Somber In Africa

October 12, 2007

The girls have noticed that I am quiet this afternoon.

I keep reflecting on my time here at St. Monica’s, the children I have met and the friends that I have made. I am already mourning my departure. It’s a horrible feeling. And I’m on the verge of tears. But I am doing everything in my power not to cry.

I don’t want the girls to see me cry and to see how much I am hurting. It will only affect them now, sooner than it’s necessary. I need to put on a happy face and as if everything is just wonderful.

I hope I can pull it off. We have three hours before bed and I know my pain will only grow worse as the night moves on.

Wish me luck.

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.

The girls had never had green beans.

So, we went out and bought some green beans, corn, good corn, and beef. Then Juli made her Mammaw’s famous green beans. And, kids will be kids… some of them liked it, some of them didn’t. But they were all thankful! 🙂

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!

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.

Day 4 And Very Early Day 5

October 4, 2007

The mornings start very early here at St. Monica’s.

Doors are being pounded on at 5am and showers are taken. There is no hot water here. So even on a cold morning, like this morning, the 5 year olds start their morning with a cold shower. Yesterday, I took one too. And let me tell you, I miss sitting in my hot shower.

The girls then get dressed in their school uniforms. The word “tattered” doesn’t begin to describe the condition of the clothes. Socks with large holes at the heels. Dresses with rips down the sides and every single sweater that is worn here has large holes. The shoes they wear are so run down, that if I had them they would not be good enough to donate to the salvation army. They would be headed straight to the trash can.

Amazing Self-Respect

Rock with child.The most beautiful thing is that they take such good care of them all. They take special care in getting dressed to look the very best that they can. They take great pride and they have amazing self respect. One of our friends, Terri, our cousin John, and a women I had never met before who lives in Hawaii, had made large donations right before we left. The donations totaled $1500. That money will buy them all new uniforms, including shoes, socks, dresses and sweaters. We’ll be measuring them after we eat breakfast.

The breakfasts.

Well, yesterday was a handful of white rice and chai tea. This morning it is shortbread cookies, chai tea and bananas that Juli and I bought yesterday at the Nakumatt, which is like a Kenyan Walmart, only smaller.

I took a break from writing for a few moments just now to measure the girls for their new uniforms. Now I have a few minutes to rest before breakfast and the morning chores. After breakfast yesterday we were put to work. Dishes for about 25 people were washed. Floors swept and scrubbed. Even the outside cement surrounding the house. The dirt was swept and all the plants were watered by hand.

After the cleaning was done, we had to clean the rice for the night’s meal. We sifted through platters of rice picking out small sticks and bugs. This was tedious work and I didn’t like this one. I don’t like sitting still for too long, unless I’m at the computer and my mind is going 100 miles an hour… or just out cold asleep.

We took a break and had chai tea and shortbread cookies. Yes, the very same ones the girls had for breakfast. Then we started to clean and sift through corn, picking out the pieces for dinner. After all the work, we told the house moms that we were not going to clean tomorrow until Juli and I got new cleaning supplies. They all laughed.

My back is sore from bending down so much yesterday.

I can’t imagine how they feel. They scrub the cement outside every morning on their knees and dry it down with towels afterwards. These women work hard every single day to keep this house running smoothly and organized. I have learned a few things from them already.

MatatuSo we headed to the Nakumatt to purchase scrubbers, soap, brooms, a very large pot to cook over a fire – no stove here – and school supplies for the girls. Then jumped into a Matatu (that’s an entirely different post describing public transportation here. Photo by Boyznberry) with goods in hand and headed home. They were all so pleased to get their new equipment. I was too. Maybe today the work won’t be so tough.

We passed out clothes and underwear to the girls after they got home from school. They were all so happy to receive them all. Then games were played outside and then suddenly the electricity went out for the entire evening. We went to the dining area and prayer and songs were sung for at least an hour before dinner.

We ate seperately from the girls tonight because the Father of the orphanage had arrived and joined us for a bite to eat. We told him about our plans and he was excited about the uniforms. We then passed out tooth paste, tooth brushes, pens and school notebook paper to them after dinner. We prayed and sang for another hour before they went around the room formally introducing themselves to us and thanking us for the gifts.

Juli with two of the girls.We were then asked to speak. I was so happy Juli went first. She was so eloquent with her words, telling the girls how amazing and special they all are.

When it was my turn, I broke down in tears and I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do it. So they broke out in song and danced around the table until I was able to speak.

I told them that I was so happy to be there and that they had made me feel so welcome. And that even though I had known them for only two days, I had fallen in love with them already. I told them that in America I had two daughters and now I feel like I have them as daughters here in Africa and I knew that I would be back next year to visit them.

I hope they understood.

The evening came to an end and we turned off our flashlight and fell asleep quickly. Day 4 is over. And it is now very early morning on Day 5. I will be back to tell how the rest of this day has gone.

Much love to all of you. Peace my friends.

[transcribed from a voice mail message]

No Phone Call Today

October 3, 2007

There was no phone call from Kenya today, but a photo was sent via MMS.


Handing Out Underwear For Africa Goodies


This is Rocky handing out some underwear and clothes. The photo was taken by Juli on her camera phone.