Upon arrival at the Fiwagoh Orphanage, it was clear, that they had been preparing for our group with eager anticipation! We immediately felt at home. Our rooms were prepared, our beds and mosquito netting waiting for our arrival! Arrival was late in the night after over 30 hours of continuous travel for us, the team, and a broken down van, and two rental cars for the staff, as they headed to the airport to retrieve us in Nairobi. It was over a two hour drive to the mission home, even so late at night, so we quickly settled in as exhausted overtook us! After experiencing a good nights sleep, we woke early to singing voices, eager to face the new adventure that Monday morning brought!
About now you are either deciding to skip the words and just look at photos, which is fine, or you are making the choice to continue reading. I want to encourage you to keep reading! While your are reading, please be praying also, and perhaps you will catch the vision for this ministry and feel called learn more!
So here we go, from the top! I'll start with the link to the orphanage web site: Fiwagoh Orphanage
Pastor Benson and his lovely wife Florence, started ministering in Africa to hurting children 13 years ago in their rented two room house. After spending two weeks with this amazing family and staff (all 260+ of them), here are my observations, in no particular order. I can speak to their character, their heart for these children and their love of the Lord just through casually observed their daily lives. As an additional blessing, we had the distinct honor of hearing their love story one evening when visiting one of the graduates in his new home. I don't have their permission to share their story here, but I can say that they are an inspiration, and that the Lord certainly had a plan as He drew these two, like minded and God fearing people together for life!!
- Nothing goes to waste. Not a morsel of food, a teaching moment, or admiration of the beauty around them.
- All of the children are willing participants in caring for their home, and each other.
- The "graduates" from the home, are like celebrities to the younger children when they come "home" for a visit.
- At no time in my two week visit did I witness grumbling or complaining from a single child or adult, (keep in mind, I do not speak Swahili) but they do speak English on the regular and facial and body language needs no interpreter!
- No matter how young or old, they all made eye contact when spoken to and could and did respond in a manner that was genuine and well spoken in greeting and conversations.
- Kids are kids all around the world! Boys in particular!
- Pure joy could be found on multitudes of faces at any given moment of any day because of a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, or a bubble machine !!
- All of us want to be respected, loved, nurtured and cared for. At Fiwagoh, they have this mastered in how they care for each other and for their guests.
This is a photo of the entire family in their school uniforms. The sweaters are what they are "showing off", as our team was able to replace all of their tattered and worn out school uniform sweaters (and socks) for the upcoming new school year that starts in September. Yes, that is 264 children (aprox) ages 18 months though 18 years of age. Thanks to each of you and your support as you were part of these provisions!
When you look down the hill from the main gate, the chapel is in the first photo, and you will see class rooms, and training rooms for culinary, sewing and wood shop in the second photo. While these buildings are fairly new, the roof tops were furnished by my home church here in Florida, (Woodland Community), the last time Pastor Benson was in the states, to share and update about his ministry at Fiwagoh. The red roof tops represent $9,000 US dollars. By completing the roof project, the shops and classrooms and the chapel are now, and have been for some time, usable spaces, safe from storms and weather, and set up for teaching and training the children's hearts and minds.
Because we were a small team, we got to do and experience so many wonderful day to day things with this family, which included; but are not limited to, laundry (washing and hanging), sweeping floors, grocery and staple shopping, riding in a tuk-tuk, gathering supplies at a local farm, purchasing building materials, banking, harvesting beans, carrots, sorting beans and maize, grinding maize to cornmeal, cutting fabric for uniforms, playing soccer, playing with bubbles, learning to play chairs, and signs (games the big kids loved) collecting firewood, hiking, exploring, side walk chalking, worship services, serving meals, doing dishes and good night hugs and stories! (A more detailed blog with photos will come detailing all this at a later date.)
The property is 23 acres which has grown over the years from the original 17 acres, and every area is used for a particular reason. About 10 acres are farmed. They grow bananas, sunflowers (for oil) mangos, papaya, kales, beans, carrots, potatoes and a recent addition of figs!
They have experienced some hard times recently due to draught conditions. This has lead Pastor Benson and his wife to experience an even greater burden of caring for their 264 children. The drought has brought uncertainty to the home due to dwindling food resources. While in a good season the farm can support their vegan lifestyle, without good harvests in the past year, the stock houses were running out of basics. Our team, with your generous donations were able to bring relief and joy to the family by purchasing beans, maize and lentils for the stock house and rejoiced with them as the fields were being tilled for a new planting cycle and the hope of a hearty bounty with the return of rain. Rain that waters crops directly, and restores their water tanks for the irrigation systems.
Classrooms, and housing are other components of the acreage that they have. Boys and girls dorms. Staff housing that is provided for the teachers, gardeners, gate keepers, kitchen help, nurse etc. Space for shipping containers, bathrooms (out houses) baptismal pool, playground and soccer fields, six green houses, tool sheds and water towers are just a few other structures or specific areas you will find throughout the compound.
After seeing all those children, you may be wondering how they keep everyone organized.
Such a very simple method is used ...
That's it folks! That bell rings, and their feet hit for floor to start the day. Another ringing of the bell and they hustle to morning worship, followed by breakfast. If the school year is in session, yet another bell sends them all to their classrooms. Once again, its tolling ends the school day, and starts the chores. Ringing again, at 4:30 begins dinner, and evening worship.
I do not for one moment think that they are all happy all the time about the bell. Like all other children around the world, they know when and how they can "push the envelope" but it is an effective tool for rounding up, starting and stopping group activities for the masses throughout the day. Regardless if you are in the fields, playing on the play ground, in your dorm, or at the gate, you know and recognize the signal for change in your day and routine.
As a mom of many, of course I was intrigued by the day to day operations like brushing teeth and laundry.
This is one of the boys toothbrush holders! They brush outdoors by the spring and then place them here to dry during the early morning hours.
Wet laundry can be laid out in the sun to dry on top of the stoney areas surrounding the dorms. There are wash lines, but it seemed to me like there were never enough.
Each child was responsible for their own laundry once they enter school (5-6 years of age) and while the older children do assist, as to do the matrons of the dorms, the responsibility falls to each them. If you are too short to reach into the sink by standing in front, no worries, hop up and stand in the sink. The wash room is made from solid cement sinks, with a floor that has drainage to the outside trenches used for irrigation of the trees and vegetation surrounding the buildings.
Shoe racks just like in the department stores! Although I feel like this was a staged photo because one night on my way to bed, I walked past the boys dorm and saw 50 plus pairs of shoes piled in front of the door in their haste to get inside!!
What did I say earlier - kids will be kids?
These boys were thrilled to have a set of monkey bars to play on while the bigger boys emptied the truck that was full of cement bags. Best part about the truck coming with supplies? Many hands made light work, and then we would all hop in and ride in the back to the parking area above! It was about as fun as any amusement park ride I have ever been on! But the best part was the joy on all the faces, big and small as they laughed and clamored around on the truck. Nelson the driver, was patient and kind and allows the children this treat every time he comes in with supplies!
Additionally, the girls also love all things "girly" and figures out how to improvise polishing their nails by using sharpie markers! They also love writing and sending notes, and giggling and pranking each other late into the night!
These kids are loved and well cared for by Pastor Benson, Florence and the staff at Fiwagoh! There is no doubt in my mind after talking to these young people that they are being inspired to be their very best. One day, I made it a point to ask as many children of all ages, what they desired to do when they grew up. Doctors, Engineers, Road Construction Engineers, Nurses, Social Workers, Teachers, Missionaries, Policemen and Pastors were the repeated theme. Their minds are being stretched, they are being encouraged to think and dream big! They are being educated in math and science, are creative and industrious.
All of these children would love to have sponsors, (some of them do already), so if you have a desire to speak into the life of a child, there is not a more deserving group than these kids at Fiwagoh! They would love to write to you and share life with you! When speaking to one of the older girls, she indicated that her sponsor is in Germany, and that she will get to meet her sponsor in the next few months as they are coming to Fiwagoh for a visit. Her eyes sparkled and danced, as she has only written and gotten photos from her sponsor to date. Meeting in person is something that she will never forget!
It matters not how far away we are from these children, or for that matter anyone in the world less fortunate than ourselves. God calls us to minister to the those less fortunate, the poor, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans, as an extension of Him! Fundamentally, poverty is a result of lack of options. These children at Fiwagoh, because of the continued prayers and finacial support of many around the world, have options, and hope!
When their lives could be filled with hopelessness, at Fiwagoh, they are being filled with hope.
When they could be stuck in their past, living life through the lens of regret and bitterness, they are humble and gracious and looking forward to their futures.
Their smiles are simply perfect, shining with a joy that reaches their eyes and comes deep from a heart of gratitude.
They do not hesitate to share that they do not know where they would be if it were not for their
" Dad and Mum"!
Feeling blessed not to have to make this stuff up! Lived it, loved it, and would do it again!