I remember watching the documentary Invisible Children – maybe in high school? I was blown away by the story of children who had been brainwashed into being part of gruesome violence. We are very lucky here in the United States.
Years later, as I was graduating from college, I traveled to Kenya (a much different trip then S had). During my short stay, I spent 2 of the weeks staying in a convent/hospital with the other students in my program. Our age group was from 18-25, which led to a very interesting dynamic. The time spent with the nuns was eye opening to say the least.
One night, I awoke to yelling, and the nuns rushing around. Our quarters were locked, and I knew we were safe. The next morning, one of the nuns told me that they had admitted a man in the middle of the night because he had been cut by a machete. According to the nun, the man had been trying to fight off his neighbor who was stealing his chicken. Several days later, I saw him sitting outside his hospital room, with one side of his face and his arm bandaged.
Each day we would walk to a different school where we would break into groups and participate in different activities. All of the children were required to wear a uniform to go to school, so in one of the most poor ones, often times families with more then one child would switch who would wear the uniform and go to school that day. In the lowest end school, most of the children would eat their only meal of the day for lunch. Usually a bowl of porridge. The entire community suffered greatly from lack of water and it was obvious. Our last day of the program we hosted a carnival for the 4 schools in the area at the Catholic Elementary Property. The head sister was in charge of informing the principals of the other schools about the carnival. Somehow the message did not get passed. Our group showed up ready to host the carnival and the only children there were from Sister Mary’s classrooms. Our group leaders protested and finally the other schools showed up.
I don’t want to say that I am jaded now because of my trip to Kenya, but the further I delved into the culture, the more motives I found myself questioning. I absolutely believe that what I helped accomplish in Kenya made a difference on the children, but my concern is that it made those children think that mzungu’s (white people) are only good for handouts. I can only imagine what the conversations were at home when the kids walked in with gifts from us – stickers, frisbees, and coloring crayons.
My trip to Kenya was life changing in a lot of ways. Even though I was only there for a short time, when I came back I felt unsure of my future and a little culture shocked. Lunch with my boss, her 4 year old daughter, and her daughter’s friend led me to tears as the girls played with their food instead of eating it. Half of the meal was thrown away. I couldn’t help but think about when I was a kid and someone said, “there are starving children in Africa.” Those words started to have meaning. I bawled to R about what had happened at that lunch and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “What are you going to send your grilled cheese to Kenya, Hannah?”
He was right. What was I going to do for those kids from across the world. Even mailing packages to them was not an option. I received a letter from a friend I had met and it had clearly been opened already.
I don’t want to discount my experiences in Kenya. I had a fantastic time. I met extremely hardworking women and believe that some causes are SO worth it. But on the other hand, some of the other people I met were liars, back stabbers, and wanted to take advantage of the generosity that was given to them.
I recently came across Falling Whistles. I’ll admit, my initial thought was, “How can this possibly help in Congo?” I read every single page on their website, learning more about Congo and about their efforts. Their style of working with Congolese contacts instead of sending our American experts, I can appreciate. When there is a common goal, there is a common path. Maybe that’s what caused my hurt in Kenya, every person I met had a different goal. They wanted so much from our group, and we couldn’t give all that they desired. I believe that Falling Whistles will be able to help create Peace, their efforts are clearly making some sort of difference if they have 55,000 whistle blowers on board and counting.
We are lucky in the United States. We can research and support non-profits of any type, international and domestic. What means something to you?