Dear Jitegemee family,
I got into nonprofit work because I loved kids. Then, somehow, I found myself consumed with budgets and letters to donors. When you are doing this work at 5,000 feet, it’s easy to forget why we’re here.
But today, I spoke for two hours by phone with Mike Kimeu, our program director, and without meaning to, he reminded me.
I asked him about how many kids we are going to sponsor in secondary school in 2014. He told me we will have 24, including five new kids who are joining Form One (9th grade). He went through one by one, by name and school, until he reached the last one – “the girl we retrieved from an early marriage.” She had been a child bride, and our staff intervened to free her from the situation and taken her back to primary school. She had done well on her Standard 8 (8th grade) exams, and gotten a calling letter to a high school near town. But Mike said no. He wants to find a school that’s far away from the town, “where she can concentrate on her studies.”
What else is on Mike’s to-do list? To begin work on the roof of our main building, which we hope to complete this spring. Mike’s under pressure to get it done. The landlord of the old building we currently occupy wants us out as soon as possible, so he can tear it down and build something that will bring more rent. If all goes well, Mike says, “June should find us in our new place.”
But it’s not enough to build a new building. We also have to outfit it with programming that justifies this important investment. Mike, and Jitegemee’s board members are working to outfit our computer lab and begin a pilot class that we hope will teach web design and programming.
I’ll be honest: Not all the news that Mike gave me was good. He gave word that one of Jitegemee’s students - a girl in Standard Six (6th grade) – had passed away. She learned that she was HIV positive last year, during our annual “health day.” Through our program, she was connected with services, such as antiretroviral drugs and counseling. Initially, her health improved. Then she got meningitis. She is, to my knowledge, the first child to die in our program. She’s an orphan, so it is Jitegemee staff and Jitegemee students who will give her a proper burial.
That story brings home the difficult work that Mike and his dedicated staff do every single day, to ensure that street and destitute children have advocates, access to education and dignity, in life and in death.
Sometimes, there are heartbreaks. Other times, triumphs. Mike let me know that Peter Muasya, one of the brightest kids to pass through our program, is now in his third year at University of Nairobi, and has already passed three difficult exams on his way to becoming a fully-certified public accountant.
It's easy to forget stories like these when you have budgets to pass and funds to account for. It is easy to get lost in the numbers - the "how many" - instead of the "who." But every once in awhile, we must take a step back just listen to these stories. It's these very special kids and these very special teachers that form the reason for why we do what we do.