As we drive up the hill, gears grinding, toward Hekima Place, I am struck by the beauty of the Ngong Hills that surround us. As we enter the gates of the orphanage, an entirely different beauty strikes me: the grounds of Hekima and the joy on the faces of the children who run toward us.
Hekima means “wisdom” in Swahili, but I think to myself that in this case it might also mean happiness. Nestled in the hills above the Rift Valley, the orphanage is a place of beauty and peace. It is a place that Hekima’s founder, Kate Fletcher, created not just to give HIV/AIDS orphans (girls only) a home, but also to give them a childhood. Here girls of all ages, who are total orphans many with only distant relatives who cannot afford or do not want to care for them — some are also victims of sexual abuse — find a safe haven. Hekima Place is truly their real home. In each of the houses (green, blue, red and yellow), girls become sisters to one another and their caregivers are “mums.” There are even two dogs in residence.
When we arrived, we were led to a guesthouse by a group of children all vying to help carry luggage and curious about us. I went and sat outside with them, and immediately was asked to help paint Blessing’s fingernails (the nail polish a gift from a sponsor)! There were toys scattered around the lawn and even a seesaw and a swing set. Here is a place where there are toys and real playtime, a chance for children to explore and learn and just be kids.
The children who live here are babies and primary school students. Secondary school students live at boarding school, but return to Hekima during break. Getting ready to go to dinner, I’m hopeful that the three girls we are funding have been able to get back to Hekima after their end-of-term exams.
We went to dinner in the dining hall and Sadé, my mom and I each moved to a different “house” table so we could meet and talk to more girls. We saw several girls seated at a “head table” and learned that Kate instituted an important tradition — birthday celebrations – for every child. Many children arrive here with no knowledge of their real birthday, but they can choose a date, and their birthdays are celebrated with cake (later shared with those in their house), verbal tributes and kind wishes and several small gifts. We were lucky enough that our first dinner was a birthday night. Even more amazing, it was Nancy’s birthday, one of the students we came to see! Seated with her were Ann and Dorothy, our other two students!!
I loved the tribute part of the celebration as different girls from each house stood and shared a story or recognized a wonderful trait the birthday girl possesses. It is a genuine validation of their important place within the Hekima community.
Later that night, we returned to the dining hall to speak to the secondary school girls who, over the next two days, would be heading back to school. Before several were scheduled to leave the following morning, I wanted a chance to meet all of them and share the story of Reverse The Course and our wonderful supporters who believe in their future.
*Read the next blog for more about my Hekima visit!