Saying Our Thank You Fors

October 15, 2007

Before Rocky left, she hid things around the house and left notes for the kids. She also left a jar filled with “thank you fors.”

At our dinner table, instead of grace, we say our “thank you fors.” We do this every night. Each of us simply takes turns saying what we are thankful for that day. Rocky left a jar filled with her thank you fors for us to read while she was in Africa. So, she’s been with us at the dinner table each night. I know this is her blog, but I couldn’t resist sharing this.

This one was picked out of the jar the other night:

Rocky’s Thank You Fors

We’re thankful she is too.

A Different Me

October 14, 2007

With a title like that I’m sure you think this post is going to be inspiring.

I’m sure you think it’s going to be about how I have changed in so many ways, my new outlook on life, about the true necessities of life and how my heart has opened more than I could have ever dreamed it would be opened. But the truth is, it’s not about that this time.

I just smell.

Really, I do. It’s been almost two days since I last bathed. The crazy thing is, it just feels normal now.

If you knew me, really, really knew me, you would have bet this would never happen. Ever.

I have been known to take three showers in one day. In the states, I always shower before I go to bed. Always. That’s not the story here.

Since arriving at St. Monica’s, I have not bathed before bed… not once. I could if I wanted to, it would be freezing shower water. There is no hot water here, remember.

So, after the morning chores, I get a bucket of hot water to bathe myself. I call this the bucket bath. I am so grateful for this bucket bath! I don’t think I could ever get used to cold showers. I am truly spoiled.

The girls shower at 5:30 in the cold morning with extremely cold water every school day. I am in awe. I am going to look into solar powered water heater so they can have hot water and not cost the orphanage upkeep.

So back to the different me. I stink and I just don’t care.

It’s funny how quickly my priorities changed. My clothes are dirty. I smell. And the girls still want to cuddle up and be loved.

They have the right priorities, don’t you think?

Letting It Go

October 13, 2007

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Luckily, Auntie Lizi, the head mother, gave me the freedom and space to just cry this evening. I expressed to her my sadness for leaving and just how much I loved them all. She agreed with me when I told her that I could not go face the girls right now, because they would know that I had been crying.

So, I had a good cry.

Then I wiped the tears off my face and headed to the dining room area. The dining room area is a multipurpose room. For example, they eat all of their meals there, they dance there and then last night they had mass there. It’s a true multipurpose room.

I guess one of the last volunteers bought them a very old television set. It gets three channels, usually the news or some time of soap opera that is dubbed in English. We watched two this evening, one from Telemundo and the other a Chinese soap opera of some sort. It is quite entertaining and the girls seem to love it.

I was able to get through my evening because my Winnie hopped on to my lap and we snuggled on the plastic lawn chairs for close to two hours. She fell asleep in my arms and all was right in my Kenyan world.

It’s amazing how tough she is on the outside, but when you get right down to it, all she wants is to be loved. I can do that for her. I feel blessed that she has allowed me into her heart and has trusted me with it.

I hope she understands that she has my heart too.

Razor Blades

October 10, 2007

When I think of razor blades, I usually think about shaving my legs.

Here, razor blades are used for many reasons. The two that I would never have guessed are to sharpen pencils and trim nails.

Yes, you read that correctly – sharpening pencils and trimming nails.

Our first night here, the girls were doing their homework before bed and I saw Ruth, one of the youngest here, sharpening her tiny little pencil with a razor blade. “That’s crazy, ” I said to her. So I took the razor out of her hand and went straight to my room. Luckily, one of you fabulous Moms had donated pencil sharpeners and I ripped open the box in search of them.

I grabbed a box of new pencils and started sharpening. Each girl was given two brand new, sharpened pencils. I told them they were not to be sharpening their pencils with razors any more. I tried to locate a shelf-mounted sharpener here, but I couldn’t find one. I’ll have to wait until I get back the states.

Girls at St. Monica’s Braiding HairNow to cutting finger nails.

Yes, this is how the young girls here trim their fingernails. I was first told this when I asked Joy, who is 10 or 11, how she got a cut on her finger. She told me, “a razor blade.” “A what,” I replied!?!

She then began to tell me how the girls cut their nails using razors. Enough said!

That day I went to the store and bought five nail clippers for them. Easy fix for a crazy problem.

by Juli Salvante

While Rocky and Beatrice, who is the secretary for St. Monica’s, went to go pick up the rest of the girls uniforms, I sat with Father Augustine in his car and we had a very direct and honest conversation about the girls and their plight.

Father Augustine is an older man who has dedicated his life to helping these girls.

Father Augustine from St. Monica’s Children Home in KenyaHe was working in the slums of Kibera and had many requests from the Christian community to find homes for orphaned girls. He sold plots of land that his father had left him and purchased the building that is now St. Monica’s Children Home, and the house next to it which he rents to generate income.

The Father’s parish originally agreed to help, and did for a time, but then the help stopped and Father Augustine was on his own. He called on his friends when he had no food left to feed the children he had taken in. Luckily, his friends were able to come through. He raised the funds that were needed, the home continued and the Father was able to add more and more girls.

When he is approached about taking on more girls, he will visit them, or their relatives, and hear their stories. He requires a death certificate of the Mother and Father, if there is one listed. This is because the girls that are here now have a common bond. He doesn’t want to bring in a girl whose Mother is still alive, as it might cause issues with the girls whose Mothers are not.

The first five girls who came to the orphanage were living on the streets. A couple were living with their Grandmother, who had no home.

Many had been sexually abused by relatives. They were abused – by Uncles, Fathers and Grandfathers – to the extent that Father Augustine is still seeking medical care for one of the girls because she was damaged so badly. He is paying for it himself.

All of them needed special medical care, some more than others. He stated that a few of them will never be able to have children themselves.

Father Augustine is working on getting the girls the counseling and medical care they need to overcome the horrible scars they have been left with, both physically and emotionally. He is only one man. He has so many girls to care for. His heart is as large as and I have seen.

Kenyan Slum Trash PileThe way he spoke so frankly about the girls was startling and refreshing at the same time.

He knows the subjects are difficult and uncomfortable for a man to speak. Uncomfortable, like the time he spoke to Rocky and I about sanitary pads for the girls who have started their periods, or the conversation we had in the car. We were sitting in front of what I can only describe as a strip mall, rows of shacks that people have their businesses in, while watching a boy scavenge a horrendous trash pile. Father Augustine described, as matter of fact, the atrocities the girls had overcome with the help of his caring staff and the donations of kind souls.

The girls are happy and loved and have a family here at St. Monica’s. It is truly amazing what they have accomplished with these girls. But there is more work to be done.

The girls are getting older and many will go to high school. Here in Nairobi, that means boarding school. He is so proud of what the girls have accomplished withe their school work and believes that many can succeed in college as well, if given the opportunity.

Six girls will be ready to move up to high school soon.

The Father and his staff are doing all they can to make sure that they have the funds to send these girls. It can only be done after all other expenses are covered. The schooling is about $700 – $1000 per girl for the school year.

He will need lots of our support. Luckily, I know many of us are ready and willing!

A Mother’s Love

October 8, 2007

I believe that the power of touch is amazing.

Girls at St. Monica’s Orphanage in KenyaThese girls, my girls, long for it. The women here told us that no past volunteers have loved and accepted them like we have. I believe it is because we are Mothers.

A Mother’s love is powerful.
These girls crave it.

Juli and I can’t stand alone for too long before children surround us, just to be near us, to wrap their arms around us and hold our hands. This is the easy part of the job. I can do this all day long.

My friends, I hope some of you will join me on my next journey back to Kenya.
I hope you will love these girls just as much as I do.

We had spent the past few days preparing our big surprise for the girls.

Measurements were taken from waists to shoe sizes. Hours were spent at the dress maker. The dress maker’s store was an 8 x 6 foot tin shack that was full from floor to ceiling with uniforms. The uniforms consisted of socks, dresses for the girls, shorts and shirts for the boys, including ties, and sweaters for all. These women worked very hard to get our order of 25 uniforms completed. It took two days, but it was done.

We were told that this dress maker’s shop was in a small slum area. It was an amazing sight. I would say that over 100 of these small tin shacks were in this particular area. Our book bags were bought there too. The stores were right next to each other in long rows. I can only describe it as a miniature outdoor mini-mall. But instead of walls there were boards to separate them. The roofs were made form long pieces of tin, and the ground was covered in trash. Trash is another post altogether.

The shoes were purchased in downtown Nairobi. Bata shoes are some of the highest quality shoes in Nairobi, and all of our girls received them. After receiving all the uniforms, shoes, bookbags and rulers, Juli and I went to work. It took hours and hours of sorting, dividing and separating to complete all 25 book bags, with a name bag attached that was covered in stickers.

We set the finished book bags up in our room, on Juli’s bed, behind a curtain. Auntie Lizi, the head mother in charge, had told us that there was a buzz around the girls. They knew something was up.

We asked all of the girls to come inside and sit down. Juli made a speech about how wonderful and special they were and how much we loved them all. We opened the curtain and all the girls began cheering and clapping. We passed them out, but asked them not to open them until we gave them the signal.

They opened their bags and they all began to screem.

They wee so excited to receive their uniforms. It got progressively louder as they dug deeper into the bag. Once they got to the bottom to their new shoes, they were ecstatic. The soon tried everything on and I was so happy to see the smiles on their faces.

They were asked to speak if they wanted anything said to us. And a few of them did. But there was one that stood out for me. It was Dama, the oldest girl.

She told us that we were their mothers and that they are our daughters. She said that she was so grateful for all of th gifts that she had received, and that she would be praying for us when we went home.

It was a magical morning. They just couldn’t stop smiling. They rushed to their school closet and place all of their things in their new book bags. I can’t wait until Monday morning. They will look so beautiful in their new uniforms, shoes and book bags. They will stand up with pride and a new sense of respect for themselves. And it’s all because of the new uniforms.

Thank you, Terry, for donating the funds to make this possible. You have enriched the lives of 25 amazing girls.

Day 6 – My Heart

October 5, 2007

I have written many times that my heart was in Africa and I couldn’t explain it. It’s just something that I have felt for a long time. Well…

I have found it.

Click To Listen

My Winnie, the little girl from the last post. She must have had it all this time. I have never felt a connection with a child like this before.

The moment I saw her, I knew she was special. And now, knowing her for only four days, I have fallen in love with this child. The connection I can only describe as primal.

Tonight she clung to me. I was holding her and her legs were around my waste and her arms were wrapped around my neck and her face was buried into my neck as she gently rubbed the back of my head.

I know that sounds odd, but all of the children have been rubbing my head since we got here. My very short hair feels nothing like theirs and they keep telling me how soft it is. I tell them I feel like an animal at the petting zoo. I have become so accustomed to it and I don’t even realize they are doing it anymore. Now, back to my Winnie.

Rocky and WinnieI love her.

How could I love a child like this that I’ve just met? I cried sitting with her today as her head was in my lap, just thinking about having to leave. My heart breaks when I think of it.

At the end of the evening, it was time to say goodnight and she would not let me go. I held her tight, kissed her cheek and then kissed her hand and told her that was for her when she got upstairs to her room. I had to push her away gently to get her upstairs before she got into trouble.

I can’t imagine my last night here. The thought of it brings me to tears. And I even wrote that I am breaking down crying right now.

But I can’t. I need to breathe. I know I should be doing a video diary, but I know I wouldn’t get a sentence across without balling.

My heart is aching.

I feel like when I go, I’m going to be leaving my daughter behind… and it’s killing me.

And I will be thinking about this until I leave. I will be heading for Nairobi in the morning and it’s going to be hard to leave for the night, let alone the country, the continent, the hemisphere.

In my head and in my heart, I think about adopting her and her little sister, who I love also. But there are so many things to think about. The adoption process is so strict here – havign to live here for three months. The cost. But the biggest difference is the culture.

Her life here, no matter how poor the orphanage is, is happy. The children are raised Catholic; church on Sunday, praying three times a day and rejoicing God through song and dance. Even ther language, Swahili, the food, the customs, their entir life is here and in this house and I would take all of that away from them. I don’t know that I could to that.

And then the brain says, “work hard.” Work hard and make St. Monica’s the best it can be. Proper food, clean water, hot water, cement the dirt, a garden to feed them, tuition and books paid for, shoes medicine for all the girls here. Not just two. And visit Kenya as many times as I can.

Would that be enough? Would that be the best for them?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. And I’m physically tired and emotionally exhausted just thinking about it.

My brain hurts and my heart aches.

The Journey In Pictures

October 5, 2007

Mothers Fighting For Others On Flickr

Photos from our journey to Africa.

This is a letter from my Winnie. On the top it says, “Please Rocky, before reading this letter, read this letter when you are not with anybody. Now read it.

Dear Rocky,

How are you? I hope you are fine.

I wanted to tell you thank you for the work you have done for us. I am so grateful and I am so happy in my heart. Because in school, I was borrowing a pen and yesterday you gave us some pens and I am so happy. Even for the books, the toothpaste, toothbrush and even clothes.

Rocky and Winnie

May God bless you for the work that you and Juli have done for us. May God bless you so, so much even when you are going to go to your country. May God bless you, but I am going to feel very bad. I will feel so lonely with no Rocky. I will always cry because of you. I love you so much, with all my heart. Even now, I love you as God loves me – with his whole heart.

Please, when you are going to your country, before going, you will give me your email and your number phone. And when you are going to your home you say hi for your children and your husband and your many relatives.

From Winnie to Rocky, my Mother in God. Have a nice day at St. Monica’s. Good bye.

Lots of love to Rocky.

And that is from my Winnie.