On Friday the 18th, our team was blessed with the opportunity to tour 5 different schools around the Thika Division. We left our temporary home in Kabete bright and early (7AM) and headed past the outer limits of Nairobi into Thika, a community in which the Salvation Army has such an incredibly vibrant presence. We began our visitation at Joytown, a primary school for physically handicapped children. Many of the children at this school are orphans. It was sad to learn that most handicapped children in Africa are disowned by their families due to the social stigma that culture attributes to "shameful" disabilities. During our brief time with the children, we were able to sense their happiness and see their beautiful smiles, even in the midst of situations that many within Western Culture would consider hopeless. Upon leaving the primary school, we visited a secondary school for the physically handicapped, in addition to another primary, secondary, and high school for the visually-impaired. We were greatly blessed by the award-winning student choir at the secondary school for the visually-impaired. It was great to hear these children sing with such emotion and energy as music has become a power coping mechanism. One of the main objectives of this school was to cultivate independence and self-responsibility. Just because the children were unable to see, did not mean that they were in anyway incapable of leading a productive and purposeful life. We were encouraged by the student's cheerful spirit and I can say with great confidence that our team was blessed to fellowship with such strong and faithful young people!
While we encountered such hope and strength at each and every school that we visited, we were also briefed on a few distinct challenges that confront these schools on a daily basis:
1.) Lack of Finances- High operating costs and low public sponsorship/inability for students to afford tuition, have forced the schools into rising debt. It is not the goal of the Salvation Army to deny any individual membership, however sometimes this reality must become the last resort.
2.) Lack of Transportation- The primary school for the blind in particular has close to 200 students enrolled and only one 14 passenger van. Because of these constraints, the school has been forced to make multiple trips to transport students and/or have exclude students from extra-curricular activities.
3.) Lack of Vocational Training Programs- If funding were made available for vocational training, students could leave school with a marketable skill or specialization that could translated to a career rather than a rough life on the streets.
4.) The Effect of HIV/AIDS- Students admitted who are HIV+ require expensive treatment and certain health precautions on an around-the-clock basis. Financial and staffing constraints further complicate the steps towards achieving quality education for these students.
5.) General Repairs and Maintenance- Various areas and classrooms of the institutions are in dire need of repair and general modernization. For instance, paved walkways would make it much easier for wheelchair bound students to navigate the campuses.
Perhaps one of the most challenging complexities of this visit was realizing that many of the obstacles that confront these students can either be prevented or at least properly treated in the U.S. due to widespread access to essential vaccines and medications. It is sad to see with your own eyes the powerful level of inequity that exists in our world. While we truly believe that we are all children of God who are made in the image of the Father Himself, it is still challenging to see so many people suffering with various afflictions. Why has God chose to bless me with good health, a loving family, and financial security? It is so easy to get preoccupied with thinking that we deserve a life that is easy and comfortable.
In reality, we are not deserving of anything. However, the Lord is a merciful and compassionate God who simply asks that we make the best of the situation that we are dealt with. I know that I myself was challenged by our visit to the Thika schools. Would I claim joy if I was forced to bear the burden of a physical/mental disability? We were truly humbled by the smiles on the faces of these children. It is in these moments when all hope seems lost, that Christ reveals the joy that comes through unwavering faith and a cheerful heart.