Poverty. Injustice. Contrasts and contradictions. These are a painful part of everyday life here. Sometimes, you slide into a complacent lull. Then something happens that brings the horror of it all back into focus. That was my experience on Tuesday morning. During my usual 3-mile walk around our neighborhood, I noticed that it was garbage collection day. There were trash bags at almost every gate. But there was something more.
Children and women from a low income area nearby were also carrying bags. They had ravaged through the trash in search of food, used clothes, shoes, books, strings, old electrical equipment – just anything. Some of their finds could be used and others could be fixed and resold. This got me thinking.
How could the neighborhood like the one I live in reach out to low- income residents? Must they be left to search in the trash? Can we provide employment? Help in some other way?
The next day, Diane and I were invited to a scholarship award ceremony where President Kibaki was the chief guest. This was a partnership between Equity Bank, MasterCard Foundation, US-AID and other major donors. The 2,140 very needy scholars were receiving awards that would cater for their costs through high school and university: a 6-billion-shilling project.
Listening to the stories of hardship and suffering brought many of us, including the President of Kenya, to tears. When a boy who had lived on the streets for 6 years narrated his story, almost everyone in the packed gymnasium was crying. A young girl from a nomadic tribe described escaping from 7 forced marriage attempts in order to stay in primary school. Now she was fully sponsored — her search for hope in life had been realized.
It is encouraging that this year, over 70% of Kenya’s students who completed primary school will be able to go on to high school, up from around 40% just a few years ago. Education is seen as the only hope for many – the answer to a vicious cycle of poverty and despair. But is education all it will take? I don’t think so.
After the ceremony, a select 150-or-so ‘special guests’, including Diane and I, went for lunch ‘with the President’ at an exclusive hotel. The food was extravagant and delicious . . . but could there have been another way to celebrate? Contrasts and contradictions. The cost of that lunch alone could probably have sponsored at least 10 more desperate students through high school. Why did we have to go and “eat” what could have been a life-changing opportunity for even that number of children? Yes, 2,140 sponsorships were great. But the needs are still astronomical. What can possibly get us out of this extreme poverty?
Are we directly responsible for the suffering of others? How do we respond when many believe that they lack precisely because I have in abundance. Or more bluntly, in the words of our oldest son, when “You and I are using a cell phone today because a child in the Congo has been underground in a mine for hours or days at a time. There is a direct correlation.”
“What does God require of you, o man? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
How would Christ want us to respond? Please help me search and pray.