Saving One African Child At A Time

Susan Page
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Wednesday - August 08, 2007
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I’m just back from four and a half weeks in Swaziland, Malawi, and Kenya, where I witnessed how one person can make a difference and how several can make many differences.

If you’re a regular reader, you’re aware of my obsession with the hunger, poverty and HIV/AIDS crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. My “still small voice” on this page attempts to offset a deafening silence from media regarding a pandemic that kills and orphans in catastrophic numbers. I’ve seen the death, the orphans and how a little help there can save lives firsthand.

* Meet David Kariuki: mid-20s, handsome, articulate and armed with a freshly earned social work degree from a Nairobi university. Today it’s impossible to imagine the hell his life was before being rescued off the streets and taken to Mully Children’s Family, an orphanage started by former street boy and self-made millionaire Charles Mully (Father to the Fatherless, The Charles Mully Story, by Paul H. Boge). His father had died and David was 9 when he fled to the streets “looking for love” and running from a brutally abusive prostitute mother and constant neglect.

I treasured my time with David last month as he assumed his first job, social worker at Tumaini Children’s Home in Kinangop, Kenya, home to 60 orphans and where our Heart for Africa mission teams served. Among other duties, David will be rescuing and counseling children as they adjust to orphanage life. Who better to guide them than one who’s walked in their shoes? Or more accurately, bare feet?

* Now meet Mark Peer, 19, of Mililani. Returning with the team (12 traveled from Oahu) to serve in Africa for a second year, Mark was unsure why he felt “called” so strongly to go again. In Nairobi he found out.

The small bus took the team to the Maasai Market to haggle over souvenirs as a short break from mission work. Suddenly, a tiny, ragged, filthy boy appeared. He called himself Isaac, saying he was 10, looking far younger. Isaac connected with Mark, confiding quietly to him that he wanted off the streets.

David had explained what boys face on the Nairobi streets: constant hunger, rape by the other boys, police abuse, HIV/AIDS infection and worst of all, juvenile prison that locks up children as young as 3 for the “high crime” of being homeless. It’s worse for girls. Mark snuck Isaac some food, but the older boys pounced, wrestling it away. David reminded, “It’s survival of the fittest on the streets.” Emotionally, Mark said goodbye to Isaac, who would soon fade into the cold shadows of a city of nearly 3 million. He’s so little. What would become of him? Mark’s heart was shattered.

Two nights later, Mark tearfully implored David to rescue Isaac. “Orphans get rescued, why not Isaac?” David knew it would take a miracle, but he’d been touched by Isaac, too.

Finding him wasn’t easy even for the street-smart, but finally Isaac appeared, surprised and - not surprising - high on glue, a common “medicine” that numbs children from cold, hunger and their fear. David told Isaac he must commit before being accepted: Show up on Monday at 10 a.m. sober (remember, he’s 10), then the process to get him into Tumaini Children’s Home would begin. (Ironically, the government treats street children as human garbage until they’re wanted, then suddenly come bureaucratic demands: photos, medical exams, etc.)

Today this e-mail came: “How are you Mom Sue? I rescued Isaac from the street and he is now learning to adjust in the new environment.” Lots of love, David.

Mark is overcome with joy. One child out of 1,100,000 Kenyan orphans saved. (If 1,100,000 children were orphaned in California, roughly the same size as Kenya, do you think it would make the news?)

During our trip, three children - two in Swaziland and Isaac in Kenya - were rescued to orphanages. Three? Only three?

If one of them were your child, wouldn’t one be enough?

If those three become Davids who will help many more, who in turn help many more, then a ripple becomes a wave. And Mark, a local surfer, knows what it’s like to ride a wave.

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