Last week our team headed to Machaka, where the sisters of St. Theresa’s run a community project, to lend a hand. As we drove through a Kenyan slum towards our destination I could not help but wonder what we would find when we arrived. About twenty minutes later we pulled into a lovely little self contained community, the Machaka Project run by the Little Sister’s of St. Theresa’s. Within the compound they have a convent for the sisters, a large church, a medical clinic, a pharmacy, a store, a large garden, an animal farm, housing for the staff, an area for the feeding program they supply for the community, a training school for sewing and clothing making, and finally (most importantly for us) the Mother Maria Zanelli Children’s Home with a big playground complete with old school teeter totters and merry go rounds (which Dave, Stan, and I tested out for safety purposes of course).
The home consists of several bedrooms equipped with bug nets, a child sized chapel, a small school, dining hall for the older children (two and a half or older feed themselves), bathrooms, laundry facilities, and a good-sized common play room. The home provides care for twenty-one orphaned children under the age of 5 years old (with two exceptions of older siblings who remain at the home). These children have been orphaned by disease and desperation, several were even found at the bottom of pit latrines. The sisters do their best to provide for these children, but with only a few workers and almost two-dozen small children, it is evident they are looking for love and attention. Essentially that is what we were able to provide during our visits. Though we all helped with tasks throughout the day like feeding and consoling the little ones after fights (mostly caused by wanting our full attention) we each seemed to take on various roles:
The Jungle Gym. Stan proved himself useful as the member with unlimited energy for rambunctious children who loved being chased, tossed around, and climbing up and over anything. Every time a slight whimper would issue from a child’s mouth, he was there to work on getting them to laugh and play until the next child needed his attention. It was nice to be able to sit back and see Stan in this element, and although our Kimeru language skills are limited to greetings, we could tell that several times the women working at the centre were discussing Stan’s care giving skills.
The Teacher. Like myself, Dave is definitely more comfortable with older children, probably why we are Senior High teachers. Even so, he had a lot of fun with the little ones, and steered towards teaching the few older children paddy-cake type clapping games, worked on counting, the ABC’s and so on. As the days wore on Dave was increasingly more comfortable and the children would run to him for a round of Miss Sue or to clap out the ABC’s. One little one, Lillian, spent most of Thursday in Dave’s lap and was very perturbed when he gave his time to any other child looking to play, although she was too little to play clapping games or count, she tried.
The Holder. Those who know me well know that I can be a bit uncomfortable with young children, especially under six months old. But within the first 30 minutes of being at the home, a little bindle named Timothy was placed in my arms and I was told to ‘feed’, I simply had to adjust. Looking at his little face, it didn’t take long. That day at lunch the sisters explained to me that Timothy was found in the bottom of a latrine only a short time ago. He is coming along well but is very small and needs extra attention.
Over the following days I became the holder, the one who always had at least one child in my arms
or on my lap who just needed the attention. I even got to the point where I would pick up the children on my own, a big step for me. At one point I found myself with five children sitting in my lap at once. You may not think it possible but if children sit on each other it works. And everyone always wanted and found a spot somewhere.
The experience was in many ways life changing. Most of us have seen the commercials on television about children who are in need here in Africa, and although you can see the poverty on a daily bases, being with such a large group of children in need of loving homes brings it into reality. These children are well cared for by the sisters and staff, with several supports in place for funding and various needs, like Farmers Helping Farmers donating medicines. But none of these things can replace the love of a parent and family. I left there Thursday afternoon wondering what would become of these children, where will they end up, and who will care for them? In ten, fifteen, twenty years where will Millie, who talked to us non-stop in her Kimeru baby gibberish, Joy, who only smiled when being cuddled, Martin, a seven year old who helped feed and care for the little ones, Sammy, who was content to just be sitting beside one of us, Marcy, who picked up all the games quickly, and Kaynon, a special needs child with a huge smile for anyone who tickled her side, be? I hope in some small way we made a difference, but the home will need further assistance in the future from anyone who is willing and able to share their time and open arms to cuddle into.