Posts filed under reagan2kibera

back to kibera.

why would you spend thousands of dollars and travel halfway across the world to help people you don't even know? don't you think it'd be better to just send them the money and spend your time doing something else? - these were the questions posed to my friend lee last year before we left for kibera. it's also what he focused on in an e-mail to friends and family yesterday when he wrote about the trip coming this summer. you see, some of my closest friends are going back to kibera to focus on the stories of those we met last year. i asked lee if i could let you guys read his words and maybe - find some help.  

 

 

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Since my trip to Kibera (the slum in Nairobi) last summer, there have certainly been many ups and downs. I shot a lot of footage (and began editing), met some amazing people and saw some incredible things happen in the lives of those involved in the trip. The Reagan High kids have gone in many directions since last summer, but one thing is for sure - Kenya has left its mark on us forever.

Here I am, one year later, headed back to Kibera. But this time with a different group. A different perspective but the same focus.

This year's team is smaller - made up of only six people. Me, Chris Reichman (the amazing photographer who also went on last year's trip), both our wives Virginia and Erin, Thea - a returning Reagan High student and Erin's sister Hailey.

Our team's mission and focus this year will be the same: build into the lives and the kids and community at the New Hope School and feeding center (operated by Manna Worldwide) and share those stories with the world.

In addition, I plan to interview Kenyans and develop more of the African side of the documentary. I'm excited to see all of the changes made in the last twelve months. They've bought more land, put up a new school building, new kids have come and more wonderful stories are occurring every day.

One incredible story that came from our trip last year was the relationship between the teen counterparts, Nijalon (American student) and Daniel (Kenyan student). They both love to sing and write rap songs. The moment we got off the bus they had an immediate connection. What happened next, you could hardly believe...they wrote a song together, recorded it in a "studio" near the slum and had it mastered by a Kenyan producer. And if that's not enough, on the last day we were there, we shot a music video! Crazy.

I cut the music video together and submitted it to a film festival in Austin. To my great astonishment, it was selected and even won an award. Not for the music video itself, but for Nijalon and Daniel. Their song received the "Rising Star" award for artistic talent under the age of 18. They were each awarded a 1000 dollar scholarship. This will completely pay for Daniel's entire high school. Simply amazing.

Let's revisit my opening question: Why go? Spend the money? The time?

The answer: because of people. Relationships. Daniel. Nijalon. Festus. Rose. Thea. The names and faces keep flooding my mind. Kenyans, Americans, friends, family...all part of this trip. All part of this journey. If all we did was raise money, what impact would that have had on our lives? Good, no doubt, but would it have been the same? What about the American teens from Reagan? The Kenyan students? Would they have been as affected? Absolutely not. If you think they would have, just ask Nijalon and Daniel.

We're going back and we need your help. We've been hard at work raising money for this trip. In fact, we spent a month collecting items from friends, family and neighbors to sell at a giant, weekend-long garage sale. We had tremendous success with this sale and raised over 3100 dollars! Who knew?! God works through garage sales. We were amazed at how much money this sale earned.

While this was an incredible starting point, we still need to raise additional support. Each member of the team needs 3100 dollars for airfare, lodging and meals.

And we need the money faster than we thought - by May 10.

If you're interested in helping us get there, our contact information is on our website Love to Kibera. You can also contact Elora and she can get you the info needed or make a donation on Manna Worldwide's secure site.  Make sure to mention our trip number in the comments section - 06-1133.

Even if you can't support this financially right now, we still need your prayer.  This will be a long journey.  Thank you so very much for your consideration!

Sincerely, Lee (for the entire Love to Kibera 2011 team)

 

Posted on April 26, 2011 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

dichotomy of comforts [a repost]

Over the next few days, I’ll be reposting some of my favorites from the past year. Some highlight the good things – others wade through the darkest moments. All of them really capture exactly how far God’s brought Russ & me this year. We are so thankful for His provision – so amazed at how He works. From June 30, 2010:

The day after our first walk into Kibera dawned cloudy and slow – almost taunting my own emotions. One of the hardest parts of this trip were the mornings. The dogs start first – barking incessantly as traffic picks up outside the gate of our guesthouse. Then comes the roosters – urging those around them to wake up and begin the day. But perhaps the most difficult sound, the most haunting – was the call to prayer. Every morning, before the sun even had a chance to streak across the night sky, you could hear the prayer echo off the walls. It permeates everything. The morning after the first walk, with the sounds of dogs and roosters and prayers spoken city-wide, I threw my blankets over my head and wept.

I didn’t want this life. I forgot – for a split second – about my plea for God to give me stories to share. I forgot – for a split second – my prayer for Him to use me and break me. I forgot. And for those few minutes where I basked in absolute self-pity and tried to hide from the scenes flashing through my mind from the previous day,  I was done.

It was our second full day in Nairobi and I was already wanting to come home. Again, I was fighting my flesh against what I knew my heart needed. I wrote in my journal that morning:

yesterday was tough…emotional…overwhelming. this morning? i’m done. when i woke up, i didn’t want to be here anymore. the eyes of the children haunt me and i just want to get away. this happened all before the sun rose, and all i could do was cry about my lost comforts, and then cry about my selfishness. i finally got up to face the day, but my Spirit is still so heavy. these faces cloud my vision, the weight of suffering leans heavy on my chest. oh how i want to run away from this emotion! to not be responsible for what i see & touch & feel & love (because yes – I’m falling in love with these people…this country) it’s so much easier to close my eyes and look away. it’s so much less pain to push away these thoughts – to deal with them later.

but i know i can’t.

the pictures of dirty, calloused feet running through the fields (and later the slums) fill my senses. my heart turns away from these images – almost out of a defense mechanism. “please. don’t make me see this. don’t make me dwell in extreme poverty. don’t make me feel this weight – because if you do, i’ll have to react.” Father, make me sensitive to Your leadings. Make my heart soft to Your touch.

Later that day, I felt the caress of my Savior.

We got to Langata (the high school New Hope feeds into) and began working with the kids. I saw Russ walk off to the side with David and wondered what they were talking about. Both were leaning close together, their heads almost touching. About fifteen minutes later, Russ came up to me with tears in his eyes.

“David brought me bread.”

“He brought you bread?”

“Yeah. He brought me bread. He wanted to make sure I had breakfast.”

My mind reverted back to the conversation Russ & I had the day before about this boy – this boy who received 10 shillings and didn’t know whether to save it (because he never knew when he would go without food) or spend it (because he knew it would probably get stolen). Finally, he decided to give it away to his younger brother because, “Christ takes care of my every need.” And now this same kid was bringing breakfast for my husband – it was almost too much to comprehend. Russ and I stared at each other, unable to find words.

I still haven’t.

Throughout my stay in Kibera, I fought the push and pull of my flesh. I’d wake up hesitant to go through the emotions, to look into the eyes of those living in these desolate conditions. I’d crinkle my nose at the breakfast offered – or silently wish for ice water instead of the lukewarm bottles so graciously given to us. And then moments like the one with David would happen – moments where God would open my eyes to the richness of these people. Children fifteen years younger than me holding tight to a faith stronger than I’ve ever claimed.

Looking into their eyes, hearing their stories, this is where I felt truly alive. This is where I realized the dichotomy of comfort is more than just battling your flesh – more than just taking one step in front of another on a dusty path filled with trash and sewage. It’s allowing yourself to be broken all over again. And that is where the beauty comes – that is where my heart found rest.

Posted on December 30, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

an invitation

I'm pretty excited about what I'm presenting today - but I'm also a little nervous. No, I'm a lot nervous. Not because I don't believe in what I will present, but because I've never done this before. I'm afraid (to be honest) of what you may think. But, I decided it's time to act out on my own admonishment. Story speaks. And I believe this story needs to be told... I heard the other day a good story doesn't ask you to come alongside it - it invites you to become a part of the plot. Monday, as I watched our kids brainstorm fundraisers and thought about what would get people to come out vs. what would be lame, I remembered this statement.

And then I realized how all too often we forget.

We forget the power of our stories - the pull of flesh & blood words living in between adventure and struggle. We tend to rely on bells & whistles instead of the sweat & tears poured into a calling.

This is where you come in - and just in case you may be confused, this is where I invite you to join a story.

For those of you who may be new, and for those who have forgotten, this past summer I boarded a plane and entered a story far bigger than myself. Make no mistake. This story exuded "willing not able" - twelve students. Twelve adults.

Africa.

We never would have stepped foot on that red soil had it not been for the inciting moment - the beginning of one's story where a simple decision catapults them into a greater narrative than they ever imagined or anticipated.

Meet Candice.

Candice is a teacher at a local high school in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Austin. Two years ago, Reagan High faced closure because of student performance. Needless to say, morale was low. Despite continued efforts, students' motivation was no easy task.

She aimed to change that and in the summer of 2009 traveled to Kenya where she worked at New Hope School in Kibera - one of the largest slums in the world. Inspired by the students' resilience and determination to complete their education, she recorded them sending messages to her own students in Austin.

The message was clear: we love you. Come to Kibera.

She showed the video on the first day of class the following year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF24fI-ANCU&fs=1&hl=en_US]

She expected encouragement. She anticipated motivation.

What she received was something even she couldn't have planned.

Without any hesitation, these students who lacked most resources, answered the call.

What happened next is a whirlwind.

In a world where people most likely thought they were crazy, these Reagan students stood tall. In a world where most kids their age started saving money for a new car, prom tickets or the latest fashions, these kids brainstormed ways to get to Africa. Their goal was seemingly impossible - raise enough money in less than six months for twelve students to travel across the world to spend two weeks in a slum.

And they did - they raised 30,000+ dollars in a little over two months, simply telling their story.

Two stories were merging into one powerful example of redemption and grace and God's incredible promise.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSnZY_p3Yq4&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Africa came quickly.

And it took about .5 seconds for our kids to fall in love.

For two weeks, their world juxtaposed with ours in a beautiful, chaotic and humbling way. We laughed with them. Cried with them. Listened to the stories of political unrest and for brief moments, shared their fear of corruption. Most of all, they challenged our comfort at neck-breaking speeds. What resulted were nights filled with tension as we wrestled with what we saw and experienced during the day. No amount of training could prepare us for what Kibera did to our hearts. Whether we were running around a field or squeezing into a tiny classroom with 50 other students, the breaking came swift.

Ashley met Christine - and was the first to receive the cherished notes from the kids.

Devyne met Isaac - and quickly realized distance means nothing when it comes to a fellow brother and sister in Christ and their dreams. Future photographers and writers and filmmakers exist in even the darkest of places. And these individuals may be the ones who bring the light to their country.

Bri met Rose - a spunky teenager who echoed her American counterpart's exuberance for life and laughter. And was equally as feisty.

Nijalon met Daniel. No one could have planned this collision of brothers. I do not exaggerate when I say from the minute we stepped off the bus these two were inseparable. And in through a course of events one can only attribute to Christ's provision and leading, these two wrote a rap song and recorded a music video.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtkhCeQesVc&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Within moments of entering Kibera, Reagan kids began dreaming about better facilities. Classrooms with solid benches - enough for every student. Supplies. New buildings with stairs that aren't rotted with decay and won't bend with every step.

New latrines.

These students began dreaming - planning - accepting yet another challenge without any hesitation. Upon returning to America, one of our girls said: "Our goal - 40,000 dollars in two months. Our plan - shutup & let God do the work."

And I think that's a really, really good idea.

Since we've returned, the excitement continually builds about providing something for our brothers and sisters in Kibera. We plan. We conspire. We erase. We start over. We brainstorm.

We forget about the story.

The story of twelve students who answered the call. The story of twelve students falling in love with an Africa they never anticipated. The story of hope. Redemption.

And finding beauty amongst the ashes of this world.

In Kibera -

  • 1 in 5 children will not see their 5th birthday.
  • 50% of the population is school-aged
  • 66% of girls will trade sex for food by age six.
  • Common living arrangements consist of 8-10 people living in a 12x12 shack

Yet we believe in restoration.

Stories are powerful, but only when shared. And lately we've been noticing and remembering the power of this story.

Others are noticing too.

Construction on a new school & church are currently underway.

And this is where we need your help.

What can you do? Join us. Kibera changed us - and we believe wholeheartedly in the calling to share our story in order to bring hope to our brothers and sisters.

Here are some ways you can join our story:

1. Donate!! Go to Manna Worldwide and set up an account. Once you are registered, donate towards Kibera New Hope building project. You will see a "Where it's Needed Most!" dropbox. If you click "other" and fill in project number 76137, all proceeds will go to Kibera. Manna will take no administration cost out of your donation.

2. Share this with a friend. Link it on twitter, post it on facebook, e-mail it to some family members....the possibilities are endless. But don't let the story end here. We understand not everyone can give money - but anyone can share a story about teenagers who gave up their summer, spent hours in community service and became forever connected to their peers across the world.

I look at my living room now, and it's empty. The kids have long gone home. But the thoughts remain. This week Nijalon's been swapping photos via facebook with Daniel. Daniel says hello. Nijalon, clad with suitcases and his African tunic, says he's coming as soon as he can get on a plane.

Devonte mentions this year will be the year he goes to Africa. No matter what.

Ebony quotes statistics of children in Kibera on her profile.

Devyne reminisces about Isaac.

A good story doesn't ask you to come alongside it - it invites you to become a part of the plot. We do not know how the story of Kibera will end. Her story is just starting - and the characters are still fighting for the place in her history.

This is your invitation.

If you do decide to join - please leave a comment letting us know. We'd love to thank you for your support and want to keep you updated on developments in Kibera. For more information, contact me at eloranicole[at]gmail.com

Posted on October 27, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

this thing called story (a teacher post)

Here's my next blog entry from my classroom - we're discussing story (!!!) in class and the importance of storytellers in society. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited. This specific post is the answer to a question I asked for the students' first blog post: What is storytelling to you? I had some incredible answers, and I would share them if it weren't for the whole "privacy" thing. Just kidding. I hope to have some kids guest post this year - or at least link to their blogs. You'd be amazed at what seniors in high school think about when you give them a chance at insight. What is this thing called story? From the beginning of time, people have created and spoken and passed on stories of our past in a desperate attempt to awaken something within the community. Ancient Greece used well-known mythological stories as backdrops to the Greek tragedies. For a short period of time, thousands would gather and take part in the religious act of emotional purging and catharsis. In the novel The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien mentions stories are "for joining past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story." To me, stories bring hope. Life can get pretty messy sometimes. For all of us, disappointment lurks in the corner waiting to make his appearance. Stories remind us of the good - of those who push through conflict despite the messiness around them. It may not always end with a bow tied neatly around a happy ending, but characters within stories are noble and fight for what they know is right. They are flawed - just like us - and even through mistakes make something beautiful. This is the hope. This past summer, sitting in a coffee shop in Nairobi, Kenya, I thought about how I would accurately tell the stories of those I met in Kibera. I wanted to return to school and let you guys know just how lucky you are to gain a free education. I wanted to make it clear that flushing toilets and central heat and air and the excess of paper, pens, books, pencils, markers, crayons...these things aren't guaranteed. I wanted to share about the two kids writing their numbers on a metal pole with chalk - only to lick the pole clean in order to start again. I wanted to share about Rose who is orphaned but finding a way to raise funds for school through her grandmother's business. I wanted to tell you of the poster hanging in the headmaster's office of what to do if you are raped... Why? ...because I needed to remind myself of hope. There's a fine line between experience and storytelling. I found it in Kibera. And sitting with these kids as they each shared with me their background and hopes and dreams, the dichotomy of my world and their world collided within my chest, creating a discord not easily removed. Coming home and sharing my experiences wasn't an option anymore. I needed to find the link between what I witnessed and what I hope for these kids. Walking down the dirt path lined with sewage holding the hand of Rose or Adah or David or Benjamin - I realized the grotesque beauty of storytelling. You may or may not be moved by what I say or the stories I share. But does it really matter? The thing about this fine line between experience and storytelling is that it's my experience - my story. It matters to me. It moves me. And in sharing it, I hope it moves you - but I know if it doesn't, it's okay. ....because  in sharing, I've reminded myself of hope. And late at night, when I'm trying to remember how I got from there to here, this is all I need to know.

Posted on September 6, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera, story.

lines on dirty paper

Every once in awhile, I'll pull out the letters so I won't forget. I won't forget Benjamin's soulful eyes or Adah calling me mum or Christine's tears. I won't forget Rose saying "when you leave for America, you will pray for me and I will pray for you."

The first letter I received while in Kibera came from Adah and was addressed to "my lovely mum." She called me beautiful in that note - and reading over it brings tears to my eyes. The day she gave me the letter, we were sitting on a bench together, just talking. She grabbed my hand and looked at me.

"When you leave for America, will you forget about me?"

When she asked me, my heart broke. How many times do these kids meet missionaries only to never see them again? How many times do these missionaries leave Africa only to return to the normalcy of their lives? Forcing my tears to wait until later, I looked at her and replied: "no sweet girl. I could never forget you."

And it's holding true. Not a day goes by where I don't think of her contagious laugh or timid smile. When I get homesick for her, I simply pull out her note. Glancing at her tilted penmanship and the penciled in "i love you" written across a crooked heart, my soul explodes with purpose.

And then there's Christine. Clad in her wind shorts and bikers, she snuck in and took residence in my heart unannounced. Quiet, shy, unassuming - she literally came alive when you put on the music. Watching her dance and hearing her sing quickly became some of my favorite memories - but looking into her eyes as we sat and talked while in Kibera, I knew the hole she would leave in my heart was much bigger than dance workshops and laughter.

And I was right.

The letter from her came on the last day in Kibera. She handed it to me discreetly - a small smile playing on her lips. "I will miss you." she said, her eyes finding mine and revealing much more than a simple goodbye. I squeezed her hand and tucked the note in my pocket - to be read on the way home.

Reading it now, in the comfort of my bed and in the plushness of threaded sheets and AC and thick walls, the ache is palpable.

I miss her.

It's amazing the weight these dirty-lined pieces of paper hold. I treasure them more than I treasure many things - and I can't help but wonder if they know. I can't help but wonder if these kids - who occupy my mind - understand the effect they had on me.

And I hope Rose knows I'm praying for her.

And I hope Adah understands I haven't forgotten.

And I hope Christine realizes I miss her more than I ever anticipated.

Posted on August 2, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.