Sunday, April 19, 2020

KISII ORPHANAGE - THE RISK FOR THE ONE BEARING GIFTS


This series of Kisii Orphanage posts is a recollection of entries from my journal when I visited the Log Church and Orphanage of Kenya for the first time in November of 2017.

To retain the continuity of the journal, please begin with the March 22 entry entitled How it All Began, and work your way up, reading each post that begins with Kisii Orphanage.

You can see the blog archive on the right side of your screen to jump to this post.
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Journal Entry – November 22, 2017


Today we gave the gifts of shoes, clothing and school supplies that the people of the Log Church of Wisconsin sent for the children of the Log Church of Kenya. I was actually not looking forward to this time, since contrary to what we would hope to be the case, receiving gifts often brings out the worst of our human personalities.
 
Shortly before I left Wisconsin to come here, a friend of mine, who has worked in clean-up operations in some of our natural disasters, told me of an incident that he experienced after the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
 
As part of the disaster relief effort headed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a large trailer of a semi-truck emptied its contents in the center of a big parking lot in one of the more poor areas of the city.


In the truck were the donated items given by people from other parts of the country. These items included things like clothing, blankets, imperishable foods, some tools such as shovels and rakes, brooms etc.—things that could be used to clean up the homes and properties. There was even a wheelbarrow.
 
Once the workers for the government had organized the contents brought by the truck, they opened the gates to let in the people who had lost so much during the hurricane.
 
The first items to go was whatever candy there was and any containers of soft drink. The people also quickly tore through the clothing and shoes, but if these did not have some kind of designer label, they were left in the parking lot.
 
Not many of the hurricane victims were interested in the blankets, nor the tools. Some took an item or two, but these were largely left on the tables. No one took the wheelbarrow.
 
A week or so later, the company my friend worked for sent him to gather the remaining items to put into his truck to haul to the landfill. He told me he gathered up probably seventy-five percent of the original contents of the semi-trailer, and brought it all to be disposed.
 
He said that it broke his heart. He especially noted the wheelbarrow, since he would have liked to bring that home, but he was not allowed to do this since he was not one of the residents of the city. In fact, there were several things he said that he could have used at his own home, but he was not allowed to take anything. Into the landfill it all went.
 
I have had similar experiences in some third-world countries, though on a much smaller scale. It is for this reason that I am so hesitant about asking people to donate to a cause until I know for certain that it will be appreciated and it will be well used. People give with such good intentions, and they sometimes give sacrificially, only to have what they have given wasted or brought to ruin. Like my friend, my heart has been broken.
 
That is also why I needed to come to Kenya myself to see the situation here. Previous to this trip, I had already acted contrary to my normal practice. Even before this time and without knowing for certain the true conditions here, earlier I had already sent some money to the pastor.
 
However, what Pastor Joel had written to me sounded very grave. It also was true by the time that he had written to me about their collapsed latrine, I had already had begun to have some confidence in what he was telling me. He also sent me some photos.
 
All of that was true. Nevertheless, I had not seen with my eyes the condition in which the children were living, and I had not actually met any of the people. For me to give, I need to know the people. I need to know their hearts. I do not have so much myself that I can give only to have my gifts wasted or squandered, or stolen.
 
But neither did I feel that I should come empty-handed. The people of our church had sent with me a number of gifts--two large suitcases worth of gifts. None of us actually knew what would be appropriate to send, since none of us knew anything about the children in Kenya.
 
Some time before I came here I had written to Pastor Joel to ask for some guidance. He told me of the need for school supplies such as tablets and pencils, since they are trying to provide some sort of informal education for the children on site at the orphanage. There is no money to send them to an official government school.
 
But as far as shoes and clothing, we only had our guesses. The people of our church picked up some children's clothing in the stores of various sizes. They sent some shoes.
 
One lady wanted to send boots, but I actually did not know if the people in the area of the orphanage wore boots. I knew so little about where I was going that I did not know if it ever got muddy. Now, even after a couple of days of being here, I can see that boots would have been a very good thing to include in the suitcases.
 
Nevertheless, as ignorant as I was in deciding what items to include, once I arrived and saw the living conditions of the orphans, I immediately knew that the gifts that I brought with me from the people of our home church would not be treated as those that my friend told me about in Katrina.
 
I could see that in the case at the orphanage in the Log Church of Kisii, each one of these items would be used and cherished. Seldom have I seen people who are living in such need. Theirs truly is a day-by-day, hand-to-mouth, existence.
 
Still, it is in distribution events where the worst of our personalities can come out. This morning, as I sat in the church looking at the rows of children with their wide eyes like cute baby owls sitting on the benches, I wondered what I would see at midday, after we had our lunch. That was when they were to receive the gifts.
 
(But I really need to get to bed right now. It has been a long day and I am dead tired. Tomorrow evening I will try and describe how it went to hand out the gifts.) 
 
An Early Christmas 
Journal Entry – Thursday, November 23, 2017
 
At some time during this day it dawned on me that it is Thanksgiving Day back in America. I miss my family today. I think that all of our boys are home with their families.
 
It is a bit ironic, I would say, that today is Thanksgiving day and I ended yesterday’s journal saying that today I would write about giving the gifts to the children, and to see if they would be truly thankful for what they received.
 
As I described a couple of posts ago, several of us men, including visiting pastors, retire to Pastor Joel’s house for the noon-time lunch. Yesterday as we emerged, I saw my little children sitting in rows on the ground. It amused me to see that the seating arrangement was much like it had been inside the church—the littlest children first with the age increasing as you move back in the rows.
 
I did not know until I saw the children sitting there with the two suitcases that I had brought with me on a table in front of them that this time had been planned for giving the gifts.
 
The pastors and workers who knew each orphan had at some time during last evening separated the items to decide which child would receive what item. There would not be enough for each to receive a piece of clothing or shoes, but the leaders wanted to be sure that all would receive something.
 
I did not want to be the one who passed out the gift items. Of course I realize that the kids would know that it was I who brought them, but in any way that I could, I wanted to separate myself from the gifts. These were to be gifts given by the Lord.
 
The two bags I brought with me on the plane were set in front of the children. The pastors had labeled the items, so they knew which child should receive each gift. The clothing and the shoes were first. They were given to the children whom they fit. In all of this, the children all sat quietly. When someone received a pair of shoes or a shirt, they all clapped.
 
Then it was the note books. The older children received more than one, since they had greater need in the classes that they were studying. The people of our church had also sent many pencils and pens, and these were handed out one by one.
 
Our people had also sent perhaps ten boxes of crayons, I think that they must have been sets of 16 or 24—something like that. I assumed that these would be given out to selected children as sets. But these the pastors handed out crayon by crayon.
 
One lady from our church sent two bags of balloons. When the pastor saw these, he said that the children would really like them. Again, in my mind I pictured a party of some kind with balloons hung on the walls and from the ceiling of the church. But again, these were handed out one-by-one.
 
Every child received something, although not all a clothing item or shoes. And despite my overweight suitcases, there were not enough tablets for everyone. At the end, I saw a couple of the littlest boys holding in their hands a pencil and three crayons. That is what they had received—only those. They were so excited.
 
I have to say that the whole event was pretty emotional for me. I was afraid that I would start to tear up, but I managed not to.
 
In my years in working in these types of situations, I have found these times the most emotional when I first have come from the United States, where the kids complain if they cannot get the video game that they want.
 
Here at Kisii, when I saw these little children, each a face the color of a freshly roasted coffee bean and shining with delight while grasping in their hands a pencil and three crayons...well, I think you see my point.
 
It becomes less difficult the longer one is away from America. The longer you are gone, the more that you identify with the people themselves and are given the privilege of simply sharing their delight. You can be happy for them without feeling so much pity. That is so much easier and actually the correct way to feel.
 
Later, Pastor Joel, Pastor Vincent and I went into the town to buy items for the children who still had need of school items. I guess I will have to wait for tomorrow to describe this event to you.

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