Kennedy needs a sponsor (and so does Brian).
When our team in Kenya sent ‘round an email yesterday with the subject line, “Kennedy won the school-wide debate competition!!!”, I was the least surprised of everyone. Ian, our Program Manager responded to the thread with, “Wow, our workshop on public speaking must have impacted him!”
Maybe, but Kennedy was born with the gift of advocacy.
I sat at my desk, humbled to be a small part of this powerful team that wraps itself around these kids, and slightly appalled at how ridiculously fragile the line is between a child on the streets of Nairobi and a child who participates in a national debate.
I first met Kennedy in a fast food court outside of a mall in Nairobi. Well, that’s not really true, I first met Kennedy almost 9 years ago when I was volunteering in an orphanage in the city slums. Kennedy must have been around 7 years old back then; a small orphaned kid amongst hundreds of others, trying and failing to use his spindly little arms to push himself to the front of the line to catch a daily serving of rice. Most of these kids filter out onto the streets when they hit their early teens, searching for more food, better shelter. While a lot of Kennedy’s peers had found outlets for their loneliness and rage through sniffing glue and crime, he was clinging to his dream of finishing high school, despite having never received formal schooling.
The teen who sat across from me - all these years later - was no longer a scrawny kid. He was better at fighting for himself. Kennedy had heard about another child from his orphanage that we had taken in. He lobbied hard. Over countless Facebook messages that transpired over the course of a year, I explained to Kennedy that we were not admitting new children into our programs due to budget constraints. When I finally agreed to meet him for a soda after months of texting, he texted back, “Thank you so much for saying yes to meeting me!! I will be there and I will be with my brother Brian, we are both so grateful to you, may god bless you and add you many years to your life.” I immediately regretted agreeing to meet; it wasn’t fair to him (and who was Brian?).
Brian was half the size of Kennedy and his brother - not in the genetic sense, but in the “we would like to be adopted together, if possible, god bless” - sense. As I sat listening to their story of unimaginable pain and suffering, but also intense resilience and hope, I debated whether or not to order them food. Is it fair to give two hungry kids a real meal, if they won’t have access to hot food for the foreseeable future? Is it fair to not?
And you know the rest of the story. We got the food and found generous donors to help secure scholarships for Kennedy and Brian. We assumed legal guardianship of both boys. I don’t tell you this to present a simple story with a happy ending, but to share insights into how real these opportunities and missed opportunities are. Kennedy is a great joy; he has this wild fashion sense. Brian is a strong and quiet student. He keeps Kennedy out of trouble. I often see them walking across the yard, their arms wrapped over each other's shoulders. I hope they are friends forever.
Working in the spaces, there are these absurd moments all the time - your head is in your hands in frustration for how unfair things are, while your heart is bursting with the possibilities of how they could be.
There are kids for whom you could be the difference between a life on the streets and a life in the stars. I’m not saying that makes any sense in any universe, but please consider say yes to getting a soda with Kennedy. With your support, his potential is limitless (and don't forget about Brian).
Yours in gratitude,