Care trip to Africa leaves lasting impact

A toddler sits among the trash in Kiganjo, Kenya. Photo by Jodee Hunger

Imagine losing your job and being disowned by your spouse, family, and friends because of an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. This is the reality in Africa.  

But CARE for AIDS (CFA) holistically and lovingly addresses the emotional, social, financial, physical and spiritual needs of such a person. With help from CFA, people with HIV are living an additional 20-25 years. And because these people, many of them parents, are living longer, there will be approximately 18,529 orphan-less children raised by one or both parents!

In September, along with my husband and three other couples, I left Bay Village and traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, on a CFA “Impact Trip” to learn more. 

One day we visited Jane – a woman in her 40s, bedridden and abandoned by her family who live just feet away. She lives in a space less than half the size of a shipping container. There is no electricity or formal system of sanitation or clean water. The open door provides the only light.

When we reached Jane’s rusting, corrugated iron home, we waited while she made herself presentable. We noticed how Jane’s door had been used like a message board to greet visitors, proclaim her faith and do a little accounting, too. Barely visible, scratched on the thin sheet metal wall adjacent to her front door, were the words “As for me and my house…” The rest had faded, but we knew the ending, “…we will worship the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).   

Jane sat on her pallet and greeted us with a smile so big, it illuminated the dimness inside. Jane’s eyes were bright despite her frail and failing frame. They twinkled with gratitude for our visit. I felt like a visiting dignitary. She couldn't stop smiling, and neither could we.

We were the only visitors Jane would receive until the next CFA staff member visits her, bringing a weekly parcel of food, counseling and care. We knew where Jane’s hope came from – her unflinching faith in Jesus. It was written on the outside wall of her home, and treasured in the hidden places of her heart.

Another day we played with the children of Kiganjo. After a bumpy van ride through crowded streets littered with debris and lined with ramshackle stalls, there sat a bold purple single-story church on a scorched lot. As we entered the church a chorus of children’s voices rang out in Swahili. A joy-filled youth leader directed the children in song as they awaited our arrival. There must have been 75 children sitting in the pews, feet dangling and swinging. 

Word reached the area that the muzungus (“white people”) had arrived and more children showed up. Some ran. Some giggled. Some waved. Some were tentative and shy. Others stood far off – wanting to see without being seen. Many of the children wore tattered, dirt-stained clothing and were barefoot. 

One toddler sat among the trash. I thought she'd been left alone. But then I noticed an older boy standing sentry, along with some kindergarten-aged boys who romped close at hand. This particular group of children stood unmoved, visible longing in their chocolate-brown eyes as I repeatedly motioned "come" or "kuja" in Swahili. I wondered if these young ones came from an HIV-positive home and if culture had sadly taught them that they were unwelcome. Gradually, they inched forward and after significant coaxing, they joined the fun.

Continents, color and culture no longer separated us. Together we played games, sang songs and crafted bead necklaces. Snapping photographs with a digital camera drew them close. The children smiled and laughed, wanting more, drawing so near the camera lens could no longer focus. Squeals of delight, thumbs-up signs and laughter rang out. Uncontainable, unexplainable joy blew like the wind – in, through, and all around us. Young, unlined faces reflected hope and a future and we surely felt the presence of Immanuel, God with us.

Going on this trip was never even on my radar. We went to dinner at the end of June with two couples who had signed up to go. They suggested we consider joining them. Never in a gazillion years did I think we would, but 80 days later my husband and I found ourselves on a plane bound for Nairobi. And today, just shy of three months after our return, images of the Kenyan children, people, places and experiences still inhabit my thoughts. Hoping to make a small difference in the lives of others, I realize now the impact they have had on my own.

Jodee Hunger

Resident of Bay Village for 27 years.

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Volume 7, Issue 24, Posted 9:44 AM, 12.15.2015