Lions and Eagles: Stories of courage and commitment

Upon completing the Each Inc. forum, the SIM – Kenya team congregated in the lush gardens of the building complex and enjoy lively conversation over a Kenyan lunch. Our background music was the beautiful liturgies sung in Ahmaric by an Ethiopian Orthodox priest that flowed through the garden.The group was buzzing like bubbling water molecules placed over a flame at the point of transition between liquid and gas. Beatrice, the director (“mother lion”) and I struggle to corral the excited team of childcare practitioners. This inspiring team have dedicated their lives to serving children. “They are the future of our country,” Kepha announces confidently, as though reaffirming his purpose is being lived. Smiles abound. Jokes tangle with directions from our impromptu photographer, the guard.

To be in the presence of such amazing and dedicated individuals was an honor. I was enriched in their presence. These childcare practitioners represent more than 100 childcare projects throughout the ‘slums’ of Nairobi.

Introductions consumed over two hours of the meeting, and could have continued well into the night. I could have listened for hours. The introduction topics included: ‘Name’, ‘Family’, ‘Zone’ (slum they represent), ‘A story from one of your projects’ and ‘Your favorite animal and why?’.

Names were easy but the topics became increasingly more involved to answer. I learned that most had families much bigger than just their biological children. Almost all were fostering or had adopted. This was in addition to their work providing services that ranged from running a love centered orphanage for HIV orphaned children to caring for the socially disregarded disabled children.

The stories about each project, recounted by each caregiver, were stories of loving sacrifice and of hopefulness. They shared stories that stirred emotions and left my face quivering with sadness. It pained me to hear that these children, the future of their communities, could be subjected to such unimaginable situations. And yet, I felt encouraged that there exist individuals—like my 14 new friends—who have dedicated their lives to rewriting each child’s story.

One of the childcare workers, Susan, speaks of Ocampo #7 (7 because he is Susan’s seventh adopted child). Her deep love for 10-year-old Ocampo is evident as she shares Ocampo’s story. His story is a piecemeal story patched together from the memories of others and Ocampo’s own growing recollection as he receives counseling.

She starts, Ocampo is a happy boy with a hunger for life and food. Ocampo would eat 12 chapatis and drink 7 sodas in one sitting. His disposition made him a favorite of his friends at the orphanage. They say, “Everyone loves Ocampo!” While he won favor with his peers, his inventory-depleting-appetite was putting him at odds with his ‘caregivers’. Ocampo was beaten, abused and even locked in solidarity confinement by those who called themselves caregivers. Finally, with the help and strong support of his friends, Ocampo ran away.

Ocampo ended up on the street, and the street is no place for a child. Ocampo was further abused and left physically and emotionally wounded.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) found the scarred and battered Ocampo. In treating Ocampo’s physical ailments they found that Ocampo had contracted HIV. After treating Ocampo the MSF team searched for a relative or an orphanage to give Ocampo a home. They found the orphanage he had escaped from. The reasons for his escape lay a secret to them.

They returned Ocampo to what they thought was a loving home. Ocampo’s return was met with more severe punishment. Ocampo was tied to a pole, beaten and refused food for extended periods of time. Friends’ love for Ocampo, would not allow him to go without food. Several girls would steal micro-morsels of food from dinner. These micro-morsels were placed in a bag. The bag was then covertly and strategically placed in a secret hole where Ocampo could access the food and hide the remnants.

His accomplices knew this couldn’t last very long so when a volunteer visited the orphanage they petitioned her to get Ocampo out. When the volunteer inquired about Ocampo, the caregivers denied he was there. But the volunteer knew she needed to find a way to release Ocampo.

This is where Susan came in. The volunteer knew that Susan could help. After several days working with authorities Susan and the Nairobi Police went down to the orphanage, found and freed Ocampo.

Ocampo was put in temporary custody of Susan. Susan showed Ocampo the love he needed but she only had temporary foster custody of Ocampo. As per law, Ocampo must be placed back into the custody of a relative. He again ended up in an orphanage, this time one run by a relative. Scarred by his previous orphanage, he again returned to the street to escape the painful memories. Life on the street led Ocampo back into the custody of the local authorities. When the authorities were trying to find who was responsible for this misguided child, the only name they had was Susan’s.

Upon Susan’s arrival to the police station, Ocampo saw Susan and he proclaimed “that’s my mother, and I will not go anywhere else other than with her!”

Ocampo is still recovering. He has many troubles because of what he has endured. Susan remarks, that despite all this, “He is a beautiful child. Everyone loves Ocampo, and he really loves hugs. If you want to be his friend, JUST GIVE HIM A HUG.”

When we finally moved on to “What is your favorite animal and why?” This question created some of the most beautiful analogies of each person’s favorite animal and the reason.

Beatrice, the director of the network, explained that the lion was her favorite animal because of its courage. I would learn that there was a consensus that Beatrice exhibits the lion’s bravery and many of those in the network see her as their courageous lion.

The most common animal was the eagle. “The eagle feeds and raises it chicks until the baby is ready to fly. The mother pushes the eagle out of the nest to thrive on its own when it’s ready.” This served as a powerful metaphor for the work of these amazing childcare practitioners. They all desired to nurture these children in need, and then empower them to survive and thrive as strong individuals.

Thank you SIM – Kenya for showing me the meaning of committed, humble, dedicated service. You are the amazing people Each Inc. seeks to serve as you care for vulnerable children. Our hope is to support you as you do your heroic work with great joy.

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