[Sharifa (Rukia's mother) - Rukia - Me - Keith - posed just outside their home in Kibera (their home is the turquoise painted wall...the front door is just out of the photo on the left)]
Yesterday I got to once again spend time with the most beautiful teenage girl I know. Our team headed to a project on the outskirts of the Kibera slum, the largest slum in East Africa, and the home to my sponsor child, Rukia. We listened to a program about how the project directors run the program. We took tea. I met the mother of my mother's sponsor child Issac. I met my friend Sunny's sponsor child, Joseph Maina. And then I went to Rukia's house.
Keith had already visited her home in May of 2009 on another trip and I'd seen some photos of the walk through Kibera. But you can't prepare yourself for the crowds, the smells, and the narrow bee-hive-like pathways until you walk them yourself. Our little group consisting of me, Rukia, Keith, Nick, Triss, Stella, Tony and a project worker walked through the bustle of the main road and then ducked through a nearly invisible tin "gate" then walked through narrow alley after narrow alley...I wondered how many years it had taken Rukia as a child to learn her way through this network of passages on her own...and then we turned a corner into a quiet nook and saw her mother dressed in a beautiful traditional purple gown waiting for us.
We all crammed inside their tiny house...Rukia's mother Sharifa had obviously cleaned for the occasion. Although she has a one room place in the slum, it hasn't stifled her decorating taste...lace curtains across the window, a lace curtain dividing the single room in to half...a lace doily on the small end table on which she'd displayed the framed picture of Keith and I that I'd sent with him as a gift in 2009. Stella, one of our Compassion graduates, jumped right in as translator and we spoke with Sharifa about Rukia, about the rest of the family (10 of them live in this one room), about how happy she was that we had come so far to visit, about what she wanted us to remember in prayer.
She said that since Rukia joined Compassion that she has become much more obedient as a daughter, has begun to take on responsibilities helping to care for the two young nieces that Sharifa is raising after her daughter-in-law passed away, that her entire character and attitude has improved, and that she does not act like the other children in the slum. Rukia's birthday is today, so I gave her a necklace to celebrate (she's 14 now!) and we sang "Happy Birthday" which has about 5 verses in Africa. :) We prayed. We laughed. I almost cried on any number of occasions. At one point I asked a question and Stella translated Sharifa's brief answer: "She is just so very overwhelmed at it all."
Leaving them there was so difficult. Sharifa has been there, in that very house, for 15 years...and for the past 12 has been a single parent since her husband died in a traffic accident. But their hope gave me encouragement. Sharifa hopes that her older daughter would be able to go to University. That Rukia would realize her dreams of being a doctor. She told Keith and me that she was so happy for our marriage and wished us many blessings. Somehow...in that uncertain environment, they were happy and hopeful. And I am happy and hopeful. Happy that this beautiful family has become a part of our family, and hopeful that Rukia will be yet another triumph in breaking the cycle of poverty.