Posts Tagged ‘Cross Cultural Thresholds’

Africa Journal #3, Immersion

January 4, 2012


We are a group of just 10, and have spent our 2nd day today working at Fafu, a school in Kibera begun by a Kenyan man named Simeon, a man of clear heart and vision who came to Kibera to help its children to Face the Future; Fafu is short for those words. Living in conditions of unimaginable human poverty – unimaginable to me even as I walk through the slum, smell, greet, and interact – Simeon sees a way to create possibility through education, community and love. He and every single human there, 240 children enrolled, know the harshest facts of life and human nature, all the way to the bone.

Three years ago this tiny plot of dirt and filth was empty. Simeon’s vision and passion joined with Carter Via’s ability to mobilize resources and help have brought about this throbbing little wood and tin edifice where the children come together to find hope. We visitors are offering what we have. Some rough but sturdy benches are being built; blank, dirty walls are being covered with paintings; art projects are underway.

directing a play

One man with us is a theatre director and producer who just wrapped up a show on the West End in London. Today he is directing several of the Fafu young people in a play he has modified to 12 pages. After 3 days of rehearsal, we will see it. Some of the older children are being interviewed by our young members so that they can have an opportunity to tell their stories, present to us their dearest passions, describe unique talents and visions for their future. A young fellow at the school named Rogers has found that he can truly dance. We had a preview of his performance today and will see the full one tomorrow when the borrowed (pirated? electricity from a lot nearby will hopefully successfully pipe in the music. Rogers face is aglow with the genuine admiration and attention he is receiving. I worked in a private room with children one-on-one, along with a compassionate and gifted translator, to help listen to the suffering in the private psyches of several of the children whose difficulties are affecting their ability to engage with the work and the people at school. They have an opportunity to say in privacy what ails their souls, to verbalize and be listened to. My hope is to give them a model for the idea that they don’t have to suffer alone and in silence. The psyche itself requires and deserves expression in such ways, and can find it.

mural painting

We are swimming in a sea of love and chaos. In our debriefings tonight, a number of us realized all that most of the kids want really is a way to find someone to hold them and touch them. While Zoe paints the mural, 10 kids are attached somewhere to her body painting with her, the need for the touch and connection much more primary than the need to paint. Alexa found that in her art project work too. In my breaks I fixed the strap on a little girls back pack, and before I knew it one after another were pressing into my body wanting their straps fixed too. Back strap fixing is very important, but the experience of crushing their little bodies into mine while we fixed it was more essential. The tiniest ones just wanted to put their head on my breast and shoulder. Ok with me, sweet hugging is heaven.

Our director was laughing saying his job today was like herding cats, but it was happening. i feel right now like a cat herder of my mind. The immensity of this immersion is unsayable. The mystery of what pulls us all together for this moment in time, what the experience reflects to each of us – there is magic. Unrevealed but very apparent magic. Mystery, love, beauty, pain.


Just a blast here from the chaos. Look at the photos I attach through worm holes and see what you see. It’s so much mystery.


View from classroom, Kibera

Africa: A Promise

November 18, 2011


In June of 2010 I was brought by Cross Cultural Thresholds on a trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, outside of Nairobi ┬áin Kenya. They organized a large group from our country to help build a dormitory for an orphanage in Kibera. The building we put up is metal siding on wood frames, but is more of a home than most of these kids have ever had. My role was to assist those travelling there in a group process during morning and evening sessions, as we gathered before and after entering the slum each day. I wrote extensively on my blog during this time, so won’t repeat here the backgrounds of CCT and of the orphanage, as those writings are still available.

I offered to Agnes Musau, the founder of the orphanage, that I could work with children during the days while everyone was there building. I was so sincere, and so naive. Nothing, nothing, nothing can prepare you for the kind of lives these children live. No water, electricity or plumbing is available in this mud and trash village where 1 million people live on a piece of land the size of Central Park in New York. Many of the children are abandoned because their parents are dead from AIDS, or are drug addicts, or just disappear. Many go for days without eating, some raise a brood of younger siblings by themselves – I am talking a 6 or 7 year olds raising their 2 and 3 year old siblings, with nothing to eat. Violence and sexual abuse are standard. Being face to face with this is beyond what our minds are prepared to absorb. The faces of these children still radiate hope, goodness, humor and interest in life even while the looks in their eyes tell their stories.

I came into the situation saying, “Let me work with the children.” I listened to them through a translator. What I saw and heard changed my life.

I worked with them in groups of 5 or 6 at a time. One little girl named Esther was particularly edgy during our session. She seemed, more than the others, to be having a difficult time. My instincts told me to invite her to sit on my lap while I talked to the others. She accepted, and was very stiff at first. But as the kids, the translator and I spoke she slowly melted into the embrace I was offering her. Sometime into it, she started weeping. When the session ended I sat with her on my lap, spoke with her and comforted her while she wept. This went on for some hours. They tried to take her out to the playground to play with the other kids, but eventually brought her back to ask if she could sit with me while I worked with the other kids because she couldn’t stop crying.

For the next couple of days this went on. This was a healing crisis for Esther. I think she had never felt anything quite like it before, and she just had to assimilate what it meant to her.

At the time of this trip I was in conversation with Carter Via about working with Cross Cultural Thresholds going forward, and I thought I would return. I told Esther I would be back.

Things shift and change quickly in lives of individuals and organizations. After I got home the likelihood of going back with CCT seemed to diminish as my work and theirs took course. After the next group went over to help at the orphanage I got a note from one of the staff there telling me that Esther had looked up at her and asked, “Why didn’t she come back?”

This has haunted me. I find notes to myself from middle-of-the night kinds of moments saying, “Go see Esther.” Foolish as it probably was for me to say it, I told her I would come back. She trusted me enough to melt the hardness of an exterior layer that had protected her up until then and to surrender into the experience. I can’t live with not going back. My family and I have sent financial help to support these kids, my sister even initiating an ongoing relationship between the school she has been teaching in for decades, the American International School in Vienna, Austria, and the orphanage in Kibera. I have inquired and received reports that Esther is thriving and doing well, that she seems much more confident and is growing up.

But I said I would go back. I can’t go to my grave having made a promise and not fulfill it.

I made airplane reservations today and will be leaving on January 1st. I plan to ask those who might give me Christmas gifts to help fund this trip instead. If you, or anyone you know, would be interested to support this journey, even in tiny donations, I will take your hearts with mine to Esther, the 240 kids in the orphanage, and the incredibly loving, small staff who give their entire lives to helping these children to survive and to know they are loved. Any donations can be sent to me, Tayria Ward, 1168 Max Patch Rd., Hot Springs, NC, 28743.

My heart is full as I make this commitment. It is mysterious to me, but I trust it.