Saturday morning came very fast for me. Having had a team on site for about three weeks, there was lots I had to get done before I could board the plane on Saturday evening, so I ended up getting just more than two hours' sleep. Needless to say, I look at what I had packed and wonder how I thought I'd make it through a three-week journey with as little clothes as I have with me... But that leaves more space to bring back stuff from the US, so I'll just wash and wear the same three shirts and pants over and over. :)
I contemplated not going to bed at all when 4 am rolled by and I was still working. I knew that at 6, staff and parents would be in the Children's Home kitchen, peeling potatoes and carrots to feed the 600 or 700 guests we were expecting that day! In the end, I decided that it would be a wiser decision to get at least a couple hours' sleep, so I left the peeling to the others.
After breakfast, I set up a little photo studio in one of our dorm rooms where I could print photos. My primary role for the day was that of photographer. As guardians arrived and were connected with the kids, they were escorted to my little corner of the garden where I had put out a little bench and was able to take a nice photo for the guardians to take home with them. (I'll print a copy for the kids once I'm back at Ilula and have more photo printer cartridges.)
Two families in particular will be etched in my mind: Apollo with his grandparents, and Adam and Faith with their granddad. Apollo's grandpa has the cutest smile, and he sat looking proudly at his grandson. He wore a nice hat--though not a top hat like I'm told he wore last year. I could honestly see gratitude beaming from his whole being, knowing that Apollo is in good hands!
Then came Adam and Faith's grandpa. He was quite a character, wearing a traditional Kalinjin outfit worn only be elders: a coat and hat made of monkey skin! (I will indeed upload photo as soon as possible!) He was obviously someone very proud of his culture, and after the photo was taken, he started singing a Kalinjin song and prompted the two male staff members who were around to join in! Little Faith (5) was beaming with pride in her grandpa! Adam (9) seemed a little embarrassed, especially when his grandpa insisted that Adam wears the monkey hat...
As each group walked up, I'd feel my joy in my heart for the kids that someone did indeed show up to come and see them. For many, no one showed up, and my heart broke for them. (In fact, even as I'm sitting in a cyber cafe writing this, I'm fighting back the tears.) I can't imagine how it must feel to be handed off to someone else's care and then, one the one day in a year when the people that gave you away don't even show up to see if you're doing OK! I realize that many families cannot afford the journey, that it's not necessarily a matter of not caring. But how do you explain that to a little kid?
In fact, one girl whom I've been so trying to connect with since I was there two years ago when she arrived at the children's home and friends of mine are her sponsors, was one for whom my heart broke. No-one came to visit her and her two siblings. Since I've been here, I always try to get the 8-year-old to talk to me, but she's painfully shy and usually just smiles and looks down. On Saturday, however, as I walked to say good-bye to the kids before leaving, I found her hand in mine, refusing to let go as others tried to squeeze their hands in and walk with me... When I hugged her, she hugged me like never before, still not saying a word. Yet I knew that somehow, she knew I cared!
I really had wanted to simply walk around and steal shots of people walking and talking, but by the time I was done with the official photos, it was time for our program for the day.
Song and Dance
The kids made me so very proud, and I'm sure many of the grandparents' hearts burst with pride, too! They sang songs, did dances, recited Bible verses and some of the cousins/kid neighbors and friends who came for the visit slipped into the crowd of ELI kids, trying to imitate their dances.
And then came the speeches
Boy! Do Kenyans ever love speeches. No official event goes by without a lot of people speaking. The Children's home directors spoke, as did the ELI director, and the wife of the ELI founder, and a representative from the visiting team, and I, and two of the dorm parents, and the director of the school, and the headmaster... There may have been more, but I didn't listen to it all since I was in my little studio, printing photos. We put some tape against one fence, and families could pick up their print before leaving.
Though the original plan was to break for lunch and have the speeches after the meal, the program was changed so the meal would only be served after the speeches for fear that people would leave...
At 4 pm, the visiting team and I boarded a vehicle to leave for the airport. At that time, everyone was still sitting in the sun, listening to speeches! Can you imagine that happening at home?
Anyway, I have no doubt that the day was a great success. I still hurt for those who didn't have visitors, but for others, like Thomas, a boy who has no living relatives left and whose school teacher showed up to be his dad for the day, I can still see the spark in his eyes as they walked around, and the even bigger smile when the neighbor who found him tending cows and brought him to our care, posed for a picture with him!
What an absolute honor to be part of something like this. I hugged the kids before I left and could honestly say, "I will miss you a lot!" They have certainly stolen my heart.