Friday, May 21, 2010

The Rector in Kenya

Less than a week ago I was in Kenya with a group of people visitng the Nasio Trust a charity that supports orphans in two towns in Mumias and Musanda. In Dorchester our local relationship with Nasio began when John Cornelius took young people from Berinsfield to help build the "Noah's Ark" day care centres and began a relationship that has changed lives in both Kenya and Oxfordshire. The Charity has been supported in Dorchester especially by the May Morning event led by the local singing group Two A Part and it was with most of this group and one or two others that I travelled to Kenya for a visit to see the work on the ground and to share in it.Some of what follows is a ‘reflective diary’ to which everyone contributed in different lengths and tenses. Some of our group had visited a number of times, some sponsored children that they had met and others were to meet the children they sponsored for the first time.
For me the week began with a nerve wracking bang as I ahd been invited to preach at the Cathedral in Mumias less tahn twenty four hours avter arriving in Kenya!The whole experience was quite a culture shock - not least being prayed for for almost ten minutes before preaching. Not an experience I would necessarily have expected to relish but one which certainly left me feeling that everyone was better prepared (preacher and listeners alike) to hear what God was saying.
The collection in Mumias Cathedral the collection is taken by asking everyone to leave their seats - some of the older children from Noah’s Ark were given some small change to put into the collection box. The look of pride on their faces as they queued up to put the money in the box was moving. Though people had little to give they gave more when a second collection was taken!

Our first visit was to Noah’s Ark and was a reunion for some and whole new experience for others but we all appreciated their songs of welcome from the Noah’s Ark children. Those returning were delighted to see their sponsor children again and there was a huge welcome from the 'original six' tiny orphans now strapping 13 year old lads!!
It was good to meet the really dedicated teachers Lucy and Elizabeth. The Noah’s Ark children’s faces and their fascination with us and eagerness to be close to me. Finding that clapping games bridge the language barrier with the smallest girls!

By Tuesday we’d already had some encounters with the torrential rain that brings Kenyan life to a standstill (and involved us in a terrifying drive when caught out by early rain on Sunday afternoon). However its affect on the roads was made all too clear when we attempted to make the journey to Musanda for our first visit to the St Irene’s Day Care centre and Millimandi Primary school.
Thinking the end was nigh as we slithered slowly through the ploughed field that was the road and ended up at a forty five degree angle almost in an eight foot ditch. Hearing Penny say ‘we’ll go over very slowly if we go’, someone else calling ‘hope you’re praying in the back there Sue’ and then Tessa’s voice announcing the new cabinet to ‘take our minds off our predicament’. For newbies if we had wondered whether the journey was sensible the end was more than worth it – ‘a birthday I will remember forever: dancing with schoolchildren surrounded by beautiful Kenyan countryside and love.’
Both St Irene’s with its head teacher Boniface and the huge Milamandi Primary School are wonderful places with committed staff and ‘our’ children looked after in big school then walking back to the Day Care centre for a good lunch – for some their only meal. The next day it took even longer to travel (by a different route) and we helped to lead a day of activities at Millimandi – teaching an English lesson on tenses that began with a telling of little red riding hood in which children had to make different responses for each character. Little RR is ‘nice, nice, nice, nice, nice…’ with a wiggle of the bottom – their faces were a study!! Making cards didn’t go as planned but the excitement and enjoyment in the room with even the Deputy Head joining in … Carol and I teaching what seemed like a hundred children to knit. They were so enthusiastic it was a priviledge.
Our farewell to the children here was a performance by Two A Part singing On top of teh World and Ol Man River to a rapt audience of hundreds of children was extraordinary! There was just a moment when all of us English realised without words that we were singing a song written in America by someone who might have been taken from this place as a slave.....the whole song took on a new depth that was tangible.

Our last day could not have been our first – an emotional rollercoaster that included both a visit to hospital and a family home in the Township. “On a wall of the ward in St Mary’s hospital the crucified figure of Christ has been stuck to the cross with cellotape. If only the wounds afflicting humanity could be fixed with a bit of cellotape. In the nearby maternity ward young women recover from childbirth. Some have had to have surgery. There is no money for painkillers or anaesthetics. We hand out little woollen hats for their new babies and take photos. Nobody takes pictures of the young blind mother lying prone alongside the baby she cannot see. Let us pray.”

“When I prayed with the lady who had lost her baby and how that simple gesture was so powerful and precious to both of us.” …
“I felt so helpless that all I could offer was to make the priestly gesture of blessing on a child’s head in the children’s Malaria ward – and finding myself called to pray for all the children.”
“Holding a thirty two hour old baby in my hands straight from the home made incubator of blankets and a lamp. Realisation of how precious and delicate life is.”

Mumias is a centre of industry and we stayed at the guest accommodation there. Francis who looked after us loved to ‘challenge’ us with the food …but it was much more than the food that challenged! The Sugar Factory itself a massive contrast with the small producer we visited on the first day. The cost and wealth tied up in that industry compared with the poverty around it. The juxtaposition of a simple mud hut and Kenyan industrialisation at the Sugar Factory. Noting on our tour that much of the machinery was supplied by Indian Japanese and Chinese companies probably in the 1950’s. Much of the factory was a graveyard for broken machinery and the machines which were working seeped bits of dust and sugary goo. Don’t even think about asbestos!
A different industrial moment was Colin’s visit to the hospital and the enthusiasm for trying to mend the broken x ray machine manufactured in 1959.

At the end of the day it was relationships begun and continued that are important above all others.
An emotional first meeting with Roda the eleven year old girl I have sponsored for several years and with whom I have exchanged letters and gifts.

Fahidi telling me he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up so he could visit us in the UK

Thanks to Sue Russell and Phil, Carol Cornelius, Alison Brucker, Penny and Molly Budgen, Linda Oliver, Jim Levi, Janita Good, Mo and Colin Windsor and Tessa Bartley. Enduring respect to John Cornelius who has more children than I could ever imagine!

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