On Friday we went to the clinic behind Khetia’s to feed street kids. Masses of kids. Most of them high on glue, pushing and shouting and snatching at the food that was being distributed. Some of them traded in their bottles of glue for the promise of food, some walked away down the trash-strewn streets content to remain high and not feel any hunger. Those who stayed soon filled the one-room hut that was the clinic, filled it to overflowing. Those left outside, or those who had refused to give up their glue, tried to push their way through the door; some soon began to throw rocks on the tin roof that sounded like gunfire from inside. In an hour or so, it was all over and we walked back to the van to drive home and the kids walked back to the streets they had been roaming before we arrived. I think I breathed for the first time in an hour.
On Saturday we had youth group with a number of kids from the school that International Teams is involved with in Shimo La Tewa. I was told that “Shimo” means “hole” in Swahili, and that it was indeed such, or at least had been until recently. We sang and laughed and played football and continued to laugh throughout the rest of the next week as we daily walked through the gates of that place to teach English and Bible lessons and sit with the children as they ate their lunches of rice or beans. I always left with sticky arms from little bean-coated hands trying to hang on me like a jungle gym. And everywhere I went in Shimo I heard little voices yelling “howa you?” to which I replied “I am fine” although they hardly understood my English. They thought it was funny at least.
At the end of four weeks in Kitale, I am standing in my room, packing my bag to leave on the morning bus to Nairobi. Pastor Brian is sitting on the bed watching. He is the pastor of the church in Shimo, the one where school is held Monday through Friday. We are talking about my time in Kitale, my time helping at the school and the children’s home, and he asks me what I think I will write about it. And so I tell him that I am not really sure, that four weeks of simply showing up at a place where I can’t communicate with the people, a place where there are so many kids and I am only one person and can’t do more than just let them hang on me, a place where I felt like I couldn’t measure any amount of success or work done, is a hard place to write about. I tell him though that I know there is something special about that place, that school. Because what is it that separates these kids full of joy and full of life, and the kids who choose to huff glue over receiving food? What separates two kids from the same place, and yet one has such vibrancy and the other seems so lost? Why is there such a stark difference between hearing my name shouted happily whenever I walk the streets of Shimo and the gunfire of rocks on a tin roof?
I tell Pastor Brian that maybe all it takes for a kid to be different is someone to be interested in them. Even if they are just a walking jungle gym that doesn’t speak their language. And maybe that that is what I will write about.
Pastor Brian smiles at me and asks me a question, this question: “Why do you think they come in such large numbers? It is not because we feed them. Not because we teach them. Why? It is because love is there. They know that that place is not forgotten. That they are not forgotten.”
I know that this is not rocket science. That if the answer is just “love people” we all search for something more complex. Which is perhaps why some of us avoid doing it altogether, because it isn’t sexy or rewarding or seemingly important. It isn’t a program, and at the end you cannot measure the distance you’ve come.
But maybe just showing up can make all the difference.
To read more about the street kids of Kitale, click here