Our young Foxtrotters arrive in Nairobi, ready to witness the second largest slum in Kenya, Korogocho. With a population of over 250,000 people squeezed into 1 square mile, we were gearing up to experience something like no other. Awaiting that next day, shortly after arrival though, the crew got to relax by settling in with a lazy afternoon at the Methodist Guest House & Conference Center, experiencing Kenyan food, accommodations and hospitality for the very first time. This humble place, where we rested our heads, reflected none of what we were to experience that very next day.
Early Monday morning, we bussed into the slums of Korogocho, we witness the chaotic traffic jams, which seems to be the norm for the commuters of Nairobi, people hustled, walking where cars drove, hopping on and off of door-less buses, the roads were filled with unpredictable vehicles and exhaust. We arrived at Pangani school, the headquarters of our mission partners, Missions of Hope. A ministry that is focused on recruiting children ages 4 and up from the slums, offering them an education and consistent meals 5 times a week. Through those efforts, they gain the right and respect to then, bring the Gospel to the parents, who work and live in the slums (more about that later). Most of the time, the meals these children receive at the school were the only ones they are to have all day. We had orientation that covered pretty much everything our mission partners were doing in these slums. We visited a home, where the walls were made of mud and sticks, protected by sheets of rusted, corrugated metal. We walked on what felt like an endless walkway of trash, laced with trenches of sewage. We saw kids as young as 18 months, sitting on the side of these small rocky roads, eating mud and other remnants of unidentifiable material such as plastic and paper. Trash was burnt in the distance, every 20 yards or so, puffs of it seemed always part of our direct landscape, the air was heavy with the smell of the African red dirt, sewage, and charred plastic and anything else that may have been in those burning piles, creating thick, gray smoke, sometimes black. On day 1, God took what we thought we were getting ready to see, feel, smell and touch and flipped it. No words, no photograph, no footage can describe it. Nothing can prepare a heart to experience the friendly greetings of hungry, dirty, knee-high children who run up to you and hug your leg as if you had something much better to offer them besides an apathetic smile.
Children in the slums run up to the Mzungu (pronounced Moo-Zungoo), typically the name given to the white man, or anyone from the West, and they would ask for pictures by saying "picha, picha!" They loved the process of simply posing with or without us, and then seeing their photo on the screens of our iPhones or digital cameras. Many pictures of children and us Mzungus were taken together, the adults though were reserved and did not care for pictures. Though, there is something deceptive about the beautiful pictures that have been taken with these children, many of which I am sure you have seen from many who've done a mission trip like ours. The momentary smile on these beautiful faces were surely real. But as we walk on, it's back to the dirt they go. Most run around with no shoes, no socks, torn clothes, dirty faces and observant eyes. As the white man walks on to greet more of them, he is quick to forget what it's like for these children when he is no longer in their presence. Actually worse, he doesn't forget what he doesn't know. The reality is that when night falls, we could only imagine where these little ones curl up to sleep, where do they go? The dirt floor of these small 10' x 7' shanties that must contain a family of 6? We see children in the streets, but where are their respective parents? Why is it that we cannot find men in these homes? Are we welcomed in these parts? Us, with our cameras, blue jeans, clean faces, hole-less "work-shoes" and mini hand sanitizers. The string of questions we all battled inside our minds were endless for the next few hours. Our work had not began yet, but God had already started the work in us. We were all noticing the constant shatter that was happening inside of each of us as the minutes went by, which felt like hours. We, for the moment, must have felt the ache of His heart for the people who called the slums their home.
This is just the beginning, we saw, we journaled, we recorded our thoughts, many stories are to be told. Our young adventurers will share much of that, and our team will put together a portrait of what we experienced the best we can. One thing is for sure. Our hearts were shattered, His questions echo in the depth of our minds still today. One should not be shy to take trips like these, for the world needs more young people to travel and feel this very heart of God, broken and vocal. He calls out on behalf of his people, not for us to fix what we see, but for us to get close to Him, in an unforgettable way.
- Team Foxtrotter