Hope: reflections from a Shelter volunteer

 In March 2017, Janell Simmons spent almost a month volunteering at the Naivasha Children’s Shelter. She helped train staff in counseling and social work, and participated in our annual rescue. 

In March 2017, Janell Simmons spent almost a month volunteering at the Naivasha Children’s Shelter. She helped train staff in counseling and social work, and participated in our annual rescue. 

Hope is not something that is abounding for homeless boys on the street in Naivasha, Kenya.  And yet, because of the dedication of a great team of skilled and passionate adults, somehow it oozes from the walls of the Naivasha Children’s Shelter.  The video I have shared most often with friends and family since I’ve been back from my trip is this one:

What I love about it is pretty obvious.  There’s no way to watch it without smiling.  And trust me, those nightly dance parties were just as fun as they look.  But what you may not know at first glance is that many of these boys (including sweet Kamau, the clear star) woke up on the street that morning.  This was the night of the big rescue in Naivasha and Nakuru, and less than an hour after this video was taken, Kamau and the other new boys went to sleep in a safe, clean bed, for the first time in who knows how long.  It’s so incredible to me that just hours removed from the atrocities they experienced on the street, the signs of hope and joy are already creeping in.

The first days after the rescue are filled with a lot of orientation.  The staff meets with the boys each morning to talk through things like chores, meals, showers, bedtime, etc.  But what I love is that throughout those meetings (and all day, every day), the staff takes every opportunity to tell them how important, valued, and loved they are.  Even discussions around things like hygiene lead to reminders about identity and why it is important to respect ourselves and our bodies.  For these “forgotten” children, who, if they were acknowledged on the street at all, it was to harass or abuse them, this message is powerful.  They begin to thrive almost immediately.  Even in those first few weeks, where the transition is still pretty tough, there is a pride and a hope that emerges as they are treated like the precious souls that they are instead of the “nuisances” the world around them has tried to convince them they are.  Unfortuantely, they don’t always stay at the Shelter.  Sometimes they run back to the “comfort” of life on the streets.  But it doesn’t change the hope that has been set in motion.

 My friend Jomo. 

My friend Jomo. 

This is my friend Jomo.  He is such a ham and one of the funniest kids I know.  He was the first boy I met on campus – the only one brave enough to join the staff as they gave me the tour on my first day.  He was always asking me to video him doing something silly, and we spent a lot of time laughing together.  One of my last days at the shelter, he showed me (as promised) how to milk the goats on campus.  That is one of his responsibilities and every afternoon when he comes in from school, he wrangles the goats (no easy task), gets them in their pens, and gets the job done.  I was not a great student, but he patiently waited while I squeezed out a few ounces before taking over and finishing up in about 30 seconds.  Thanks to our slightly distracted photographer, Martin (the selfie king), I have definitive proof that I did, in fact, milk a goat, albeit very poorly.

Over the course of my time there, our conversations moved from pretty silly to pretty profound.  One day we took a walk and Jomo started talking about his time at the shelter.  He’s lived there a few years.  He said that when he arrived, he could barely even read or write, which was surprising to me, because he was constantly reading and writing very well (in both Swahili and English) with me.  When I asked him how he learned so quickly, he said, “Mr. Daniel (the shelter administrator) taught me everything.”  He also told me that he anticipates being able to reunite with his family later this year because of the work that he and his family have done together with the social workers.  He’s actually spending time with them now on a school break.  I know he is really proud and excited to be going home soon.  He is so smart and talented and the future ahead of him is so bright I can hardly stand it.  I can’t wait to see what he does in the coming years.

Where would Jomo be without the Naivasha Children’s Shelter?  There’s no way to know for sure, but I know what he would tell you.  When he speaks of Daniel and the other staff members, his face lights up.  He loves them so much and the feeling is mutual.  That love, and the hope it inspires, is life-changing – for Jomo, Kamau, Martin and the countless boys who have come before them and will come after them.

Hope is a powerful, powerful thing.  Don’t ever lose it.

If you want to know more or if you want to sponsor a boy like Jomo (or Jomo himself!  He is available for sponsorship – he’s listed by his first name, Joseph, on the site), check out NCS’s website.  If you’re unable to fully sponsor a boy ($100/month), there are options for partial sponsorship, purchasing school uniforms and carpentry toolboxes, and one-time and monthly donations of any amount.