘home’ while sharing the love of God! We spoke with some of the children and youth. They shared their story and the hope, gratitude, respect and love they have for their ‘Mama’, ‘Aunty’ (Lucy)! Met one of the original six, Kennedy! He especially touched my husband’s heart deeply! Such uplifting stories of hope! Memorable day! Phenomenal woman! Amazing children!
We visited Kibera – biggest slum in Africa and one of biggest in the world. Peter Gachanja, whom Cat first met when she volunteered there 12 years ago, gave us a tour of part of this slum. We paid for a cultural experience of Chapati making (Kenyan flatbread) and a lunch (stew, chapatti, tomato salad – delicious) with Peter and his wife, Lucy, in their home!
Peter was in the September 2005 issue of National Geographic titled “Africa - Whatever You Thought Think Again”! It’s not so much about the animals... it is all about the people! So true! He was so proud to tell us about the improvements that have been made in Kibera since that issue!
Here are some of the things that pressed upon our hearts... what we learned:
- Be thankful for the gift of abundant, clean WATER for drinking, cooking, washing up, laundry; for the variety of foods we have available to us; for flushing toilets, toilet paper, tissue; for bathtubs; roomy showers; for soap and cloths.
- Each place we went we were told, “She (Cat) doesn’t forget about us! She comes back.” Remember those precious souls who are in need of our help.
- Such contrast from the schools (solid roof, walls, floor) to the huts (open spaces between roof and mud walls, dirt floor) where they live and sleep. Be grateful for the home we live in. We are rich!
- They share their excess with those who have less. Share more.
- They appreciate all that they have. Appreciate more.
- The children are happy to go to school, to have their lunch, to play together with the little they have. Much laughter amongst them. Live today with a joyful heart.
- The people we met were determined to live their life to the best of their ability, persevering in their daily life, strong and courageous amid the life’s obstacles, resilient, living in faith and hope for a better tomorrow! Model the same; do not despair or become despondent!
- And so much more...
The people we met touched our hearts deeply! They asked us to tell you about them! So, it is my great pleasure to be able to share the story of our trip to Kenya with you... for you to have a glimpse of the lives of our brothers and sisters in Kenya! We saw and remember the faces of those whom we met. We saw and heard what they need. I do not ever want to forget them!
I would encourage you to check out the website for K.I.D.S. Initiative ~ http://www.kidsinitiative.ca
100% of all donations go directly to the programs that K.I.D.S. supports!
Submitted by Gil and Mae Ross, March 2018