June 2010


Mt. Suswa is a hidden gem outside of Nairobi, so much so that it’s hard to find locals who know about it – the reason why we were super excited to hike the lava caves on Sunday morning.

We totally talked it up to our driver during the hour-long road trip.

Have you ever been to Suswa?

Yes!

Have you hiked lava caves?

Oh, yes.

Are you going to hike with us today?

Yes, yes, yes.  Suswa, Suswa, Suswa – we mush have thrown the name out there at least 15 times.

Which is why we were a little confused when he drove us to the enterance of Mt. Longonot.

This is where you hike Mt. Suswa?

Of course.

Are you sure – Suswa?

Yes!

Not Mt. Longonot – Mt. Suswa.  It’s a different mountain.  Are we at Mt. Suswa?

<A look of bewilderment>

Do you know how to get to Mt. Suswa?

Let me call my friend…

And that was the end of that.  I’m still not sure how he registered Mt. Longonot when we were talking about Suswa for an hour on the ride over (in hindsight, I really shouldn’t be that surprised either), but we opted to hike the mountain in front of us rather than take our chances on our directionally challenge friend knowing where it was that we actually wanted to go.

While I wasn’t particularly prepared mentally for a 5 hour rock scramble around the crater, it wasn’t a total loss – Longonot was definitely on my checklist of things to do in Kenya!

A few pics from the adventure….

Crater rim - peak at 9,111 feet is in the clouds!

Don't throw garbage. Unfortunately, I think the translation was lost on previous hikers...

Lake Naivasha

Treking around the six mile crater rim.

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A friend forwarded me this blog post yesterday, an interesting commentary on the perspectives of poverty.  The author notes a false dichotomy that I see to be all too true in the images and feeling we export from Africa back to the West – the idea that poverty, or our conception of poverty, is mutually exclusive from joy, family, happiness, laughter and a whole life.

The truth is that these things exist side by side, every day and life continues to roll along.

I think this is a really interesting project and that the author is right on both counts – NGOs do need revenue to survive, so many of the these fundraising or marketing campaigns are geared to only tell one side of the story because there is a belief that donors are much more likely to give money to a project that is helping the despondent looking child they see in pictures as opposed to the smiling man holding a cell phone.  The logic is, images tug our hearts, which can tug open our wallets – and which image is more likely to tug yours?

There may be some merit to that.

But when we primarily export images of starving children, trash filled slums and dirty water, we let the rest of the world believe that is the whole of the African life is poverty and destitution and that your $25 a month is going to solve it all.  Oversimplification can create a terrible misunderstanding about the struggles and our role in helping to solve them.

This week I went to see a documentary called Good Fortune about the effect of development projects in both Kibera and a rural village in western Kenya.  The take away, for me, was that our best intentions are not always best for Africans – that sometimes aid can do more damage than good.  Not all aid is bad.  Not all aid is good.  And not that aid should cease.  There is just no perfect aid project.  Not do I think development will ever occur without creating some suffering along the way – it is always a painful process, something we often fail to internalize.

We should do, then, is realize that our concept of rich and poor is deeply Western and deeply biased.

After the film had ended, the producer told a story about one of the characters in the film, who wondered why everyone kept telling him he was poor.  He makes less that a dollar a day, so by our standards he fits the mark of povery.  But in his own words,

“I look out at my field every day and see 500 cows that I own.  I’m not poor, I’m rich!”

And it all starts with our view of the West in relation to our view of Africa – the tattered and torn Africa we usually see in photos.  These pictures tell us they must need whatever we feel like offering.

We justfy many things in the name of doing good, because they are good to the Western mind.  But we rarely stop to ask questions like, “how does our bias and culture affect the form and method of aid and development in Africa” or question “who it this really benefiting?” and “are we doing more damage that good in the process?”

It’s all about perspective.

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to visit the Outreach Community Centre in the Mathare slum.  Outreach runs three primary schools, on secondary school and a children’s home for vulnerable children.  It is estimated that nearly 500,000 people live in Mathare Valley.

Most hilarious moment of the day was when a little boy, no more than three years, ran up to me, stared at my white leg and slowly reached out to touch it – just to make sure it was real skin.  I can understand his skepticism.

Here are a few photos from the visit!

Over 400 students attend this primary school in Mathare.  Every class we visited was ready to present us with flowers.  Invisible flowers, that is!  Kids turning air into roses in this picture!

Secondary students preparing their songs for Vice President Biden’s visit to the school the following day, as part of his tour of Kenya prior to the World Cup.

Class six students at a the primary school in the heart of Mathare.  So many songs ready for visitors on command!

Magdalene, who runs Outreach with her husband, with her husband tell me while looking out over the homes of Mathare residents, that even if her work is only a drop in the ocean, she knows how important and precious those drops are – they are her students.

Bags of maize from the World Food Programe.  Outreach feeds over 1,200 children meals every day.

Outreach Children’s Home.  This is the dorm for girls, which I was told was constructed with funding from the US government.

A second dorm for girls was constructed with a grant from the Italian government – clearly an upgrade.  Our tour became a little bit awkward when the Home mother found out I was American…

Sweet children, sweet faces!

Our field office has experienced several sweet victories recently – two in particular stand out to me that I want to share with y’all:

In March, we celebrated the first conviction of the year in a child sexual assault case, and just last Friday rejoiced that a second perpetrator in the same case was also convicted!  Our client, a precious young girl named Laura*, was raped by her father and two neighbors after her mother’s death.  Both neighbors have now been convicted and given a life sentence to prison where they will not ever be able to abuse or violate the rights and dignity of young girls again.  Laura’s father, however, is still awaiting judgement.

Recently I was able to attend a hearing in this man’s case case.  As I sat in that courtroom, a dusty open-air room with cement walls and long wooden benches, I was struck by so many things – but the greatest being this: empty eyes of man with not conviction of wrongdoing in his heart.  In Kenya, if you are too poor to afford a defense attorney one is not provided.  It’s too bad for you – you don’t get one.  And so Laura’s father acts as his own advocate in this case.  But what I saw when it was his turn to question the witness was a smirk of defiance and stiff demeanor and those empty eyes, without a drop of guilt or sorrow in his body.

His case is coming up for judgment soon.  Please pray that justice will be delivered with the full force of the law.  Pray that God would awaken him to the reality of what he has done to his very own daughter and the consequences that have been a result of his choices.  Pray for continued emotional and psychological healing for his children, Laura and her siblings, and that they would know how precious they are and how much they are loved by their maker.  And pray that through justice, God would show this man mercy, draw him to Himself and bring restoration to this family.

Another case that was cause for spontaneous celebration in our office happened just this month – the details of which were shocking even to our own staff who are well aware of the brokenness of the public justice system.  This, however, was a new low.  For nearly a week an eight-year old girl was locked away in jail for allegedly stealing a cell phone from a salon, despite laws that require the police to charge and set bail within 24 hours of arrest and do not allow for the criminalization of children under the age of 12.  Instead of enforcing the law, police officers demanded a payment of 10,000 Kenya shillings, which is approximately $100.  Officers told the child’s mother that 7,500 shillings must be paid to the owner of the phone and we assume 2,500 shillings was what the officers were asking “for their trouble.”  When she explained to them that she could not pay, officers arrogantly told her they would keep her child in jail so that she would feel enough pain to come up with the money.

Something incredibly impressive (and different from many other NGO’s) about the IJM model is that we do choose to work with police officers and other justice professionals inside the system who do not bend to corruption.  We believe in strengthening the system from within so that in the future it can and will function as it should, on its own.  There are often discouragement in working this way, but it does pay off! In this case we were able to call upon higher officials in the police force who, upon hearing the story, demanded the girl’s release from jail and immediately let us know that that swift action would be taken against officers responsible for such impunity.

Please keep our team in your thoughts and prayers.  They work they do is hard and sometimes dangerous, but in spite of these roadblocks and hurdles, we do see the tide of justice rolling!

*Laura is a pseudonym used to protect client confidentiality.