Effort, determination, courage, faith, spirit and no other alternative.
1. Mary Wanjiku Kamau.
A tragic road accident claimed the lives of Mary’s husband and 3 children. Without a place to live, she had to return to her parent’s house. However her brothers did not want her settling there and tried many times to send her away. During a fight with her brothers, she slashed his hand. She was charged and sentenced to 4 years in prison.
I met Mary in prison in 2009. Minalyn was teaching her as part of a small group of women to make paper beads. I got to know her over the next several years. While in prison, Mary learnt that her brothers had bulldozed her parent’s house and sold the land. Mary hadn’t been to school and was illiterate. But she now could bead, make jewellery and other craft skills learned while in prison.
Mary was able to join the LBK program, support herself and learn new skills. She became one of the best beaders in the program. Despite our language barriers Mary and I would have animated discussions on my visits.
After roughly 4 years at LBK, Mary felt that she had the skills and confidence to start her own business. And that she has done. She is now cooking and selling French fries at a roadside stall.
2. Jemimah Musimbi.
Jemimah is a widow with two children. Her husband died in 2008 with HIV/AIDS. He did not reveal his illness to her. She only discovered that she was HIV+ after he died. It was a very traumatic experience worsened by her husband’s parents throwing her out of the house.
Being a single mother and HIV+, Jemimah could not find a job.
Then through the church she was introduced to LBK. A hard and clever worker, Jemimah learnt the skills of beading and sewing, organisation and management.
Jemimah now supervises the entire LBK program and is the payroll officer.
3. Robinson Onzere.
Robinson’s parents died when he was 14 years old. In Nairobi, he had no choice but to live on the streets. Remarkably, he survived, but as he got older, survival relied on joining a gang. He was involved in pic-pocketing, theft and as Robinson says .... ‘really bad stuff’.
An Uncle from Naivasha heard about his troubles, drove to Nairobi, collected him and gave him a home.
Robinson then approached LBK for a job. He was accepted on a trial basis.
Robinson began helping in the garden and doing odd jobs in the workshop. His abilities were evident as was his earnest desire to become an honest and trusted employee. He quickly moved into the workshop and now is Minalyn’s right-hand-man.
Robinson is also the lead trainer. He seems to be able to answer any question or solve any problem. His smile, patience and gentle demeanour are valued by all.
4. The cleanest school in the slums
Lacking even the most basic infrastructure, the slums of Naivasha are a haven for the transmission of water-borne diseases.
here are very few toilets and those that exist are crude stinking holes that overflow when there is a downpour. Many inhabitants simply defecate outside. Open drains are suffocated with rubbish. The regular downpours leave filthy water flowing everywhere.
Compounding the lack of sanitation is the absence of fresh water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
Cholera, dysentery and typhoid outbreaks are common. These illnesses are still one of the leading causes of death in Kenya. I regularly hear of the loss of one of our parents or children or congregation member’s to one of these illnesses.
When an epidemic strikes the Shire Council closes any institution that is not squeaky clean.
Over the last 4 years, Pastor Michael and I have worked to ‘clean up’ our compound. Installing a septic system and toilet block followed by a water tank and guttering made a huge difference.
We could begin to teach personal hygiene habits. The bacteria-carrying dirt and mud was always an issue. But no more! Re-surfacing with concrete and tiles mean that children can play in all weather.
The measure of this success .... when just about every school in the slums has been ‘closed’ during an outbreak, Church On the River has been able to keep continuing educating and looking after the children.