Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Audacity (and Resilience) of Kenya's Hope

This is my final post about my time in Kenya...

It's easy to lose hope in Kenya. There are so many deep-seeded problems that if feels like any form of aid or relief work is an exercise in futility. The government is full of officials that seek power, not to serve their people but to line their pockets. And to obtain these positions of power, leaders divide the country along tribal lines, inciting violence and displacement. Religious/political groups (like the Mungiki) whose original purpose was to curb modernization for fear of Kenya losing its culture and identity--a noble cause, I find--are now organized crime groups that extort businesses of their money and lead violent protests. Hoping to curb this group's power, the police has formed a "death squad" that takes suspected members of the Mungiki to the Ngong Hills to be executed without trying them in court first.

Add to this the natural crises occurring in the country: about 30% of adults are HIV+, malaria is rampant, and children are dying of preventable and curable diseases. And then there's the drought that in some places has been going on for more than a year and shows no sign of stopping. (If you need proof that global warming exists, just come to Northern or Southern Kenya. The rains used to come like clockwork, but not anymore.) The Maasai and Samburu are probably those hurt the most because they tend to live in dry, rural areas and because their livestock is their livelihood. But the cattle have no grass to feed on, and they are slowly dying. If the cows and goats are starving and dying, then the Maasai and Samburu themselves aren't too far behind. Rising food prices don't help the situation.

So you see, Kenya's got issues. I ask myself often how Mike and the other ICROSS staff don't burn out and just give up. How do they keep going when things seem to be getting worse and worse? But then the real question is: what other option do they have? For them, all of these issues in Kenya are motivations to keep at it, to keep trying, to keep helping one person at a time. They are the David to Kenya's Goliath. They'll never be able to eradicate suffering and starvation in one fell swoop, one well-placed hit. But they can chip away at them slowly but surely, one HIV/AIDS patient, one sick mother, one starving child at a time.

And it's not just the ICROSS folks with this audacious and resilient hope. It's most Kenyans. Unlike Americans, Kenyans know what it means to be grateful for what you have and, more importantly, what it means to be content. Yes, things are hard now, but most Kenyans are still aware of the many blessings in their lives. And many, many Kenyans have such a beautiful, tremendous faith that God is with them. His eye is on the sparrow, after all. I talked to Rose, the nurse in Sinkiraine (one of the driest and hottest places in Kenya) about this, and she said, "What else can you do? You just have to keep smiling and trust that God will provide."

I completely understand atheism. How could a god let children suffer needlessly? But I don't think God just sits back letting bad things happen. We have an active God, not just an observant one. He's in the grandmother caring for her starving grandson. He's in Rose, Ebisiba, and Pamela, who care for their sick neighbors simply because that's the right thing to do. God's in ICROSS. God's in the American, British, and Irish donors that contribute to ICROSS, making their work possible. When people suffer, it's not God's fault for letting it happen. It's our fault for not doing anything about it. And even when we fail to act, I still don't think that that's the end of the story. God continues to be with the suffering in small, sometimes imperceptible ways. No one is alone, truly. And that's something to put your hope in.

Prayer for Kenya: Psalm 20:1-5
"In times of trouble, may he Lord respond to your cry.
May the God of Israel keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings.
May he grant your heart's desire
and fulfill all your plans.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
flying banners to honor our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers."

If you want to see all the wonderful things ICROSS is doing, skim through the 2008 Annual Report (I helped proofread it). If you feel so led, you can donate to ICROSS through NWI Kenya, and you can actually designate what your money will go to (e.g., a cow, a pig named after an ex!, a womens support group, etc.). Contributions are really important right now because the drought is ravaging the country and ICROSS' funds are down because of the economic crisis. And what's so wonderful and unique about ICROSS is that--except for Mike, the founder and international director--it's run almost entirely by Kenyans working together to solve Kenya's problems.

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