As we begin the new year of 2014 we are excited to share with our supporters a great improvement for our ministry in Kibera. The new year brings a brand new facility to our school compound. We have just finished construction of a dining hall and commons building. This brick structure is without question the finest school building in all of Kibera and perhaps the single nicest structure in the entire slum. The building is stone inside and out and houses a new kitchen, with a large secure pantry and pass through serving facility, as well as a seating capacity of almost 200. This will allow the entire student body to be fed in 2 convenient, efficient shifts. We have been able to feed the children of our school for the part 5 years due to our faithful sponsors however the children have always had to eat standing in the compound with their bowls in their hands. The new hall will allow the students to enjoy a more civilized atmosphere that will continue to help us promote excellence in all phases of the New Hope Kibera Primary School.
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One of the inherent dangers of exclusively working in poverty-stricken areas with materially challenged people is we can sometimes only measure success by the standard of how far we have come, instead of overall excellence. It is easy to allow progress to be the final goal and as long as we are moving forward we can become complacent about the level of progress and the future rate of growth in a particular community. That is the place where New Hope Initiative finds itself now in one of our largest projects, the Kibera New Hope Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya. The progress in this institution has been amazing. We replaced most of the dilapidated buildings, the student population has grown dramatically, we instituted a daily feeding program, the staff has been enlarged, and we have seen a 400% increase in the number of our students who annually pass the secondary school entrance exam. The blessings in Kibera are astounding and we are continually thankful for what we have achieved together with our passionate partners.
However, the future in Kibera is not without its challenges. Will we settle merely for dramatic progress? Or are we going to continue to strive for even greater excellence? You can easily excuse complacency by saying, "it is a slum school and we can only do so much," but we are convicted and convinced that our ultimate goal must be more than progress and nothing short of excellence. We are in the process of evaluating our educational ministry in Kibera. We should have no less expectations for Kibera, because it is a slum school, than we would for any other educational institution in the world.
The past successes have been amazing, but we cannot grow complacent. There is still plenty of room for progress at Kibera New Hope Primary School. The classrooms are too crowded, staff/student ratios are too large, the new facilities deteriorate too rapidly, and 40% of our students per year do not pass the critical secondary school entrance exam.
Our goal is not progress only. We are driven for the sake of the children of Kibera to see New Hope Primary School become a model school. We ask that you would pray with us, and offer any advice or expertise that you might have in this coming challenge. Change is never easy. We desire to change the cultural mindset of an entire community and we are absolutely convinced that we can and will achieve the goals we have set. We will not settle for the subtle trap of being satisfied with progress. We are committed to strive for nothing less than absolute excellence.
We attempt to be well organized in our work with New Hope Initiative. We make plans, develop strategy, and implement programs that are all designed to further our mission. However, often our greatest blessings come from the unexpected and unplanned "projects" that God puts in our path. Such is the story of Baby Bren. These past 30 months have not been without challenges, baby Bren has a number of developmental issues, almost certainly linked to the circumstances of her conception and birth. But thankfully at every phase she has been able to overcome every obstacle in her path. Bren has become a favorite of our NHI staff and a favorite among many of our teams and volunteers over the years. Today Bren is a thriving, active little girl with a loving personality and a heart-melting smile. At NHI we are thankful for all the strategic projects we are involved in, yet we are equally thankful for the unplanned projects that God places in our path. It is a good reminder for all of us in life and ministry to not become so focused on our strategy that we miss the individual opportunities to love others, like Baby Bren.Thirty months ago, like a modern day Moses, Bren was left in a basket on the steps of our New Hope Kibera Center in Nairobi, Kenya. There was no indication of her age, background, or family. Although our ministry in Kibera is focused on children and youth, we had no immediate program to care for a new born. As we struggled to find an answer to this unexpected need, one of the ladies in our work, aptly named Grace, willingly, immediately, and sacrificially, volunteered to take Bren in. While New Hope Initiative is providing monetary and emotional support for Grace, the degree of sacrifice on her part has been immense. Grace is older with grown children and lives a subsistence-level life in one of the world’s most infamous slums. Yet she has lovingly and consistently poured herself into the life of Baby Bren.
This month we are focusing on the individual people involved in the ministries that New Hope Initiative supports. We often report on our work in the Nairobi area slum called Kibera. There are so many areas of progress we could report on, but we want to focus on a great blessing in the life of one of our New Hope Primary Students.
In Kenya, as in any culture, adolescent girls face the pressure of conforming to standards of beauty and physical appearance. Helen Blank is no different from most of the girls her age. Two years ago, Helen (12) attempted to pierce her own ears. However, it did not go as planned and she developed a tumor on her earlobe. This tumor grew rapidly until it was the size of a golf ball. At an age when young ladies are often very shy and self-conscious, this was a very difficult burden for Helen to bear. She is a beautiful young lady, with an infectious smile, but Helen began to cover her ear at all times and almost never allowed people to see that side of her face. While a curable problem, the cost of the outpatient procedure required was too costly for her family.
In the midst of these trying circumstances, many of our team members have taken a great interest in Helen over the last two years and have loved her throughout the challenge. We are so happy to report that in September, through the new medical clinic program in Kibera, we took Helen to an outpatient clinic and the doctors removed the tumor. You can see the dramatic difference in the before and after photos. We are so excited for this blessing in Helen's life and we are thankful for our New Hope Initiative team that helped make it happen.
For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the relative prosperity of the developed world we are generally accustomed to having things go well for us in life. We have a minimum set of expectations that include having comfortable shelter, adequate clothing, and enough food to satisfy our desires. In fact our expectations have steadily risen beyond the basic necessities of life to include the expectation that we can and will enjoy many of the prosperous extras of our culture. We have a strong entitlement attitude that is a part of our emotional makeup. Our expectations have risen to the point that when occasionally things do not go our way it is very easy for us to quickly become critical and negative. I am afraid we have developed, far to frequently, into a generation of whiners. However, for the people that New Hope Initiative ministers to, those living in the developing world, their expectations are often a great deal more basic than ours. They expect life to be hard. They are never shocked when difficult times arise. They intensely enjoy times of blessings, but they have no expectation that these good times will continue. I witnessed a great illustration of this attitude when we came across a young man in Kibera this summer who only had one shoe. Looking from the cultural perspective of a 21st century American we immediately formed an opinion of the situation and asked him how he had lost his other shoe. I will never forget the straightforward, yet incredibly insightful answer of this young man. "I didn't lose a shoe...I found one."
We should all learn a lesson from the simple wisdom of this young man. Life is sweeter, life is more intensely enjoyed, life is considerably more blessed when we set aside our expectations, when we shelve the entitlement philosophy of our generation and begin to be appreciative of every joy, every blessing, and every found shoe in life. This week why don't you try to focus on the things you have found, instead of the things you have lost! A shoe found is a lot more enjoyable than a shoe that has been lost.
By Sandy Baird - Director of New Hope Initiative