Hello, my name is Lindsey; I’m a Junior in high school. Last summer, my family decided to join Matanya’s Hope during the mission trip to be of service however we could. Our family has sponsored Theresa, a girl in Matanya, for many years.
This trip moved me and compelled me to bring the joy of helping Matanya’s Hope home. I know first-hand the exhilaration of hearing news about how each one of these students is thriving, or in my case sister, from halfway around the world.
Since I’ve been home I haven’t been able to keep my mouth shut about the mission work and the drastic impact it had on my perception of the world. The dramatically different, and oftentimes tragic, way of life which I was immersed in contrasted with the overall quality of character I experienced in the people. The raw humanity I faced around every corner on this trip birthed a powerful hope inside of me – because now I KNOW that what we do and what we say indeed DOES make a difference.
On our first day, (my birthday) we went to Kibera, one of the largest urban slums in all of Africa, whose existence (until very recently) the Kenyan government denied, allowing the leaders to deny these poverty-stricken areas of humanitarian aid. Even with peppermint oil-scented handkerchiefs pressed over our noses, the foul stench of human feces was pungent and grotesquely unmistakable. We were lead through the streets, lined with trash fires and beat-up storefronts which held everything from flip phones to unrefrigerated, raw meat swarmed with flies.
Upon arriving at Raila Primary, the first school we were donating clothing, shoes, school supplies (and more) to, we were welcomed by severely impoverished children singing songs and sharing very strong messages via poetry. Many were barefooted and dirty. They spoke longingly of their dreams to become journalists and teachers, as well as their literal sleeping dreams from which they beg their mothers not to wake them. The speeches exhibited the darkness that children in Kibera face – when a girl of maybe 10, warned girls and women to be cautious. “The men have lost control”, she said. “Fathers have turned against daughters, even animals are unsafe.” They sang the national anthem, and small high voices rose with pride, drowning out the ruckus of car horns, shouts, and the hustling of people walking on the tier of roads above the slum.
After our welcome, we were given a tour of the school. Narrow outdoor alleyways were noisy and cramped with dilapidated classrooms holding as many as 120 students each on either side. The odor of urine from the waste-filled, doorless pit latrines added to an almost unbearable, stifling effect. Still, the claustrophobia I experienced paled in comparison to that of the children packed like sardines in their classrooms, in a room the size of an average middle class American child’s bedroom. Perhaps the paint was fresh a decade ago, but now, it was grim and peeling. Chunks of the plaster walls were missing. Window frames were void of panes in some and complete with shards of glass in others. The ceiling, now filled with gaping holes, showed evidence of a missing barrier between roof and sky.
We later organized the kids into two separate lines where they would wait to receive a cookie and a pencil, clothes, shoes, toothbrush & toothpaste, school supplies, blankets and more. I was working with my father in the cookie and pencil department. Most of the children, we soon realized, would go through the line twice and receive double the cookies and pencils, which created a fair distribution problem when serving over 800 children. We informed the principal of this situation and once we all gathered again in the outside grounds for assembly, she instructed the children, with great authority, to pass up all the extra pencils. “If you have many, others have none,” she said. To my surprise, a murmur ran through the crowd and pencils began flowing to the front, flying out of hidden pockets and into the hand of the principal to be evenly circulated. I wish you could all experience this impact of raw honesty and respect from the young people at Raila Primary, in the middle of one of the world’s largest slums! It encompasses the immeasurable character that many of the students possess, despite the lack of good example displayed in their world. This learned respect and comradery puts them on a track to help their country flip the norm of corruption, and will help create a society fueled by honesty and hard work, one that pushes the invisible, of which there are so many of in Kibera, out of the darkness and into the light to be encouraged, educated, and accounted for.
At Raila Primary and other schools throughout Kenya, I was bombarded with questions from curious voices. “Do you eat “Omena fish?” was a constant. Initially confused, I was later told that it’s an old myth that Omena fish have eyes like the sea, and turn your eyes blue if you eat them. Yes, I have blue eyes but I don’t eat Omena fish. My hair was braided by countless hands, all eager to feel my long locks. It was a culture shock to be asked what tribe I was in, as I come from such an ethnically homogenous area like Northbrook. Overall, this incredible experience made my birthday one that I will never forget! I experienced beauty and love in a place where I would never have expected to find it – but where it changed my life forever.
Another over the top experience for me was meeting Theresa, the 17-year-old-girl that my family sponsors. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend a day with her, pulling her from studying for exams, something that she seemed pretty happy about. Apparently the chance to escape the monotony of studying is universally celebrated by teenagers worldwide. We showed Theresa photos of our family at ice hockey games, my school’s homecoming and at Thanksgiving dinner. We smiled, laughed and compared stories. Michelle, Matanya’s Hope founder told my family many times about Theresa’s home but nothing could prepare us for when we visited the one room dirt floor shack. It was carpeted with fleas visible a foot high and walled by rickety boards that were nearly eaten through by maggots. There was a small cot that Theresa and her mother shared which was permanently soggy, moldy, and bug-infested due to the rainfall that poured onto it through the nearly shredded plastic bag roof.
Theresa regaled us with stories of Mrs. Mugo, both our hostess and Theresa’s old teacher. She warned us to watch our fingers later that night when Mrs. Mugo would be teaching us to make the traditional African flatbread called Chapati. She joked, “You might get whacked with a ruler if you do poorly!”
Our trip together took us for milkshakes and more giggles. Theresa had to sit through my dad’s business models (as all Masterman children must) and she pretended like the rest of us to be interested. Theresa was officially a part of our family. Our day ended idyllically with a game of catch: a father daughter luxury that, with a choked throat, I realized Theresa had probably never experienced. After sending Theresa back to school with a few gifts, I wished my new sister realized how many she had given me.
I am so glad that you are sponsoring a child(ren). It is my hope that you will also experience the love, joy, emotional and academic gifts that Matanya’s Hope cultivates, first hand. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about my experience with Matanya’s Hope.