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.