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.

 

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

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.

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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.

Just a Week

Since returning from my adventure on Kili, my life in Nairobi has been busy! I had hoped to do another interview for the blog with one of our leaders, but I haven’t had the chance. So, I thought I’d share a little about the past week and a half.
Things are moving along quite well at our projects in Kibera. Robert Elrod, a medical student from Nashville, started interning with our health clinic last week. He and Nurse Olive have completed basic health assessments on all of our primary school students. He has already been a huge help, and I’m excited to see the progress we make this month in the clinic.
It's nice to have a registered nurse and medical student running our clinic. I would have sent this kid for surgery based on his crying after he fell in the playground.

It’s nice to have a registered nurse and medical student running our clinic. I would have sent this kid for surgery based on his crying after he fell in the playground. Obviously, from the photo, he was fine.

Our primary school completed term 1 with end of term exams and celebrated today with the closing ceremony. Students are out of school for April, and we will be doing professional development for teachers and tutoring for class 8. Today at our closing ceremony, we encouraged the students to continue in their studies and have a Happy Easter! We had a great turnout for the parents meeting today and continue to be encouraged by our parents and their involvement in the school and students’ education.
The kids listen during closing ceremony for Term 1.

The kids listen during closing ceremony for Term 1.

Some of my favorite times every week are during the teachers daily prayer and praise time after the kids are dismissed.

Some of my favorite times every week are during the teachers daily prayer and praise time after the kids are dismissed.

Also, my friend, Ava Darnell, owner of Slumlove Sweater Company was in town for a visit. We had many great laughs together and got a lot accomplished for her company. We met with some potential new suppliers and had the opportunity to connect with other business owners in Kenya who are striving to run ethical, fair trade companies that benefit their employees and customers. We also found a market full of great products made by Kenyan artisans!
Ava is so talented. Here are some of our drawings for her fall collection. Photo credits to Ava Darnell.

Ava is so talented. Here are some of her drawings for Slumlove’s fall collection. Photo credits to Ava Darnell.

Lastly, on a more personal note…I found out this week that I’ll be having another niece! Can’t wait to start shopping!
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After a busy couple of weeks, I’m ready for our Easter trip to the beach! Looking forward to spending some time on the Kenyan coast this weekend with great friends.

Ngong Hills

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“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Quite possibly the most recognizable sentence by ex-pats in Nairobi, these words open Karen Blixen’s memoir “Out of Africa”. Blixen was a Danish Baroness who spent 17 years in Kenya, a British colony at the time. The book and later produced movie chronicle her life in the colony and pay great tribute to the beauty of the land and people of Kenya.

This past Saturday, we hiked the Ngong Hills, peaks in a ridge along the Great Rift Valley that overlook the Nairobi suburb, Karen, named after Karen Blixen. There are four main, knuckle-shaped summits. The rolling hills were a great way to train for Kili. We completed more than 16 kilometers since we covered all the hills and hiked back to the start. It was challenging but enjoyable. The views of Nairobi and the Great Rift Valley make the hike worth the trouble. We even got a glimpse of Mt. Kenya.

Not the best photo of me, but these are my hiking buddies that will attempt to summit Kili with me.

Not the best photo of me, but these are my hiking buddies that will attempt to summit Kili with me.

Look at the View

“Beauty awakens the soul to act.” Dante
As I sat down to write this week’s blog, I didn’t really have much to say. Of course, there are plenty of things going on in my life and limitless stories to tell about the work I do. But, nothing too exciting happened this week, and I was not feeling so creative. I decided to share some of the beauty of Africa that I have experienced.
This past Saturday, I went to one of my favorite places in Nairobi to call one of my best friends – there is good wi-fi there and the view is unbelievable. I found this spot when my parents visited last summer. Hemingways overlooks the Ngong Hills. It is beautiful, and one of the best places to watch the sun set in Nairobi. After the life-giving conversation with my dear friend and a sunset that did not disappoint, I felt my soul was renewed and ready for the week ahead.
Here are some of the views I’ve enjoyed since living and traveling in Africa. I hope the beauty inspires your soul as much as it does mine.
Hemingways Nairobi, overlooking the Ngong Hills.

Hemingways Nairobi, overlooking the Ngong Hills.

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Sunset at Lewa Conservancy

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Sunrise in Massai Mara

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Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side

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Indian Ocean from the coast of Zanzibar

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Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

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Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda

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Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda

Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

Tea Farm in Limuru, Kenya

Tea Farm in Limuru, Kenya

New Year’s Resolutions

Wow, it’s been over a month since I posted. I guess I should add consistent blogging to my New Year’s resolutions. Since arriving back in Nairobi on January 4th, I’ve jumped right back into work and reconnected with my coworkers and friends here. It’s been nice to sleep in the same bed after sleeping in 9 different beds while home for the holidays.
As I’ve planned for the upcoming months, there are two major goals that I want to accomplish before I head back to the States in August.
  1. Finish my NHI Work Plan
  2. Climb Mt Kilimanjaro

There are other things on my “list of things to do while living in Africa”, but those are the big ones. As I work towards these goals, I’ll try to keep you updated weekly on the blog. For now, I’ll leave you with one of the first and latest photos of my little friend, Steven. What a difference New Hope Academy makes! Photo credits go to Karen Baird.

Steven in July 2014 / Steven in January 2015

Steven in July 2014 / Steven in January 2015