Lucky you. Lucky me.
I met Lucky in my first week of 13 in Kenya. He was the kid in my scavenger hunt group wearing a shirt 3 times too big for his body with a Jamaican rapper plastered on the front. He was the kid who helped me find my keys when I lost them at the soccer field, and then proceeded to joke that he wasn’t going to give them back. He was the subject of countless photos in my first few days here.
I remember my dad telling me I could write a good story about a kid named Lucky. Though I certainly have not written nearly as much as I planned to this summer, I like to think that my photos can tell a good story on their own (with a few words here and there to elaborate).
Lucky is a young kid and his size shows it. It is hard for me to picture him living on the streets when he is still small enough to carry in my arms and young enough to not be embarrassed by holding my hand in public. He gets hurt easily and tends to express his emotions outwardly, sometimes through anger and sometimes through tears. When he does this I am reminded of his broken past and the hardships he has faced at such a young age.
The picture above, however, tells the other side of Lucky’s story. While the harder aspects of his life are ever-present, his childlike spirit shines brighter. His smile radiates love and joy and is always there to greet you when you see him. His sense of humor is that of a kid, meaning he loves to sneak up on you and play tricks and giggles nonstop when you mess with him back. He’s mischievous and loving and fun to be around. He’s the kind of kid that brings his Bible to church even though he can’t read yet, lovingly holds and takes care of a starving kitten, and jumps on a bus to give you a hug even though you’ve only been gone for a few days.
He’s the kind of kid that brings his Bible to church even though he can’t read yet.
For many of the kids here, the streets have robbed much of their childhood and it would be easy to think that this would dampen their spirits. I have been privileged enough to see the way this assumption is proven wrong every day at MITS. Lucky’s youth shines through in every moment of every day. I am moved and inspired when I think of the way coming to MITS has given Lucky a second chance at just being a kid, with all the wonder and ups and downs that that brings.
Lucky’s story is just like every other student’s here, too. They have all faced the world in a way no kid should ever have to, but they have come out on the other side. While they still have many challenges to face and a whole rollercoaster of a lifetime ahead of them, they have proven they are resilient in the face of hardships and have the strength to keep up hope and wonder when it seems like there should be no more. They are, simply put, incredible and I am lucky (wink wink) to have had the chance to learn from them and love on them all summer.
14 Things I’ve Learned Thus Far in Kenya *says ‘thus’ just to feel smart and proper
To say I’ve learned a lot from my time in Kenya would be quite an understatement. From the moment I arrived, it’s been full of learning- about myself, about these kids, about culture, and about, well, everything else in life. And not that I learn from and about these kids better than other people do, but I do think I get a unique perspective of learning that not everyone else does.
You see, my job here is to watch these kids closely, literally. As a photojournalist for MITS, it is my duty to keep my eyes glued to the kids waiting to capture that special moment. While other visitors teach classes, organize game days, etc., I am here, from a job perspective, primarily, to simply pay attention.
Now, I want to clarify something before I continue. Being a photojournalist is extremely different than being a photographer, and that’s honestly taken quite a process for me to learn. You see, as a photographer back in the States, all of my photos are about me creating. I frame a landscape the exact way I want to. I pose a model precisely as I’ve envisioned. And all of this is to create something in my mind that, in some ways, did not exist beforehand. It’s all about creating. Here, being a photojournalist, it’s totally different. My job isn’t to set up a beautiful landscape shot. My job isn’t to pose these kids in some sort of way. My job is to witness, to document, and to capture these kids in their everyday lives in the most natural and accurate way possible. And from that, I see what they see. I learn their habits. I understand their personalities better without even having to say a word.
So, because of that, here’s just a few things, some serious and some not so much, that I’ve learned along the way:
1.) Kenyans don’t mess around on birthdays. Kenyans have a tradition of “washing” you on your birthday. At first, this doesn’t sound so bad. Everyone loves a good shower right? Well, these kids will literally put mud and stones in water solely to throw all over you. Because of this, only in Kenya would it make sense to lock yourself in your room and have no contact with anyone on your birthday.
2.) Fist bumps are for EVERYONE. No seriously, it’s amazing. Toddlers, teens, adults, even the elderly! In Kenya, it’s completely normal for a 70 year old woman to walk into the room and give you a fist bump. America needs to catch on.
3.) When kids find a song they love, they will listen to that song, and that song only for the rest of eternity. This photo was taken while the kids were listening to Hotline Bling for the 7th time in a row.
4.) Always accept a free ride. Here, we walk just about everywhere. So, when your prayers are answered and a truck drives by, even if you have never met the person who is driving the truck, you hop on the back and enjoy the heck out of that joyride.
5.) These kids have dreams. Every kid I talk to, no matter what background he came from, has this amazing dream that they want to pursue. And when I say these kids have dreams, I mean big dreams. They were all once street kids who the rest of the world viewed as impossible cases. So, let’s just say that the word impossible doesn’t mean a whole lot to them.
6.) Every Kenyan is ripped. It’s hilarious, annoying, and extremely impressive. This kid pictured, who will go unnamed, constantly complains about how he’s gotten fat and has a belly now (and he’s being completely serious when he says that….)
7.) God has given superpowers to Kenyan hands. They’ll pick up a pan with their bare hands off the stove. I’ve seen an elderly woman pick up a hot coal off of a fire, hold it in her hands, and then look at me and just laugh. And I’m over here struggling to hold my coffee mug without getting burned…
8.) Swag is everything. Or, as they say here- looking “smart.” Constantly changing hairstyles, crazy glasses, and literally anything they can do to look swag, these kids will do.
9.) Everyone has a signature pose. When a kid asks for a picture, 9 times out of 10, they will do the exact same pose they always do. There’s beauty in being dedicated to your craft.
10.) Don’t be afraid to get your hands, or uniforms, dirty. These kids will draw on their uniforms, work in the farm in them, play basketball in them, and even dive into a field to crawl their way to tackle a sheep in them. True story.
11.) Don’t give out of wealth, but give out of compassion. These kids, even the ones still on the streets, share more than anyone I’ve ever met. Kids who may not have money to buy dinner will be the first one to split a snack 5 different ways if it’ll help feed their friends as well. They don’t wait until they have a lot to start sharing and giving. They do it whenever they get the chance, no matter how little or how much they have.
12.) All for one, one for all. Nothing is done alone. Everything is done together. Maybe it’s because they learned to survive on the streets by relying on each other, but these kids never leave each other. It’s very rare to see one hanging out by himself. They stay in their packs. Their friendships are tighter than almost anything. So, if I invite one kid to play basketball with me, ten will show up. Because you don’t break up the squad.
13.) Kenyans have the best smiles. Even these kids who currently live on the streets and almost never brush their teeth have the whitest smiles. Like, would you look at the grill on this kid? Dang. *currently fighting the urge to stop brushing my teeth for a month to see if it’ll make my teeth look like this*
14.) Entertainment can be found in anything. Rodgers here decided he’d break a pen to put all the blue ink in his mouth so he’d have a blue smile, just for kicks and giggles.
Take Me Photo
by Hillary Sturgeon
For years, photography has been an interest of mine. Though in this day and age everyone is capable of being a photographer with the newest iPhone, I still find solace through the comfort of my camera and the artistic expression in photography. It has been a personal joy and deeply personal for me as a way to connect with others and the world around me.
For this reason, I have struggled to understand how I might use my photography to help others. I knew how taking pictures at Made in the Streets would help the organization as a whole, but until I got here I was lost on how I could use this talent to specifically help the students at MITS.
I had to take a look at the way pictures have influenced my own life.
In order to figure out how pictures can improve the lives of these former street kids, I had to take a look at the way pictures have influenced my own life. I thought about the vast number of times I have grabbed the boxes of pictures at home and spent hours perusing the old photos, thinking about the stories, trips, and adventures that inspired the moments in them. I thought about how my photos of friends and family were the first things I put on my walls when I got to college. Pictures have helped me remember the moments throughout my life and have helped me connect with family and friends even when they have seemed far away.
Now my experiences with photos revolve around the students here at MITS. One of my distinct memories from my first trip to Kamulu was of how much the students loved to have their pictures taken. The girls tend to have a full photo shoot, complete with all of their friends and various poses, while the boys stare at the camera and attempt to look as cool as possible. They like to take my phone to look through ALL of my pictures, and they absolutely love when visitors send printed copies of photos from their trips.
Despite absolutely loving photography and pictures, however, I can’t help but become frustrated when the kids are constantly asking to look through my albums, or ask me to “take me photo” every time I have my camera out. It becomes hard to not draw attention and easy to become a distraction. When I become frustrated, I start to think of myself and about how much of an inconvenience it is for me. In times like this, I forget who I am here for.
In the end, I am in Kenya for every child here at MITS. I have come to realize that these kids love pictures for all the same reasons I do. Their lives have most likely never been documented before coming to MITS, and now they are taking every chance they can get to seal every good moment in time. I often forget that these are some of the first visual representations of their lives they have ever seen and it is exciting for them. Finally they are able to remember their stories in a way they were unable to in the past, and see the way their lives have changed for the better since they arrived at MITS.
Now when I think about the way photography can be used to support these kids, I think of their beautiful smiles on the other side of my lens and of their excitement when they show me the photos proudly displayed in their rooms. With this mindset, the most important part of my job becomes remembering to keep an eye out for the important moments in each student’s life and capturing them. All of a sudden, a personal joy of mine, something that seemed so private and intimate, is transformed into something I can share with these students to bring joy to their lives, and that is more than I could have ever asked for.
On Friday, December 11th, we were proud to hold a graduation ceremony for 8 skills students who completed their coursework in our Literacy Program and our Skills Program. We honor them today and pray for them as they go into the world. They are full of hope and we are full of hope for them.
In true MITS fashion, all the students, church members, families, aunties, and little ones joined in the celebration. To all our MITS family around the world who were unable to be with us in person, we felt your love and support in spirit and we pray a blessing over you until we meet again.
Class of 2015..... dismissed!
If you want to know what Full Life looks like, I advise you to come to Kenya…
Just kidding. I mean, we all know that full life can be found anywhere and isn’t dependent on circumstances or environment but what is within each of us. If the strength within us is from the big guy upstairs, we will understand and view the world with the perspective of this full life we always hear about.
The first person who truly explained to me what full life is, was my young life leader in High School. He shared with us a verse that changed all of my days from that moment on.
That verse was
The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full.
I shared this verse with some of the men on the streets in Eastleigh.
I became so aware of it and I took notice in those who were experiencing it on a day-to-day basis. You learn to have an eye for it. You can see it in a random stranger walking down the street, even. And you can tell when the gears are turning in the mind of a person figuring it all out until it finally just clicks.
Full life is everywhere. The difference with full life here in Kenya, is that it is more evident in my eyes because the transformations go from a way of life that is foreign to me, to a way of life that is so familiar because it looks like God. The people at MITS are to blame for this radical transformation. They know where it comes from and how to share it…
The students here in Kamulu are reaping the benefits of this unconditional love they are experiencing. I see confidence in each and every one of them. I see love and I see selflessness. I find myself in awe of them constantly. They blow me away with the way they treat each other and the way they treat me. When it rains, they help wash each other’s and the teachers’ gumboots. Even if that means getting down on their hands and knees in the mud to really make sure they get the boots clean. They treat each other to lollipops and share their birthday cake. They listen without interruption and they love each other even more after bickering. They share a pair of sandals when playing football on the courts so that their kicking feet are covered. They treat me like I am one of their own and they show me such love—love I haven’t really ever experienced before like this. All of these traits may seem small but they come from hearts that are big and overflowing, allowing them to pour out even more. I love to watch the older students spending time with the younger ones and showing them a Godly way to live. I will see a boy about to graduate reading the word and then later that day see a boy, who just joined MITS this year and cant even read English yet, picking up a bible in attempts to read it. This isn’t coincidence—these boys are working off of each other and learning from each other for God.
When I go to Eastleigh and I see the street kids at boy’s program or at the bases, I am constantly shocked and taken aback because I find it almost impossible to envision our students ever in this situation. I can’t picture their eyes glazed over from the glue and I cant picture them stealing from each other. I can’t picture their faces torn and worn and dull because all I see now is their faces glowing with light from within. I don’t know how they are able to love me and teach me so much with so much grace when I look at where they come from. It seems like an impossible transformation. But then again, I guess God’s work is usually unexplainably mysterious in how it works.
Today's guest post comes from Annie Sencindiver, MITS intern fall/winter 2015.
An Update from Charles
Those of you who follow Made in the Streets on Facebook or elsewhere already know about the destruction of the shops we built along the highway. These shops were on city land, and we have a written agreement with the City Council for use of the highway access area. But... As with many things, it only takes a bribe to have a city council employee come with thugs to destroy.
So... There is evil in the world. But that does not stop the work - ministry to street kids goes on, and we adjust to the new reality. We can rebuild the shops along the access road on land that belongs to us - the Team will decide about that soon. If you want to help us with this rebuilding, let us know - firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also good in the world - an excess of good that comes down from the Father of Lights, who redeems and makes holy and keeps on loving. This picture shows Charles and Francis Mbuvi with Dereje Aleme and some young men in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Made in the Streets will "export" our style of street ministry.
In our fundraising campaign to fund both the ministry in Ethiopia and the building of a Christian Camp near Nairobi, we are seeking "the 99." You know who they are - the 99 are at home with Jesus, they are safe, they have a job and a house and a car, their retirement funds are growing, they are comfortable in their faith. But...the 99 know where Jesus is - He is out there looking for THE ONE, the homeless and helpless and unredeemed one. And the 99 want to be out there with Jesus, standing at the giving edge of human need. We are looking for "99" who have been blessed by God and will give $10,000 each in 2015 and 2016 to further the development of street ministry.
So...if you have been blessed, you are welcome to take part. Send to Made in the Streets, 409 Franklin Road, Brentwood, TN 37027. Write us for more info - email@example.com
A Day in the Life
It's been brought to my attention by the people who know me best that they know nothing about my daily life at Made in the Streets in Kamulu. I can't really say that's an accident-- describing experiences while they're happening has always been difficult for me. It's also especially hard to sum up the people here in just a few descriptors, so everyone from home has been getting the, "It's been great, the kids are incredible, and you should probably just come visit yourself!"
I know, I should really work on that. But for now, I'm going to attempt to sum up what a typical day here might be like!
7:45 AM: Roll out of bed. Please envision below a sunrise picture that I have never taken because I have yet to wake up to watch the sunrise.
Say good morning to the littlest neighbors who shout from a distance in their littlest voices, "HOW ARE YOU!!!" Little people, big love. It's about a 5-10 minute walk from where I live at the Intern House, so that gives you an idea for how great I look in the morning.
8 AM: Morning chapel. Well, more realistically, 8:07 for me because we're working on Kenyan time!
8:30 AM: Staff meeting. Discussions to help me feel like a grown up with responsibilities.
9 AM: Breakfast by ELIZA!!!! She cooks for us and is just about the best. Breakfast usually consists of chai (so much chai on the daily) and mandazi, which is kind of like donuts, so I'm a happy cookie. We're actually also supposed to eat at 7 AM, but, you know, sleep.
9:30 AM - 1 PM: Working in either the Learning Centre if the wifi is working or hanging out with the older kids in the Skills Centre. Take pictures of them while they monkey around between class. Did I mention there's a monkey in Kamulu? Well, I think I found it.
1 PM: Lunch. The Culinary kids often cook at the Skills Centre, but I'm usually closer to the Learning Centre so I'll either eat at M House with other American visitors or at the Learning Centre. Chapati is my favorite. I've also developed a slight Coke addiction while here. The soda. Either way, I can always count on Moses to save me "leftovers" from Skills. I've been informed by Maina that those "leftovers" are actually the best of the best, so I feel pretty special.
If there's any more computer work to be done, I finish that before the Learning Centre closes. Otherwise, I'm free to take photos and play! It isn't the worst that those are some major job responsibilities.
5:15 PM: Evening Chai with the kids. Obviously not going to miss out on that.
5:30 PM: I usually head over to the boy's compound or the soccer field to take pictures of the kids playing and semi-participate (with my eyes). Watch Jacob further endanger his crippled self. On the way, without fail, these two boys will run up greeting me (often rolling wheels) screaming, "TAKE A PICTURE!!!!." I oblige. Every time. And sometimes we walk to the shops to get 40 cent movies! Oh, Kenya.
6:30- 7 PM: Watch the sunset. Soak it all in.
This is also about the time I usually give Moses "lessons" in using my camera. If we're being honest, that usually means handing it over and making him figure it out. I'll have to do another post on all these people I keep mentioning too, and why they're the best people to have here.
7 PM: Dinner! Followed by some combination of movies, telling stories, reading, hanging out with Nancy (honorary mother) and Victor (honorary little brother), getting bitten by bugs, Instagramming, making the kids/interns hang out with my because my house is eerily quiet at night, and BED so early. And of course, catching the last of the light.
Every day is DIFFERENT and I hope I can relate the highlights as the days go on. But there you have it! A day in the life, sweet, abundant life.
Just like one of the kids said, "My prayer is to come out of Kamulu better than I came in." This is still just the beginning.
To follow more of Safeena's adventures in Kamulu, visit www.safeenapadder.com.
Pressed, But Not Crushed
On Tuesday, June 16, at midnight, some of the MITS property was bulldozed by an unknown group. Founder Charles Coulston posted this to the MITS Facebook page at 1:45 p.m. the next day:
"We ask you to tell God you love MITS and ask for His blessing of courage and perseverance. Some thugs - saying they represent the City Council of Nairobi - or some corrupt City Council members came at midnight with a bulldozer and pushed down the shops belonging to MITS. This is where we let skill students get experience with the public. We also have guards living there. The team has salvaged some of the equipment and furniture, but much was destroyed. There is evil in the world. But we are reading Nehemiah and remembering that it is about people, not property. If you want to help us recover in any way, please write me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks..."
As I read Charles' words, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 came to mind.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
We know as Christians we will face adversity. It's a guarantee. But we find peace in knowing that though we may be hard pressed, we will never be crushed with God watching over us. As we face opposition in this world, let us continue to illuminate Christ's light through the way we live.
Lord, let this experience strengthen our faith in You so we may be a living testament to your faithfulness and never-ending grace. Help us as we pick up the pieces, literally, and as we look toward Your plans for us for the future.
To learn more about how you can help in recovery efforts, email email@example.com.
When you do this for 27 years, you're bound to pick up a few stories and lessons along the way. Thoughts, impressions, news, and highlights from our staff, visitors, donors, students and alumni.