Bears and Bubbles
by Sharon Moffitt
As I have indicated before, trying to stop AIDs from running amuck in Africa is pretty much like trying to kill a grizzly bear with a butter knife. Many people long to do something, but give up when laying hold of a solution feels like trying to collect bubbles. Bears and bubbles. The whole thing seems either too big and smelly or too fragile and featherweight. Such images would come to me virtually every day while I was in Kenya, including the morning I visited Meru Boys’ School and discovered that God was putting one child into my line of vision at a time. The first was Eric Gitonga.
Eric was our first official “Cherish” charge. I met him in September, 2003, when I visited Meru Boys School with Josephine Mburugu, and was so moved by the story of his tenacity and perserverance in getting an education that I used part of the money given to me by well-wishers in the U.S. to pay his school fees so he could finish high school without further fears of being sent home for lack of tuition. Subsequently, my husband and I continued to sponsor Eric, who is now in his second year at Moi University after having graduated second in his class at Meru School. Recently, he wrote the following narrative about his experience:
We are all born to be free and to enjoy the best of life--go to school, enjoy good meals at home, enjoy the warmth of love especially from parents in our young age when we desperately need advice and direction. Born to be comfortable in all aspects of life-- born to have dreams and the hope of accomplishing those dreams. However, life has its inequalities that led me to ask a few questions.
I don’t like imagining life to be cruel, but what happens when you come into the world and no one wants you? What happens when you have dreams that you have no hope of accomplishing because the future looks bleak to your eyes? Exactly what happens to individuals who cannot get the opportunity to go to the best schools simply because they have no means? Worse still, what do you think happens to people whose parents reject them at the onset of their lives? Are they meant to be tellers of other peoples' success stories-- or are they expected to create their own stories? But how?
Well, I am one of these people, born when my mother was in her teens and out of wedlock of course. As you would expect, my dad disowned me at the onset of my life. I have never known him to date, but am told he is dead now. I have been with one guardian after another, some of whom have never been people to me anyway. The year was 1998 when my widowed aunt took me in to be with her children. Still in my primary level of education, I had no hope. However, despite the poverty and hardships, Auntie used to urge us on. It could not have been a more challenging phase of our lives. Hers was a life of shear determination and hard work. This challenged me a great deal, and I declared to myself that nothing was going to stop me in the road to success. However, my options were limited by my talents. I could not go to sports or music where I could make quick money. The most readily available option was in books where I have always done well.
Having identified my line, I went down to work. Two years later, I was through with my primary education. I took the national exam (KCPE) Kenya Certificate of Primary Education where I did well, and qualified to be admitted to a good high school. For a moment, though, I thought I was going nowhere with my marks. Auntie, at the time, was earning a meagre Ksh.6000 in a month[roughly $86.00]. This money was supposed to pay the rent, buy foodstuffs and pay other bills. To make matters worse, my cousin and I had [both] qualified for high school. This really made things tough for the small family that had no place to go in the rural areas because Auntie's in-laws wanted nothing to do with the small family whose head had passed away in 1995.
To raise the fees required for the high school entrance, I took to the streets of Meru to beg for my education. Auntie had reached her end. I visited a few institutions including churches, that I thought could help, but to no avail. A week to the reporting date, I found myself knocking on the gate of my area’s Member of Parliament--this time, very desperate. On hearing my story and asking to talk to my aunt, he agreed to pay my entrance fee. I had seen the Lord that far.
Late the same year, 2001, the same MP organised a fundraising activity to assist towards our education. The fundraising managed Ksh.33000 [approximately $142.00]. Remember, I was not alone in high school, hence this amount had to be divided into two.
During my 2nd year of study, I realized that I wasn’t going far with this money. So, I approached a local ACK [Anglican Church of Kenya] pastor in charge of education affairs for the orphans in the church ,but he could not give me the cash I needed to go to school. He did, however, offer to talk to the principal of my school who allowed me continue with my studies.
By the time I was in my 3rd year, 2nd term, my fees in arrears had escalated to Ksh.25000 [$360.00]. At this time, I was just a year away from completing my high school and I needed at least Ksh.47000 [$670.00] for fees alone to go through smoothlly. Two weeks after we had reported for the 3rd term (2003)the principal thought I was becoming too much, and decided to send me away from school because of the huge amount that I owed the institution in fees arrears.
I had been home for four days including a weekend when a classmate of mine came to get me from home. The message was, "the principal is calling you back to school and he is with a white lady." I was confused at the time because I knew no white people and in the back of my mind, I knew there was no escape this time. There was no way I could raise the 47000 that was needed if I were to complete that level of education.
I was introduced to Sharon Moffitt in the principal's office, and a receipt bearing my name, admission number and a figure of 47500kes was handed to me. She had cleared my debt and had already paid the money I needed to finish my high school education. I just couldn’t believe it. Out of this, my hope and strength were renewed. I got back to class and proceeded to get an A in the 2004 national exams for high school (KCSE). Today, I am an engineering student at Moi University(kenya) pursuing a degree in Electrical and Communicatipns Engineering. I am three months from completing my 1st year of study.
Through the HOPE ministry, I received not only hope and opportunity to achieve, but also a family in the US. Sharon Moffitt and Dr. Moffitt have given me a sense of belonging, such that I can now say the golden words “Mom and Dad,” not because they gave birth to me, but because they cared enough to reach out to make me feel loved, apprreciated and cared for. Through them, Auntie and my cousins have found a better life, and the once-defeated small family of four is now upbeat about the future. The HOPE ministry did not stop with me. It is currently giving hope to over hundred other desperate children in the Meru community.