Reflections: What did I learn?

Sitting, thinking by the fire in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.

Relaxing, thinking by the fire in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.

What did I learn living in East Africa?

Well, overall, I learned that living overseas changes you in ways that are not immediately clear but become apparent as time passes and you re-enter your home country. I’m still in the process of this.

But, here are a few things that come to mind now… I learned…

Nairobi is a long way from home and it feels like it.

I can make friends and build a life anywhere in the world – especially with the help of a local church and Christian friends.

I love East Africa and in some ways it feels more like home than the US.

When the sun comes up early, I prefer early to bed, early to rise.

I love animals and the outdoors even more than I thought and I’m a secret conservationist!

When working in a cross-cultural setting you must have patience and humility.

Honesty and integrity are not valued by all cultures even though I believe they should be.

My values and beliefs are well established and not everyone thinks the way I do (Okay, maybe I already knew this).

I can be wrong many times and need to admit my mistakes, but sometimes I am right and I need to be bold enough to stand by my convictions and conscience and not doubt myself.

There is a line between my own mistakes and someone else’s and I need to learn to tell the difference.

I love driving on the wrong side of the road and, deep down, I am a non-conformist!

Doing meaningful work that impacts lives brings me more joy than I ever imagined.

About God – I learned that He cares deeply and intimately for me. I learned that He grows my faith apart from my works. He is good. He is love. He is all sufficient, sovereign, omniscient, all-mighty, omnipresent.

Reflections: What do I miss?

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At the end of each year, I take time to think about the future, make goals for myself and plan out the year. Before I do that, I want to remember the past year and all that I’ve learned, the ways I’ve grown, the fun I’ve had! Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll use my blog to share some reflections from my life in East Africa. I’ll ask myself a few questions and share with you those thoughts. Hope you enjoy joining me in a time of reflection.

What do I miss about living in East Africa?

I miss the simplicity of life in Kenya. It’s hard to explain what I mean; it’s just a simple life in the best sense. There are less distractions and a more conscious focus on what matters most in life.

I  miss the noises. I miss the chaos. I miss the people walking on the side of the road and in the road. I miss the heard of cattle holding up traffic. I miss driving home on the by-pass watching the sun set behind the Ngong Hills. I miss waking up every morning hearing the loud Ibis singing outside my window and knowing that I had fulfilling work ahead of me. I miss falling asleep at night exhausted but satisfied. I miss the dry, cool air. I miss the early sunrises. I miss driving on the wrong side of the road. I miss the feeling of accomplishment when you arrived to your destination alive. I miss the smells – always a faint scent of burning charcoal. I miss my friends that God so clearly and timely put in my life as I moved to Nairobi. I miss the smiling faces of the children at New Hope Academy. I miss the grumpy faces of the women of Project Biashara that inevitably turn into smiles when I attempted to greet them in Swahili. I miss reading and talking about Kenyan politics. I miss walking through the mud to get to work every morning. I miss my church. I miss 59 Miotoni Close. I miss doing business on River Road. I miss my runs in Karen and my running partner. I miss meeting people from all over the world and hearing their stories. I miss Festus, Madame and all the leaders at NHI Kibera.

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I always got a thrill out of going downtown Nairobi to purchase supplies for our business project. Always an adventure…

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Every time I got behind the wheel, it was my mission to arrive safely at the destination. Driving in the U.S. is boring now.

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Purchasing beads with the ladies of Project Biashara.

Proud Mama

Steven

In July of 2014, I began telling you about a certain boy named Steven. I originally met him when New Hope Initiative hosted a one-day community medical clinic at our school in Kibera. He was 6 years old at the time and came to the clinic alone, because he had an infected bump on his head. Well, it turns out the “bump” was from a car accident a few weeks prior. He had been playing in the street near Kibera and got hit by a car. He was lucky to survive. The local staff and neighbors named him “the survivor”.

To say the least, he is living up to his name. After our first meeting, I prayed that I would see him again and be able to get to know him better. Sure enough, I spotted him the next week playing in the slum alone. After several meetings, I learned that he was not in school, because his mother could not pay school fees. I asked our Head Teacher, Festus, if we could take him at New Hope Academy. Festus agreed and Steven was enrolled in our pre-unit class July 2014 with the help of a generous donor in the States that agreed to sponsor him.

Because he had not been in school, we learned quickly that Steven was behind academically. His teacher recommended that he be held back and the school leadership decided that was best for Steven. So, at the beginning of 2015, he started pre-unit again. Pre-unit is the equivalent to kindergarten in the United States.

Kenyan schools give examinations to the students regularly to track their progress. At the beginning of 2015, Steven scored 52% on his class exam. It was a very poor score and we all began to worry if he could keep up and stay motivated to remain in our school. His teacher, Rosemary, agreed to stay late everyday and to tutor Steven to help him catch up. After much hard work on both Steven and Rosemary’s part, Steven scored 84% on his most recent exam! What an improvement!!

Today, I talked to our Academic Director, Ken, as well as Rosemary to ask them their thoughts and observations about Steven. Ken said, “We have seen great improvement in Steven. He is catching up and we are seeing changes. We have hope for him and believe he will be in Class 1 next year!” Teacher Rosemary reflected on his arrival, “From the time he came to New Hope Academy, he was totally bad. But now, his character is better. He is not stubborn any more. He is disciplined now and a nice boy. And, next year, he will join Class 1!”

Can you tell they are excited about his promotion to Class 1?

I was very happy to hear Ken and Rosemary’s comments. To hear that New Hope Academy has not only helped Steven academically but also helped him grow his character is such a blessing. I think it reflects the goals and vision of the school to not only educate kids but also to grow their character through the teaching of God’s word and by showing them the love of Christ.

Please continue to pray for Steven and his academic progress. Also pray for Ken and Rosemary and the rest of the teaching staff as they work hard to help these kids learn and grow to become the next generation of Kenyan leaders!

He may have been behind in academics and character but never in popularity.

He may have been behind in academics and character but never in popularity.

Steven says he has two mamas - his Kenyan Mama (left) and his Mzungu Mama (right).

Steven says he has two mamas – his Kenyan Mama (left) and his Mzungu Mama (right).

Karibuni Kenya

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This evening, I will arrive in Nairobi to visit for a few weeks. When I left back in August, I decided to return with NHI in October to finish up some projects and help the founders host a team from the US. I feel like there’s so much to do and so little time.

In addition to the NHI work that I’ll be doing, I plan to spend time with several friends. I am also starting to work on my next career step and it involves continued work in Nairobi. I haven’t fleshed out all the details to make an official announcement, but it’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to making connections this month that will further my intended plans.

So, what am I looking forward to in Kenya…enjoying the weather, catching up with my friends and Kenyan colleagues, checking in on Steven, and making stops at Java House, Talisman and many other yummy restaurants. I am also looking forward to reconnecting with my church community at EBC.

 

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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Start checking our website soon for the new fall collection!

Check our website soon for the new fall collection!

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