When I set out on this around-the-world adventure, my big picture plan was to volunteer in as many places as I could from Fiji to Thailand to Laos to Bali. I had grand idealistic dreams of serving tons and tons of people, and who knows? Maybe I’d find a place to stick around for a while and make a difference.
What I didn’t expect was that it would be so challenging to find places willing to take on a volunteer.
I encountered numerous reasons why volunteering abroad wasn’t as easy as I thought; either I wasn’t around long enough (which I understand – kids need stability), or I needed a background check and an extensive interview process or I had to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the privilege of volunteering. There were so many obstacles in the way that despite my heart’s desire to serve around the world, it wasn’t until my visit to Kenya that I finally had the opportunity.
Fortunately my experience was worth the wait and I have been eager to share it with you for so many months! I wanted to get all my ducks in a row first because I know you will want to help… now that I’m ready to go, I want to introduce you to the kids at Compassion Center No. 755 in the Ngong Hills, Kenya.
While I was planning my RTW trip, a friend in Atlanta introduced me to Sammy, a Kenyan man living in Nairobi and working for Compassion International. (You may remember I stayed with his family while in Kenya.) Sammy set me up with the center nearest to his house, and I spent my days doing a variety of administrative tasks, doling out lunch and snacks, conducting home visits, walking to schools and conducting interviews with the kids’ teachers on their development, nourishment, behavior, etc., and the best part – teaching classes and playing with the kiddos!
Compassion is an organization I’ve been associated with since 2005, when I went on my first short-term mission trip to Bolivia. It was there in Santa Cruz that I was first exposed to extreme poverty. Since that first visit, I’ve been back to Bolivia twice, and I’ve sponsored a little girl named Issett since she was about 7 years old. (Best $38/month you could ever spend, I guarantee!)
I taught a class one morning to these kiddos, who are very motivated by candy
Through Compassion, sponsors around the world are connected to a child in one of 26 countries. You can pick a kid for any number of reasons – I know a lot of folks choose one with the same birthday. Then you exchange letters and send small gifts, like stickers or pictures of your family.
While it takes very little effort to maintain the relationship over the years and the miles, those letters are a lifeline for the child – a hope that someone, somewhere cares and wants the best for them.
Part of my job in Kenya was to read through and sort all the letters from the sponsors to the children and then to help distribute everything when the kids arrived. Even though I’ve been exchanging letters with Issett for years now, seeing all those other sponsors pouring themselves into the lives of these kids, even from afar, had me in tears every day.
1.2 million kids sponsored through Compassion are given food, education and medicine
At the Compassion center in Kenya, the same feelings I had in Bolivia came rushing back. Sadness and desperation and rage that there isn’t some way to make the whole world see this. Shame at the times I’ve wasted food and money and energy on trivial things. Helplessness knowing no matter how hard I try, I can never help them all.
The kids of No. 755
The part about volunteering in the third world that always amazes me is that kids are kids, no matter if they have a little or a lot. These precious little ones make due without toys or new clothes or running water or decent shoes, but they have the same spark you see from kids back home. And being a part of the Compassion program has given them a hope many in their situation don’t have. As I was organizing their files, I saw that many dream of growing up to be doctors, lawyers and teachers.
As I’ll show you in the next post, having the freedom to even dream up a vision like that is miraculous given where these kids come from. The kids at Compassion are the lucky ones, if you can imagine, as many of them have a sponsor.
A shining spot of hope in a very hopeless, helpless existence.
On the way to a hearty lunch after class
When I went to Kenya and started posting pictures of the precious kiddos, I heard from you – How can I help? What can I do? The first step was providing the Compassion center with some much needed supplies. Several readers donated and I matched it, so we had around $200 for pencils, pens, markers, paper, erasers, glue sticks, scissors and a couple of soccer balls. These days, it can cost that much just to outfit one kid back home with the necessary supplies for school, but that small amount purchased more supplies than those kids have seen at once in their lives.
I firmly believe if people only knew how easy it was to completely change the course of a child’s life, there would be far fewer hungry bellies in this world.
I’ve got a very easy plan to give 30 families a new start, but I need your help. First though, a tour of the slums where many of the kids from Compassion No. 755 live.
Want to help? Check out the details here.