Posted by: hilarycole | December 11, 2009

Lighting up Rongau

After three long months, it’s no longer a solo journey. My other half has jumped into the bustle of Nairobi with all its crazy traffic, public transport, and staring, pointing children, and has rolled with it all brilliantly.

After letting Fred adjust for a day or two, we got out of the city and went to the Children’s Centre with Mama Mercy to get our hands a little dirty planting trees and bouganveilia. The Centre’s buildings have had a beautiful paint job and the interior walls are in, so it was time to start making the place look like a home. But even the Kenyans who know me fairly well laughed in dismay when I drove my foot onto the top of a shovel for leverage. Their colonial history still seems pretty fresh sometimes.

Later in the week, after too long a hiatus, we went to Rescue Dada to visit the more than 60 boistrous, clinging street girls who have called that place home for almost a year of rehabilitation. We also got to meet Teresia, the lovely new girl Hands Up for Africa will start sponsoring this year. Our visit was timed perfectly with a trip down the road to the soccer pitch for a scrappy game in the midday sun. Fred held his own but I have great video of him getting the ball completely stripped away by a deft 14-year-old girl. Easy for me to say; I didn’t bother much with trying to keep up with Kenyans in a game that involves running.

With our time here ticking away, we decided it was worth the long journey to spend two days on Rusinga Island to see the Kiyogo family again and check in on the workshop. I literally could not believe the progress there. When the workshop was built less than two months ago, I admit I was skeptical about the potential for business in an area where people are struggling to survive. But in our first few hours back in Erick’s house, he left us three times to go work or talk with a customer. I’ve never been so pleased to be ditched.

Since October, Erick and his partner Enoch have made windows and painted the trim with beautiful lettering: “Kajakony Carpentry Shop”. Kajakony means “Helping Place” in their local language – the goal is to eventually use the shop to train disadvantaged youth in the trade and open it up as a co-operative where many can work. Right now the shop is full of commissioned projects – sideboards, a bed and a bunch of table legs, all beautifully crafted. Blown away I was.

After two days of massive meals on the Kiyogo compound, Fred and I rolled ourselves onto a night train back to Nairobi in time for the big event at the Children’s Centre: the Vancouver-based president of Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics was coming to view the project her company has helped fund. Mama Mercy pulled out all the stops. It was an incredibly day, starting with our arrival: she greeted us leading 40+ dancing, singing children toward the car as we pulled up to the most sincerely joyous welcome I’d ever seen. I can’t speak for Karen Wolverton (neither could she at the time), but it was incredibly touching.

After a thorough tour of the entire site – the borehole-well tower, fields of crops, the dormitories, kitchen and 30-foot pit-latrine-to-be, we sat for a long ceremony to introduce all the guests Mama Mercy had brought along with the bus-load of children from her lunch program. All the while, hammers and saws rang out as construction carried on, appropriately.

presenting Mama Mercy with the photo of her with Avchen

I was surprisingly treated just as much of an esteemed visitor as Karen; we were all presented with beautiful gifts, even Fred and Karen’s  travel companion. And after long last, the framed photo of Avchen and Mama Mercy with dozens of schoolchildren (which I’d given to Rescue Dada two years ago) – the same photo Avchen had hung on her own wall and the one I’d used two years ago to seek out Mama Mercy – was given its rightful home in a part of the Children’s Centre that will bear their names: the Avchen and Abigail Mercy House.

To top off a perfect day, we placed the photo on the wall with the certificates of appreciation to both Lush and HUFA, and then Karen had the honour of turning on the light. It was incredible – in the middle of a vast savannah where kerosene lamps have provided the only glow, electricity fired up two long flourescent bulbs in what will be the children’s dining hall. Everybody cheered.

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