Children amaze me. No matter where they live, what culture, race, or nation they’re from, they all naturally have a sense of wonderment about our world that we should all be learning from. They notice things that adults miss. For them everything is new. Nothing is too small or insignificant to be fascinating. Just being around children and watching them interact with the world can be so inspiring. They are not yet afraid to dream big.
However, children’s innocence and sense of wonderment is all too often compromised or stolen altogether when they are made to live in fear or do not feel safe. Or if they are malnourished or extremely sick, their interaction with the world is minimized because how bad they feel. And of course any child that has suffered the loss of a parent or two needs so much love, support, and healing before they can regain that essential sense of curiosity and awe.
The loss of a parent, a lack of safety, crippling fear, and illness are all detrimental to children in the present but can continue to affect and shape them into the future. All of our children living in JCO Children’s Home have at some point experienced some of these unfortunate things before coming to live with us. Some have very serious chronic issues like HIV. Many were malnourished with a variety of other health issues. Many were neglected, some abused, and almost all of them have lost at least one parent.
Children need stability, love, and proper care. They need supervision, loving encouragement, and discipline. They need to feel safe so that they can dream big. Our home does not make these children the amazing people that they are—God did that. But we try to remove the obstacles and dangers from their path (as much as humanly possible) and provide a solid foundation for them to be the best they can be and live up to their full potential.
They need a safe loving space to be who they are. They should not be worrying about food or water or shoes or their safety. They should get to just be, learn and experience the world—all the while knowing they are loved. Every child deserves that. While we cannot provide that for every child in the world, this is precisely what we strive to do for our 19 children living in our JCO Children’s Home.
The longer they are in our home, the bigger they dream. I love asking each child about their goals, hopes, and dreams. It brings me so much joy. You can see their eyes start to sparkle. Many will then hesitate, almost afraid to speak it—afraid to aim so high. Then they tell you and the smile that follows is the most beautiful thing in the world.
One example is our sweet Cathy. She moved in when she was 4 years old and is now in the 5th grade. She is one of the top students in her class, reads above her grade level and speaks English really well. She has always been shy (except with her JCO Siblings), but her confidence has grown immensely. She knows she is smart and capable and she is quite happy about it. When I talk with her about her homework and her favorite subjects in school she becomes very happy. My favorite thing to do is ask her about her future, both her academic goals for the school year and what she wants to be when she grows up. Her smile will just melt your heart and it is in full force when she is dreaming big. Before she responds she looks all around smiling from ear to ear, she giggles, and is hesitant to speak. It is as if so much hope and excitement is bottled up inside her but she is so shy that it is hard for her to say. But when she does, those eyes just light up and you know this little one will change the world.
Another example is our oldest kiddo, Juma. He is now in Form 4 (Senior in High School) and will be graduating in December. He moved in with us in January of 2012, the beginning of his 8th grade year. The Principal of the Primary School told us about him and how he was an exceedingly bright and driven young man, but that he was coming from an extremely impoverished home. When he arrived at the JCO he came with the clothes on his back, his school uniform and he did not even own a pair of shoes. That evening we got to have our first (of many) conversations about his future. I was asking him about school and if he wanted to attend Secondary School (High School) the following year and of course he did. Then I asked him, “And then?” “What do you want to do after Secondary?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He stopped and looked at me with so much intensity, confidence, and surprise—all at once—it was as if he had been waiting his whole life for someone to ask him that question. He told me very confidently that he wanted to attend University and be an engineer. He knew exactly what he wanted and had clearly spent a lot of time planning and dreaming about it.
I was so impressed with him because coming from the impoverished situation that he was in, there wasn’t any reason to have much hope that there would ever be money for Secondary School, let alone a University. Despite that, he dreamed, and dreamed big I might add. Seeing that sparkle in his eye is amazing. Since then he has matured into an incredible young man, excelling in school and dreaming bigger than ever! It is such a joy to see him develop and reach his potential! Nothing brings me more joy than just to sit and listen to him tell me about the world according to Juma. We sit and talk for hours, he inspires me every single time I speak to him.
Our sweet Edwin was beaming the last time I was in Kenya, telling me he wants to be an “airplane” when he grows up—he meant pilot of course, but the mistake was too cute not to mention. He has also improved a lot in his reading since the last time I came, so he was excited to read a book to me to show me how far he had come.
Every single one of our kiddos has some kind of ambition and hope in them. I love to just ask them what they want to do or how they see their future and then just sit back and watch that excitement in their eyes. Helping to give them what they need to feel confident and opening up that door of imagination is giving them roots and giving them wings. And what a blessing it is to watch them soar…