By Ruby Buchholtz, WSI Board Member
When was the last time you were so overwhelmingly welcomed into a strange land? For me that time was during my trip to Kenya with WSI Board President Tom and Board Member Tony. In June of 2016, we were lucky enough to travel to Kenya to visit with the students, teachers, and families of the students we sponsor through WSI. During the trip, it wasn’t the animals on safari, or conditions of the schools, or even the outstanding work the students have been doing that surprised me most, it was the student’s parents.
The parents continually showed us nothing but hospitality and gratefulness for our presence in their children’s lives. There was one instance that has stayed with me since the trip, and most likely will stay in my heart for the rest of my life. We were half way through our visit in Nakuru, visiting the schools, speaking with the teachers, taking our students on a field trip when one student’s mother, Mama Lydia, invited us over to her house for a visit to thank us for all we have done. Millie, our main contact in Kenya and huge supporter of WSI, joined us on our visit to act as an interpreter and guide.
We walked from the school, through town and entered an area that was devastatingly different. There was no pavement to walk or drive on, only dirt. There were goats and children running freely throughout the area, and the homes were all one room cinder blocks. This area, Millie told us as we walked, was denoted as “the slums.”
Mama Lydia welcomed us into her home where newspaper lined the walls, and a sheet divided the one room into a bedroom and sitting room. We sat down and thanked her for having us, she offered us tea and some fruit, a gesture ingrained in their culture no matter their level of income. Mama Lydia, much like many other middle aged women, was a street vendor. She would sell fruit or snacks to the passers-by in the city. This type of occupation doesn’t promise a steady income; it is hit or miss depending on the day.
As the conversation continued Mama Lydia broke down and started crying while telling us how grateful she was for us coming into her and her daughter Lydia’s lives. She told us that if we hadn’t gathered funds for Lydia to go to boarding school she would be with the other children going to school whenever the family didn’t need them to help make money for the family. She mentioned that living in the slums makes being a successful student difficult. There are a lot of distractions, pressures from the family, and none of the homes come with electricity, making studying in the evening difficult, if not impossible. Through the tears and thanks Mama Lydia also mentioned that she had saved up for a few years to get a lamp and pay for electricity for Lydia to study when she comes homes for breaks.
While sitting there all I could think about was how sincere Mama Lydia’s appreciation was for our assistance through WSI. There we were sitting in her home, drinking her tea and eating her snacks not even fully aware of the impact we had had in this woman’s life. It is challenging to know if the fundraising we are doing in the states is having any true and meaningful difference in these students lives, but I can tell you that we are not only changing the lives of these students but also their families. We are giving them hope for their children to have a better life than they have, and to succeed in ways they had assumed were never attainable. Thank you to all who donate to WSI, your donations have been, and will continue to be, gestures of hope and change for the students and their families.