Guest Post: The Depth of Hope
Guest Post by Kristel
Kristel is a life-long member of the church living in Australia. She served a mission in New Mexico, and is wide open for life to bring her adventure. She is one of six children, enjoys landscape photography, fishing and travelling.
Growing up I had always heard words to the effect of, “if you are struggling, find ways to serve others”. Thinking about those words when I was in a period of hopelessness and emptiness bugged me a little – those words were not what I wanted to hear – how could I possibly motivate myself to find ways to do something for someone else! What about ME?? If I’m the one struggling – people need to help me….right?
These words eventually rang true to me when I served an LDS mission. On my mission in New Mexico, I came to know of the joy of helping, sharing and supporting others in need. Ultimately, I learnt that I am truly the one that benefits most from doing something for someone else.
And then… In 2011, after 2 1/2 years of my own personal “to hell and back” painful divorce experience, I found myself in a position to take advantage of a long life dream to travel through Africa. After some time, I decided to specifically travel through Kenya and Uganda. In flicking through travel magazines, I learnt of opportunities to volunteer whilst travelling. Wanting to have some kind of ‘feeling’ back again, I decided to volunteer for 6 weeks, and then go on Safari.
This volunteer opportunity was nothing short of incredible. I was placed with a home-stay family in Naivasha (approx 1 1/2 hours north-west of Nairobi). For 6 weeks I travelled Monday-Friday to and from a slum 20 mins out of Naivasha where I helped at the small non-government primary school for the slum children.
I knew that I would experience the biggest culture shock of my life, especially considering that as an Australian, serving a mission in New Mexico was culture shock enough. But the journal I kept leading-up to my time in Kenya helps me recall my feelings of excitement to learn of Kenyan culture and traditions, and to learn of the ways I would grow from this adventure.
My first day at the school brought so many emotions. I saw children as young as 3 years old walk 20 minutes alone or with other students along a rocky road, many with no shoes on (it was crazy that many walked as if they DID have shoes on….shows that they have never owned a pair), clothes in tatters, many clearly hadn’t bathed for days, weeks or longer. I also saw the slum for the first time…. tiny shacks made of sheet metal with nothing but dirt floors and cardboard boxes to sleep on. This is what the children/woman/men called ‘home’. I learnt that the 140 children that attended the small primary school mainly attended because they wanted at least one meal a day. All of these things literally made my heart sink. It is one thing to see these dire situations on TV or read about them – but it is extremely confronting and thought-provoking seeing it first-hand.
I instantly loved these people and desired so much to help them. After a week of helping any way I could (prep-work for lunches, reading/playing/teaching children at the school or helping to make beads for jewelry out of magazine paper at the “woman’s group” in the slum), I sat on my own in the backyard to do some of my laundry in a bucket of ice cold water. It was a good chance to try and make sense of feelings and thoughts I was having. Thoughts like, “how can God allow His children to live in these conditions? How is this fair?” I started to feel guilty for having lived such a sheltered life – with electricity, clean running water, a bed, toothbrush, shower, flush toilet, 3 meals a day, more than one set of clothes in very good condition, shoes, writing materials, transport, free education, good health care system, parents who loved me, living in a safe country/community etc…. the list is endless.
In Kenya, I heard numerous stories of women and children being raped and beaten and women prostituting for as little as 10 Kenyan Shillings (about 10 cents) in order to in some small way, provide for their families. To be honest, my faith was really tested. At times I felt silly for having doubt and questioning the goodness of God – the questions I was asking myself were similar to the questions I was the one answering as a missionary time and time again. There were some nights I remember pondering what I was seeing or experiences I was having and crying as I reflected on the lives of the people I loved in the slum. The fact that this was just “how it is” for these people – could not ever settle well with me. One night a quote came to mind, though I cannot recall who said it (Sheri Dew? President Hinckley?), “we know enough about the gospel to feel the guilt, but not enough to feel the hope”.
HOPE – that is what I had struggled with for the past 2 1/2 years through my painful divorce, and being in a third world country had at first intensified my doubts, fears and feelings of hopelessness. I kept thinking over and over on those 6 words, “but not enough to feel the hope”. In that moment, I felt the love of God for the people in these circumstances and an overwhelming feeling of hope. Because of my testimony of the Atonement of my Saviour -that I had developed mostly as a missionary – but had been clouded over for some time, I was reminded and felt, for the first time in a long time, a very real surety that whilst this may be ‘how it is’ for a short time, it will not be forever! One day, these woman and children who my heart pained for would be free of their pain, poverty, fears and illnesses. They will be free of what this world offers them. Not only that – but I began to see the good and hope in what I felt were my small efforts. I could in some way help lift their burdens and help them become educated, healthy and independent. Their journey can also be one of hope.
The things I learnt and the way I changed because of the seemingly insignificant service I gave to the people in the KCC Slum will impact who I am forever. I don’t think that I will ever complain about my shower running cold for a whole 5 seconds because someone else is using the water in the kitchen at the same time; “having nothing to wear”; the power going out in a storm; or having ‘no food in the house”- when there is really plenty there and I am being too lazy to cook a meal.
So, in saying all of this – I have booked my flight to return in August of this year for seven weeks. I want to go back to continue to help empower these people that helped me understand what I needed most. For me, Kenya is one of my “places of happiness” that I hope to return to as often as I can. I can’t say that I am looking forward to having bird baths from a bucket of ice cold water, having no flush toilet, or feeling dirty as soon as I’ve bathed, but I am excited to reconnect with the people in the slum. Seeing the children excited about something as simple as a new pencil; the children fighting to hold your hand, then you and they settling on your towing ten children as each of them holding one finger; the children running to you when you walk into town; visiting a family of 8 living in a shack and being offered the last of their food because they want to be hospitable…- these are things that not only surprised me, but humbled me and make me want to return.
Ethel Percy Andrus said, “The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live”. In Kenya – I began to see hope in my life again the lives of others, and I started to live again.
My personal airfare and travel expenses for the trip are completely self-funded. But if you would like to make a donation, please click on this link which explains more of where the money raised will go. Any donation is very much appreciated and will be put to very good use.