Column by Peggy Dover from the Rogue Valley Times
Lynn Leissler was the subject of a former column a few years back. She’s the wonder woman and close friend who has gladly accepted the challenges with the joys of raising her teenage granddaughter, Renee. Yes, Lynn possesses an impressive list of grandmotherly requisites; she knits, she sews, she quilts, she bakes—and all skillfully. She also reads voraciously.
Let’s just say at nearly 78 years old, Lynn might be considered beyond the stage of dealing with teen angst, prom dress shopping, and boyfriend troubles. The affection return Renee gives is well worth the investment.
Because she neither looks nor acts her age (however that’s supposed to look these days) this grandmother recently surpassed expectation by taking Renee on a mission trip to Kenya, Africa. I’m a witness as to just how many and prolonged were the challenges in preparation to leaving—everything seemed to work against them. Obtaining visas online was an exercise in humility; forget about patience. Taking the required shots and typhoid medicine made them ill, especially Renee. Despite navigating the potholes to get there and the ridiculous flight schedule with long layovers, they’re eager to return. I spoke with them about their incredible experience.
The program coordinating the effort is called Hope’s Promise. Various churches work with Hope’s Promise on behalf of bringing hope to children in the Kuza Project of Kenya—Kuza means light. They’re a faith-based organization who send teams of individuals to some of the most impoverished areas to work with neglected children and help them understand they matter. I asked Renee what she loved most about her experience.
“Meeting the kids,” was her quick reply. One thirteen-year-old boy in particular touched her soul. “He doesn’t have a lot. I asked him what his favorite thing to ever do was, and he said ‘praise the Lord.’ I said ‘what’s your second favorite thing to do?’ He answered, ‘help people who need things that I have.’”
Lynn explained the purpose. “It was a school break program, so, like a vacation Bible school type deal. The church there is facilitating a program that helps kids stay with their bio families, if possible. And if not, to be with non-relative caregivers to help them attend school—to care for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and help these kids develop a sense of worth on their own, because they’ve had a lot of trauma in their lives.
They are westernized there and also proudly aware of being Kenyan. The children of Mathare watch movies that they believe represent the typical American family. It was quite an eye-opener for them to learn that our country shares the same issues, with dysfunctional homes, and less than ideal living conditions not uncommon. “We were careful to not go there as “White saviors,” Lynn said, ‘just to go there and walk alongside what they are doing.”
The small group visited the Mathare Valley Slum of Nairobi, where half a million people dwell within six square miles. They weren’t there to gawk and shake their heads. Renee explained. “We hung out with the kids. We sang, danced, and did art classes. There were singing and ukulele classes. Then we walked through the slum. We went into a couple peoples’ houses, which were small.”
“It’s a slum and it’s harsh, but there’s resiliency, determination, and joy,” Lynn said.
Those who escape the slum, though glad to be out, miss the community they shared. They no longer know and relate to their neighbors, but stay to themselves behind gated communities. Eight-foot cornflower blue iron gates surround neighborhoods.
The life-changing trip had a powerful impact on both of them and altered their perspectives. Renee’s least favorite part was saying goodbye. “I was a whole wreck.” She’s considering missions as a worthwhile investment for her future and that of the kids.
It was autumn there. The weather was cool and pleasant for the Oregonians, while Kenyans wore puff coats. Lynn added, “Kenyans are warm, friendly, welcoming people, and they smile a lot.”
Nana (sho-sho in Kenyan) and granddaughter made friendships and memories that will stand the test of time.
Across the world, we assume we are so different. Separated by geography, customs, food, governments, and economic and class status. And then the unimaginable happens, chaos encompasses the globe in a universal experience.
All over the world, they peer from the shadows of deconstructed realities…
How do I summarize ten of the most amazing days of my life? I’m home now, still jet-lagged, but Kenya remains on my mind – the warmth of the Kenyans, the ever-present smiles, the stark beauty of the land, the evocative singing, animals I don’t find in my backyard, the children and the people we met, our awesome team…
A shuddering breath escapes my lungs as I take in the environment surrounding me. This is my first encounter with the extreme devastation of poverty. I see the tear-stained faces of people who know what it feels like to skip meals on a regular basis.
More than a million orphaned children live in Kenya. Yet, though I had previously worked in Mathare Valley, one of the largest informal settlements (slums) in East Arica, home to thousands of vulnerable children, I did not fully appreciate the plight of orphaned children until 2005 when I started working for an adoption agency.
If you were to ask me how old I was when I first learned about orphaned children, or in what context, I wouldn’t be able to recall for sure. Perhaps it began with “The Rescuers” – a cartoon movie about two mice who help an orphan named Penny escape from the terrible Madam Medusa.
The following is an interview with Dianna, who is a sponsor for two Hope’s Promise children in Kenya. Dianna and her husband are adoptive parents and she also serves on the Hope’s Promise board of directors.
This past summer Hope’s Promise was excited to host a Connection Team to Kenya. Taking 27 people on the nearly 9,000-mile journey was just the beginning.