A trip to slums of Nairobi….
While in Nairobi, a few years ago, my host wanted me to meet some of the orphans in the city. At the time, aids had killed many of the Kenyan parents, leaving hundreds of children on the street, literally begging for food. But some of these orphans were able to pull tougher and create “families” of orphans that lived together in a sort of commune. They shared what they had and the older ones looked after the younger ones.
One afternoon my host took me to the middle of Nairobi, to an area between several other buildings, to a block building that was long ago abandoned and incomplete. There was no roof or windows—-just the four walls of the main floor with a door way. But inside there were thirty little boys—-five to twenty years old. All dressed in rags, dirty and quite shy and nervous as we walked into the home.
“Mzungu” is Swahili for “white man” and that’s what I was to these boys. I was a Mzungu, and whereas I have no idea what they thought of a white man, I was told that I was actually the first Mzungu they had ever met. They were quite careful, almost afraid, as I tried to let them know that I was glad to meet them. They obviously did not trust me and could not keep their eyes off of me; they seem intrigued and fascinated to actually hear one of these white men talk.
Anyway, I was touched by their kindness to each other and saddened to know that each of them had no parent, or their parent(s) had kicked them out of their homes because they could not feed all the children. Their lives were pitiful but their spirits were amazingly positive.
And so I asked them what I could do to help them. I had thought maybe they would like a soccer ball, or some new shoes, or for me to take them to a small restaurant for a meal. But I was astonished, when one by one, they meekly told me that one wanted to purchase a shoe shine kit to earn a living, or $15 to purchase a driver’s license so that he could be an apprentice to a taxi driver, or a small tool box so he could a carpenter’s helper. Each of their requests had to do with what they needed to make a living and, I assume, be able to buy their own food rather than beg for it or search through garbage cans.
I quickly could determine that to meet all their needs (30 boys) would cost me less than $500. I told my host to let them know that I would get each of them what they asked for, that very day, if they promised to use it as they requested. There was some dumbfounded silence from the boys as my friend told them what I said in Swahili, what I would do. And then an older boy began to laugh loudly. I asked him why he laughed, and with a big smile he told me that when the six year old boy standing beside him heard that the Mzungu had agreed to give each boy what they asked for, he whispered to the older boy, “Is he an angel?”
A small act of kindness and a child thinks he’s seen an angel. Showing generosity to these children was my pleasure—-and my responsibility. They were orphans, they had a need, and I could respond to that need. But I wondered how many times they were treated less than kindly by shop owners, or wealthy tourists and perhaps wondered, “Is he a demon….”
We need to listen to the poor. No one chooses to be poor. It happens…. and for millions, there’s no way out. We should also be ashamed of what we waste, hoard and accumulate.
By spending $500 I could not purchase presents for my wealthy friends and members of my family back home. But thirty little lives were changed…
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