There is No Place Like Home

(Caring for our Kiddos—Part 1)

A woman in sparkly shoes once said, “There’s no place like home” and I would have to concur. What a gift it is to be able to have a real home—a place of love, safety, and comfort that brings peace to your heart just thinking of it. It is hard to come by, but well worth the effort to create.

I recently found a quote that I love.  “There are two gifts that we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings.” I could not agree more and by my lights the only way to do that is by creating and maintaining that sense of “home” throughout their development.

From the very beginning this has been a crucial part of our mission in creating the JCO Children’s Home in Kenya. My partner Mrs. Opot and I had very similar understandings of what a “home” meant and just how important it was.  We knew that stability was key, especially for children that had been through so much chaos already. They needed firm roots to help them build a bright future for themselves.

Mrs. Opot is and always has been a wonderful mother to all of her children (I have known them all for years) and she taught elementary school in Kenya’s capital Nairobi for 33 years before we began our project. I have had professional childcare experience myself, but I really learned how to raise children and build a home from the two greatest teachers around—my mother and father.

My parents provided my brothers and I with a wonderful home which, among other things, was safe, loving and stable. While helping us to develop very strong roots they also encouraged us to spread our wings. I was never afraid to venture into the unknown because I knew where my roots were and that I always had a strong support system to return to.

Everyone on our Restore Humanity team had a shared vision for the loving, stable, and comforting home we wanted to create. However, making that vision a reality is easier said than done. I tried as much as possible to create the type of environment that I was raised in because my parents did such an amazing job. And while we couldn’t recreate exactly what I had, for a variety of reasons, we could operate from those same values.

It has taken a lot of learning and adjusting, but our Kenyan team has done an amazing job. In fact, a big part of our success in creating this consistency for our children is the fact that we have had extremely little turnover from our staff. As a result, our children are growing up with and spending years of their lives with the same wonderful people (I will get into more details about the key ingredients that make our staff so spectacular in an upcoming blog).

I have been asked several times, usually by bigger foundations, “Why just focus on a few children? Why only 20? Why not expand your facility? How much do you want this facility to grow in five years?” It basically comes down to the debate over quality vs. quantity. If the question is whether we would like to help as many children as possible, the answer is yes. However, if our children are not receiving good quality care and the higher numbers comprise how well we can care for them individually, then the answer is no.

We have had a guiding principle from the beginning of our project: “We want JCO Children’s Home to be run like an institution, but feel like a home.” When you have more than 20 children in a facility like ours the feelings of “family” and “home” start to dwindle. It actually starts feeling more like an institution. While we could provide supervision and basic necessities to greater numbers by operating in this way (assuming we had the proper funding) we would be sacrificing the cognitive benefits and emotional development enjoyed only by those with the types interpersonal connections and relationships typical of a close-knit family.  Surviving is not the same thing as thriving.

We decided early on that while caring for as many children as possible is wonderful—we aren’t really accomplishing our mission if we are not taking care of them like they truly deserve.  In our particular circumstance we felt that the best use of our energy and resources was to focus on building a well run “home” that provides all the basic necessities as well as love, consistency, encouragement, stability, and a feeling of safety. By doing so we can give our sweet kiddos the proper foundation that they need to create a bright future for themselves, for those around them, and for the world at large.

I just spent the last month in Kenya with our kiddos and I am so happy to say that after observing them for almost 5 years now, that this concept of a “home” actually works! It is what builds the necessary confidence in order to do big things in your life—to take risks and follow your dreams.

As I spend time with our kiddos and think about how far they have all come, it is astounding. There has been steady progress from all of them and while they all have ups and downs, their confidence continues to grow and their inner lights shine brighter with each day. It is a beautiful thing to witness and confirms my belief that there truly is no place like home.