At 9am, I was supposed to be riding in a stuffy 9-seater van driving down dusty, unpaved roads to a Kenyan refugee village. For the past 6 years, I’ve taken this bumpy drive to visit the Shalom community. Today I was longing to see those children’s happy faces and feel their little hands in mine when I return and reconnect with them. They cheerfully welcome us with exuberant singing and dancing, and playfully fight over holding the hands of all the donors who accompany us.
Each year I’ve shared an update about the trip and the phenomenal progress we’ve seen unfolding. We were supposed to be there now. But this year, the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the August election after some irregularities led to the winner being announced before the results were in from all the 40,000 polling stations.
This has ushered in a period of political instability, an increase in tension, hate speech and demonstrations. The re-election was rescheduled for tomorrow, which means we can’t guarantee the safety of the donors going with us.
As I was lying in bed feeling the loss of the trip that always nourishes my soul in ways that are hard to describe, I realized that I could bring Kenya close by still sharing an update with you.
Our work is directed at the 600,000 people who lost their homes and communities in the 2007 post-election violence. Many but not all have been resettled and are building their lives from scratch.
Until recently our mission has been primarily building schools in rural communities that are far removed from any services or infrastructure.
Until now, World Teacher Aid had built 8 schools. This year we raised the money to complete another 3 schools. We were due to open these schools during our trip this week. Another 1,000-1,200 kids will start school this year!!! Hurray!!!
Our goals are expanding to now begin additional support for our schools and their students. A new step is bringing in counseling. It’s very exciting for me to start this initiative and bring counseling to the Shalom community.
This year a small group of dedicated therapist friends helped me fund the first year of this pilot program. We searched and interviewed and then finally hired Elidah Wakanyi, a recent counseling Kenyan grad.
Every two weeks we talk with her via internet to support her efforts. Just to give you an idea how different life is there than here in the US, here is one of her earliest posts to us:
“My first greatest challenge is water accessibility. I have to fetch it from a distance of about 10 minutes. I think I will be spending time over the weekend fetching and storing. I believe with time it will get easier and I may find a place with better water accessibility.”
September marks Elidah’s 6th month of work with the community. She is amazing in her dedication, love for the community and creativity. I’ve listed some of her accomplishments below, so you can have a glimpse into how her work is evolving:
- The needs vary greatly between the primary school vs the high school. The high school students have needs that are more acute. The students are initiating requests for counseling sessions and Elidah has been able to prevent some school dropouts and ensure some students take exams.
- She is building trust with students, faculty, principals and the community chief. Just last week he asked her to go with him to meet with a family.
- 7th grade girls have requested she run groups for them.
- Attempts to bring outside support systems into the community are slow but underway, especially HIV/Aids prevention.
- She has been meeting with teachers to request they join the fight against girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy.
- She’s leading 6th grade meetings about peer pressure and its dangers.
- She’s leading group therapy and explaining adolescence for the 7th grade girls.
- She is developing curriculum on challenges faced by adolescent girls in rural low-income areas.
- She is leading open talks in same-sex groups in high school. The open talks focus on relationships and coupling – disadvantages and how to relate in a healthy manner with the opposite sex. The girls have many questions regarding sexuality and the life issues that affect them.
Because this work is so dear to my heart, I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Thanks for indulging me in what I did share. It’s helped my feeling of loss to bring you into this world I sometimes inhabit.
Dear Ellyn, Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share this story. As someone who has been involved in this effort, it is so touching to be reminded of the difference we all can make in the lives of others less fortunate than ourselves. World Teacher Aid is so lucky to have you on their Board and leading the charge for increased help in these impoverished communities. Much love to you.
Ellyn, thank you so much for sharing your sadness as well as your uplifting thoughts this morning. The work you do in Kenya touches so many lives – I’m grateful not only for your gifts in this world, and your generosity in helping others. I count myself lucky to be in your learning community, and I believe the children and families you reach out to in Kenya have new light in their lives with your work. Thank you always.
Ellyn, thank you for sharing your amazing ongoing dedication to the education and welfare of the children in the Shalom community of Kenya. I hear your sadness for your inability to safely visit with the community and people you love there this month. I’m so glad you could reflect on the incredible ways you and World Teacher Aid are making a difference in this village. Its heart-warming to hear of the gains and that a trained therapist has been added to the services offered to these children and their families. You continue to inspire so many through your generosity in Kenya and your dedication to the field of couples therapy. Hugs to you, Cathy
The world is better for having you in it Ellyn. 2 huge and worthy projects, the couple counselling and the Kenya Refugee Village.
Hug from Melbourne – Australia.
Thank you for sharing this news, Ellyn. Your experience brings home again how small the world has become. The political tensions in Kenya affect your plans. And it also reminds me of how large a person with heart and purpose can be.
Thank you for all you do and the generosity with which you do it.
I’m so sorry to hear that the political situation in Kenya has delayed your annual visit. Keep your spirits up as you bring hope and healing to tell very many people. God bless!
Ellyn- Thank you for sharing your passion for improving the lives of people in this Kenyan community.
I show your and Pete’s trip to Kenya video to many of my couples. Every time I watch it I take something new from it. You continue to inspire me.
Thank you Ellyn for telling us about this community work that is so much a part of you. It is indeed sad to not see their faces and hold their hands.
Hi Ellyn, Please check a curriculum for youth that was written by a friend of my that addresses alot of the issues you are discuss. Check out Relationship Smarts. No point of recreating the wheel. You can find this curriculum at https://www.dibbleinstitute.org/
Great work that you are doing.
Your work is inspiring. Thank you for sharing. I also felt sad when learning that your presence in the Kenya project could not happen this year. We hope that somehow the situation will improve and that soon you will be able to personally give your support.
Your worldwide care is appreciated by everyone and also by me through your teachings.
Cornelia Rossi from Brazil.
Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you’re not on that bumpy ride. Your work is incredible. I will begin my day with more hope this morning.
Hi Ellyn – Great Thanks to you for sharing this poignant story ( a living gift really ) and your passion for nurturing the growth and lives of children in Kenya. I’m certain that the bonds borne of your labors, and Pete’s labors, are really at the essence of hope and progress for a better humanity – one person-to-person relationship at a time: What’s better than that!
Such a thoughtful and transparent blog. I find that your sharing of your feelings with us helps me personally to feel more comfortable doing so in a professional capacity.