“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi

Now, that I’m stateside and still working with New Hope Initiative, I’ve taken a bigger role with our project in India. You may remember a couple of blogs (here and here) I’ve written about the project that New Hope sponsors there. I visited last October and hosted the project leader, Grace, in Nairobi this summer.

NHI sponsors the Child Blossom Center in Hyderabad, India. Also known as CBC, the center is home to 20 children with severe, mild, and moderate level of mental and physical disability. There are also a few normal, or typical, children at the center. All the needs of the children are met including food, clothing, education, medical and psychological. The children are taken care of by full-time staff some of which live on site at the center.

Grace and I are meeting via conference calls regularly to establish our working relationship and also to identify her needs as a leader. Our first action item is creating easier ways for Grace to communicate the work of CBC. We are working on a blog site for her to update regularly and tapping into social media. We are also looking for new partners to support her ministry.

If you have any interest in our special needs orphanage in India or know someone who may like to partner with us, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Below are a few recent photos from Grace.

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India 10.15 3

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Same project. Different role.

After the weekend in Houston last week, I flew to Springfield, MO to attend a pastors conference and sell Project Biashara merchandise. It was fun being on the opposite side of the world but still working hard for our ladies in Kibera. Karen Baird and I set up tables at the conference and sold our products for 3 days. The days were long, but so fulfilling knowing that the sales will continue to help the women in Kibera earn a wage and support their families.

My favorite part of working in the States for NHI is talking about the people in Kenya. I love being able to tell their stories. Having spent almost a year and a half working with them in Nairobi, it’s personal to me. I know the money we make from Biashara sales goes directly to those women. I know what their lives look like. I know they live month-to-month depending on that paycheck from us to buy food, medicine and clothes for themselves and their children. I know that after we pay their paychecks, if there is money left, it goes to support a medical clinic in the community. I know that this medical clinic is crucial in caring for the children in our school. I know that these women are strong. They work hard. They give. They take care of people. They advocate for each other. They are not perfect, but they love the people around them.

I miss Nairobi a lot. Of course the first thing I missed with the weather – especially since it was 90 degrees with 100% humidity in Atlanta! But, I mostly miss the people. I want them to know that just because I’m not there doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them. I’m still working hard on this side of the world to tell their stories and help them provide for their families. And, I’ll see them in October. I’m heading back for about three weeks to finish up some projects and help host some visitors. I’m looking forward to being there and updating the readers of this blog on some things close to my heart – little Steven and all our NHI Kenyan leaders. So stay tuned….

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MO 1

MO 2

Start checking our website soon for the new fall collection!

Check our website soon for the new fall collection!

Life Givers

There are just those people in your life that give you life. You know who yours are. I tend to have quite a few. It would take me a while to name them all. Unfortunately, they are now scattered across the globe. I guess that’s what happens when you live in one of the most transient cities in the US (Washington, DC) and like to travel. I have been blessed to know some really incredible people and build deep friendships with them.

This past weekend, I got to spend some time with a few of those people. Some of those DC friends have moved to Houston and Dallas, and NHI’s founders live in Houston. I flew in for the weekend from Atlanta. So, what else to do than have a dinner party at the Monsivaizs?!? Gerard spend all day preparing brisket and Krisi made an abundance of tasty side dishes then sat us around the best dining room table for fellowship. We laughed. We ate. A lot. We talk about God. We talked about the challenges the world faces. We talked about the challenges we face in our individual lives. The only problem is that it ended too early. Well not that early – we were there past midnight. But, it was still not enough time.

It was a good lesson for me to take advantage of those special moments when worlds collide and everyone is in one place at one time. Such a sweet time. Such sweet people. My heart is refreshed and full.

life givers

Also, as an update to all my supporters out there, I’ve been spending most of my time in Georgia visiting family, getting to know my new baby niece and helping out with the older niece and nephew. I’ve also been living out of a suitcase (well, let’s be honest, 6 suitcases) for about 7 weeks now. Today, I’m moving into an apartment in Midtown Atlanta. As I get settled, I’m looking forward to finding a church in Atlanta, connecting with old friends and meeting new ones and also continuing my work with NHI stateside. I’ll stay on with NHI until the end of the year and keep you updated on what’s next for me. Thank you for your care and support of me over the last year and a half. It’s been a true blessing.

ATL skyline from my apartment

ATL skyline from my apartment

 

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.

family meeting

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.

edith

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!

sunset sabi sand

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.