In November 2018, I traveled to Miwani, Western Kenya for a week to be with our current STARS, STARS alumni and our partner. Each time I visit, it is a time to connect and mentor them, discuss next steps with our partner and participate in the lives of the community
I’ve been to Kenya 13 times. Each time is special. Each time is different. Here are five highlights from my last trip.
My nephew, Rich, and his son, Caleb came with me.
Rich and his family have supported STARS financially since 2008. They have also been great encouragers to me. When I announced I was planning a visit last summer and asked for interested volunteers, they raised their hands. In addition to supporting the mission of STARS, they wanted to go to Kenya so Caleb could be part of a volunteer mission before graduating from high school (which he did this May).
I experienced many levels of joy because they came. One of the greatest joys was sharing my family with our partner since family/community relationships are so highly valued in Kenya. Rich and I were impacted. Our partner and STARS were impacted. And Caleb experienced overwhelming gratitude for the opportunities he has and that STARS Children Africa provides orphans, many of whom “come from broken stories with no hope”. He was also deeply affected by the diligence, hard work, and motivation of the STARS.
Their [the STARS] perseverance is admirable. I am grateful to have stepped into their lives for a short period. They shine God’s light in their community.
We met with a community of STARS in high school, college, as well as STARS alumni.
This group of STARS we saw was unique because they all come from within walking distance of the St Luke’s compound (where we stayed). STARS typically come from a range of separated communities in Western Kenya and St. Luke’s acts as a base for them to meet together. So it was special to see the impact we have had on the Miwani community physically represented by the 21 we met with. My team specifically mentored them in learning how to tell their stories to encourage others – and themselves.
Humphrey, an alumnus from our first group of STARS (2006), joined us for a day. Now a graduate of the University of Nairobi, he teaches high school. He spoke to the current group of STARS on character development and how the training and mentorship he received through STARS Children Africa changed him personally.
Caleb (age 18) and Julius (age 18) formed a special bond.
Julius is a STAR who graduated from high school last November. He lost his family while in primary school and grew up at St Luke’s. Since starting high school, he has wanted to pursue medicine. He is about to start university with the goal of becoming a pharmacist. Both Caleb and Julius discovered they shared a desire to serve through medicine. They plan to keep in touch.
I saw firsthand how STARS is transforming generations.
Once orphans, many STARS alumni are now working professionals who have families. Moses owns a pharmacy, is married and has a son, Tristan. Beryl is a high school business teacher and mother. At university, she started a voluntary group to serve those faced by recurring natural events such as floods and droughts. Derrick is a motivational speaks for school kids and also leads worship in his church. His wedding was two days after I left Kenya. I would have liked to attend but learned of it too late to change my schedule.
Remember Humphrey? He teaches geography (his favorite subject in high school) and mentors the high school students who are living in the dorm. In his first year of teaching, he was chosen to be a grader of the national exam at the end of high school in geography. When I saw Humphrey speak to the group of STARS we were mentoring, I had flashbacks to when he was a STAR in high school, and I was mentoring him on topics like integrity and responsibility. He embodies those lifegiving traits. Watching him pass on these lessons, I saw firsthand how STARS’ twin focus on academic and character is being passed on to others.
Our agenda flexed around life in STARS’ community.
As we traveled 30 hours to be with our partner and the STARS, our partner experienced the sudden death of his sister-in-law who had just birthed her third child. When we arrived at St Luke’s, her death was not announced to us but it quickly became evident based on the activity within the compound. You see, occurrences like these are truly a community event, not just for immediate family or even extended family. If you are in their community, you become part of what’s going on. As we did. We willingly and respectfully mourned with our partner and his family. We were staying at their house through all of this. As they were grieving and exhausted, we still continued to chat and, yes, even laugh. On display was real life. This death was particularly hard on our partner because it occurred only one year after the unexpected death of his eldest daughter, who I had met as a high school student in my first visit in 2006. I felt it too.