Most of us know how the sting of rejection feels. It comes to us in many forms, but regardless of how it comes, it always stings. Today, I got a first-hand look at one of the most tragic examples of total rejection in the life of others. It’s been twenty-four hours since I experienced it, and still I am feeling stunned. It is rare for me to be at a loss for words, yet I am finding it hard to write this, even now. What hurts even more is that very young children are involved.
On Monday, I had the opportunity to travel with Pastor Paul Odari and his wife Mary, of Divine Life Kenya, to the town of Kitale, the larger town near where I’m staying. I guess you could say Kitale is the equivalent of a small town big city. The reason for going to Kitale was actually a positive one. Twice monthly, as one of his ministries, Pastor Paul and his leaders feed children who are total orphans on the streets of Kitale. Essentially, this means that their parents decided for various reasons to abandon their child to live on the street, alone, to fend for themselves. Some were as young as babies when street life became their new normal.
When we first rounded a corner entering the town, one of the first things that struck me was something Pastor Paul said. We could see a group of boys hanging around on the side of the road. Pastor Paul pointed them out and said “there is my family.” I could tell he meant it. Pastor Paul has such a sincere, loving and passionate heart for those who are in need. Most especially hurting women and children. In an earlier trip into town, the boys instantly spotted him and ran up to talk to him. He was fatherly, assuring them of when they would see him again. I can tell by their response that they know Paul is a man of his word. He is.
So on this most-recent trip into town, it is time for the meal distribution to orphans. We go through a small restaurant, exiting the back into an outdoor area and there I see them. Boys. Paul’s boys. I would guess maybe 20 of them, thought Paul estimates there are as many as a thousand boys and girls living on the streets of Kitale. The boys are instantly happy to see Paul and react with surprise when they see me, several coming up to me to say hello and shake my hand. These boys look as you would expect abandoned children on the street to look. Their clothes are a mismatch of whatever they can find. Most are in bad repair, torn and all are very dirty. I would guess their average age to be ten years old, maybe a bit older.
While they are eagerly awaiting their lunch, possibly the only real meal they’ve had since the last time Pastor Paul fed them, they are rough-housing. There is one boy in particular who catches my eye. I later find out he is called Junior. He is one of the smaller boys and the others are picking on him. At one point, he is pinned under a pile and one of the bigger boys bends Junior’s hand back really far until he starts to cry. I felt so bad for him.
When I pull out my camera, the boys get very excited to have their picture taken and to see what they look like. I take a few photos and then, Junior comes up. Of course, I already have a stronger affinity for him since he is an apparent underdog in this group. I ask him if I can take his picture and he breaks out in the most beautiful smile. This sweet, precious, smiling face is the one that was streaming with tears, just a few minutes before.
I notice that most of the boys are toting around these little bottles. The look like a small bottle of alcohol. I inquire about this and Pastor Paul tells me that these are bottles of cheap glue. The kids sniff the glue to ease the pain of their circumstances. They are constantly sniffing their bottles while we are there. The only time they stopped sniffing was to eat. Who can blame them?
Around this time, food begins to be served. The boys eat as they are–ravenous. Their lunch is a full plate of food and I can tell it’s not going to take them long to finish their meal. Junior is one of the last boys to be served. I am watching him as he gets started eating. He doesn’t get very far before an older boy strolls over and swoops nearly all of the food from Junior’s dish. He immediately starts to cry. Their overseer does not see this happen so I can’t help but to rise to his defense. I told Paul what happened and he was able to get Junior another plate of food. He is brought inside to sit with another Pastor, Titus, to be sure he is able to eat. I find out later from Titus that he sat with Junior the whole time. They chatted and Junior asked why Pastor Titus could not take him home with him. If only it were that simple. Most of the pastors I have met here already have several children that are not their own living with them, but the means to continue to provide for more and more children are limited.
We leave soon after this. I’m devastated at what I just saw. I think of my own son when he was around Junior’s age and I simply cannot imagine my child in this situation, completely fending for himself on the streets, day and night. How must it feel to be so rejected, so unloved, so afraid? What is it like to dig through garbage to try to find something to silence your empty stomach? Even worse, what other horrors do they face in their vulnerability? I had to work hard to hold my tears when I was with the boys but as soon as we get outside, I can barely breathe and start to cry. If I had not been in public, my cry would have been an agonizing wail. I’m just heartbroken.
I asked Paul about any social services or options for these boys; no such thing currently exists; they are truly on their own. Paul’s goal is to set up a boys home in Sikhendu, near his home and church, where they boys can be taken completely away from their current situation, rehabilitated, restoring hope. If I had the means, I would immediately get those boys into temporary housing and fund the restoration house that Paul has planned.
Last night, it started to rain and of course, my mind was on these boys, especially on Junior. Where was he? What was he experiencing? What will the future be like if no one intervenes for these young ones in a big way? I pray that God will call up just the right people to start making this right. Many people do have the means. Maybe it is many people doing some. All I know is that has to happen. Soon. If you can help in any way, please message me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.