On our first expedition from the Maryknoll House, I rode with Paul and a few others to the Rift overlook. The Rift Valley, called the cradle of civilization, is where our first ancestors were born. I was overwhelmed to think that this was the holy ground from which human life emerged and humans began to have an awareness of who we were, the first awareness of God and spirituality.
Leaving the city, I saw women hard at work, carrying babies, heavy piles of wood, and all the other responsibilities of motherhood. Sitting along the side of the road, watching their animals graze, were the men. That night I wept as I thought of the burden which women in these countries face each day. Their work is so difficult, and they are denied so much. It broke my heart as I thought of my comfortable life.
We fell in love with Kenya and her people. We were blessed to meet so many wonderful people who worked in and with Maryknoll during our stay there. Our sundowner hour (cocktail hour in the West) and dinners were spent with the Maryknoll missioners; during these fascinating times, they talked about the history of Kenya and Maryknoll’s role in the development of Kenya. Each day was more interesting and wonderful than the previous day. We went to schools, hospitals, homes for street children, and Mass in a lovely middle-class parish. The final days were spent at the Masai Mara Game Park seeing all the beautiful creatures that have roamed the country over the centuries. One day it felt like we had traveled to the Garden of Eden, with elephants and giraffes wandering along the hillside.
When we left, we knew that we wanted to do something to help the Kenyans. Our dear friend, Lay Missioner Russ Brine, suggested that we help educate girls and set up a way for us to support two high school students at one of the schools which we had visited. In the years since our first visit, the two high school girls have become young women with careers and children, and we have added several more girls with the help of my mother, my daughter, and a dear friend who has twice journeyed to Kenya with me.
In December 2016, the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi helped us visit five woman and their children who had fled their strife-filled homelands of DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Burundi. These women and their husbands fled with nothing but their children. One woman lost her husband and several children along the way. When they were reunited in a refugee camp in Burundi, her husband was lost; two years later the Red Cross still cannot find him. .
We were shown such hospitality upon entering their meager homes in the slums of Nairobi. I became just another mother understanding the desire for a safe and decent life for my children, and we all embraced when we left their homes, but when we left, they told our guide and translator that they were honored that we would visit them. They had never had a white person visit their homes. One of the children was a very bright boy who was attending a top-rated high school on a scholarship, hoping to become a doctor. When he left he shook our hands and said “I’ll see you in America.” What a remarkable group of people.
Seeing first-hand the plight of the refugee was heartening. Kenya is a poor country, yet they house thousands of refugees in spite of the difficulties—their hospitality is inspiring.
That first trip certainly changed our lives, and we have been to Kenya many times since, accumulating a huge family whom we love and share our lives with. Several of our girls are now women who are nurses, college students or high school students, and two years ago, before Russ Brine left for mission in Cambodia, we sponsored four children in need of medical care from his neighborhood of Kitale, Kenya. These children have enriched our lives and broadened our outlook much beyond our comfortable life in the US.
I encourage all of you to look into a FAB immersion trip. It will enrich and change your life wonderfully.