Saturday, 2 April 2011

Opt in

Kenya, near Makuyu, 60km from Nairobi
Every person you ever meet, every situation you ever experience, every act of love, and every act of hate leaves its mark on you, like a tiny piece of mental DNA slotting onto a chromosome.  And you, in turn, always make small marks on others’ mental DNA.   So in my lighter moments I resolve to make it count, make an impact, make it matter – and if I can, to make it better than yesterday and even better tomorrow.  One must opt in to the web of the human condition because opting out is no real option. I figure that making a small difference means big differences will take care of themselves.
Reflecting back on our time working at Watoto Wa Baraka makes me wonder what small differences we made, however marginal and temporary they may be.  We collected water, we mucked in to make each day that tiny bit easier for the staff and the children, and we set them up with professional documentation that will, I hope, be read and acted upon by people who have the means to make a bigger difference than we did.  I wrote a blog post that explained how easy it is to make a child’s tomorrow better than their yesterday, and some of you responded by saying why the hell not and just doing it.  Thank you – it is you who has made a difference, and maybe reading the below will take you that little bit closer to understanding just how you’ve done that.
On our penultimate day before ending our time with Watoto Wa Baraka we bumped our way back to the orphanage in Mithini to visit a child called Joseph who lived nearby and whose situation had swirled around our minds for the two weeks since we met him and his seriously ill mother.  So applying the tried and tested logic of ‘if not now then when’ we decided that today was the day that their life would become just a little better.  Joseph is ten years old, he has three younger siblings, his father is long gone, and his mother is sick a lot.  When she is well enough she works as a casual labourer at local farms, earning less than one pound a day.  She told us she has typhoid, I think she has AIDS.  She had only just been discharged from hospital when we visited.  They live in their grandmother’s small home, scraping a living from the land, and often foregoing meals which has caused Joseph to have that cruel little joke of a pot belly indicating malnourishment. We learnt from the charming deputy headmistress at his school that his school lunches payment was in arrears so he was not guaranteed a lunch.  To fix this, and pay in advance for the whole next term cost us 90 Kenyan shillings – about 75p. Next!
We went a little bit nuts in the local general store spending every shilling we had on us on food and household provisions – never have I enjoyed food shopping so much.  Dumping the loot on their table his mother, too sick to stand, burst into tears.  Most days are shit for this woman, today not so much so.
With Ziporah translating we explained that we would be sponsoring Joseph, and by extension the whole family.  Each month Watoto Wa Baraka would use the sponsorship money to provide them with food and whatever assistance Joseph needed to continue his studies.  To a bashful looking Joseph we explained that sponsorship is contingent on him working hard at school, and in response to our question he explained that his ambition was to become a pilot.  Maybe he will achieve this ambition, and maybe he won’t.  Frankly I don’t care, I just don’t want him to die of malnutrition or leave school early to work in order to support his siblings.  It’s up to him now to break the cycle so that when he grows up his family have a better life than he had.
So with this last real, and most important, job done it was with a sense of sadness which I hadn’t expected that we said goodbye to the children and staff at Watoto Wa Baraka.  Heading to Nairobi to begin our six week overland adventure to Johannesburg, the children’s shouted goodbyes dimming as we drove out of the compound, I pulled out a small piece of paper on which James, one of the older orphans, had drawn a map of East Africa.  On it he had written ‘a drawing by James Irungu I am giving to Ian like a present’. 
And maybe that’s what I really want to say with this post – give someone something ‘like a present’, and do it today.  Say thank you, say sorry to heal a rift, tell someone you love that you love them. Opt in today.       

To the left - James and I sharing a high five. 'Playing with the boys' from Top Gun was on the radio in the background.
To the right - goodbye group shot.  Helen got widdled on in the excitement. Tee-hee!

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  1. Very moving and inspiring. Have just sponsored a child in Ethiopia on behalf of Zoe. Sounds like your both having a fascinating time, really very jealous. Love Patrick, Sophie and Zoe

    PS Ian, will you return a long haired, communist worker reading, free market bashing, socialist hippy or are you really on a covert mission checking out a good location for the next Nike sweatshop?

  2. I would NEVER scout a location for a Nike sweatshop.

    It's for Gap.