Often people ask why I have chosen to work in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, so far from my home in Portland, Oregon. Not a simple or easy question to answer but I will try.
Since I have been aware of the world around me, I have known that I care about justice for all people. One of my earliest experiences was taking a train from Detroit, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia in 1957. As I stared out the window at train stations, I noted the deep rooted evidence of segregation - separate drinking fountains, toilets, and of course separate sections on the train. I was too young to really understand what all this meant but I instinctively knew something was wrong.
As life progressed I found myself protesting the Vietnam War, supporting the Civil Rights Movement, and simply caring about people who seemed to have so little. The injustices that I was witnessing as I moved through adulthood always weighed heavily on me but unfortunately the demands of making a living and raising a family left me little time to do much more then donate to causes and to care about people.
Fast forward in life and by 2005, I found myself in a place where I had time to start giving back. I joined several boards and spent more time helping causes I believed in including working on the 2008 Obama campaign. I also had the resources and the time to start traveling the world and it was during my travels that I became so aware of the extreme poverty that impacts the lives of so many.
By 2010 I was looking for a more active way to give back. Though I enjoyed the work I was doing by being on several boards; it was not enough for me. I started to look around at programs that were working overseas and quickly realized that I wanted to do more then give two weeks at a time. Realized for me that I was looking for a program where I could become a part of the team and participate regularly. Most important for me was to be around long enough to see the results of my efforts.
In May of 2013, I scheduled a trip to Kenya. A friend had a program in Migori, Kenya and they were looking for help. After spending a few days in Migori, I realized that the work being done there was not what I wanted. Though disappointed, I decided as long as I was there, I would really see Kenya. After two weeks of traveling, I was finally back in Nairobi and my friend set up a meeting with an American running a program in the Kawangware slums of Nairobi. Over lunch we talked a lot about his work in Kenya but unfortunately I had a plane to catch and so there was not time to visit his program.
After I returned to Portland, I contacted him again. I expressed my interest and we arranged a trip to Nairobi, Kenya August of 2013. It was during this visit in August that I met the kids and immediately I was hooked. I asked how I could help, and he said "just step in and you will find a way".
So step in I did and in October 2013 I went back to Nairobi on my own and began my work.
So back to the original question of why Nairobi, Kenya. I think for me in my travels, I have become more of a global person who sees all people as inhabitants of one earth. It makes no difference where I work, for children in need no matter where they live, are still children in need. The kids in the Kawangware slums, are indeed kids who need help, and here I will make a difference.