I have been asked to write a history of Kenya Matters many times. Though it should be easy to put on paper, we are a young organization that started in 2005. It always feels impossible to capture with words the experiences of this journey.
I can write about the adventure of traveling with my wife to Africa for the first time, not knowing where we would be staying, who we would meet, or the conditions we would find. I can write about the relative ease with which we raised $15,000 in a summer of small BBQ dinners on our back deck, with the expectation that upon our initial arrival we would find people to support and a structure to plug into. I can write about meeting an elderly widow who told us about her dream of a promise from God that visitors would be gifting her with 5 sheep vital for her survival – this just after we showed up with 5 sheep. I can write about the surprising consequences of a young man becoming clean and sober between our visits. I can only hope that these events convey a portion of the serendipity we have felt as Kenya Matters has developed and grown.
Beyond these special moments, Kenya Matters has been a grassroots movement rooted in relationships and mutual cultural learning. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised since 2005 by family, friends, neighbors and small church groups. We are a work funded by the good-heartedness of everyday people, who have risen en masse to collectively transform the lives of orphans, widows, and those struggling with extreme poverty and disease. We are a work that is carried out by Kenyan people who had gathered together to care for their neighbors and the orphaned children in their community-years before we arrived to give them a boost. What little they had to share, was shared.
Those of us who have traveled to Kenya have been so inspired by the generosity and commitment of the local staff, board, and village neighbors, that we have been challenged to rethink our own versions of “community” and expressions of generosity. We have thus been transformed by their culture. In return, we have worked hard to maintain a spirit of humility and collaboration that may not always be felt from Western initiatives in economically developing countries (while they may be developing economically, we seem in need of developing certain ethics and qualities in our own culture). We have received some feedback that encourages us to hope that they have also been transformed by who we are.
Since 2005, children have been fed, clothed, and given a place to sleep with mattresses and blankets. Students have returned to school, equipped with appropriate uniforms and supplies, and supported by tutors and mentors. Emotionally developing children have received love, attention, and attachment with caring adults – now affectionately referred to as Uncles, Aunties, even Mom and Dad. Pre-teens have been guided by both adults and their peers to value their role as important members of a larger community that works together to meet one another´s needs. In all of this, it has seemed fitting to start a 3-acre farm, build tanks and cisterns to collect rainwater, employ a staff of 7 with modest salaries, begin medical visits, loan animals to the community for economic development, and travel to visit our beloved friends several times a year.
A very good work has begun, but is far from finished. We often struggle to meet our budget, as we have no large funder underwriting our efforts. While water is more available than ever, we are still working to drill a well that should provide a much better standard of living. Kids are in school, getting healthier, and feeling safer, but their future is far from set. They need mentors to guide them into the future, help to create jobs for themselves, tuition for colleges, counseling for trauma, and continued encouragement to hope for tomorrow.
Perhaps our greatest pride at Kenya Matters is to see kids grow up with a desire to “pay it forward”. They pray for resources to help their relatives, neighbors, and sometimes siblings that can´t find room in the current program. They pray for their American friends, often by name. They are working hard to lift themselves up, as grateful recipients of God´s help and ours. They are motivated to continue on in life so that they can share more abundantly with others. The love and care they receive, expressed through their lives to others, is the hope I have.
Founder of Kenya Matters