Editor's Note: Kelly Gainey, a guidance couselor at Oakdale Elementary School in Rock Hill, visited the Jubilee Children's Center near Nairobi, Kenya, for a mission trip in June. The mission trip was organized by Monique Boekhout of Lake Wylie, who helped start the center and has founded the nonprofit Kenya Orphanage Project, which raises money to support the center.
I have always wanted to go to Africa to visit the Jubilee Children's Center. When Monique Boekhout announced in January she was planning a mission trip to Kenya, I immediately signed up to go in June. I am so glad I did.
We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, about 12 hours late. Our checked baggage, which included items needed for construction and for the children at the orphanage, arrived two days later. Despite all this, our trip was hugely successful.
Our group was charged with building bunk beds and school desks, as well as organizing the First JCC Olympics, the annual birthday party for all the kids, and a field trip to the Bomas Cultural Center. The construction group built 25 bunk beds and 16 desks. Both are major necessities, since there are 98 children and the oldest will start high school in January.
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The children were still in school in June. Each day at midmorning, they would take a break. Normally they had tea or milk. While we were there, they also had a snack -- their favorite was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, their first experience with this treat.
On the days they had milk, other team members Ramona Havas, Nancy Slinkard and I would pile the sandwiches on a tray and deliver them to classrooms. Some children liked to open the sandwiches and lick out the inside first!
If we had enough sandwiches, even the teachers, cooks and dorm attendants enjoyed this snack. When they had tea, we had Marie cookies for their snack (simple butter cookies). The kids would seek us out to let us know of they were having tea or milk, and would always say thank you.
On June 13, we took the kids on their second ever field trip to the Bomas Cultural Center. Trips are few and far between because of the cost. On this trip, we learned about the tribes of Kenya and got to see model villages and songs and dances.
I rode on the bus with two girls, Maureen and Veronicah. When we were pulling out of the gates of the orphanage, Veronicah whispered, "We're going out of the gates!" All of the children were very excited to go off the grounds -- a rare treat.
After our day, we were preparing to leave the Bomas about 5:15. One of the buses wouldn't start. The drivers worked on it for a long time. The kids loved this distraction. Many got out of the buses to play soccer -- several had worn soccer outfits under their school uniforms and just took off their uniforms to play.
During the performance earlier that day, I had been selected to go on stage to dance with the tribal dancers. Therefore, during this delay, the children took the opportunity to show me their dances.
When I asked them where they learned the dances, one girl said to me, "We have style, Kelly!" I taught them the only dance I know well -- the Electric Slide, which they picked up easily.
During the three-hour delay, there were no complaints. Lunch had been several hours ago and no provisions were made for dinner. The children would have it when they returned to the orphanage, which turned out to be about 9 p.m. Though they got to bed late, they still had to get up at 5 a.m. to do chores and prepare for school. There were some sleepy eyes but no complaining.
On June 15, we held the birthday party for all the kids. Whenever Monique goes to the center, a birthday party is held and gifts are given to all the children.
This year's big gift was sports watches. Watches are very valuable in Kenya, even cheap sports watches. In the markets, merchants will offer you a trade for your watch!
After the children received their gift bags -- which contained watches and small toys and snacks -- all of them wanted their watches set. Our group spent the next couple hours doing this.
It was amusing to hear all the watches beeping and the alarms going off during school, during church on Sunday, during meal times and I'm sure in the middle of the night!
One of the snacks in the gift bags were Slim Jims. The children didn't know what they were; some thought it was a pencil! We explained that you eat them and then they enjoyed them.
The first Olympics with relays and a soccer and volleyball match was June 16. The winners of the soccer and volleyball matches received trophies. The relays involved all of the children divided into 10 teams. There was a running relay, a sack race and a wheelbarrow race.
For prizes there were gold, silver and bronze medals on American flag-printed lanyards for the children on the top three teams and ribbons for all the other children. The next day at church, I noticed one boy was wearing his medal around his neck! He was so proud of it.
On June 17, we attended church at Jubilee. All of the children sang and danced for us. They were all dressed in their Sunday best, the girls in dresses and the boys in nice pants and shirts. Pastor Douglas gave a wonderful sermon and Monique spoke for our team. The entire time, we heard watch alarms beeping!
The children at Jubilee are happy and hopeful. The conditions from which they come are deplorable, but they have hopes and dreams, and they look out for and take care of each other.
One 13-year-old girl told me that her mother died when she was 8. She never knew her father, but she, her sister and her brother all came to Jubilee four years ago. Soon after that, her brother got sick and had to leave. She has not seen her brother in four years and she said when she gets older, she wants to become a singer so she can find him and help him.
I have told many people that this was the best mission trip I've ever been on and I can't wait to return, hopefully in July 2008. Each day when I would leave, the children would ask, "Will you be here tomorrow?" This made it hard to leave that last day -- but I was able to tell them that I'll be back. And I will.
Want to help?
What: Kenya Orphanage Project Strawberry Social
When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Life Center at River Hills Community Church.
Details: An update will be given on the two June mission trips to the Jubilee Children's Center in Kenya and the progress of construction at the orphanage. Pictures and videos of the children on their field trip and their first Olympic competition will be shown.
Reservations: Seating is limited; reservations are required, and can be made by mailing a check payable to Kenya Orphanage Project to KOP, P.O. Box 5234, Lake Wylie, SC 29710.