When people talk about Africa, usually what you hear are all of the horrible statistics about how many children die each day of malnutrition or AIDS. Or you hear about how many children become orphans every day due to their parents dying from the AIDS epidemic or from different diseases and illnesses. And whenever you see a commercial or pictures of kids in Africa, there is always that image of sadness presented. All of those images and statistics are real, and true and they are heartbreaking. And God does desire change, and He has commanded us to be that change. We’re told over and over from Genesis to Revelation to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans; and just in general to give to those in need. So I am in no way trying to paint a picture of Africa to make it look neat and pretty. And I am not trying to make light of the reality of the hard situations and poverty many families find themselves in just because living in Africa is harder than living in America. But you rarely ever hear of the beauty and the joy found there. You rarely hear of the hope and the changes already taking place. You rarely hear God has not forgotten His people there. That you can see Him even in the midst of the poverty and the hardships. And this is what impacted me the most.
Tuwani is the biggest slum in Kitale, Kenya. In some ways, Tuwani didn’t look a whole lot different than what I had pictured a slum to be like. There was a lot of garbage everywhere. The mud huts with dirt floors were really small and many of them were crumbling; they usually just had one or two rooms that had to hold an entire family. The poverty was evident all around. But what I didn’t realize is how absolutely beautiful a place like that can be. I didn’t realize the joy I would see in the kids’ faces and hear in their laughter, even in a slum.
One day my friends and I took the one, main paved road into Tuwani and then walked along the red dirt paths that led through the village. There was trash all around, on both sides of the path. You could always smell the piles of trash that people were burning and the choos as you walked by (a choo is a Kenyan toilet; basically a hole in the ground that is in a shack made out of wood or tin). And most of the kids didn’t have clothes that fit well, or that looked very clean. But Tuwani is located in a really beautiful area. When you took your eyes off the path and looked up, God’s amazing creation was everywhere. The hills all around were covered in grass and green trees with their bright red, orange or purple flowers on them. Even the dirt was tinted red and added so much color to the land. Somehow, in the middle of the dry season, when the grass turns yellow, the trees and flowers still stay so colorful. No matter where I looked I was reminded of His power to create and the beauty He makes for us to enjoy. It was no less beautiful because of the garbage or because of the smells that I wasn’t used to. God’s artwork is not enhanced by a rich neighborhood with big houses, and it is not diminished by poverty. The beauty that He has created is evident everywhere you go.
The day that we chose to walk through Tuwani was during the kids break from school, so they were all home. These kids that live in Tuwani don’t have much at all. The toys that they do have, they’ve made on their own out of things that they find on the ground. Sometimes they’re playing with just a bicycle tire and rolling it along the ground with a stick. Or they make little things out of wires and little wheels that they can push along the ground. They don’t have the toys that we’re used to seeing here in America. But the thing is, they don’t know they are poor. They don’t know what other toys exist, and so they don’t care. All they know is their life in Tuwani. And they’re like any child you see anywhere. They’re happy, and they run and play, and they’re just kids. They’re quick to smile and to accept people; even us as strangers in their home, they completely accepted us.
As we were walking through their village the mob of kids following us grew and grew. Kids who had never seen us before were running up and shaking our hands, or they would hold our hands and walk with us for a little while. And they would always say, “Hi, how are you?” because they all know that when they see a white person, that’s what they say. But I just wasn’t expecting to see they joy they had in them. Their smiles were so big and came so easily! Without even realizing it I had associated poverty with misery. But these kids were running after us, smiling, and laughing, and playing. They weren’t just sitting there and looking miserable. They were happy. And so I know that God is there. I know He hasn’t forgotten them.