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Anecdotes and Reflections: The Rift Valley Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Kenya about 10 weeks ago, we knew that Great Rift Valley families faced a mountain of challenges ahead. Jobs would be scarce and money even tighter than usual for those normally living on less than $2 per day, which described the bulk of the families with students at our schools.  A scarcity of healthcare resources would also threaten tens of thousands of valley citizens living in close quarters under the effects of poverty.

When schools are in session, our LEAP Preschool and Cornerstone students receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, plus morning and afternoon snacks. Because we have a RN on staff and a well-stocked pharmacy, we manage most illnesses, provide free medications and also give deworming treatment to all pupils every 3 months. Our students receive filtered water to drink, counseling, spiritual care, and a world-class education. But as the pandemic has dragged on and our schools remain closed, we have become increasingly focused on how to meet these vital needs for community children who attend Cornerstone and LEAP Preschool.

In March, we began hosting outreaches at Cornerstone so that we could provide for these needs effectively (watch this short video for a better understanding of what happens).

 

These events have been supported through our COVID-19 Relief Fund, which many of you have given to. Yet despite our best intentions, a few recent follow ups have challenged us to see that we could be doing more to assist these struggling people we have grown to love.

 

Celine

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.

– Maya Angelou

On May 14, a desperate father showed up unannounced at Cornerstone’s gate asking for old cardboard boxes. Recent heavy storms and flooding had so damaged his home that his family, including Cornerstone third grader Celine, were getting colder and wetter by the day. A few days later, our social worker, nurse, and community development coordinator paid this family a visit.

What they discovered touched their hearts. Celine’s family lives in a tiny $10/month rental with gaps in the walls and a leaky tin roof. Her parents had used plastic bags to create a ceiling and limit rainwater leakage. Sections of cardboard boxes had been used as partitions to create “rooms” just large enough for one sleeping space, a sitting room, and a cooking area. Despite their lack, Celine’s mother had managed to cheerfully decorate her sitting area with fabric wall coverings and bright patches of cloth. The home had a dirt floor, no plumbing, and no electricity. Additional cardboard patches had been used to block the inflow of cold air between crudely fitted wall timbers.

Reading these anecdotes from our social worker Theresa, I thought about the Celine I know who runs joyfully around the hallways of our beautiful campus and plays on the playset we installed last year. Julie and I read storybooks to her third-grade classroom weekly when school is in session, opening up new horizons with the turning of every colorful page. Each time we do, we reflect afterwards that we can almost hear brain cells wiring as they sit at rapt attention, soaking in every detail. Celine also loves to participate in the weekly chapel with the lower primary school, led by our loving Chaplain Tony.

Now, the dichotomy of Celine’s two worlds crashes in on me. But for her, who daily bears the brunt of such poverty, waiting for school to reopen must be like an endless nightmare. I have never, and will never, walk in her brave little shoes. I try to imagine sleeping on a dirt floor, cardboard walls and wind whistling past, with little girl fears swirling all around.

Her father, his pride weighing less than his love for her, knew this better than me when he humbly came to our gate in search of cardboard that day.

 

Jane, Joseph, and Geoffrey

 “Every kid needs at least one adult who is crazy about him.”– Urie Bronfenbrenner

 

 As we conducted our outreach to over 180 community families on May 12, one humble grandmother approached Theresa with a concern. As the primary caregivers to Cornerstone 5th grader Jane Wanjiru, her LEAP student brother Joseph, and 2 older brothers, she and her husband now faced a housing crisis. Due to recent heavy rainfall, their small home built with pressed dirt bricks and sticks had partially collapsed. This disaster had forced the grandmother to break African custom and move in with her son and his family of 7, which included Cornerstone 9th grader Geoffrey. One small homestead now housed 13 people under one roof, in the midst of a pandemic.

This dedicated woman had long been the champion for education of her extended family’s children, especially after her grandchildren’s biological parents abandoned them for jobs in Nairobi. She often thanked our teachers during home visits before her house collapsed. They tell us she praised Cornerstone for providing assignments, following up on students’ work during the pandemic, and donating nutritious food.

Not surprisingly, she has begun to help her family to get back on its feet. This determined grandmother has already made plans to build her family a new home made of stones with a cement floor and metal sheet roof. She has pledged to raise the money for all but the metal roofing sheets, for which she has asked Cornerstone to help.

Her fortitude and character have been like a hitching post in the storms of life for her grandchildren. They can make it because she is there for them with the support needed to help them stand firm. This story, though anecdotal, drives home an important point. When children face traumas like abandonment, abuse, parental violence, drug abuse, or natural disasters, studies show having one steady person as an attachment figure can make all the difference in how they cope and develop in healthy ways.

 

 

The Others

 

Every day we awaken to new stories from our social workers, teachers, and nurses. Each precious child’s family has unique struggles, some we never hear about. We often wonder how they get through lives filled with so many uncertainties and fears. And we equally marvel at the provision of God, who loved them so much that He showed up in the midst of their sufferings and brought them a school flush with enriching programs and practical provisions for their kids. Why did He come to them and not some other people group?

It took the power of God to steer Julie and me where He really wanted us to go. Seventeen years after our first visit to Kenya, we still cannot fully explain what happened. Why us?

Questions dissolve into another brilliant forever sky, stretched like His masterpiece over the jagged ends of high peaks above the Great Rift Valley of Kenya. Julie and I are rolling downhill again into its midsection on a May morning, ready for whatever comes next.  We honestly don’t try to figure out all of yesterday’s answers anymore. Challenges brought about by the pandemic and a recent flood are keeping us firmly focused on today.

It’s better this way, to live moment by moment, as participants in the middle of a God-wrought redemption. Much like our faithful Land Cruiser somehow navigates safely from high on the escarpment face to the valley floor daily, though pitching wildly back and forth on jutting stones, fishtailing in slimy mud, or pushing through herds of livestock, we know that God will also navigate us through the uncertain terrain of the day ahead.

Thank you all for continuing to provide the means for us to help children and parents and grandparents like the ones mentioned above. We trust you are also receiving your rewards now, and will again one day, in a place untouched by disease and storm.

 

Bob Mendonsa

 

 

 

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2 reviews
  • Cindy Mills
    10:13 pm - May 27, 2020. Reply

    I’ve so appreciated your descriptive entries about the flooding and pandemic. Maybe you’ll write a book some day! In the meantime, I’m grateful for you and Julie who are so willing to be used by God, trusting Him in wherever He leads!

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