Those Who Fend For Themselves
Bob Mendosa, founder of NAOMI’S VILLAGE
Whether heading north towards the Maasai Mara game preserve or west towards the three gorgeous alkaline lakes teeming with wildlife (Naivasha, Elementaita, Nakuru), countless thousands of eager tourists pass through a highway junction in the dusty truck stop town of Maai Mahiu, Kenya each year. Roughly equidistant from both highways leaving this junction, and cruelly out of sight of the passersby, is a 2-acre plot of land on which 24 families have silently suffered for six years. The din of worldwide concern over the post-election violence that forced them there has long since subsided, their own government has neglected them, and they don’t have the strength of numbers, resources, or visibility to plead their case any longer. Their tattered tents have withstood numerous storms, and along with their weathered skin they bear witness to a resolve that draws both admiration and compassion from visitors. At some point in the distant past, perhaps out of a mix of realism and a determination to be self-sufficient, they proudly named the camp Mwi’hangiri, which means “those who fend for themselves” in Kikuyu.
Just 6 months have passed since President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and other leaders landed a few miles away and handed out checks for almost $5000 per family to two much larger IDP camps prominently located along one of those major highways. The folks living in those camps had long since had their tents replaced by stone houses built by Habitat for Humanity, and as the president finished, he said resolutely that there were no more IDP’s in Kenya. According to an article dated Sept. 9, 2013, in the Nakuru County News Online, women and children started wailing in Mwi’hangiri when they heard the president had left and all hope was gone for them. No houses had been built for them in 6 years and now the only chance at a new life financially had flown south to Nairobi in a helicopter, oblivious to their cries.
We stumbled upon this unfortunate group by chance in mid- January when Bonface, our outreach and childcare director, and Flo, our social worker, were on their way to find the home of a prospective child for Naomi’s Village. Bonface was struck with their plight immediately and saw that they needed water most of all. Our NV Board of Directors had just arrived in Kenya and funds they quickly donated paid for 2 donkeys, 2 water carts, and 4 large drums to carry water from a distant source. Within days these grateful people not only had enough water for the daily needs of their own families, but they had started providing for some other nearby needy families outside the camp. We marveled that they could be so giving when others had not done so for them before.
One miserable man had been unable to patch his tent together any longer after one too many storms, and had taken to sleeping in the community latrine building at night. This grieved our Naomi’s Village community, so we raised funds and materials to build him a small modest house. From this seed came a blessing, as we went over to see the house and fellowship with the people one weekday, only to be driven into the man’s new home by a sudden rainstorm. There we worshipped in Swahili, Kikuyu, and English while joyfully occupying the small space, a shoulder to shoulder mass of common humanity that God willed into closer communion that day. We have not forgotten each other since. Our NV children love to visit and help out on weekends. Two other small houses made of sheet metal have replaced the worst tents temporarily.
We shared in the burial service of the oldest member of the camp, Naomi, age 90, in early March. Her body is buried in a corner of the two acre plot, the headstone a reminder that injustice is worth fighting against. She should not have spent her last 6 years on a thin mattress in a tent in a field.
So here is my plea, plain and simple. These people should live in homes. Homes made of stone with a few windows and a door. Homes that do not fall over when the wind blows and leak when it rains. Make a donation and help fund a home. We want to build 24 homes for $3200 each. We want to do this by summer’s end. This will mean the end of at least one injustice I know of. Period.
(This goal has been met. But they have new missions they are working on every day…. PS. Before they would let the houses be built, they-the residents- insisted on a Church first!)
By Bob Mendonsa