Everything from mountain climbing to seeing real, live poverty, I had not anticipated. But what touched me the most was probably the stories, and they did not have the expected effect on me.
Arriving in Kenya, we spent a night in a hotel before heading off to the Ndalani location of Mully’s Children Family, an orphanage that has grown to the point where they now have rescued and nurtured over 8000 children. I had no clue that Dr. Charles Mulli had anything more than a simple orphanage. Instead, I was introduced to a network of six orphanage locations, with hundreds of acres of farms, greenhouses and the latest water purification systems. I was surprised to learn that such a large non-profit organization was 45% self-sustainable. I was even more surprised to learn that the high school graduates at the orphanages’ schools obtain some of the highest grades in the Kenyan national exams.
After being mind-blown by how amazing Dr. Charles had develop the system to be, I got to meet some of the children. They ran through the fields and smiled at us, insisting on holding our hands and, for some of the younger ones, to pick them up. I would play for hours with some of them, and still find it hard to leave them, just as I found it hard to believe that they still had energy to continue playing.
As for the older ones, when asked what they aspired to be, they had similar dreams as my peers and I. A doctor, an engineer, a pilot, a dancer, an accountant, a businessman, the list goes on. What was most impressive about their aspirations was the reasoning behind them. They wanted to become a doctor to offer treatment to those who could not have any treatment otherwise. They wanted to learn karate to be able to defend themselves and those they loved. They wanted an opportunity not only for themselves, but for their friends and their family, especially the run down communities they came from.
When my team started the medical clinic and villagers started streaming in, I had a translator and helper named Teresea. She was upbeat and optimistic, as well as very caring of me from the very start. Holding some conversations between directing patients and testing their visual acuity, I found out that Teresea wanted to go to university to study political science. Later on, I would find out how she came to MCF: her family was devastated during a political conflict in Kenya and she had to move to the slums. In the light of her story, I found myself truly wishing for her dreams to come true.
As I rotated through different positions in the medical clinic, the triage team, the pharmacy, the dental clinic and the optometry clinic, I got to meet different patients and was able to learn some of their stories. I met a child with Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a genetic condition where her skin could not recover from UV rays. Wrapped up in a blanket, the child would cry when her skin was exposed to any light whatsoever. Sitting down with her mother, I found that she had endured this condition for a 14 years. I was shocked. The child looked no older than two years old. With a wistful smile, her mother thanked the doctors as they handed her what medication and creams they could, and she held her child on her shoulder, beginning her walk back home.
I also sat down for a quick break at the back of the long lines of patients waiting for treatment. A little boy ran around quickly warmed up to me. A young woman sat next to me and introduced herself to me as the boy’s older sister. Later on, another boy came up to me, another younger brother of his, whose eyes never stayed still, who suffered from Nystagmus from birth. In the optometry clinic, his mother complained that her child could not see the chalkboard at the front his classroom. Our optometrist could do nothing, as the only supplies she had were donated glasses and eye drops. But as I sat there with his sister, I watched the brothers play like brothers normally would. And I realized that my level of patience and tolerance for problems in my life was much too low.
I could tell you how amazing it was climbing to the top of a mountain, and how cool it was to see a wild lion up close, but I believe that none of that compares to the people and their stories, and knowing that they really live and exist. Perhaps I should take the same approach as the children at the orphanage I stayed at: I don’t need to be a doctor, but I dream to be one because I want to help those who are not as fortunate as me.