November 2012. Krista and I are gallivanting across Africa to meet with women's organizations and learn about life in Africa (and because we are a little crazy). As someone who had never travelled outside the continent of North America, I experienced a range of emotions throughout our time spent across the ocean.
My one clear and defining moment came on a day that I was dreading. Quite frankly, I was scared. The Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya is the largest urban slum in Africa. There are approximately 1 million people living in an area not quite the size of Central Park. The Kenya government claims ownership rights to the land and doesn't formally recognize the settlements living within the area which means no basic services, schools, clinics, running water or lavatories are publicly provided. As if this wasn't enough to intimidate me, many people warned us not go there, that it was too dangerous, especially for two Canadian girls. I was about to spend an entire day in this very place Kibera and knew that as much as I tried to prepare myself for the experience, I would never be able to fully prepare.
Our first few steps into the slum were over a set of railway tracks. My picture was taken there, with piles and piles of garbage in the background. Krista and I continued on our way while I wondered if the soft reddish-brown earth we were walking on was earth, human waste or some combination of the two. Our first stop was to meet a woman named Dora who worked in the slum as a doctor. She was a Kenyan woman who explained that she had chosen to work in the slums because she felt it was important to serve the people and that she had given up lucrative pay in order to do so. She gave us a tour of the maternity ward that resembled a first world jail cell. It felt cold, harsh and unwelcoming. The medical equipment was some of the oldest I had ever seen and supplies were limited. The waiting area had signs with information regarding HIV and AIDS and What To Do If You Have Been Raped.
From the maternity clinic I had clear view out over the valley that Kibera sits on. The vast expanse of the slum was disheartening and my spirit was already crushed. Krista and I both wondered how in the world two white girls from Canada could ever think they could make a difference in such a large place.
Our journey continued on and every single one of our senses was assaulted as we moved through the winding paths and jumped crevices that were filled with human refuse. The sights, sounds and smells all spoke of hopelessness, despair and depravity to me. And then I met a little boy.
By the time we arrived at the Victorious group's location, I admit I had checked out. I could only allow myself to feel so much before it would break me. We were visiting Victorious on a friend's recommendation. Beyond knowing that this group of Kenyans created jewellery from animal bones, we had no idea what to expect. We met their leader – Jack- who greeted us with a wide welcoming smile. As I stood in a doorway, learning how animal bone is boiled and ground down into amazing pieces of jewellery, I felt a tiny hand slip into mine. It felt like a drop of hope in my palm. I looked down to see a little boy in an orange tee shirt, red cotton shorts and pink jelly shoes looking back at me. He stayed with me as we were shown other aspects of the jewellery making process and I felt my spirit start to open back up.
I was introduced to Lilian who told me that the little boy was her son. His name was Gift, because he was a Gift from God. Lilian is HIV+ , a mother to six children and is the head of her household. Gift climbed up to my hip and was interested in my cell phone that played music.
Krista and I sat down with Jack to look over all of the amazing products that are meticulously created by the very talented people in the Victorious group. Gift snuggled into my lap and held the phone as close to his ear as he could, listening intently to the same song over and over.
At this point in our day, I was supposed to be paying attention to the business-y stuff that a good part of our trip was supposed to be about. Krista was going through jewellery and asking my opinion on pieces. If you don't know Krista, you wouldn't know that she needs someone like me telling her “don't buy that!”, otherwise she will buy everything because she loves fashion, creativity and helping people. And I failed miserable that day.
Little Gift was peacefully asleep in my lap and my heart soared. In the middle of chaos and despair, peace existed. In the middle of a million people living lives with such difficult odds, hope flickered in me and I began to understand. While it was incomprehensible to imagine the path to health, safety and success for a million people, I could now see a path. It's was Gift's path. If I could work with Lilian and she was then able to send Gift to school and to pay for medication when he was sick, he would be on a better path.
From the top of the valley looking over Kibera, no one would ever see or know that little bit of help that helps a little one a lot. It's just one person in sea of needs. But to that one person, it makes a world of difference.
Krista is offering this same opportunity to you right now – for more information on Give 5 bags that are going to Kibera in a few weeks, go HERE.
Guess who my Give 5 bag is going to?
Sarah lives in Northern Ontario with her family. Sarah and her husband have four children, and one grandson. She is an avid reader and learner. In 2012, Sarah launched JustOne with Krista and travelled to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa together. Sarah has a blog we love to read called "Recipe for Messiness" that is about finding beauty amidst our messy lives.