When visiting the CanAssist-supported Hope School in Mbita, Kenya I am always astounded how many of the children ( the happy ones singing in the van, by the way) have desperate life circumstances. Many who go to the school live in nearby slum communities. Their families are poor and suffer from the consequences of that with the kids being malnourished and eking out existence from day to day.
Well, the adults suffer too.
I was introduced to one young man who happens to be albino. As such he had been plagued by discrimination and rejection throughout his life. In some neighboring countries, albinos are thought to be spiritually haunted. There are reports as late as 2009 of young albino men being killed and their body parts sold for potions. Imagine living in the fear that your skin colour ( or lack of it ) puts your very life at risk – essentially to be poached for your body parts.
The man came into the little office room and we greeted each other with a handshake.
“This fellow lives in the slum community next to the school,” I was told. “He likes music and has been volunteering to help out at the school so we have accepted him here, both to help him out but also to help the children learn not to discriminate or reject people who look different from themselves. It is something else that the school can offer back to the community.”
“Wonderful.” I thought.
“His wife was pregnant and two days ago she gave birth to a son.”
“Congratulations” I blurted.
An awkward pause. “Oh no!” I thought.
“The child died. This fellow needed 1500 Kenyan shillings to bury his child but he has virtually nothing. Not even money for food now. ” (1500 KSh is about $20 Canadian)
While this was being related to me the man buried his head in his arms on the table in front of him and wept. African men will rarely show this kind of emotion to others. As he sobbed I was told the rest of his story.
“We have offered him a place at the corner of the school yard at the rural school where he will bury his child today. It is the least we can do to help him out.”
The grave was pointed out to me when I visited the school the next day.
This story was heartbreaking on so many levels. But it also demonstrated the kindness and community orientation that many Africans can demonstrate. They are compassionate people who are genuinely responsive to the needs of others within their capacity to help.
I am so blessed to know these kind, generous people who teach me so much about life.