Last month Kenya celebrated Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day and formerly Kenyatta Day) and naturally, we took advantage of our Wednesday off and celebrated by making a visit to see Nairobi’s most popular… baby elephants.  We visited them at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  I spent more time oohing and ahhing than actually listening to the fun facts, so I made up my own.

Baby elephants drink milk.

Baby elephants wrestle.

Baby elephants give hugs.  Did you know they are extremely social animals?

Baby elephants will whack you in the face (in about 5 seconds) if you get too close.  But still adorable.

Giraffes are cute too.

These guys live at the Nairobi Giraffe Center.

We also visited the lovely Kazuri Bead Factory, which provides employment to over 400 women, mostly single mothers, who create beautiful jewelry and pottery.


(Yes, times three!)

Last week we received the amazing news that a third conviction has been achieved for our client, *Laura.  I first mentioned Laura’s case in a June blog post and at that point only two of here perpetrators, who were her neighbors, had been convicted.  For nearly two years, IJM has worked with the police prosecutor to represent Laura in as she fought to hold her three abusers accountable for their crimes.  Finally, justice has been secured.

Laura’s case was difficult for many reasons, the first of which is the fact that the perpetrator who was convicted this week is Laura’s own father, who with great impunity abused his daughter for several years after the death of her mother.  Second, the medical report from the government doctor offered contradictory evidence to that of the hospital where she was treated by, shockingly, stating there were no signs of rape or sexual intercourse.  The testimony of the government doctor can carry great weight in a Nairobi court of law, and because of this IJM advocates were unsure whether he would be set free.  They worked tirelessly in this case to ensure that in the court of law the truth would weigh more than lies, and their hard work has paid off.

There have also been personal complications.  In the two years since Laura and her brother and sister were removed from their father’s home, great reconciliation has taken place between the siblings, especially Laura and her brother.  While Laura was living through hell each night, her brother saw their father’s doting on his daughter during the day as a sign of favoritism and paternal affection that he had never known – and he despised his sister for it.  Immediately after the truth was revealed, Laura’s brother was angry with his sister for what he perceived as tearing apart the family and refused to believe his father was guilty of rape.  Through the hard work of our Aftercare team counseling the children, they have come to a place of acceptance of the truth and love for one another despite all they have been through.  They have now been reunited and are living together in a children’s home near their grandparents and other relatives.

[Photo: Laura with her siblings playing near the banana trees in their home.]

For all of the tragedy in Laura’s story, abuse, neglect, apathy and impunity, I see how God is working a miracle in the lives of these children.  I had an opportunity to spend time with them earlier this week, photographing them for a profile that will be done on their case later in the year.  Even now, as I look through the photographs I am struck by the extent to which Laura’s smile sparkles.  Where I might expect bleakness, I see beauty.  Where I might expect standoffishness, I hear her warm laugh and saw tender innocence that makes your heart melt when you meet her.  Where I might expect insecurity, I found confidence I know she draws from the knowledge that she is now in a place where no one can hurt her.  It proves to me that God can take the worst of the very worst things in life and redeem them.  He will turn them into something new, something that glorifies Him.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

[Photo: Laura]

But I’m loving the jacaranda trees blooming in my neighborhood so much that I just had to share!

Korogocho, like its counterparts, is an overcrowded slum that is rampant with flies, sewage spills, poorly constructed sheet metal homes, crime and disease.  Those things, which may be obvious to the eye (and nose), are often reported on.  The stories that are less often told are of ebullient, happy children running to give you hugs, cozy homes that are a testament to the love and care of family despite harsh circumstances, and indefatigable men and women who are working toward a safer community.  You don’t need a particularly keen eye to witness these inspiring tales unfold before you – you just have to go and see for yourself.

Yesterday was my turn to go and really see.  I have been to Korogocho a number of times before, but today I had the opportunity to walk through the community with a woman named Naomi, someone who is quickly becoming a hero of mine.  Naomi lives in Korogocho and works as a community health work officer for a CBO called Ujamma.  As we walked through her neighborhood she told me about the eight children who are currently living in her single room house and the day-care she started next door to take care of other young children who were idle or left alone during the day.  In the middle of our conversation she turned away when a small girl ran up to her who was, like most Kenyan children, totting down the street completely overdressed for the weather in a ski cap and mittens.  Naomi laughed as she picked her up and then gave a coy smiled as she asked me, “What do you think of our home?  People say we are poor because we are in the slums, but I don’t see that…”

After an hour with Naomi, her neighbors and her many children, I commented that she was a richer women than most I know.

Naomi’s tiny home is a revolving door of children, and many of them who have been abused would otherwise still be left in a vulnerable situation.  You see, Naomi is also an IJM referral agent and is a previous winner of IJM Kenya’s Champion for Justice Award, which is given annually to a member of the community who would not otherwise be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to seek justice for others.  Not stopping at just taking children into her home, she reports cases to the police, brings them to the hospital if emergency medical treatment is needed and contacts organizations like IJM who can help in the areas where she can’t.  She is a shining example of one women doing extraordinary things with the little resources she has been blessed with.  Now that’s infectious – and a reminder to me that more resources should be directed toward identifying and empowering these men and women, but especially women, who are renewing communities from the bottom up.

Best of all, Naomi also has a fabulous laugh and exudes a warmth that instantly puts you at ease.  It’s hard not to see her community through her eyes after spending just a few minutes with her!

Here are a few shots from today, and a few more reasons why I believe it is quite possible to live in poverty without being “poor”, at least not in the way we typically tend to understand their lives from our idyllic telescope in the West.

Naomi and her spunky smile.

Korogocho “rowhouses”.

Miriam playing outside of Naomi’s house.

Like sidewalk chalk!

Naomi’s home is always full of children.

Little boys in the home day care.

Brothers playing after school.

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!