We arrive at my sponsored child’s project and we need to place two boulders in the ground in order cover two gigantic potholes and roll through the front gate. After a brief kafuffle, we move inside the PCEA Silanga Church Child Development Centre where a crowd of excited children are hopping up and down. “Mzungu! Mzungu!”
As the car swings around to park I think I can see Wisdom (I’ve only been sponsoring her a few months so I only have one photo of her). I’m feeling very nervous. How will she react? Will she jump into my arms? Will she cry? Will I cry?
Our first moments are actually very calm, if a little awkward! She’s obviously overwhelmed by the whole experience, too shy to look me in the eye and swinging her hips in embarrassment as her friends look on.
I say ‘Habariyako’, which means ‘how are you’ and she replies with ‘Mzuri’, which is ‘fine’.
The Project Director, Gilbaud, takes us to the project office for some snacks and we walk past groups of older children in uniform on our way.
I have heard the projects in the Kibera Slum described as oases. I can’t expand on that, it’s a perfect description. Everywhere else is claustrophobic and intimidating, yet here the children are free to run and play without a care in the world. Here, they’re free to just be children for a few hours.
Wisdom brings her understandable coyness into the project office. Gilbaud translates a few words for me, but she mostly sits in silence, swinging her legs from her chair and peering through the window outside while I read her project folder, chat and eat some crisps with the project staff. I decide to let her be rather than force a conversation as I’m aware of how a child of her age might not fully understand who I am.
The project folder tells me how she’s doing in school, her physical condition and her family background. I learn that her mother, Petrolina, has polio which prevents her from most forms of employment. It’s upsetting to read.
We leave the project and Wisdom leads me by the hand through the slum to her home, a kilometre away. I get a chance to interact with slum children. They’re very different to other African kids I have come to know and love. They still wave and shout, but their actions lack energy. It lacks life. They’re like a diluted version of all the African children I have experienced before.
As I noticed more of these distressing details, I became aware of an atmosphere growing and suddenly I realised that the eyes of all the slum dwellers were following me down the street. It’s not every day a white person walks deep into the heart of the Kibera slum.
The district Wisdom lives in is called Soweto, a jigsaw of corrugated iron and mud walls. We are taken through a labyrinth of narrow paths and canals of sewerage. After weaving along the narrow walkways, ducking overhanging roofs and becoming increasingly selective of where I choose to place my feet, we arrive at Wisdom’s house. I stoop to enter through the front door to meet Petrolina and John, Wisdom’s mother and father, who have been waiting patiently for us.
The whole house is smaller than my lounge and the entire family share the same bed. Separating the household from their neighbours is a single sheet of iron. Everybody hears everybody. I think about how upset I get when my privacy is invaded – I bet it’s not even something people consider here.
It’s humbling to think that I’ll easily get upset when my duvet falls off my warm, cosy bed, in my room with insulated walls, double-glazing windows and central heating. Perspective is so important. God was teaching me.
On first impressions, these are joyful people. Petrolina is fluent in English, but John is less adept. After introducing ourselves, I presented Wisdom with a backpack full of gifts: arts and crafts, colouring books, stickers, a teddy (which her little brother Moses had his eye on) and a brand new dress. The parents were delighted, more so than she was! Wisdom’s mother helped her put on the dress and by God’s grace it fitted! I had no idea what size to buy her. I knew she was seven years old, but just try and picture me, a 23 year old bloke in a children’s clothing store looking for a little girl’s dress – hopeless. But fortunately God knew what He was doing and that’s what matters.
We chat for some time and then we pray for one another. I feel God’s presence so strongly in the moment! I cannot think of a better way to spend my time than praying with the poor or a more humbling activity than having the poor pray over you. If we believe in prayer and we believe that God’s heart aches for the poor then this kind of thing should really stir us, whether we can pray for them in person or not.
I learn that John is an elder at a church in the slum which I was chuffed to hear! To know that Wisdom has a father who seeks after the Lord and can raise her in a godly community is such a blessing to me, and knowing about this gives me something extra to pray for. Let’s face it, he needs all the prayer he can get to bring hope to a community such as this.
Wisdom’s family is a real contrast to the hopelessness I saw in the Comic Relief documentary and I’m confident this has a lot to do with the work of Compassion.
They walk us back to the project for some time to play together on the project’s playground. I remember that Wisdom’s favourite game is hide and seek and I manage to get a game going with the help of some translation by Gilbaud. This is most alive I have seen Wisdom today and it’s a relief to see her joyfully running around, no longer inhibited by her self-consciousness. This is the most we’ve bonded all day!
Time comes to leave the project and I’m coping with a number of emotions. I’m obviously distraught to see the desperate poverty in the slum, but I’m overjoyed to have met Wisdom, dropped off some gifts and prayed with her family.
Months later, it’s difficult to believe that I actually met this child from the photo I keep on my desk. But then the reality dawns that Wisdom and her family are still there, struggling to make life work in the slum.
Click here for the first video installment of when I met Wisdom.
Click here for a photo album of my exerience.
Have you met your sponsored child? What did you get out of it and in what ways were you able to bless your sponsored child?