Fuzzy

Well, after a crazy last week in Nairobi, I am back in the U.S. I hope to take some time over the next few weeks and reflect on my time and work there. Hopefully, that will produce some more blog content as well i.e. lessons learned, NHI’s future, my future, etc.

For now, I just wanted to share that I have officially ended my time in Nairobi, but not necessarily with NHI. I’ve completed the commitment I made to New Hope and feel very satisfied in the work I was able to accomplish in Nairobi over the past 16 months. There is still more to do, so I will continue on with NHI until the end of the year and then move into a volunteer support role next year. It’s my intention to stay connected to NHI and the work in Kibera for a long time. I’ll return in October to help host a team of visitors and finish up some projects that I am working on.

Last Friday, the Kibera staff had a wonderful farewell party for me including a Kenyan feast, presentation of gifts and very kind words. I was overwhelmed by their love and appreciation. To say the least, it was hard to leave Nairobi. I had built a life there and made some great friends. While I do hope to stay connected, it will not be the same. But, who knows…maybe I’ll be back there again one day to live.

In the meantime, I’ve had some very important business to attend to here in the U.S. First on the agenda was my brother’s Family Meeting chaired by Family President Parks and then on to meet the newest member of the family, my sister’s daughter, Edith Lauren.

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Not a good photo of me, but I couldn’t crop out myself and still get the gavel. Yes, she has a gavel. With her name on it.

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Edith Lauren Atkinson

3 Reasons to Go on Safari

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Since living in East Africa, I have become a safari junkie. It’s ridiculous, really. Most people may go on one safari in their lifetime if they are lucky. On average, I have gone on safari about every other month since living in Kenya. I am currently on safari in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Now, I must say that I am bias towards Kenyan safaris but this place is pretty incredible too. So, today’s blog is dedicated to the African animals and land that I love. Here are my top 3 reasons everyone should go on safari.

#1: Safari is one of the most peaceful yet invigorating experiences you can have.

Being in the African bush is very peaceful for me. Miles away from the busyness of a city, limited access to technology and media, and the sounds of nature are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons why the bush is so peaceful. Fresh air, moderate temperatures, and sunny, blue skies make for great safari weather. In addition, there are few distractions and lots of space to think, breath and dream.

But, then, you jump in a safari vehicle with a rough and tough local ranger (see photos below of Jackson and Rein – two of my favorites) and you are in for an adventure! These guys love the land and the animals and showing them off! Every ride is different. You could go on safari every day for a year and see something different every time you go out. The mystery is part of the adventure. You never know what you will see. This morning, we started by tracking a pride of lions including 3 cubs. We found them pretty quickly and began slowly following them. Once they stopped, they treated us to some magnificent photography! Next, we found the oldest and largest leopard on the reserve.  He was huge – definitely the largest leopard I have ever seen on safari. After driving past a breeding lion couple lying in the middle of the road, we were surprised by our second leopard sighting. This guy was only a year old and sat on top of a termite mound. These three sightings were all in our sunrise drive and also included animals like giraffe, elephant, and many types of antelope.

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My sister and I having coffee with Jackson, our ranger in the Mara.

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Rein, our South African ranger, sitting on top of a termite mound in Sabi Sand. Don’t worry, the gun was for protection only.

#2: Safari is good for the local communities.

The animals, the land – they are the natural resources of the people and country where they are found. This natural resource can be used for so much good towards the local community. The Kenyan government has done a reasonably good job protecting its land and animals, but it’s the private reserves that are leading the way in conservation efforts. One in particular, is the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. Not only are they conserving the land and animals but they are doing it in a way that benefits the local economy – giving jobs to locals, building schools and health clinics, and promoting local and foreign tourism which boost the overall GDP of the nation.

#3: Safari gives you a deeper respect for nature and all of God’s creation.

For me, as I have grown to love the African bush and animals, I have grown in my understanding of God and His creation. He is so creative and orderly and His creation shows that so clearly. Consider a lilac-breasted roller, the official bird of Kenya, and the warthog, Pumba from the Lion King. Beauty and the beast. Yet, each have their unique qualities and roles in nature and reflect a beauty that only the Creator can give.

The lilac-breasted roller and the warthog.

The lilac-breasted roller and the warthog.

This isn’t to say an animal is more important than a human, but I have come to have a deeper understanding of the stewardship we, as Christians, are to have towards the earth and all of God’s creation. That doesn’t mean that I’ve become a vegetarian or decided to work for PETA. But, it does mean that I will have a more open mind towards conservation efforts and the protection of endangered wildlife.

So, don’t take my word for it…go on safari and see for yourself!

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The Time of My Life

My time in Nairobi is winding down, and I’ve begun to reflect on my life and work here. It has truly been an incredible year – probably the best year of my life so far. I am not really sure what has made it so great – maybe it’s the simplicity of life in Kenya or that every day living in East Africa is an adventure; maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to do something I’ve only dreamed about doing; or maybe it’s because I feel so satisfied in my work – like what I am doing really matters.

Ultimately, I know that God is the one responsible for the contentment and satisfaction I have felt this past year and a half. He has been so kind to me. I have experience joy and peace like never before. The Lord has grown my heart for others and deepened my understanding of who He is and how He works in this world (and how He works in my own heart). I am left with one feeling – gratitude.

I am grateful for my God – because He not only saved me but has given me an amazing life with Christ. I am grateful for my family and friends back home who have supported me along the way. I am grateful to Sandy and Karen Baird for giving me this opportunity. I am grateful for my Kenyan colleagues who have received me and loved me so well. I am grateful for my Kenyan church, EBC, and for my Kenyan and ex-pat friends in Nairobi . You all know who you are.

I still have a few weeks left in Africa, but, while I’m on holiday, I wanted to take this time to say, thank you.

I am currently on holiday with two of my most dear friends in the world. We drove down to the southernmost point in Africa yesterday - Cape of Good Hope.

I am currently on holiday with two of my most dear friends in the world. We drove down to the southernmost point in Africa yesterday – Cape of Good Hope.

Laughter is the best medicine

Today, I had one of the most frustrating days since I have been in Kenya. I don’t want to get into the details except to say that the best part about the day was spending it with Festus Muendo, New Hope’s local leader in Kibera.

Festus and I drove three and a half hours (one way) to check on our Penda students who are in boarding school. New Hope sponsors over 130 high school and college students in secondary and post-secondary education. Seventy-six of those students attend two boarding schools outside of Nairobi. As Festus and I were driving along the last 40 minute stretch which was a dirt, washed out road, we both asked the question “why did NHI pick this school?”

Well, our question was answered quickly when we arrived and met with the school staff. The leadership of both schools (boys and girls) were professional, smart and cared deeply about our kids. Festus and I both left encouraged and confident in choosing these schools.

If you are interested in learning more bout Penda Project, check out the website here.

The frustrating part was when we learned that someone we care about disappointed us. That’s never easy and for me creates a lot of internal frustration. On the flip side, I learned that Festus is one of the best people to be with in a crisis. After a thoughtful time of reflection and cooling down, he cracks a joke about the whole situation and we both have a good laugh. Like I have said before, sometimes humor is the only way to cope with life in Kenya.

I have learned so much from Festus. I am going to miss him when I am back in the States.

Festus and Steven.

Festus and Steven.

Festus leads exercises for the kids before their exams to help them relax.

Festus leads exercises for the kids before their exams to help them relax.

DC Friendships

Ugh…it’s the first time I’ve missed my Wednesday blog post since January. I was doing so good. So, here’s this week’s post…two days late!

I’m hosting a team from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia, and I’ve gotten behind on my usual postings, photography and, generally, life. The team has been great, and it’s been nice to have people from my sister’s ministry visiting. And, of course, it’s always nice to have Bulldawgs around!

In all the busyness this week, I was reminded of God’s careful hand in our lives and how He ordains everything, even our relationships. Yesterday, Susan Sweat stopped by our project in Kibera for a visit. I met Susan almost 15 years ago when I first moved to DC. We both worked on Capitol Hill right out of college and had mutual friends. We share a southern heritage. Over the years, we haven’t been close friends, but we’ve stayed updated on each other’s lives through our mutual friends and attended the same church. And, we were often involved in similar ministries and social circles.

Well, she and her husband, Scott, have been supporting a ministry in Kenya for the past several years. She was here to visit that ministry, David’s Hope, and contacted me to stop by New Hope. As we chatted yesterday, we realized how similar our ministries are and identified some areas we can partner and share best practices. The Director of David’s Hope was with her, and we got a chance to connect him to New Hope’s local leader, Festus Muendo.

It was encouraging to me to chat with her, catch up on our mutual friends and common interests and dream and plan about how we can work together in the future. I’m excited to see how God may use this friendship that He began years ago. You just never know who God will keep in your life and how he will use those people for His glory.

Check out David’s Hope and the wonderful ministry they are doing for the people of Eburru, Kenya.

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My Favorite Emerging Leader

Grace helping out with the kids at New Hope Academy in Kibera

Grace helping out with the kids at New Hope Academy in Kibera

Last week we had many visitors in town, but one, in particular, was a very special visitor. Grace Sathului is the daughter of Pastor Timothy, the gentleman who leads New Hope’s India project. They operate a special needs orphanage on the outskirts of Hyderabad, India. Locally, it is called the Child Blossom Center. Sandy Baird and I saw Grace last October when we visited the orphanage and invited her to come to Kenya to visit our project here. Grace and I had a wonderful time together as I hosted her in Nairobi. She volunteered at our primary school and business project and even got to go on a Kenyan safari. She spotted 4 of the Big 5 – not a bad experience for her first time on the African continent!

Before she departed, I sat down to interview her about leadership and her current role with New Hope. She has a full-time job in Hyderabad, but leads and directs the orphanage with her family in her free time. We believe that she is one of NHI’s most promising emerging leaders.

Q: How long have you been involved with NHI and what position did you start in?

About 7 years ago, my father started taking in children with special needs and by 2005 we were a registered orphanage helping children in our city with special needs. These children were not being taken care of by their parents and/or they were abandoned. At the time, I was in college. About 5 years ago, I finished college and the Lord drew me closer to the project. I started to take more of an interest in what my father was doing at the orphanage. I started visiting the children regularly and taking more interest in the ministry to them. I have a heart for children so that makes me more attached to the orphanage.

Now, I visit the orphanage about once a week when I am off of work. I also help my father in making leadership decisions and directing the work of the project.

Q: Who has been the most influential leader in your life and why?

My brother has been the person that I have looked up to since a young age. My dad has been very influential in my life, because he taught me how to have a heart for children, be service oriented and be obedient to God and no one else. Also, Uncle Sandy (NHI Founder, Sandy Baird) has influenced me, because I’ve learned a lot from him to move the orphanage forward and grow it. The way he helps us, assists us and advises me has been a big example to me.

Q: How do you define leadership?

Leaders are supportive. That’s how things get done. Not being authoritative. Leaders also have the knowledge about what they are doing to accomplish their goals.

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the children of the Child Blossom Center?

I want our children to have a room of their own and better medical facility. Also, better funding on emergency medical needs; better housing; better teachers and courses or material that can teach students with special needs. My dream is that each of our children would learn daily life activities, so they can do things on their own and be more self-sufficient and, ultimately, have a better quality of life. Their needs will not allow them to be totally self-sufficient, but they can learn activities to keep themselves occupied and give them a purpose for their life.

Q: Anything else you want to tell my blog readers?

I don’t know if you have interacted with children with special needs – if you have, you know how difficult it can be. It’s a challenge, but we believe that God made everyone for a purpose. There are children in India who don’t know that – we want to take care of them and tell them that and help them know they do not have to be alone.

On safari in central Kenya.

On safari in central Kenya.

Meeting some of the staff in Kibera

Meeting some of the staff in Kibera

More bunk beds, more visitors, more grace

Now, I’m up to 3 sets of bunk beds. I am hosting a second team and have a full house. In addition to the team I am hosting from Detroit, we have another team from Houston here bringing our current total visitors to 45. The Detroit team is hosting a day camp for our lower class students and the Houston team is leading a sports camp with the upper class students. The kids are having a blast. And, we are maxing out every restaurant in Nairobi!

With the extra visitors comes lots of logistical challenges and coordination. Our founder, Sandy Baird, is a whiz at the logistics and some how he always gets people where they are suppose to be at the right time. For me, it’s a bit exhausting. I love the visitors and it’s so much fun meeting new people and showing them the work of New Hope Kibera, but it does require an extra dose of grace.

A couple of weeks ago, after hosting our first round of visitors, I was sharing with our Biashara Director, Scola, that I was struggling a little, mostly just tired and lacking patience. Scola is such a godly woman. She listened to me with understanding and just said, “Lauren, God’s grace is sufficient for you.”

What a reminder! She is right. Sometimes I don’t believe it and many times I try to rely on my own grace to get me through the day. I try on my own to bring peace and patience into my life and my daily struggles, but the reality is that I can do NOTHING on my own.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Our team members are always interesting to our kids...

Team members are always interesting to our kids…

Our kids love when visitors come because they get to take a break from school work and have fun!

Our kids love when visitors come because they get to take a break from school work and have fun!

Team member, Erma, encouraging our teachers.

Team member, Erma, encouraging our teachers.

My Favorite Academic Teacher

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Since arriving in Kenya, Kenneth Oloo has stood out to me. He is a rising star. I was not expecting to find such a young, capable leader whose character is defined by humility, loyalty and honesty. We call him “Teacher Ken”. He has consistently grown as a leader and consistently grown in my estimation of his abilities. He is a very young man, but does his work with maturity and diligence. He is trusted by the Head Teacher, students and parents and has a deep commitment to Christ and to teaching the Word of God. I sat down with Teacher Ken today to learn more about his life and view of leadership.

Q: How long have you worked at NHA and what position did you start in?

I came here in May of 2013. I’ve been on staff at New Hope Academy for two and a half years. In 2013, I was hired as the Class 4 Teacher. Last year, I was asked to be the Assistant Academic Teacher & Class 5 Teacher. And, now, this year, I am the Academic Teacher which is considered part of the administration and school leadership.

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

First of all, when I was in high school, it was my dream to be a teacher. So, I decided, although my parents were not well off, they were unable to pay for my college, I moved to Nairobi in 2011 and started tutoring pupils, neighbors and decided this would be my career. After tutoring for a while, I started applying for jobs at local schools, but I was not trained. New Hope hired me even though I had not been trained. When I started at New Hope, I started college by taking classes at night and received a certificate in education. Now, I am planning to start my diploma this year in August.

Q: Now, that you are in administration, do you miss teaching?

I still teach Social Studies to Class 7 and English to Class 8.

Q: Who has been the most influential leader in your life and why?

First, when I stepped into this school, I became friend to Head Teacher (Festus Muendo), and he was acting as my parent and mentor. We would sit, and he would advise me and really influenced my life and really made my life to change.

Q: How do you define leadership?

Leadership is the state of the position of being a leader. The way of organizing and planning things in a place or organization to improve the lives of the people.

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the students of NHA?

I hope to ensure that the students of NHA reach their academic goals. And, also to ensure that I am a mentor to them. My hope for them is that they live according to the Bible and that they know the Word of God, and the Word is directing them to excel in their life.

Q: Anything else you want to tell my blog readers?

New Hope Academy is a great place that has literally up-lifted the children in Kibera. It is still strong and still looking forward to eradicate poverty in Kibera by educating children here and giving them a hope for their future.

Today I am thankful

I don’t have anything clever to say today or an amazing photo to post about my life in Nairobi. But, here are the most recent photos on my iphone.

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Biashara is working on some new designs this summer. The dark blue/gold necklace is a cascade that our Founder, Karen, designed. And the red/multicolored necklace is actually an old design we are bringing back. Check out our website in the coming months! We are working hard this summer to prepare for the busy fall season and holiday sales.

Steve

Also, I have three teams staying with me over the next month. In the photo above, I am walking behind my friend, Steve, carrying new mattresses and helping me purchase bunk beds (or double decker as they call them) for the guests. Steve is one of my favorite people here. He helps me with various tasks associated with living in Nairobi and he takes care of my car. He is one of the people that I depend on here.

Today, as I was walking behind him, it made me realize how many Kenyans I follow. I’ve started running again with my Kenyan running partner who is obviously faster than me. So, I mostly see his back. I follow him through the roads of Karen and follow his every step. There’s also my friend and colleague, Scola, who manages Biashara. She leads me spiritually, reminding me often of God’s grace and how sufficient it is for our daily tasks. There’s Festus, the Head Teacher of New Hope Academy, who teaches me about the culture and brings a lot of laughter into my life. And, then, there’s my pastor, Ken, who teaches me the Word of God and points me to the gospel each week. You know, I came to Kenya thinking I would serve the people here, but, actually, they are serving me. It’s a humbling realization.

My Favorite Madame

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This lady has become a very bright spot in my life and work here in Kenya. Everyday that I walk into the New Hope Kibera compound, she lights up with a big smile and greets me. She always compliments me and makes me feel like a celebrity just walked up, and I am the celebrity. I have come to adore her, trust her and laugh with her often. Our favorite laugh is making fun of each others colorful rubber boots on rainy days. I have hot pink ones; she has purple.

Madame Francisco Mutunga is the Deputy Head Teacher at New Hope Academy in Kibera. I like to tell everyone, she runs the place. And, while many people come together to accomplish our work, Madame Mutunga is the solid cornerstone that holds it all together. She is loyal, hard working and bright. She loves her family and has made the New Hope family part of her own.

I sat down with her today to talk about her work and views on leadership. I love her concise yet thoughtful responses to my questions.

Q: How long have you worked at New Hope Academy and what position did you start in?

I have worked here at the school since 2006. I started as a teacher, teaching math, Kiswahili, science and CRE to Class 4, 5, & 6.

Q: What was the school like then?

Terrible. Unexplainable. 

Q: Why did you become a teacher?

First of all, I wanted to work with children and mentor them. Secondly, in the teaching profession, as you do the work you can learn more. That was appealing to me – to continue learning while working. 

Q: Now, that you are in administration at the school, do you miss teaching?

Yes, I miss it, so now I try to find time to be in the classroom as much as possible. I teach science, to Class 4 and math to Class 5.

Q: Who has been the most influential leader in your life and why?

When I was young, my father died, so my uncle took care of me. My aunt (his wife) became very influential in my life. She taught me the realities of life and many things that have helped me in my life.

Also, Head Teacher, Festus, has influenced me and taught me many things in leadership and real life situations. 

Q: How do you define leadership?

Leadership is the ability to direct and involve yourself and others in planning and doing certain things. 

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the students of NHA?

Many of our students come from poor families who stay within the slum all their lives. My hope is that God would help them learn and get a good future and help their families leave the slum and get a better life than they have today. 

Q: Anything else you want to tell my blog readers?

Thank God for you and your heart to help. Thank you for sending Lauren, because she has transformed us. She has been a great support to us. Thank you for the great job you have done to let God fulfill his word unto you that says whoever ministers to these little ones of mine, ministers unto me. Amen!