thanks to Katie Tripp for capturing this!

thanks to Katie Tripp for capturing this!
thanks to Katie Tripp for capturing this!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I’m a bit of a procrastinator, especially when it comes to tasks that are either large in scope or too boring to deal with. This final blog is of the former type- almost too large in scope to accomplish well. I could write about the transition process back to the developed world, the importance of family and friends in that process or the way I feel a part of my heart is still in Kenya. Instead, though, I think I will focus on the Rosary.

My grandmother and grandfather, who just celebrated his 91st birthday in June, say the Rosary everyday at noon. The children of Our Lady of Grace say the Rosary everyday at 6:10 a.m. When I was in Kenya saying the Rosary with the students I often thought about how this practice was common to so many different people and how it exemplified the universality of the Catholic Church. When I was with the students, I often thought of my grandparents and their devotion to Mary and the Rosary. Now that I am back in America, the Rosary has become a part of my daily prayer life. The Rosary reminds me of the students who touched my life and who continue to struggle to attain an education and a life for themselves.

Goodbyes are always the hardest part of service work. Our goodbye at Our Lady of Grace was no exception. Besides hiking Mt. Kenya, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. Maybe that says something about the relative ease of my life prior to this trip, but none the less it was an extremely challenging undertaking. It felt like we were just another group of people in their lives one moment and gone the next. It felt like we were abandoning children who were all too used to abandonment in their lives. It felt like I was leaving some of my own children behind. I had to remind myself of the importance of prayer in unifying people across the world. As I cried in public places while reading the notes from the children, I had to remind myself that I could keep loving them, from a distance through prayer.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve turned to daily Mass and the Rosary as ways to continue to love the children from a distance. I offer these things for their well-being, while simultaneously benefiting from a more constant presence of the Eucharist and more frequent time for prayer and reflection in my own life.

Of course, a main part of my proposal stated that I will continue to fundraise, speak to different groups and work on developmental aspects of Our Lady of Grace School and Orphanage, but I think quite possibly the most important thing we can all do for these students, for our own families, for ourselves and for our world is to incorporate prayer into our daily lives. I’m all about action plans, goals and objectives and there is certainly a time and place for all of those things, but sometimes we need to sit still, become quiet and remember others and pray for each other.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Butterflies and Giraffes

On our final morning at Our Lady of Grace, each of the fellows said a brief goodbye to the school-body following Mass. This was no easy task. That morning, after about an hour of sleep, I had put on a special pair of butterfly earrings that I figured the little ones would like. While walking to Mass through the darkness to which we had become accustomed, I thought more about butterflies. I decided that butterflies were like our time at Our Lady of Grace.

In my fair-well to the students I explained that our time together was a bit like an encounter with a butterfly- brief, yet beautiful. Usually when you see a butterfly, you catch a glimpse of a bit of its intricate pattern, and even if you follow it down the road for a while trying to notice each aspect of its wings, you undoubtedly fail to appreciate every detail. My time with the students gave me  many opportunities to notice a bit of the detail on the butterfly’s wings, but there is surely more to each of the students’ personalities which I don’t yet know, but love anyway. They seemed to understand this analogy as nature is more than a backdrop to their lives, it is an integral part of their existence.

The tear-filled goodbyes, the reluctant releases from hugs and the looseleaf letters which filled our last day at OLG will not be forgotten. Since I have returned to the U.S. I’ve had a challenging time processing all of the aspects of our time in Kenya. I will probably post a few more times when I’ve sorted through more of the stories, but two things I have taken from this experience are the Rosary and the universal peace and unity of the Eucharist. During Mass this past Sunday with my family, I started crying. Perhaps it was a bit of the jet lag, but I think there was something more to it. My mom turned to me and asked if I was homesick for Kenya and I cried more. I surely looked a bit crazy to the parishioners surrounding me, but that didn’t stop me either. In that moment I felt the unity and peace which the Eucharist provides throughout the world. Here I was, sitting in a beautiful church in the suburbs of New York City, saying the same prayers, taking part in the same sacrament which I did merely 6 days ago in a room about 1/4 the size of our church in rural Africa two days away by airplane. It was an incredible realization: Jesus came for all of us. Not just the rich, not just the poor, but for all and everyone in between.

I intended to write about giraffes and more about the Rosary in this post, but that will have to come tomorrow seeing as exhaustion is rapidly setting in.

Amani (peace) for now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To-Do Lists . . .

I always know when a vacation or relaxing period is drawing to a close when I start making lists. This week, our last full week at Our Lady of Grace, I started creating my “to-do before leaving” list, which includes far too many things to allow for sleep. We, Fellows and Anna, have been working with Brother Dominic to plan a retreat for the whole school for this Saturday, so final preparations for that are taking place. It also seems that the students have begun to realize how soon we will be leaving and are making many requests for talks, photos, and our presence at the school. My drum lessons have somehow turned into practices for a choreographed song that I will be performing with a few of the students on Sunday. I am neither a singer nor a dancer, so I’m still not quite sure how I got talked into this, but if it makes them happy, I will cooperate.

Most of our development work is finished for the time being, so we can truly focus on being present to the students and making the most of these precious moments together before our departure. We have already said a difficult goodbye to our dear friend, Maria, the Administrator of FTK, as she departed for her own holiday with family. I do not look forward to saying goodbye to all of my other dear friends here, but we are looking forward to our safari through the Masai Mara which will commence next Tuesday, July 26th.

I will write more when I check more things off my list!

Here is the link to the website we have worked on, there is still more to do, but please take a look and let us know what you think!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Drum Lessons

Building relationships with young children comes naturally to me. When you fall somewhere in the middle of thirteen grandchildren, you try to define your role within the family- do I hang out with the ‘big kids’ or the younger ones? I never really picked one or the other, but I certainly learned how to care for and play with children from all of our times at family parties, outings and vacations. So, initially, I was most comfortable with the younger children at Our Lady of Grace, those students in Class 5 and younger. They were ‘easy’- a smile brightens their day and is met by another glowing smile and warm handshake. I had to work a bit harder with the older students, as would anyone.

Given the nature of the lives of the Secondarians at OLG, most are a bit hesitant to open up and trust a stranger. Rather than force conversation on anyone or pry into someone’s life, I turned to drum lessons. I asked a young woman in Form 4 if she would be willing to teach me to play the drum they use during Sunday Mass. She enthusiastically agreed and drum lessons commenced. Everyday at 4:00 p.m., give or take 30 minutes, we meet, attempts drum lessons, and usually end up talking about life and her future. Now, when I walk over to her dorm area, all of her neighbors welcome me, call her name and tell me about their day. Sometimes we have drum lessons, sometimes we have life lessons, but organic ones. We discuss relationships, self-respect and confidence, but we do so by “Turning to One Another” in the way in which Margaret Wheatley describes in her book, “Turning to One Another.”

In one of the stories Meg Wheatley shares of her time in South Africa, a woman who had been scarred by the apartheid years gave Wheatley a reality check as she stated, “I don’t need you to fix me. I just need you to listen to me.” The young women in the Secondary school seem to have a similar, albeit unspoken, request to be listened to and heard, for the first time in a while. Drum lessons allow me to humble myself, to allow Esther to be my ‘teacher,’ while we both learn from each other in different, yet equally profound ways.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"M" is for Mother

Today, while reviewing the English alphabet with Class 3, something insignificant, yet equally extraordinary occurred. For each letter, I asked the students for examples of English words which began with that letter, so by the time we reached the letter “M,” my pattern was quite clear. When I turned to the class for examples, only one child’s hand was raised, it was the hand of one of the girls who lost her mother last week. Without hesitation or sadness she responded, “Mother.” By the instant the last syllable left her mouth, the 9 other hands were raised and eager to respond with “machine,” “mango,” “man,” etc., but for a moment the only response was “Mother” from a child who will learn to live without one. I noted its significance to myself, but intentionally moved on as quickly as it seemed she and her classmates had.
I have yet to reflect fully enough on this moment to draw out all of its significance or explain it in words, but there was something so startling about her frankness that I felt I must document and share it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pax Christi

Last night, as I worked with Brother Dominic to prepare a presentation to the students on the sign of peace, its significance in the Mass and its application to our lives, I broke down. The task itself was not too difficult especially with proper guidance, but it was in this moment that I began crying for the first time in Kisumu. I knew this moment was fast approaching, but I did not expect it to come during a rather ‘academic’ exercise.

In discussing the Eucharist as a sacrament of peace and brainstorming about a time in which I have experienced the peace of Christ in my life, it became overwhelmingly apparent how unfair it was that I have experienced Christ’s love in so many people in countless ways throughout my life in contrast to the chaos in the lives of the children at OLG. It’s always hard to comprehend unfairness in the world, but when two very different worlds are brought together, which is the case in my presence at Our Lady of Grace, this contrast is startling.

Brother Dominic helped me to understand, accept and and be at peace with this disheartening realization of inequality. He helped me to understand God’s Providence in my life and in the lives of the children here. He helped me to see God’s presence in their smiles and laughter. He helped me to understand that I have been blessed with a loving healthy family so that I may bring my whole self to these children, so that Christ may work through me in the way he has worked through my parents so that these children may know God’s love for them is eternal and unconditional, something that the material world simply cannot and has not offered them.

I will go forth in these next few weeks being present to the students by listening to their stories, praying with them and playing with them thanks to my family and friends and Christ’s presence in each of them.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Life Goes On.

In the past two days, students at Our Lady of Grace School have experienced tremendous loss. Yesterday, the mother of two young girls with whom I have become close passed away after a battle with terminal cancer. Their father had died a few years ago and in an instant these girls and their older brother became ‘true orphans.’ Upon learning of their mother’s passing from a school teacher and being brought to visit their mother’s body, the children returned to class and resumed their regular schedule fighting through their tears and heartbreak. When I learned of this I was shocked, almost enraged.

At home, if someone were to lost a parent or close family member, he or she remained at home for a few days or maybe weeks until she was emotionally ready to return to school. Even upon her return, the child received emotional and academic support from teachers, classmates, parish priests etc. But these children have no home in which to seek comfort, peace or stability in their time of grieving. Their only home is at Our Lady of Grace School, their only family is comprised of the many children who make up Fr. Tom’s Kids and their only adult role models are the faculty and staff of Our Lady of Grace and Fr. Tom’s Kids.

This morning, as we were celebrating Mass during an unusual morning rain shower, we lost electricity. The room was dark except for the dim light produced by two candles on the altar. Despite the darkness, though, the Homily went on, Mass went on, and today, those three orphaned children woke up at 4:00 a.m. for personal study, went to Rosary at 6:10 a.m. and will continue on with the rest of their school day, attending classes and finishing assignments. In Kenya, Life Goes On. The events of yesterday and today were more enlightening than some entire years of my life. They made me realize, in a very tangible way, that somewhere in the world, someone’s life is changing completely at almost every instant of every day.

Sometimes, our lives change for for the good: sometimes healthy babies are born to loving parents, sometimes people get married to their soulmate, sometimes a parent receives a promotion, sometimes a child graduates from college, but sometimes children become orphans. Sometimes children are hugged and told they are loved before getting tucked into bed at night, but sometimes there is no one to hug them, no one to love them, no one to tuck them in. This is why the ministry of Fr. Tom’s Kids is so incredibly important- it attempts to provide parental love, support and guidance to children who have nowhere else to turn; children who have no option of foster care or adoption, children who despite these challenges possess determination to keep living and keep loving.

Yesterday, the reality of the lives of those three children changed in an instant, but life is going on, all over the world .