Trying to describe my experience at Maisha is like trying to describe the soul, faith, spirituality, grace or love…these concepts are so personal, intimate and evocative, almost indescribable, as was my journey of Life (Maisha).
I traveled to Maisha with a group (Run for Life) of strong, faithful, inspiring women and their amazing 8th grade daughters. By the time I arrived back in the states, I had acquired six sisters and four precious daughters that I proudly call my Run for Life family. We laughed, cried, succeeded, failed, shared & cared for one another as well as for the Maisha family during our journey. They are all uniquely amazing and special people that I am honored to call family *smile*.
Our Run for Life team had several goals including organizing Maisha Academy competitive soccer teams, having two days of fellowship through bible study with the widows of Maisha and completing a pen pal project between the Maisha students and Oklahoma City Whiz Kids group. Lofty goals for sure for a four day time period! To further challenge ourselves, we also ran the Rift Valley Marathon in Eldoret with some of the Maisha students and finished our journey with a safari…..whew!!!!
I am happy to report that we accomplished all of the goals on our list, through God’s grace! These accomplishments added to the infrastructure that is Maisha however, I found that the accomplishments aren’t where the magic exists. The magic exists within the dynamic interaction between the beautiful Kenyan people and the volunteers. Maisha is the infrastructure that supports this interaction. Our teams’ accomplishments included:
- Formation of a Maisha Aacademy soccer team (football club) *smile*! This feat began months prior to the trip as our moms & daughters spent many hours gathering, organizing and packing uniforms, gear and 100 pairs of soccer shoes for distribution to the Maisha students. The girls, Josie, Hensley, Kyndal, and Aubrey worked tirelessly while at Maisha teaching the students the rules of soccer, conducting soccer matches and then picking a team. They did an amazing job!!
- A two day women’s bible study with 46 Maisha widows and our team. It was an amazing, uplifting experience & a fantastic idea hatched by our fearless leader (i.e. Carmen). During the bible study, we washed the feet of all of the women and in the afternoon gave them pedicures. I have never seen so many smiling faces (both ours and theirs)!!! Most importantly, during the bible study, the widows of Maisha taught us much about love, faith, and God. Their wisdom and Godliness is truly inspirational!
- A pen pal program was started between Maisha students and Oklahoma City Whiz kids. The 3rd and 4th grade classes made bookmarks complete with their photograph and a message to one of the Whiz Kids. During the project, we also discovered other ways to enjoy the glitter, LOL!!! Brings a whole new meaning to bright & shiny faces!!!
It was only by God’s grace that we were able to physically accomplish all of these things. He gets all of the credit and glory, for without his guidance, it could have never happened. God is great and he blessed us in many ways!!! As an additional bonus, He provided much needed rain for the Kenyan people while we were there!!! (It hadn’t rained in over two months!) Watching the Maisha students catch rain drops on their tongues was priceless, a true gift from God!!!
There is a paradoxical quality to life at Maisha. Certainly, the Kenyans have been the victim of suffering, oppression, hunger, fear, poverty. Yet, what is most compelling is not their external circumstances but instead, their intrinsic qualities such as connectedness, caring, compassion, love, laughter, faith in God, curiosity, tenacity, willpower and hope. They bear their burden and yet transcend it, choosing to experience joy, peace and love amid the imperfections of their day to day life. It is truly awe inspiring to watch how they “do life”!!!!
Maisha is a port in the storm providing shelter for the widows and children in a harsh environment fraught with scarcity and uncertainty. At Maisha, you will find an abundance of hugs, laughter, smiles and asantes (thank you’s). The good work accomplished by the staff of Maisha is in part responsible for this ebullience seen in the people. By providing an infrastructure of hope via education, employment and the feeding program, Maisha feeds the widows and orphans bodies and souls. However, the true magic lies in the interaction between this infrastructure (Maisha) and the character of the Kenyan people.
They are a people of faith, perseverance and hope. While Maisha strives to provide for basic needs, there are still many gaps that are beyond the scope of Maisha’s services. The Kenyan people choose to celebrate the blessings while enduring the persistent needs with grace, faith and hope. They are proud yet humble, kind yet firm, patient yet persistent. They are inspiring, uplifting and energizing. I truly received much more than I could ever give. It is an intangible, spiritual gift that they give freely in response to our service.
A common saying in Kenya (albeit a mantra of sorts) is “It’s Okay.”…..whether as a response to a request, a suggestion or a comment…..many responses include the phrase “It’s Okay.” At first this was confusing to me, particularly when we were in the middle of a dilemma such as “How can we possibly get all of these pictures of the children taken and developed??”….or “How can we possibly wash the feet of 46 Maisha widows during a two hour bible study?” The response to both of these questions was, “It’s Okay.” and guess what??? It was!!!
“It’s Okay”, a simple statement that acts as an elixir to calm and sooth the weary or worried (whom more often than not, were US not THEM, LOL!). “It’s Okay” delivered with a smile, warm eyes and a calm spirit. The statement is reassuring, as if to say that, by God’s grace, it will be done and if it is not done, then it was not God’s will. Acceptance of what is and what will be, incorporated into a simple statement of “It’s Okay.” I found myself adopting this saying as it is calming and centering, peaceful and motivating.
Before my trip, I was asked questions like, “Why did you have to go all the way to Kenya to find impoverished people to help? We have impoverished Americans right here! Why the need for such extreme travel?” At the time, my answer was simply, “I don’t know” or “I feel that I have been called to go.” After returning, my answer is vastly different. I would answer these inquiries by saying that I was called to Kenya to learn how to truly give. In Kenya, I experienced a purity, simplicity, authenticity and innocence in the giving and receiving. The connections transcended cultural, age or geographical barriers. Giving, receiving and sharing occurred effortlessly with none of the influences, pressures or expectations of western culture. I learned the purest meaning of service, stripped of all worldly ideals or perceptions.
Ironically, there are no mirrors at Maisha…..physically or metaphorically. When people look at each other, they really see each other. The seeing is not merely a reflection of the self that the ego hopes to project. The ego is stripped away giving the true self the opportunity to appear, with no pretenses or agenda. The result is humbling, enlightening and revealing. The experience provided an opportunity for growth, connection and sharing on a level that I had previously found unattainable. I’d like to be able to say I went to serve & give but in all truthfulness; I was the student and they the teachers. They taught me how to truly give and as a token of my thankfulness for the lessons, I was able to do some small acts of service for them.
The goal now is to remember the lessons, maintain the purity of a servant’s heart and apply it liberally to those on this side of the world. There is much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Kenya about life, love, faith and connection. I feel blessed to have received my first lesson. Asante, my Kenyan friends! You are truly amazing!!! And as always, Hakuna Matata, “It’s Okay!!”