A Home For Needy Nairobi Kids

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 07, 2008
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This is a story of hope.

In the pitch dark, Neema, 9, lies awake dreaming on the little mattress she shares with another. First she prays for her mother, who’s having a hard time, then for her little brother Wilson, 6, asleep just the other side of a corrugated tin wall. She knows of no father (but her “Heavenly” one).

The stench of urine from open sewages and “accidents” by her dorm-mates and even their intermittent crying don’t bother Neema. Neither does the acrid smoke from cooking and burning rubbish or the noisy jetliners from the nearby airport. She’s dreaming - a gloriously hopeful dream.

Just last year, Neema and Wilson, starving and neglected, were brought to Merciful Redeemer Children’s Home because their mother, young and desperate, couldn’t care for them. The home, operated by the Kenyan faith-based organization Glory Outreach Assembly, is in Nairobi’s dangerous Mitumba slum, home to 10,000 to 15,000 people and where 60-70 percent of adults and 10-20 percent of children are HIV positive.

At first look, Merciful Redeemer makes you weep. An uneven black-mud yard serves as the “playground” for the 65 rescued children from 16 years down to one year who, according to James, the home’s director, are “the most desperate cases.”

But, to these children, it is wonderful. To Neema, it’s a place she can dream.

“They had nobody to care for them, and getting even one meal per day would be unheard of for these children. They are very happy to be here,” explained James. The home feeds, educates and shelters 65 “pure” orphans and educates 50 more from the slum.

The home is an L-shaped series of corrugated tin rooms. Floors are mud. The “long” wing serves as the school which goes to level five. Two 8-by-10-foot classrooms, each only lighted by a small window, accommodate 117 students. A tiny teachers “lounge” serves its six teachers. James says teachers always leave for better paying jobs. It’s an ongoing struggle.

At the bottom of the “L” is a small room for 40 boys, bunk beds wedged an inch apart, literally a “bed” room. Same for the girls’ room, where Neema sleeps with 24 others. All sleep four to a bunk bed. A small space with a coffee table and some old, blanket-covered chairs serves as a comfort room for the sick or struggling children. Next to that, the kitchen consists of a huge cooking pot atop a sawdust (cheaper and lasts longer) and wood-burning fire.

But it could be better. “If this home could be moved to an improved place, a better facility, the children would be happy, I’m sure of that,” says James, emphasizing the urgent need to bring in more children before they go to the streets, where they become lost to gangs or exploitation.

Nairobi, whose government web site lists no child welfare department, at least provided - temporarily - this small plot of land to Glory Outreach.

The loud engine of a descending jet interrupts Neema’s dream, but doesn’t disturb it. In fact, the airplane noise affirms it. Neema’s dream is to be a pilot.

The hope of children represents the spirit of innocence, undaunted by tragic circumstance. It inspires the most cynical adults to believe, then act.

So, how cool is this: Neema, Wilson and all the other children at Merciful Redeemer are moving come July. The donations of more than $300,000 from North Americans (including Hawaii residents) through “Heart for Africa” are already building the new home on a large plot of land just 45 kilometers - but a safe world away - from Mitumba slum. A deep-water well is being dug and the foundation laid. By July, when several folks from Hawaii (including me and husband Jerry) go to Kenya, we’ll move the children into their new digs. All they need now is beds. Each costs $115.

Every child should have his or her own bunk mattress on which to dream really big dreams, don’t you think?

To buy a bed for Neema and her friends, go to www.heartforafrica.org and click on “projects.” Click on child sponsorships to meet Neema and the other Merciful Redeemer children.

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