Meeting the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy

I woke up today, just like any other day. Opening my eyes minutes before my alarm clock, and the usual tension between my bed and the outside world, as to which would serve me better for the next few hours. My bed will serve me, but I could serve the outside world… and so I got up, and out.

But first Current Stats (changes in red)

Arrests: 0
Police Searches: 2
Near Death Experiences: 1
Stomach Issues: 7
Illnesses: stomach parasite, bee sting
Bandwidth: 1.5 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 10km

Ok back to business:

As many of you know, I am on the board for Seeds For Hope, a non-profit org started by my sister and a few friends, in order to provide the means for young people to get educated when their circumstances prevent them. The vision is clear, and while we are small, and sponsoring about 20-30 young people, the time has come to expand. We’re working on a campaign now, to create more awareness in the US about the growing need of education in countries like Kenya in the way of fighting and eventually crushing poverty. While there are many actions needed to be taken to end poverty, education is just one of them, and that’s where SFH fits in.

Nadia gave me the responsibility to go out and find contacts and make relationships with people, that we can both build relationships with, and also interview, as part of a short film that will be one of the main venues of our campaign.

Coffee With Gerald


Gerald was a man I got in contact with, through a friend named Debs. Gerald who was brought up in Western Kenya, has made it his life’s mission to educate young people. This guy is SO active, not just in his full time job as director of a Primary School in Riruta (outside of Nairobi) but he volunteers at Vision Africa, and administers a 118 school partnership in the Kibera slums, among MANY other things.

Gerald and I spoke over coffee, and then he invited me to take a trip with him to Riruta, to check out his school and meet the kids, and see if we could arrange for some video footage, and interviews for Saturday. We took a nice but bumpy Matatu trip out to Riruta, to a place called “Precious Junctio” named after the Precious Blood Catholic Mission in the area.

We arrived at the St. John’s Academy, a primary school for the equivalent of K through 8. One room for each grade level. 9 Rooms. The teachers are paid roughly 4500 KSH per month, which is about 60 dollars, roughly 2 dollars per day. School fees cover all expenses from rent, to salaries, to food, to logistics… and they’re barely making it. The kids however, are resilient! Many of them are performing better, according to the national standards, than the “upper class” school, JUST next door. They are proud of their school, and proud of their work. Unfortunately, many will not be able to continue to high school.

The grade 7-8 classes were much smaller, and mostly women were attending. Turns out that many children drop out after grade 6, because it is a weed-out year, in the Kenyan system. Many people don’t see the need at all to be educated because jobs are just unavailable. Why spend the money for a degree if you can’t even get work afterwards? This is the big question that many people ask.. and it’s a question that our organization will have to face.

I got a chance to meet the kids, and talk with Gerald in depth, and I see this as a great opportunity to find a school to partner with.

Kibera Girls Soccer Academy


Later that afternoon, I met up with another man that my friend referred me to, named Abdul. Abdul is a technician for one of the major telecom providers in the country, and he has made it his life’s work, outside of his day-job to change the lives of a group of young women in Kibera. It started out as a soccer club, where these girls could get away from the stresses of their home lives, and some of the high risk situations that they are in, in order to form community and partake in something positive.

After some time, Abdul kept seeing the need for these girls to get educated, and to overcome their situations, but unfortunately, the money to pay for secondary schools is just unavailable! Usually girls in their early – mid teenage years can be taken to early marriages, and other less-favorable situations, but he wanted to give these girls a chance.

With very limited resources, he decided to start a secondary school of his own, and not only is he running it, but the girls themselves take on MUCH of the administration. They are making and building their own school! While their school is not government approved, the idea that they will devote 6-7 days a week to their education, even if it doesn’t have a presidential stamp on it, is something impressive.

I met these girls, and they really really were a blessing to me. On their own accord, they are taking their education into their own hands, despite what the society around them would rather have them do. The name of the school is the Girl’s Soccer Academy.

When the number of girls doubled, and private funding for meals did not increase, the girls decided that they will skip meals, in order to make sure ALL are fed all the other days.

I cannot wait to spend more time at this school, next week. This is a story that has really touched my heart, and I hope that through this campaign, these young women will be able to tell their story to you all.

Old Friends, New Opportunities


So back to my old friends, Alex and Joseph.  Yvonne Poulin, a massage therapist and CEO of African Touch, an organization that provides low-cost formal education in Massage Therapy for people in Kenya, is also friends with these guys as well, and actually has known Joseph for about 4 years! She has been working so closely with him during this time… totally encourages me to know that he has a lot of support out there. Yvonne has basically connected Joseph with the opportunity to belong to a Mechanics Apprenticeship. After we met with the man who would be J’s teacher, Alex and Joseph and I just hung out for about an hour outside the Yaya mall, where we just chatted. Spending time with those 2 is always so special to me. They are survivors, with so much potential, but so much risk at the same time. Asking me questions about life in the states. While they are able to survive in the toughest conditions, and have been knee deep in the harsh life of the Nairobi Streets, they maintain an innocence at the same time, its just humbling.

These guys share their food with me, even if it comes little at a time.

I’m hoping for the best for them. These guys, ever since my 2006 trip, have just been so much of my motivation for returning.not just for them, but the idea that they represent something huge… the potential of the human spirit, undermined by circumstance, but ready to just grow, and come alive. Empowerment. That’s what it’s all about for me. Empowering people to just live.

Small steps, small steps, small steps. But I have to keep going with this, even if it is for a short time every year. It’s the short time that I really do live for.

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The journey with Maboyz

Jamboni marafiki wangu! Hello my friends. It is interesting how my language changes when I am overseas. Certain nuances in the way we talk in the states are different than the English spoken here, and it takes a few days to get acculturated to these differences, but its great when I return, and I throw in a few Swahili words by accident when I talk to people ☺ If I speak to you in the week after, expect an accidental “sawa” or “sindyo” thrown in the conversation. I’ll tell you right now sawa means “OK”, and sindyo means “Yes, No?” or the best equivalent is “Ya know?”

Sawa, let me continue this journal of my time overseas. Sawa? Sawa!

Quick recap: meeting with Maboyz again here in Nairobi has made a huge change in my plans here. I basically talked a lot of smack before I left. Many of you heard me say “Yea, I’m gonna climb mount Kenya!” or “Hey! Gonna climb the highest mountain in Kenya” but really – things change when you get here. And being here and seeing Maboyz again, I realize I’d rather spend more time with them, so, instead of taking a 4 day trek into the wilderness, I’m gonna be spending one night in Nakuru, which is a lake town and game park, north of Nairobi. I hope to see some Rhinos and Leopards, sindiyo?

Sawa.

As I wrote before, I have felt kinda torn being here. I have so much attachment to the guys I’ve been working with since my last visit, earlier this year, and seeing how much they’ve changed and how much their group has grown in numbers, maturity, and consistency, makes me want to be a part of it so much more, but it is sad because I know I have to leave.

But it’s been both difficult, wonderful, painful, and rewarding. Last night they had at the church , what they call, a Kesha, or an all night vigil of prayer, singing, skits, games, movie, etc. As for me, I’m not one who can pray for 8 hours straight, most of my prayer, I like to spend alone, I guess. But its good with the masses every so often. A few of the guys showed up, and as they were arriving, I was upstairs in my flat, getting ready to play some guitar and leading the group in some songs. It’s been a long (very long) time since I’ve done that sorta thing, and so I was nervous. Plus the guitar I was to use, had a broken string. And I get very particular about sound, and if I’m missing a string, I get worked up. So I was lucky to have a friend downstairs named Tim who had a guitar and was generous enough to let me borrow it for the evening.

Once the gathering started, one of the guys walked in, and let’s just say he wasn’t doing too well. We told him he should go home, get sobered up and then come back. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but it did make sense at the time. Maybe it’s about building discipline, if he can control himself one day a week? I dunno, I have no idea how these things work, but as far as addiction goes, I can sympathize. I think we all can. There’s always something that has us kinda bound: big things, small things. It’s all the same at the end, just some have bigger consequences than others.

He ended up leaving and the night continued. But with a sort of bittersweet note, for me.  I was spending most of the time worried about this kid. As I started playing Tim’s guitar… the most amazing thing happened, the strap broke. Then, a string popped, then another string snapped! And my one hour gig, turned into 15 minutes of clumsy, yet very musical, playing and singing, and for those 15 minutes, everyone was feeling it. Well, at least I was for sure ☺

It was also special because it was the first time Nadia and I sang and played together in such a long time and it was kick-ass for sure.

I’m writing this in MS Word (for Mac) (since I have no net connection right now), and I’m surprised to find that “kickass” is not recognized by the spell checker, and is telling me that I’ve misspelled it. I guess it’s time to add “kickass” to the correct spelling list ☺

OBAMA 2008!

Sawa.

At around 1:30am, in the middle of an intense game of Bible trivia, boys vs. girls, I’m told that the boy from earlier, was passed out on the street right outside the gate, and had been sleeping there in the cold for bout 2 hours.

Mena and I tried to wake him up, but he would not budge, so the guards kept an eye on him and we went back at 2:30 to get him.

Mena and Junae and Kimani, three brothers who are living here in Kenya. I’m just so amazed by them, and their love for the guys, and how much work they’ve put into their group in the last 7 months. I’m happy to know that they are here as I don’t think anyone else could do the job, sindiyo?

We brought him in, and spent until 4:30 with him keeping him company, trying to get him to stay alert. We got him food and tea, it was hard. This guy was a really amazing person, yet, covered by so much crap. You see the potential, yet you know he doesn’t really want help, or maybe he doesn’t think there’s a way out. At the end of the day, it’s a challenge in letting go, but loving and pursuing, and staying dedicated unconditionally. But how that balance is achieved is very hard.

He couldn’t even hold the tea, because he was shaking so much.

At the end, I feel just so inadequate. Inadequate to help, and inadequate to have any answers to why this is the way it is. But you have to keep on going, because it isn’t about me. But you can’t do this kinda work without seeing yourself in these guys. You have to relate to  your own struggles, and your own challenges. These guys serve me, I think more than I serve them.

Couldn’t sleep at all, but finally passed out around 6am, waking up at 10. Not much sleep.

We had the Maboyz meeting a few hours ago, and we tried a few new exercises with them, challenging them to go deeper. What a lovely time it was though. To see these guys open up, and learn to trust each other more. It is really something magical to just witness.

One of the guys in particular, told me how sad he was that I was gonna leave in a week.

“What have you decided about Maboyz, Paul? Will you come stay with us?”

How do you answer such a question?

It feels good to be loved. It humbles me. I know for sure that for now I am supposed to be in New York. What the future has, I have no idea, but one thing is for sure, being in Kenya is part of my yearly plan.

Earlier that day,I was thinking about how the new guys I really don’t connect as well as the older ones because we didn’t have time to spend one on one like I had with the others.
But fate has it, that today, the new guys all showed up earlier, and the rest showed up an hour later, and it really gave us a good chance to bond.

We had fun though, one of the guys taught me some Kempo Karate. I told some of the guys the story of Che Guevarra, Che’s image is an icon all over Kenya, yet no one really knows who he is, where he came from, or what he did. Matatu vehicles all over the country have his icon branded on the rear window, and as they drive by, and you hear the muffled sound of what is to the passengers, piercing Ragga (not reggae) music, vibrating down the sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth roads of Nairobi.

But I digress.

I am here now at the Java house, unwinding with a cup of coffee, and writing these things out. I’m an introvert, actually, and I need these times every day in order to stay sane ☺

I have a lot to think about, but I look forward to a few relaxing days in the countryside amongst the rivers, the mountains, hyenas and flamingos.

More to come, and more photos as well – - Give my best to my city, and my country, and I miss you all so much. CHAU LOCOS!!

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My Friends in Kibera

Note: The images in this post are not my own. I didn’t take my camera to Kibera, because the people there are distrustful of people with camera’s as many of them have been exploited for their poverty and often dehumanized in the images portrayed by the media. The images below are taken from legitimate sources that were granted permission to take the photos by those in them. This post is not a show & tell, but it is a look up-close at a set of lives that often go ignored by our planet’s 6 billion tenants.

Monday at 5pm, I finished work a little bit early, and I walked through the compound until Father Moses said “yalla! shall we go?” And so we took off. This was by far what I’d been looking forward to the most by coming here, and finally I was about to take part in this service. We were on our way to Kibera, the largest and most densely populated slum, in East Africa. The first time I ever visited here was in 1999, it was my 2nd DAY in Kenya when we were brought here to have a fellowship meeting with some of the people out there, and the images from that time are forever burned in my memory. Somehow, the neighborhood seemed a little less foreign, this 2nd time around. In fact, I felt rather comfortable. Kibera is mentioned in Sarah McLachlan’s video “World On Fire”

Kibera, Kenya – East Africa’s largest slum. 800,000 people living in 1 square mile. 1 square mile = Central Park, New York City.
A producer would earn $7,500. This could buy 6 months of medicine for 5000 patients.
He is hungry but his body can’t absorb the food.
The production company = $22,500. Instead Kibera will get a 12 room clinic.
So that is where all the money went.

This was part of Fr. Moses’ weekly visit to the homeless youth in Kibera. In Kenya they’re referred to as “The Street Boys”. These are young men between the ages of 15 and 21 who for whatever reason, are homeless. Some have run away, some have been orphaned and have no relatives who care enough to take them in. These young men are considered outcasts in this place: untouchable. They’re known as theives, drug addicts, and are often ignored, rejected, and abandoned. Fr. Moses loves them.

Back in June, the church here had a medical campaign, and Fr. Moses noticed a young man by the tent kinda staring in, and Fr. Moses noticed he needed to be cleaned. Infected cuts, and fingernails that hadn’t been cut in many, many weeks. So Fr. Moses took him and cleaned him up, and others came around. Before you knew it, there were four, and Fr. Moses and them were talking about life and they each told him their story, of how they ended up in the streets. They asked him to come back again, and every Monday since then, He’s been hanging out with them. Depending on how he finds them, will depend on what they do. Sometimes he’ll find one of them beaten, he’ll take him back to his home, get him bandaged up, feed him, and take him back. If everyone’s in a good mood, maybe they’ll play soccer, or have a spiritual talk, or just eat together. If he finds them sniffing glue (which is the main addiction that these guys suffer), he’s kinda harsh with them. But they see him as a father. They are the fatherless, and they are often taken aback by how much they’re loved.

So we pull up to a less busy area, and I see Father Moses just smiling. From behind a delapadated kiosk, walks a man who runs to Fr. Moses and hugs him and says he’ll go and get the others. A boy, who looked rather young, but had the confidence of a lion walked up to Fr. Moses and said “I know you. You’re Fr. Moses from Coptic. I know you come here every week.” “So what’s your name?” Fr. Moses replied. “My name is John. Please help me find work. I need a job.” Fr. Moses asked him “How old are you?”, and the young man replied “19” to which Fr. Moses looked at him with a grin and said “Why don’t I believe you?” and the kid got nervous and said “well.. I am… I am 19” and started laughing.

Often times younger kids will lie about their age so they can find work, in order to survive.

Fr. Moses just put his arm around the kid and held his hand, and said “Come meet with us tonight.” A few others arrived, all running to Father Moses, and then began greeting me as well. These are the rough kids you’ll see on the street corners, but don’t let looks deceive you. It’s easy for anyone to pass judgement on them, if they’re a judgmental person, which I know I can be at times. But being that up-close, you realize how sharp, how beautiful, and how deep these young men are. You realize that they are brave, loving, skillful, adaptable and modest.

I put my arm around the little one, and the way he clung to me, made me wonder if these guys ever get shown any kind of affection. They’re so used to having people shove nickels in their hand and pushing them away. It was a sincere privilege to have been part of this.

We went into a hotel which was pretty much a room with a bunch of park benches, where Fr. Moses gave them a little talk about individuality, and how each one of them is special in the eyes of God. Fr. Moses needed a translator, and it was just fun to see a couple of the guys bickering over who would translate. It was telling of an even greater need than food or shelter, but a need to feel important, to contribute, to do something meaningful.

Father Moses invited them all to the church the next day for a movie and dinner, but he left out one important detail. He forgot to tell me, that he expected me to be in charge of the gathering! Tuesday afternoon, when I asked Fr. Moses what the plan was for the movie that night, he looked at me and replied, “you tell me”.  Minor panic ensued.

I found Ellie, my old friend from back in the day, who now has a wife and 2 children. And Ellie and I shared in the work in the few hours before they came. We cleaned up the hall, set up the VCR and projector, picked a movie, and got the kitchen staff ready to cook up a meal.

One thing that struck me, was the movie selection we had to choose from. After going through a few VHS tapes, various low budget saint biographies produced in Egypt, and random public service announcements about the dangers of drinking, gambling, and other vices we love. We ended up choosing the one about how “drinking is bad”.  I was stunned.  We give these guys our scraps of food, clothing, and our loose change, and now art, too? Don’t these guys deserve to watch a decent movie, something actually entertaining?

And 30 minutes earlier, they arrived. And we sat together, arm in arm, talking, laughing, getting to know one another. There’s Z, tall, 20 years old, unforgettable smile, who wears a baseball cap. There’s Ro, who’s a little shorter, with a tough-guy kinda look, but soft hearted. Francis, the eldest of them, 34 y/o. Maraj, “keepin’ it chill”, chewing casually on a toothpick. There was Samu who they call “D”.Samu has something really special about him, something in his eyes, and the way he looks at you when he speaks. He hungers for something great, and I hope one day he’ll get there. Around the side, sat Kamau-James, the little one who saw me from afar and shouted “Pauloooooo!”, with a lot of warmth, but later, he and I would have an exchange of words.

One thing Fr. Moses is not keen on, and that’s giving out money when they ask. And it’s not just because of the fear of drug-use or whatever, but he doesn’t want to instill in their heads that they’re beggars. He insists that they’re not beggars, and therefore, they cannot always be used to expecting hand-outs. He will feed them when they’re hungry, and clothe them when they have nothing to wear, and treat them when their sick, and love them when they’re lonely, but to give a coin when they ask, he feels that demeans them. It demeans them while he desires to uplift them. So Kamau was being stubborn with me concerning my giving him 10 shillings, and to me, i wanted to give him 2000 shillings, but it’s the principle that i’m learning, that i’m tryin to stick with.

I want Kamau to continue coming and being involved in this group of guys. Maybe he can end up like Ernest, a young homeless man who had been active in a support-type group, gained some leadership skills, showed responsibility, integrity, and then got a scholarship and now has a chance at leaving the street life behind.

After Kamau, sat Samu and then John.  He wore a yellow hat, and had some sort of quiet energy. He was someone who I felt had a great deal of self respect and gathered that respect from others in the group. Then right next to me was a late-comer, Nicholas, who thought it was hilarious when i told him that Americans use the shortened “Nick” for his own name.

And on the other side of me was Nathan. Nathan stepped up last night. We tried to instill an idea of accountability among the men. Where one can be responsible for informing the other men if there is a meeting. Little bits of leadership, responsibility, ownership of roles. We wanna help these men in some way, with things that will last longer than money or food.

As the old saying goes “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll open up a Red Lobster.”

The night ended with laughs, and hugs, and it was a love-fest to say the least. They had a great time, and we dined together on Ugali and Sukuma wiki.

We then spoke about Ellie and I leading a weekly support group for them, in addition to Fr. Moses’ visits on their turf. “Daddy” told me he wants to learn the arts. I told him I wanted to learn Swahili. Maybe there’s a lot we can share over here.

I really can’t describe what it was like hanging out with these guys. There is a spark that I’ve never seen in a group of young men before. It’s just incredibly sad, because their circumstances are against them like an elephant reclining on a spider, yet I’ve seen mountains move in my lifetime, and I know that with this support-group, that we just got approval for, something might actually happen.

Something might just happen.

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