When people ask about my year of directing an orphanage for the International Humanity Foundation in Kenya, their most frequent question is, “Was it hard?” They mean “Was it hard to have spotty electricity? Did you miss flush toilets? Was it difficult to live where air conditioning was a breeze in the shade and there were no heaters to keep you warm when the temperature plunged at night?”
I guess so, but I got used to all that. It was annoying for the first month or so, but then it became normal. I adapted and didn't notice what I was missing anymore.
Not that living abroad was easy. That year was the most difficult in my life… no exaggeration. It's just that the greatest difficulties weren't of the physical sort, three bouts with malaria withstanding.
I went abroad to learn about poverty, to live a different life from the one I had known all my years on earth, to make some change for the good in the world. My fellow directors and I were responsible for over one hundred children. They were of the Pokot tribe, one of the poorest and most discriminated against in Kenya. Drought struck their homeland, and their parents couldn't feed them and all their brothers and sisters. Some parents were considering selling their daughters as wives to feed their other children. Some children desperately needed medical attention and were not going to find it in a community where cholera outbreaks were normal and bleeding a goat was a valid treatment.
Instead the children came to live with us. We fed them and kept them safe. We woke them up in the morning for school. When they came home in the afternoons, we taught additional classes in English and math to prepare them for entrance exams to secondary school and university. There were computer classes to familiarize them with the wired world. They learned to type and use Skype to speak with the children from the Foundation's other centers in Thailand and Indonesia. Our nurse kept them healthy and we played soccer with them and gave them our love.
Taking care of these children who had already known such poverty and abuse in their short lives and needed special attention was alone a full-time job, and there was so much else to do beyond it. A staff of twenty needed management, sponsors and donors needed to be recruited, and the farm and animals needed tending. I had hardly the energy to enjoy the hour of privacy I had at the end of every day. I was always exhausted
Once a month we conducted a famine feed in the children's homeland. After hours of driving over dry river beds and along roads that were no more than wheel tracks in the dirt, we distributed maize flour and cabbage to fend off malnourishment as the drought continued in four villages. In special circumstances, we bought chickens, goats, cows and camels with donations from all over the world and gave them to those villagers in the greatest need. They could use the animals to feed themselves and their relatives or sell them and use the profit to subsist on.