13 Oct St Dorcas Educational Centre
“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”
This is a Thomas Paine quote that has deep and profound meaning and fits well in this context of poverty, illness, orphans and striving to provide education and nourishment in the midst of all hardships.
A slum area of Kawangware is where Mr. and Mrs. Joseph has brought together 150 poor kids and established St Dorcas Educational Centre and Orphanage. Their rented small house has been single-handedly expanded with more rooms by the couple to accommodate the poor kids. Today, their tiny family home has become an orphanage home. Fifty of the kids are orphans and the other 100 have been beneficiaries of free education organized by the poor couple.
A single small room accommodates 35 girls and another even tinier room has 19 boys. Everything from clothing, medication, food to sleeping mattresses is inadequate. It always seems like nothing is ever going to be enough. Some of the kids are not healthy and keeping them nourished with good food and adequate medication is a real challenge. The plight of little ones struggling with terminal diseases is heart-wrenching. Finding volunteered teachers is difficult as the couple cannot afford to pay them.
Mrs. Joseph Atunga gave us a tour of the facility which is lacking in every aspect except tidiness. It was something that impressed us a lot. A room with bunk beds that housed 19 boys was clean and tidy and reflected the discipline that St Dorcas imprinted in the children. Every single dormitory we saw was neat and tidy. It is truly inspirational to see these people making the best out of whatever little they have.
When we appreciated her for the noble work that she was doing her humble answer was that everyone who contributed and came together to help in any way they can has enabled the establishment of St. Dorcas. She said the education centre and orphanage are like huge trees and the community and benefactors have acted like the roots and stems and branches and the fruits they have are the results of everyone’s contribution and hard work. Such humility is not very common in the world we live in and our respect for her increased when we heard her talk with such selflessness. This is a woman who accepted 150 poor children in many different health conditions into her already poor life. Despite all the hardships she is guiding them mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually in the best way possible.
She said they have 176 students daily attending St. Dorcas Education Centre. The school is mainly made up of aluminum sheets and lack proper furniture. However, the walls are filled with artwork done by the children, Maps, and charts. It hurt to see that these kids were learning about the food pyramid and Vitamins in each food while still in a state of starvation. She said that there was a time when the classes were held outside and they did not have the dormitories built. The contributions of many people eventually led to the building of the existing structures in 2014 and 2016. Despite all the hardships she never gave up being the guiding light of these kids.
Mwangi had led us to them, he is a regular visitor to the orphanage and helps them out whenever he can. He shared a particular ordeal they went through during a heavy rainy season. They use Pit latrines which are also called long drops. If not effectively managed, it can affect the quality of groundwater. But, this particular incident was beyond just an inconvenience.
He remembered getting a frantic call from Mrs. Joseph on a morning where she said that their pit toilets have sunk in the heavy rain and there are 150 kids who want to use the toilets. With the help of a friend and couple others he was able to arrange 10,000 Kenya shillings and get laborers to dig another pit toilet.It was a day none of them would ever forget.
We met the children and saw all the classrooms and the empty laboratory. They have classes from Kindergarten to Secondary School. Some of the kids were shy and some were very vivacious and bright. The kids are very well trained and have hopes in their eyes. A class where the kids were learning phonetics, the trickster boy in his grey shirt made mischievious faces at all of us. The desks and benches were made out of unpolished wood and are not at all comfortable. The kids had wornout backpacks and some of them were chewing on their pencils. The boys in the science class were excited to get their pictures clicked and gave us a thumbs up. They are well versed in reading and writing. They looked grateful for the opportunity to learn.
I noticed one of the kids seemed to have an eye defect and when I raised the question to Mrs. Joseph she excused me outside to tell me all about him and seven other kids. He is HIV positive just like the seven other kids in St Dorcas. She did not want to say it aloud as she wanted the other kids to treat him as their equal. As there are inadequate food and medicine he cannot be given any special treatments and a special diet. Though their hands are tied they are still doing their best.
She showed us the well from where they get water for their day to day use. They carry heavy buckets of water back and forth for all their uses. This ordeal continues whether its a day of blistering heat or torrential rain. Their kitchen has traditional stoves that require wood burning and the supplies are never enough for everyone.
All in all St Dorcas is made up of aluminum sheets and roofs with rusted windows and nails sticking out of wooden frames and houses hungry children and few kids with diseases and classrooms filled with hope for a better tomorrow. St Dorcas has a mother who is constantly doing her best for more than 176 kids in the middle of poverty.
“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
― Nelson Mandela