The Secret to our Success: Our kiddos
At our JCO Children’s Home in Kenya we have worked so hard over these last 6 years to provide a true “home” for our kiddos, in every sense of the word. We have kept the same well-trained staff, and they’ve done an amazing job providing a safe and loving environment in which the kids have been able to stick to a consistent schedule and be cared for in every way that they can be. We have also kept the number of children in our home small in order to foster a family atmosphere and ensure they build the kind of familial relationships conducive to proper development and an enriched life. We started with 10 children and have added slowly over time. We now have 19 children (the maximum is 20) living in our home.
The results of operating our home in this way has been incredible and exactly what we had hoped for. They are indeed a little family. I see all of our kiddos making so much progress emotionally and in school and I am amazed. You would be too if you had seen just where they started. I do feel like Mrs. Opot, Patrick, myself, and the rest of the staff have done a great job but to be honest the main reason this model works so well is because of the children themselves.
These little humans are full of so much love and goodness and they just needed the right space to let it all out. On my last trip I just watched in wonderment how much they all love each other and know each other on such a deep level, in the way only siblings can. They love me, Mrs. Opot, Patrick and the rest of the staff to be sure, but whom they love the most is each other. It is a beautiful thing to witness.
At the beginning of this journey we opened the doors to our first 10 children and cared for only them for the first year. This was the most challenging time to be sure because all 10 of them came to us in very raw emotional states, many of them having endured more than anyone should ever have to. Our staff was also learning how best to manage 10 kids that were really unpredictable. We worked hard to give them consistency and a feeling of safety. We immersed them in love and over time we saw the rough edges just melt away.
While each child has their own path and some take longer than others to find their stability. It has become significantly easier over time for our new kids to acclimate to their new home. In recent years the transitions have been much smoother. The staff deserves some credit here because they have learned a lot and are extra sweet to the newbies. But the main difference, by my lights, is the other children.
After starting with 10 kids and living with only them for the first year I was a little apprehensive about how they would treat any newcomers. I wondered if they would be “clicky”, or resentful of someone new in their space. However, to my surprise and delight the exact opposite happened! Our kiddos were extremely welcoming and to this day every new kid that comes in is made to feel at home.
On my last trip we moved in two new little girls, Christine aka “Baby” and her sister Pamela. The children were told about their arrival and two of our older girls worked hard to prepare their space for them. One of them (also named Pamela) even gave up the bed that she had slept in for 6 years so that the sisters could sleep on the same bunk bed and feel more comfortable. I was so moved by this, no one asked her to do it, she just decided that the girls would feel better that way. Pamela and Teresa prepared the beds for the new girls beautifully, so that as soon as they arrived they were thrilled.
Another really cute example is how Austin treated a new kid that was about his age on his first day. Austin was only about 4 at the time. Our new little one was pretty skittish and had a tight grip on my hand as we walked into the home. I had just spent the last hour with him and was at that moment the only person he felt even slightly comfortable with in his new surroundings. We arrived at the home at night and as we walked him into our boy’s room to show him where he would sleep, Austin said to him (in Luo) “Hey, don’t worry. Tomorrow we will have porridge.” It was such a simple way to comfort a new kid and it just warmed my heart. Within 10 minutes our new kiddo felt so welcome by everyone he let go of my hand and did not even notice when I left.
Any child that comes into our home has suffered devastating loss of one or both of their parents and often the suffering did not stop there. As bad as this situation is, how great is it that they get to come into a home full of their peers that have been through exactly the same thing? What better support network could there be?
Our kiddos also do everything together. They wake up and have porridge in the morning and walk to school together. A staff member cooks them lunch every day and walks it up to school to feed them, so they all sit together under a tree and have lunch. After school they walk home together, play in the yard a bit, bathe and prepare for dinner. Dinner is at 6:30 and then they sit together and do schoolwork until bedtime.
On Sunday nights they have a weekly meeting that is just the kids. They voted in a Chairman, a Secretary, and a Vice Chairman. The Secretary actually takes minutes of the meeting each week and they give them to our manager Jane. The minutes consist of things like someone taking someone else’s toy or another person not keeping their area clean. It is actually pretty hilarious, but they have been doing it every week for the last 3 years and take it very seriously.
It is so true that love begets love and the more we give our kiddos the more they give to others. This is not to say that they don’t fight sometimes or disagree on things. They are siblings and if you have siblings of your own then you know exactly what that means. They know each other better than anyone else and are there for each other. They know each other’s quirks and fears and will often protect each other when needed without hesitation. They share in each other’s triumphs and pain. The love between them is a bond that cannot be broken. It is a beautiful little family and I am thankful to even be a small part of that.