Slums in the country of Kenya have no pattern as they are found in every corner of every major town. Although the Kenyan government has attempted to start upgrade programs, very little has ever been done. When asked, many of the locals contribute the problem to a corrupt government. Most residents are aware that slums are abnormal to society but have little idea of how to make improvements. Observations by outsiders contribute the problem to lack of proper education in addition to the poor government choices.
I have no insight about the current and previous government choices but I can agree on the lack of education. It seems as if the leaders inside the slums are just now discovering infrastructure and medical breakthroughs that our American ancestors made over 100 years ago. In our history books we read where Americans discovered dumping human waste into the river which is also the drinking water leads to cholera and other deadly diseases. In 2017 with help from a Christian organization, one of the slums here in Kenya installed a public toilet to stop this from happening. And just as America noticed a drop in diseases, so did the slum.
The Mathare Valley is one of the many slums in Kenya and the second largest. It is one of the poorest areas in the world. Most residents live in small 6 ft. x 8 ft shanties made of old tin, tree branches and mud. Many live on less than one dollar per day. For most, education is placed on the back burner and because of this, the cycle of poverty continues.
In the early 2000’s Mary and Wallace Kamau who had visited and worked in the the slums for years noticed many organizations come and go. Most stayed hosted revivals, invited people to Christ and then picked up their things and left a week later. Leaving these new Christians with nothing.
Mary and Wallace realized that this method wasn’t working, nothing was changing in the community. There were no churches, schools, relief centers or medical facilities.The Kamau’s decided to open a long term ministry to serve families. Because Mary had experience with children, they felt this was the best way to start. They realized if they cared for the children they would soon have the trust of families and soon the whole community. This model is tough, it would take years to feel an impact and generations to see change. But Mary and Wallace were here long term so they started a school with 50 children from the Mathare Valley and trusted that God would lead them.
Fast forward 18 years (I encourage you to read/watch the full history of Missions of Hope International here) and God has clearly used Mary and Wallace to accomplish huge things. 37 of those 50 initial students graduated High School and now MOHI has 21 schools with over 16,000 students. They are now offering vocational training to adults, teaching skills like hair dressing, sewing, carpentry and more. They even offer these adults small loans to open business in the valley.
The MOHI model is different than other missions I’ve seen. They offer much more than a handout to the people of Mathare. Actually they refuse to offer handouts. They believe that true change happens through Christ, empowerment and education. They partner with families and the community to offer and guide in true life change. They are teaching people how to overcome. Think the “give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” mentality.
MOHI stands strong behind this model. Of the 21 schools the one that First Church is directly involved in is Kosovo. Currently 1,502 students are enrolled here, many are children that are sponsored by members of FC. The school has 58 staff members including 39 teachers, 4 social workers, and 1 trainer. Our teams main objective was to successfully host a VBS (Vacation Bible School) for the early elementary students in Kosovo. We have scheduled 4 days of VBS with 3 different stations. This team includes an arts & craft station, music station and recreational station. This year I’m a part of the recreation team along with Ruby, Dave, Dennis and Kim. We have had a blast playing with these kids and I especially enjoy getting the children hyper and crazy before they are sent to the crafts station with Mrs. Cheri :).
Today we hosted day 3 of VBS for grades 1-4th. Every time I visit I’m blown away by the discipline of these students. It doesn’t matter how loud and crazy we get them, giving a simple yell of “1, 2” students respond with “make a circle” you then yell “3, 4” and they respond “make a big circle.” You’ll have to hear it in their little voices... It makes it even better. They quickly stop what they are doing and together form a circle, a big circle. If they are a little too loud or just not paying attention to the leader, a simple yell of “sound” and they throw their index finger to their mouth and you hear a “MMM” and then silence. These teachers have instilled discipline and they are strict. Because of this our teams are able to accomplish the tasks and ensure the student learn and have fun.
My favorite part of MOHI is simply that they teach students about Jesus first. Think about this, if the people in the community are just now learning about healthy sanitation, they certainly won’t have much of an opportunity to learn about Jesus. Through MOHI’s education and occasional VBS trips these students are learning about the most important person to walk this earth, Jesus.
Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Without a doubt, these students are being “Trained up in the way they should go”. Through the Love of Christ, these students are learning valuable life skills and building a Biblical foundation. With this, Kenyans could finally experience long awaited and overdue change in their community. We have been working with students under the age of 10. As a team we hold on to the hope that we followed God’s calling and were able to plant a seed in a child this week. A seed that will soon bear fruit and one day improve the Mathare community but more importantly being more people to Him.