Today we visited our Working Group!

(Blogging fast before supper while chatting w/co-missioneers.  I’ll probably have to clean this up/amend it later.)

We met our group today, and I took some videos and a photosphere of their church.  Unfortunately, the hotel wi-fi is idiosyncratic and I’ll have to upload the pictures tomorrow.

These kids have experienced Bad Stuff, and this is their second year (of a three-year program), but the speed at which they have taken off is incredible.  All they needed was a lift, and they have this to say to us, our congregation:

Thank you, University UMC, for your support and your prayers.  Please know that we are so grateful and we have been praying and will continue to pray for you.

(I’m paraphrasing a bit.)

Anyway, our visit was spectacular.  It was preceded by a long lecture/presentation from Reegan about ZOE in Kenya, which Erika and I took some notes on and will have to coordinate in trying to capture.  The presentation by itself was just excellent.

The Samaritan Liliaba Working Group’s meeting site is centrally located, within a 20-minute walk of their homes.  This is important; no one has transportation except on foot.  People walk everywhere here, as you might imagine.  As we drive down the road, we see many, many people walking everywhere.  The size of the group is determined, in part, by how many people live within 20 minutes’ walk of a possible meeting place.  The meeting place is next to the church where they worship, which I believe is a Methodist church (MCK: Methodist Church in Kenya).

When we arrived at the meeting place, there were the heads of all the families of our working group, about 25 people.  They were about 100 yards from the road where we parked, and as soon as they saw us get out of the pickup truck we were riding in, they all walked over to us, singing.  Continuing to sing, they all shook our hands and then took us by hand and walked us over to their crop surplus to show us their harvest, of which they are VERY proud.

They’re actually more than proud of it, because it represents their salvation from starvation, literally.  The kids in our working group were food insecure before the group was formed.  That means they sometimes had one meal a day, and sometimes, nothing on a day.  If they were unable to find day labor that day, they were out of luck.  If they found day labor but the person who hired them reneged on the deal and didn’t pay them, they were out of luck.  (One child told us how she would get beaten if she asked to get paid, so then she’d be hungry AND beaten.)

So, for them to have a sufficiency of food AND a surplus is a truly joyful thing.  ESPECIALLY because their harvest last year (their first year) failed due to insufficient rain.  So, we got to see their first success.

(The harvest was dried beans and potatoes.)

We were greeted by the person they had chosen as their “pastor” (name to be supplied later — we got bombarded with names and they were hard to catch), who pretty much led the meeting.  She’s not actually a pastor, but she’s one of the four elected  officers of the group (the other three being a president, a secretary and a treasurer).  Her role was created by the groups here in Kenya because they felt there should be someone who manages spiritual issues.  The fact that the groups could create a role is one of many indications of how ZOE works: the needs come from the grass roots up, as opposed to an external organization coming in and telling them what they need.

Anyway, she gave a short welcoming speech and then we had a full group report from the secretary.  All of these presentations except for the secretary’s were in Swahili, translated by our ZOE liaisons (program facilitators).  The secretary’s report was in English, handwritten in a notebook, and he read it out loud to us.

Then, several of the children presented their stories (it’s a bit of a challenge to call them children, since they’re in the age range of 20-22 years, but: (a) they were a year or two younger when this working group started, and (b) their parents were gone AND they were responsible for younger siblings, sometimes after they had spent some time nursing their parents.  That’s a little young to lose your parents, even in the best of circumstances.

Pamela gave the first presentation, which I, unfortunately, didn’t capture on video.  I wish I had because it was a very good presentation.  She was a strong, dynamic personality and the presentation would have just burst out of the video frame.

But the other presentations were also good.

Those stories are sad.  Parents gone, grandmothers (in those couple of instances in which the kids were living with their grandmothers) sick or injured and requiring their support.  Unable to find jobs as day laborers sometimes, so those days, they and their siblings go hungry.  Forced to sell off land inherited from their parents, probably at an awful discount, in order to buy food.  Beaten when they ask to be paid for their days’ work.  Accused of theft and taken to the police station when they ask to be paid.

BUT… they were all made aware of the formation of a ZOE group, they went to the initial meetings and were able to form the group.

(I understand the first six months in a ZOE group are pretty bad.  The kids come in shell-shocked, basically.  They are withdrawn and hungry.  They have to continue whatever their current life is (ZOE tries not to do handouts except for emergency cases) while undergoing the training and counseling they need just to achieve some very basic functionality.  Over and over, we heard that their initial training including education in the basics of hygiene (e.g., handwashing after bowel movements and before eating) and the necessity for a compost pit, and burning their compost and trash.  We heard, from each presenter, of the utensil drying racks they needed to have, for use after they’ve washed their utensils after a meal.  Sunshine is a disinfectant, and the utensils should be dried after washing outside, not wiped on a dirty burlap sack.  That sort of basic training.  Plus dealing with the stigma of being an orphan forced to beg for food, and an orphan due to AIDS, no less.  My understanding is that the first-year groups are in pretty bad shape when they start.  I’ll know more in a few days, because we will visit a first year group.)

So, they join a group, get the basic training (they get no resources until they’ve been trained; stewardship in the ZOE program is very important and no one wants to waste resources).  They get blankets and mosquito netting to sleep under.  (It’s surprising how many of them have no blankets.) One of the first orders of business is food.  The kids learn better ways to farm, and they plant crops of fast-growing vegetables.  After the crops (hopefully) are harvested (our group had crop failure, as I mentioned before, because there wasn’t enough rain), they’ve got their first leg up.  They also get vocational training, in the occupation both of their choice and of the group’s approval.  Things like hair dressing, barbering, sewing, running a store.  Then they get an Income-Generating Activity (IGA) grant for starting their business, and I understand it’s a HIGHLY emotional moment. (I could get all dry and cllinical as my secular-world self and say “tears are shed” (and they sometimes are, I understand), but seriously, it’s a Big Deal.)  By the way, these businesses are run out of a tiny storefront by the side of the road.  They look like they might be 6 feet by 8 feet (some are as small as 6×6 and some as large as 6×12, it looks like), and they are crammed with the materials of the business.  Groceries, shampoo (for hair dressers), a sewing machine and fabric (sewing machines are pretty expensive).

Ok, I have to go because it’s supper time and the group (of missioners) is gathering.

More later.

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