Starfish

kyalo

I have to share a photo of this kid. He makes my heart smile. His name is Mwongela Kyalo, and he is in Class 1 (first grade) at New Hope Academy. His Dad works as the school caretaker and he has 3 siblings in the school as well.

This summer I noticed a child playing off to the side, away from other kids and appeared to be very sad. At closer look, he seemed very small and quite honestly, malnourished. Teacher Nelson was standing close by, so I asked him about this kid. It was Mwongela. He had recently been admitted to the school since his Dad had recently been hired to work at the school. I was very concerned from his physical appearance and the fact he was by himself and not interacting with the other kids.

As I talked to Teacher Nelson and then inquired a little more about his home life, I discovered that his Dad is a single parent providing for 4 primary school children by himself. Head Teacher, Festus, decided we could offer some additional support to the family through contributing staple foods and a cooking oven.

Now, as you see in the above photo, Mwongela has been in the school for about 4 months and is doing much better. He is healthy and he has friends. I continue to find him on the playground with a huge smile on his face and many kids around him playing.

New Hope Initiative impacts hundreds of children and families around the world. But the reality is that the work is really about individuals. Changing lives. Seeing people grow. Providing support for individuals to be the person God created them to be.

Pray for Mwongela. He still has a long way to go. And, life is very uncertain and fragile. But, God cares for him and New Hope Academy has given him hope for the future.

starfish

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).

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….

MO 3 (1)

MO 1

MO 2

Start checking our website soon for the new fall collection!

Check our website soon for the new fall collection!

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.

susan

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.

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! 

Making the Most of Your Short-term Mission Trip

Over the past several years, much has been said about short-term mission trips and if they are effective. You can find countless blogs about the merits of such trips and even books have been written on the topic. One of those books is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I highly recommend this book especially for someone currently preparing for a short-term mission trip. Actually, it is required reading for anyone traveling on one of New Hope Initiative’s overseas trips. On every team’s first day in country, I facilitate a training based on the principles of the book. The point is to help individuals from Western, wealthier nations understand the complexities of poverty and issues of developing nations and help them develop a sense of open-mindedness and thoughtfulness about what they will see and experience in a country that is very different from their own. I find it helpful material for anyone really committed to learning and experiencing all that developing nations have to offer.

For the past several weeks, we have been preparing to host almost 100 visitors from the United States in Kenya and Tanzania. It’s going to be a crazy summer, but one that I believe will be fun and fruitful. In addition to the principles of When Helping Hurts, I’d like to give a few guiding points to anyone traveling with us (NHI) or on an overseas mission trip in general. Your participation can be so encouraging, helpful and effective, but it can also be discouraging, detrimental and hurtful. By keeping a few things in mind, your short-term trip can be successful.

First, an attitude of patience, humility and flexibility will make your trip more enjoyable (for you and your host). Places like East Africa are not like America. Don’t expect things to be the same. Just because it is not like America does not mean it is bad. There are many, many things about East Africa that I find much better than America. The pace of life, the sense of community and hospitality and the weather are just a few things that come to mind. I could go on and on. Just know that there are good and bad things about other countries and, likewise, there are good and bad things about America. Coming into situations with patience, humility and flexibility will help you adapt to the new culture and find the good things to experience while you are there.

Secondly, a sense of humor is helpful. NHI Founder, Karen Baird, and I often laugh at the situations that we get ourselves into in Nairobi. For the most part, these situations are not the most desirable and should make us want to cry. But, instead, we laugh. Living and working in a developing nation requires a sense of humor. If you cannot laugh at the camel crossing six lanes of traffic or being repeatedly lied to your face, then you better not try to work in places like Kenya. Of course, it’s not always a laughing matter, but I find tackling difficult situations with humor resolves problems more effectively and keeps you sane.

Next, throw all your expectations out the window! Go with a posture of listening, learning, and serving. If you expect to be entertained, you will be disappointed. Of course, your host wants you to have a good time and experience all you can. Hosting visitors in developing countries is hard. Visitors are very dependent on the host. It is draining and as a host you always want to please your guest. For me, the best guests have been the ones that did not have their own agenda, but allowed me to show them Kenya from my perspective. One good friend of mine visited every slum in Nairobi with me, because I had work to do in each of them, and she came along for the ride. It was such a blessing to me. Another friend counted and sorted beads for our business project. It was a tedious, boring job, but it needed to get done and she was willing to do anything to serve. Go with the intention of serving your host. Believe me, they have been thinking about you and serving you for several weeks, so you will be blessed. I promise.

Lastly, learn about the countries you are visiting and the ministries before you leave the States. Do your homework. It will enhance your experience and give you a sense of how you can connect with the people and projects in the long-term. For me, success of short-term trips for NHI is helping the individual learn and grow and find ways to connect with our people and projects long-term. Short-term trips have had a profound impact on my walk with Christ and my personal development. I have always prayed for the Lord to show me how to connect long-term. If it is only about the 10-14 days you are in country, then it’s a waste. Pray about how God would want to shape you and use you through the experience.

In summary…

  • Have an attitude of patience, humility and flexibility.
  • Approach the trip with a sense of humor.
  • Manage your expectations about what you will accomplish.
  • Do your homework on the country and ministry you are visiting.

With these things in mind, I believe your short-term mission trip can be a huge success and effective for both you and your host! Looking forward to having you. Safe journey to East Africa!

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Friday afternoon volleyball at our academy in Kibera. So fun!

Camel crossing the road in Nairobi. What?

Camel crossing the road in Nairobi. What?

“shouldn’t be such a big deal”

“I mean, everybody should have access to medical care. And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.” Paul Farmer

A few years ago, I read Paul Farmer’s biography “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder. Since learning about Farmer and reading his biography, I have been inspired by his commitment to community health in some of the poorest areas in the world. He has worked to provide suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries, beginning in Haiti. He and the organization he founded, Partners in Health, have transformed the way healthcare is administered around the world and provided the model for changing community health in under-resourced areas.

Of course, we don’t have Paul Farmer working in our health clinic, but I have thought a lot about him and his work as we have set up our clinic in Kibera. Paul Farmer’s life has been about providing healthcare to those who do not have access to it. He believes that healthcare is a fundamental human right. I believe that is what we are providing with our clinic in Kibera. Healthcare is expensive. In places in the world where the government does not provide healthcare, individuals are on the own and many times cannot afford the care they need. With the start of our clinic, we are providing free healthcare for basic needs to the students in our Academy and Penda Project as well as the women in Project Biashara. It’s a small start, but I believe there is much potential due to the healthcare needs of the people I see.

New Hope Initiative has the vision of operating a full service community clinic in our project in Kibera in the future. And, we have made the first step toward that vision. I am happy to announce that we have completed the first stage of that clinic. The building is complete, stocked and open to receive students and women two days a week. We have a local, Kenyan nurse caring for their immediate needs and doing assessments for long-term care. In addition, we are gathering data about the healthcare needs of the individuals in our projects, so we can work to do trainings on individual health care measures and prevent disease.

Please pray for a couple of issues regarding our clinic:

  • The installation of sinks and running water – as you can imagine, this is tricky in a slum, but also mandatory for registration with the government.
  • For the registration process; that we would have favor with the local health official and be easily approved.
  • For Nurse Olive as she assesses and cares for the individuals in our projects.
  • For the future of the clinic and that we would one day be a fully functioning clinic that can meet the healthcare needs of the community.
Nurse Olive

Nurse Olive

Our medical intern, Robert, putting bandages on Stephen for the 10th day in a row!

Our medical intern, Robert, putting bandages on Stephen for the 10th day in a row!

Clinic Waiting Area and Pharmacy

Clinic Waiting Area and Pharmacy

Examination Room One

Examination Room

Examination Room and Hand Washing Station

Examination Room and Hand Washing Station

Pharmacy

Pharmacy

Examination Room One

Examination Room

Partnership

Part of my job here in Nairobi with New Hope Initiative is to host visitors and show them the work we support in East Africa. This week, I have had the best time with two dear friends that I have known for over 10 years. John and Dan are pastors from the Washington, DC area and have recently planted a church in Arlington, VA, Restoration City Church. I am very excited about the ministry the Lord has given these men in DC, and I’m also looking forward to the partnership we are starting between Restoration and New Hope Initiative.

It’s a quick trip, but John and Dan are visiting our projects in Kibera and even leading a few trainings for our staff. We are also making a quick trip to Arusha (today) to visit our ministry there. John will get an opportunity to teach Bible study to the local church. Please pray for our partnership with this new church in DC. We believe God has great things in store!

John and Dan spoke to our academy staff about leadership, time management and evangelism.

John and Dan spoke to our academy staff about leadership, time management and evangelism.

Rainy season has arrived! John and Dan got to experience Kibera in the mud!

Rainy season has arrived! John and Dan got to experience Kibera in the mud!