Janel has been visiting the Jiamini day center as a volunteer since April 2018. You can read a report about their experiences and their experiences here:
“The willingness to serve others makes you a better person… and the world a better place.” -Anon.
Since I was a small child, wide eyed and red haired… I have wanted to visit far away lands! I announced to my Mum, when I was eight years old, that I was going to go to Africa someday and work with the children there. I have been blessed to travel the world since that time, but it wasn’t until this past year that I was able to fulfill my dream to travel to Africa and serve and love the children, living there.
As a child growing up in America, I had seen the images and reports that the media shared. I understood the great need and poverty, the poor conditions and lack of clean water and proper nutrition… what I didn’t realize until I became a part of the service, was how hard working and happy and beautiful the people are, as well. Unaware of how much I would absolutely grow as a person by knowing them, and fall head over heels in love with them!
The first time I visited Kenya, I knew that I would return.. not as a tourist, but to live for a while and see if my desire to serve the children, could be made a reality. Six months later, I returned to live in the Ngong hills outside of Nairobi, and settle into the task of finding the organization that I had dreamed about as a child. There are many orphanages, children’s homes and administrations in Kenya. I visited several and prayed to find the one that needed most, what I had to give. It is easy to feel slightly overwhelmed, because you see need almost everywhere you turn, but focus your effort… I have found that little acts, spread all over, does not have the lasting effect of concentrated efforts in one deserving place.
I had come into contact with an organization called Jiamini, and was able to exchange messages with Stan Njuguna and also Sinja Stotzner online, through Facebook. This children’s organization was located within the Kiandutu slums in Thika, which was about 40 minutes outside of Nairobi. I enjoyed visiting other campus’, and groups around Ngong, but in the end I knew that Jiamini was the best place for me.
My heart kept bringing me back to the website, and looking at the pictures of those smiling faces and seeing the slow and steady accomplishments within. Once I heard the story behind Stan’s life (now a successful, educated, soccer player and business man- then, growing up an orphan, at times homeless in the slums, and creating this group as a way to help children, as he himself was helped). I understood that this was the place I found most worthy and a perfect fit for me.
“No one is useless in this world, who lightens the burdens of another.” -Charles Dickens
There are so many ways that you can benefit the children and their guardians there… school supplies, games/toys, school fees, clothes, sponsoring training for guardians, food, funds for medication, treats or time, etc. There is no gift, no donation, no amount of time that is too small. I, myself, I had some small amount of games, school supplies and treats.. but mostly I had time; a giant heart and a lot of energy… and time! I planned to live in Kenya for six months, maybe more.
The staff there is incredibly inviting! The word for welcome in Swahili is ‘Karibu’ and from the very first greeting, I felt welcomed. The children are so full of life and affection and pull you into a love that is so awesome! If I had any misgivings or fears, going outside of my western world comfort zone.. they melted away, as I merged into the Jiamini family! Paper work is emailed, easy… instructions are given, need to arrange transportation? – they can help, need a place to stay? – they can provide that at nominal cost.. it is literally, just show up and no worries.
The children range in ages from carry me on your back, to what are you views on world politics? Come jump rope with me, to.. so you think you know how to play soccer? Depending on the time of year you visit, there is many different things to be done. I loved the scheduled holiday and weekend days! The children are provided three meals a day, at a local spot right in the slums- supporting the fragile economy and way of life there.
The days started with breakfast, then there is time back at the center to catch it up on school work, read, color, write… exercise these growing brains! They need coloring books, reading books, stickers are a big hit too! They want to learn! There is game time, and they do need simple games that are easy to learn, and that many can participate. Also, during game time… they can hop scotch, jump rope (they are pro’s)! work in the tiny garden, or practice things they have learned from other volunteers.. like meditation, or boxing (that was me). They get a life skills lesson or some other kind of instructions from a counselor or Stan-o! It is also exciting, doing projects like art- I learned how to do bead work with the kids!
If you have skills in carpentry, or signage or maybe office work is your thing… honestly, there is no area that they couldn’t benefit from your assistance. During the time when the children are in school, the staff is busy visiting school teachers, home visits to struggling parents/guardians, attending meetings about how to improve the lives of those suffering from HIV, hormones in teenagers, and many other things these children can face. It takes many, many hours of effort from many people to turn good intentions into real improvements, in these lives.
Meal time is fun (beans and rice never tasted so good) and for me, walking to and from allowed for skipping and singing and just enjoying the company of these beyond deserving children… greeting locals and making friends with shop owners, boda boda (motorcycle) drivers and the other children who live within the slums. The children are taught the importance of brushing their teeth and washing their hands before and after eating; skills they often don’t learn otherwise.
Among the afternoon activities, is field time! The children change into their generously sponsored jerseys and we all walk a short distance to the fields. Activities can range from games, football, bicycling, almost anything active.. I once brought my rescued puppy, Pilipili to play with the kids! Local kids all join in and you can see children, who barely have rags to wear…no shoes on their little feet, but big smiles and bright eyes… as they get to be a part of the activities of this amazing organization!
My favorite was probably, the tight rope (just above ground level)- which was sponsored by another volunteer and so much fun to watch or participate in. These children are so grateful for your time… stories, games like tag, or duck-duck-goose, songs like This little light and You are my sunshine, wrestling, blowing bubbles, or goofing off… or just laying on our backs and watching the clouds drift by, enjoying the sun on our faces and the simple and best kind of moments to be share together, as humans. One tribe.
“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”- Ghandi
There are a lot of books and quotes, scriptures and lessons about serving others.. but until you have experienced giving a piece of yourself to children who receive it with both palms turned upward and hug smiles on their faces (hiding great suffering) you cannot comprehend the change that occurs within. I am forever altered, improved and humbled by my experiences as a volunteer with Jiamini Children’s Organization. It is this kind of experience, that brings personal growth… it gives you a broader understanding of life, of culture, of what really matters….. love.
I wouldn’t change even a single minute of my time with Jiamini. My eyes are full of tears as I write this… remembering so many special moments! In these six months, I have come to truly cherish these children so much! It is a love story worth writing about! I am profoundly proud of Stan and all the others who sacrifice, advocate for and give to these the most innocent and vulnerable members of society. You can be a part of this experience too, and I hope you will! Every act, no matter how small, has a huge and positive effect… like tossing a stone into the water, and the ripples spread on and on… forever. Thank you. Asante, sana!