During those two years, Jeromy and I focused a great deal of our attention on documents and preparation for the adoption. While we communicated with Samuel via email, we were rather distracted.
In February of 2007, I went to Kenya to meet Sundi and establish contacts, living quarters, and medical care for the months we would stay in Kenya for the adoption. While there, I was able to meet Samuel for the first time in person. He really impressed me with his gentle, genuine nature. On the last day I was in Kenya, Samuel took me to Soweto to meet the kids. I had never seen a slum before. I had never touched such poverty. It was literally painful. It was like driving through an infomercial for UNICEF or Feed the Children. I had always been rather soft when I saw the pictures and heard the reports, but to see poverty up close broke a place in me that I think will always bleed for those who lack the basic necessities for survival.
As we drove through the narrow alleys dodging women bent low with loads of potatoes, bananas, or sticks piled high on their backs and young children with jerry cans full of water on their heads, I was constantly aware of the many voices shouting, “Sasa, Pastor.” (Hello) or “Habari, Baba!” (Hi, Daddy) Clearly, this slum knew Samuel well.
We finally stopped next to a crude structure about the size of most of our living rooms. The sides and ceiling were of tin and the floor a concrete slab. Two windows provided the only source of entry for sunlight. There were no lights. I could hear young voices singing and chanting their daily lessons. What?? I had no idea that a school had been started! Within moments, I as greeted by 32 laughing, giggling, munchkins with the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen! They sang for me, recited lessons, and read their books. There were no desks, chalkboards, or chairs. Just a few benches, some stubs for pencils, and a few sheets of paper that were clearly erased at the end of every day to be reused the next. However, you would have thought by the pride in that room that the dog-eared books were hard-backed classics and the benches of the finest wood by the way the children carefully handled their materials. I chuckled as they inhaled their meal of white rice and potatoes and nearly choked on my soda as I saw the tentative pleas for more-the grubby hands that reluctantly surrendered empty plates. Again, I broke.
After we left the school, Samuel explained that the school had been started just that January to meet the needs of the street children he and his team had been feeding every few days. He said that he felt that he needed to feed their minds and their spirits as much as he needed to fill their bellies. One would only need to understand the culture of poverty to see what an unusual vision this is. To look past the basic, daily stress for food to hold a vision for a young child’s future is very uncommon. He explained that the first few days, they had only four students and used the dust and sticks for instruction, but word spread and volunteers brought benches, books, and pencils. He was so happy.
During this whole interchange, I was rather confused as I thought we had helped him to gain about an acre of land, but the building we visited had no land attached…Samuel explained that until they could construct a building and proper toilets on the new land, it was unsafe to bring the children there. They did however go there several times a week for PE. It was good to know that they had a safe place play, but I had such hopes that this was only the beginning for this little spot of sunshine in the midst of the darkness of poverty in Soweto.