Sozdo International blog

Be informed on weekly insight, research, reflections and activities of Watoto wa Ahadi (Children of Promise) and Sodzo International.

A message from Executive Direct Dr. Michael Godman

It was two years ago to the day on the Christian calendar that my family landed in Kenya – my wife, daughter and son for the first time. We landed with hopes of getting a rescue center for children who lived on the streets up and running. We had prayed and worked hard to make this center a reality, finding partners, donors, and a board of directors who could help sustain the project long-term. Later that month, our incredible staff recruited our first cohort of 34 children, and we launched the grand opening of Watoto wa Ahadi Rescue Center. It was meaningful for me that the first time our family should arrive in Kenya was on an Easter Sunday, though unplanned signified we were a part of God's effort to create something new – to create a way where there was no way.

In the intervening period, we have graduated that group of boys and 4 more. Thirty-four of the 38 who have gone through are successfully placed in homes or boarding schools. Four boys are back at the center, as their family situations presented more troubles than initially anticipated. We have now taken in an additional 40 children, who are in the process of rehabilitation and family retracing. All of the new children are aged 7-13 years old. The government of Kenya has a foundation – the Street Children Fund – that provided $20,000 to Sodzo International to begin a drop-in center where staff could get to know children. Through this center, we met boys older than 13 years of age – boys too old to return to school. The local leadership of Watoto wa Ahadi, comprised of Methodist synod leadership, and local tribal elders, collected funds to purchase for the older boys push carts that can be used to sell food. These older boys now alert our staff when younger boys have newly arrived on the streets, and our staff commence to conducting direct reintegration – retracing the families the children have left and working to sort out their problems. All told, we have had 78 children come through our rescue center, and even more benefit from out direct outreach on the street. Staff attended a workshop for recipients of the Street Children Fund, and government panelists voted that our model was the second best out of the 80 organizations that attended. We are hopeful we'll be able to continue getting funding to do direct street outreach with the children.

Our family strengthening program has continued to grow exponentially. We started with one group of 30 families in February 2017, with the hopes we might be able to improve the well-being of families of origin for children who come through our program and decrease the chances other children would leave for the streets. The model brings families together to share money each week, which is dispensed to other group members as a low-interest loan. The interest and corpus are paid back to the group, who then use the funds for other families. Families purchase livestock, clothes, seed and pay for school fees. Simultaneously, families learn to trust one another, and rely on each other for various hardships they go through. Groups make their own decisions about how to improve their lives. One group, for example, requires all group members to enroll all of their children in school. Another group pays for the school fees of one of the boys who returned home from the streets and our rescue center, and is helping to clear his mother's hospital bill. Another group learned to bake little breads when a member of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas came in September 2017 and taught them how to do so. This group has been baking and selling breads successfully ever since. We have grown to 3000 families in the program in the past 15 months with only 3 social workers organizing the program. We did not intend to grow this fast, but community members saw the difference happening with family strengthening groups, and eagerly asked that we help them begin their own group. Through a generous donation from Moody Methodist Permanent Endowment Fund, we are able to hire 3 more social workers and 5 resource officers. The resource officers will help family strengthening groups develop resources in 5 different areas – family conflict reduction (positive parenting + family communication skills), business development, crop production, maternal and child health, and early childhood development.

The plan for each of these 5 different "resource areas" is to train a core group of representatives from the family strengthening groups who belong to "resource committees." This core group will take back the knowledge and skills they learned in the resource committee from the resource officers to help disseminate skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will help strengthen the families even more. The model adapts another approach called "train-the-trainer" to help transform communities. Honestly, we have no idea if the intervention will work like we'd like. We've never seen this model exactly, but it makes sense to us. At this point, we're asking the question – how do we deepen the impact we can make with 3000 families (which grows every week) without paying for overhead we can't afford? We know the areas we want to make impact – food security, income growth, reduced family violence and stress, healthier lives from cradle to the grave, and a head start on academic success for the most vulnerable children. Keep us in your prayers, and we'll let you know how it turns out.

This Easter is special in its own way in the life of Sodzo International. We are making two new additions to the Sodzo family. First, Clark Early Childhood Development Center has been operating in Meru County, Kenya since 2012. They provide quality education to over 400 children ranging from 3 years up through 6th grade. Because of our similar mission to advance the well-being of the world's most vulnerable children, we have made the decision to merge our organizations. Clark ECD is now a full part of the Sodzo family, and we are honored to be able to serve these beautiful children and help them get the best start on life possible. Second, Aleisha Elliott joins us for at least a year. Aleisha is working on her PhD in Epidemiology and is a committed disciple of Jesus Christ. Out of her reverence for Christ, she is coming to serve the families in Meru County as our Director of Research. She'll be conducting her dissertation while she works with us, helping us understand and improve the quality of our programs. Please remain in prayer for Aleisha and Clark ECD as we move forward together.

One thing we remember as we celebrate Easter is God's faithfulness. Darkness, despair and destitution do not hold sway over the power of Christ, giving birth to light, hope and restoration in the most surprising circumstances. Thank you for continuing to journey with us as we seek to express God's undying love for the most vulnerable children and families we can find. Happy Easter. The Lord is Risen!

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Lost and Found - returned to their God-given potential.

Have you ever heard a group of children who used to live on the streets recite, by heart and in unison, the parable of the lost sheep who was found by the Good Shepherd?

I was filled with emotion thinking about these children who have slept on the streets, sometimes for years, without schooling, food, water, safety, nor much hope for a different future. Many turned to sniffing glue to numb their pain from hunger, loneliness and boredom. Children came to the streets from different backgrounds – some abandoned by parents struggling with alcoholism, others forced to the streets by poverty or parental death – but here as they recited passages from the Gospel of Luke together, they shared in unison the confession that we are all lost sheep and in need of rescue.

One of the children's favorite metaphors is leaving Egypt to find Canaan. Like the Israelites, they have left the comfort of the known for the uncertain future that lays ahead of them. Leaving the wilderness to find the rest of their future before them, these children prepare to be reintegrated with their families or other destinations. They have found each other, found Christ, and in so doing, found themselves.

As the children recited the parable, the fear and resignation that must have gripped the lost sheep met my heart. To be desperately without direction, alone and without hope, and then to be found by the Good Shephard – the one who seeks lost sheep to fold them in together and form a whole flock, is something we may all relate to. It is Jesus who calls us beyond the wilderness in which we reside alone and cold, and folds us into a global family that reflects God's generous searching for us.

You appeared in my heart and mind as I heard the children's words. My family and I have travelled here, but we have not travelled alone. We travel with your support, hopes and prayers. You are here with us. As the children recited the parable of the lost sheep, you were present. Though you did not know it, you have heard a group of children who used to live on the street recited the parable of the lost sheep.

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The Human Heart and God's Promise

I can't tell you how glad it made my heart to visit Watoto Wa Ahadi (Children of Promise) again.A little over a year ago, before the center opened, we spent time on the streets with the children who lived there.They were malnourished, had infected wounds, and worse yet – were hopeless.Most of them were high on sniffing glue to help them forget how hungry they were, and how rejected they felt.Many of them shared their stories.Mark was not quite 10 years old.His father left when he was very young and is presumed dead.When he was a young child his mother took his baby brother and left for the city to look for work so she could send money back to feed Mark.He lived with his grandparents who were physically and verbally abusive.He was required to work rather than attend school.Often there was not enough food to go around. He eventually left for the streets, where he lived with a group of 10 other boys.They carried firewood and did odd jobs during the day to try to earn money.If they were lucky they earned enough for one meal a day each.His wish at that time was to be able to take a bath.

Now Mark is a proud Child of Promise. He is thriving on the farm.Faster than expected he was ready to return to the primary school in the village.He spends his days studying for school, learning farming techniques, tending his garden plot, learning animal care, spending time in devotionals and counseling sessions and having time to be a kid. He is learning to make art out of banana fibers. He wants to be a pilot when he grows up, so that he can have enough money to send his brother to school.He drew a picture of an elephant for me to take home to remember him, as if I could ever forget the way his entire expression has transformed over the past year.His eyes now twinkle with hope. He talks of having left the harshness of Egypt and entered the promised land.

Over the next year we plan to work towards reintegrating Mark and all of his fellow Children of Promise back into the community with family members or foster families while bringing in a new group of children.Sodzo, as you may recall, is the Greek word that can be translated as healing, restoring, making whole.Our hope for each of these kids is that they will thrive once restored in the community.In order to make that happen, and to stem the tide of children being forced to the streets, we are implementing the next phase of the Sodzo model – the Family Strengthening Program.So far there are 510 families enrolled in groups of 30 families.Each group meets once weekly and contributes 20 cents to a group fund that is then loaned out to support start up costs for a small business, school fees for a child, needed farm equipment, etc.The loans are paid back and continue to circulate to other group members.At the meetings they learn parenting skills, business skills, farming techniques, health and water safety, marriage counseling, conflict management, etc. The pilot group has done so well that there are more families eager to participate than we currently have capacity for.We hope this project leads to more stable communities, with economic opportunities that allow families to stay together and live healthier, more peaceful lives. 

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Nearing the End With a New Beginning

Nearing the End With a New Beginning

Preparing to celebrate

The first cohort of children should come on Saturday. We had originally planned on bringing them on Monday, April 25. We'll still have a community-wide celebration that day, but we believed it would be beneficial to have thorough clinical review of each child before the designated pediatrician (Dr. Lauren Raimer-Goodman) leaves. Further, we really don't want to make these children wait any longer than they have to. The absolute earliest these kids could arrive is Saturday, as we're working very hard this week on finishing the last touches at the farm – purchasing food for 3 months (grains, beans, etc.), connecting the power (God willing!), flushing the plumbing systems to make sure water flow works properly (thanks EWB!!), building soccer goals and playground equipment, cleaning everything and arranging all the furniture. There are a few meetings with different grant agencies and potential partners we want to have on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, so Lauren will have the weekend to see and arrange treatment for the kids at our center.

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"The time is coming and is now here when you shall worship in spirit and in truth." John 4:23

Jesus goes out of his way to identify with people of ill-repute. In John 4, he engages with a Samaritan woman who has been married multiple times. He suggests she should ask for and receive Living Water – participation in the divine life that begins in the present moment and extends beyond any conceivable boundary including space and time. She asks for this water, and he responds by asking her to bring her husband. It then becomes clear that she does not want to discuss her marital history, and is surprised that Jesus knows this history. The discussion continues into the place of worship; Samaritans believed the location where worship should happen was Mount Gerizim, while Jews believed the place to be the temple in Jerusalem. The woman wants to know which location is correct, and Jesus continues to explain that real worship happens in Spirit, as is the nature of God, and truth, being faithful to our own nature.

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The kingdom of God belongs to such as these

My children met some of the boys who live on the streets of Maua, Laare and Mutuati today. 

They represented two different, understandable responses to the boys of these towns. Their responses are largely personality driven, but I can't help but find in them my own impulses. It completely misses the point to assess their behaviors as though one child responded correctly and the other incorrectly. We all have multiple instincts and manners of responding to adversity we see in other people.

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Easter reflection

Easter reflection

"Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee, 'the Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' Then they remembered his words."

Luke 24:6b-8

There is something startling about the faithfulness of God. God acts in bizarre and unexpected ways. Often, the fact that God's promise has been made true in history is more surprising than alternatives we could conceive on our own. Women came to Jesus' tomb, expecting the normal course of events – someone dies, their body is prepared for burial and you bring them gifts to pay respect. This is routine, normal and predictable. God, however, is not predictable – even in God's predictability. We are too ill-prepared for the bursting forth of life God intends for us, then when it comes we act surprised as though we couldn't have imagined what good thing was coming.

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