Once again, the summer trip to Kakamega was incredible. Summer camp keeps getting better and better. This year, five camps ran back to back, and nine trippers, (ages 19 to, well, our mature years) got to spend time with 250 children who came to the Kakamega Orphans Care Center (KOCC) for overnight camps. The camps were a marvelous time for children to reunite with old friends, make new friends, sing, play, dance, and have many new experiences. The Kenyan staff at the Care Center worked long hours planning and preparing before camp and executing a great number of activities during camp.
Soap-making was one of the special camp activities (see photo). Experts guided the children through the process of liquid soap- making, and every child went home with two bottles of soap for their family. Each child also received two Hass grafted avocado trees which will produce fruit in only two years rather than the usual four to seven years. These, along with over a dozen more fruit trees that are being given to families in September, were paid for by sponsors’ donations. KOCC Farm Programs Manager Alfred Kitayi provided tree-planting demonstrations and information about the nutritional value of avocados at each camp.
Trippers are always struck by how children attending greet every moment with joy and appreciation - the three mile walk into town to buy a book and snack, a soda pop at the last dance of camp, the interactions and conversations with Kenyan and U.S. adults during chess or puzzles and field games, such as tug of war and soccer. The children LOVE the great soccer matches at camp and appreciate having soccer balls and volley balls to play with.
A highlight of every camp includes reading your sponsor letters and then writing back a reply to you. The dining hall becomes hushed as children read and pour over every word and picture from their sponsors. One class three boy gasped out loud with joy and smiled from ear to ear when he opened his letter and saw a photo of snow. He beamed as he showed the photo to all the children at his table and proudly exclaimed, “snow!” We loved witnessing campers improve their English, from struggling elementary school children who need lots of help to high-schoolers able to read and understand English and express themselves more confidently as they work diligently to write back to you.
Working together was the theme of this year’s camp. Trip leaders Sukie Rice (Friends of Kakamega founder) and Leah Bennett (Co-President) marveled at the shift in the role of trippers from leading summer camps to supporting Kenyan leaders as they run the camps. Talented Kenyan camp counselor Millie said, “I want to appreciate God for making this moment happen, a time made possible because of the help of our friends in the U.S.” We echo her sentiments.
Mary Scalzi, Board Member, Friends of Kakamega
2019 KOCC Trip Report
Reflections by Nicola Metcalf on her first trip to KOCC
I know I have been changed, but I’m not sure how. Impressions keep surfacing, returning often and at unexpected moments.
The discipline, direct manner and deep love of the staff for the children and for us. The constant hum of faith church religion in prayers and frequently expressed gratitude for God whenever we gathered. The perpetual hardship of poverty was up close but belief in spirit carries people. The Kenyans’ powerful love of being together, learning, and their indomitable way of meeting adversity. The cultural norm of greeting everyone you see - an acknowledgment of basic humanity.
The personal highlight of my trip was meeting Emmanuel, a boy I have sponsored for 11 years. Emmanuel was 5 when I first began to sponsor him. For 11 years we have exchanged letters and photos once a year. Years ago he sent me a small wooden spoon with his annual letter and it has sat on my kitchen windowsill ever since.
Our meeting was an emotional one. He had been performing with his school choir at a national music festival but when his grandmother called to tell him I was at the Care Centre, he left the festival before his last performance and traveled all night by bus to Kakamega. I was surprised when early in the morning I was told that he had arrived. I came down to the dining room and there he was. I had prepared myself. After all, he is a 16 year old boy. Maybe we wouldn’t click, maybe he wasn’t really interested in meeting his sponsor. But we fell in love at first sight. Excited and relieved to meet each other in flesh and blood, we could finally hear each other’s voices, see facial expressions, hug and smile together. It was pure joy. Over the next few days, we got to know each other talking as we walked into town, played games or sat on the porch of the Care Centre. I heard about his dreams for school and work. He called me his mom and I called him my son. I watched him in the evening at dance parties, making new friends, dancing with gusto, enjoying life and making the best of the moment.
On the last day, we drove him home. I met his grandfather who was gracious and very grateful for my support of Emmanuel’s education. We shared roasted maize, groundnuts, and tea. They gave me their rooster and also a bag of eggs. I reciprocated with a gift of small items I had gathered and the Care Centre delivered a box of food staples. I know I will return to Kakamega to see Emmanuel again and I have a hunch, after 11 years, our relationship is just beginning.
Dear High School Sponsor,
I hope you enjoy the report from our summer trip to KOCC (in this envelope). It focuses mostly on the camps with younger children, so I’m adding this bit about High School camps for you.
Basically, the camp for the older students was very much like the younger with socializing, games and a trip into town, but with a couple of additions. One was a discussion on “Reality Check” which looked at what the students’ dream-jobs were and what kinds of grades they would need to get into those course programs. We heard most students say they wished to be a civil or mechanical engineer, doctor, lawyer, pilot, nurse, and many other vocations. But the scores they need to get into these programs are often much higher than the scores they are getting in school now, and expecting to move from average to exceptional is a good aspiration but not a good expectation. KOCC staff often seen inertia or depression in recent high school grads who did not achieve their lofty expectations on the all-important exams at the end of High-School. So, our focus was to encourage them to continue striving while also thinking beyond a few specific, hard-to-reach white collar professions. In other words, consider a plan B.
Alongside staff and camp counselors, who contributed their own stories and advice, we held discussions with students that we hope will open minds to a wider range of possibilities. Because the bulk of Kenya’s economy is informal enterprise and agriculture, and because most Kenyan adults are either farmers or “self-employed” in some type of business, the staff and we encouraged students to open themselves to the many possibilities in these areas, offering examples of successful Kenyans who have come far from these kinds of humble roots.
There was also a presentation from an education expert on how to approach the big exams, which the students said was very helpful. For the HS girls, there was a wonderful “seminar” on women’s health and also menstrual cups (which collect the flow of menstrual fluid). One of the trippers had done a great deal of research on these devices and had fundraised enough to purchase one cup for each girl in the program. These cups are alternatives to tampons and pads, offering demonstrated health benefits as well as economic (and environmental) savings.
Finally, there was a presentation by representatives from Marie Stopes, a reproductive health provider whose motto is “children by choice, not chance.” The presenters spoke to both the girls and boys about sexual health, including frank discussions of all the different methods of contraception and how to access them. Although they strongly advocated abstinence, they said it was also very important students know the truth about these matters “just in case.” This presentation was very well received, and the kids said they learned a lot from it.
So, you can see we packed in a LOT during the High School camp. For several days in December, the students will again enjoy being with one another, learning, playing football, and having important discussions during the now-annual High School retreat – which, last year, they LOVED! We (Friends of Kakamega and KOCC) are trying our best to help these students develop academic and life-skills to aid them in school and their future.
If you wish to talk with me or someone else from Friends of Kakamega about the camp, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or email@example.com). I’m always happy to talk with you! My best to you,
Friends of Kakamega's News & Updates
This page offers occasional highlights, news, and updates about our work in Kakamega.