I realize that my role right now is as a youth of this world; I am an American in a comfortable place in life with opportunity beaming from my fingertips. So far the sun has always shone through the window of my home and shelter, my stomach rarely growls with hunger pains and my throat is never so dry that my voice isn’t heard. In my possession are things that some people of the world will never get to hold or see. And, through all these blessings in life, I have been extremely fortunate to experience just the opposite in a place that is 5000 miles away and still under the same set of stars. A place where clean water is a luxury, food to eat is a limited resource and safety is a constant struggle. I am a youth of this world where my role as a global citizen is unfolding each day.
Describing an experience in a slum in words is like trying to write down what a life after death experience is like on paper. My first glimpse of the Kwari Slums in Rongai, Kenya twisted my stomach into a thousand knots. When I close my eyes tightly I still vividly see the surroundings of lined up aluminum shacks, dirty and bumpy trails winding between row after row of lean-tos, and even the not so pleasant aroma of sewage pooling in the roads. When I’m in my comfortable bed and mountain of blankets at night, I remember visiting Alice and her family of four in a small shack no bigger than my own room. Her daughters Lydia and Rosa are somewhere out in the world without protection from the constant attack of evil. And like so many other families I was blessed to visit in the Kwari Slums, they all fall asleep to the sound of growling stomachs and scratchy dry throats.
My most cherished moment from visiting this place, this most uncomfortable surrounding, was the moment when I learned the meaning of my life in a few short seconds and with one click.
I remember standing in the 6×8 foot “box” called a home. Alice invited us in warmly to show us the space in this slum, housing thousands of people, that she called her own-one that would be unacceptable in many places. Lydia, the oldest daughter, was fascinated with my pink digital camera. Each time I took a picture of her and showed it to the family, she’d giggle and point in excitement. I was overcome with sadness with the realization that this pink camera holding thousands of memories in JPEG images was worth more in material wealth then everything this family owned. However, through the noisy confusion going on in my heart, I was not going to leave this hut without making Lydia’s day a joyous success in the many hardships of her life.
Without hesitation I let her use this pink camera to capture any moment she desired. Most girls I know would take pictures of their outfits, of themselves and then erase the ones that didn’t do their beauty justice. But not Lydia. It was Christmas to her, perhaps a first. And in the dark stillness of the aluminum hut, Lydia snapped a picture of her mother and sister, a bright flash echoing through the room. It was in this moment that a connection was made inside me; from my head to my heart a bridge had started construction.
This moment was a discovery to the meaning of my life: to shine light into the dark places of the world that would otherwise never see it. It was this scene frozen in time of Lydia beaming in excitement that her smile and grin sent goose bumps and light into my life. And for me, I felt I had achieved my goal that day by giving her an experience of friendship that she could always remember. This interaction has left me changed and continues to send echoes of light into my life when the darkness tries to creep in. As I left Alice’s home that day, I remember turning face towards the street when a cold little hand slipped into my palm. With her little sister on her back, Lydia held my hand, and we walked. From two different worlds bound together by the language of love, we walked.
I’m guilty of being the “assumer.” I often assume things about people that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a bug that has tried to embed itself into my life. Poverty is a global crisis. It’s in large scales like a slum in Africa and in small ways like local food banks. Nonetheless, there’s one thing that the entire world lacks. No matter where I’ve traveled in the world, there’s one language that everyone speaks—the language of love.
I’m not worried about being politically correct here. While my time experiencing poverty in Kenya was short lived, it has engrained in me lessons that can’t be captured on a TV camera. What a beautiful faith the people I met have. It’s absolutely astounding! The people in the slums, the people on the streets and the people in the “bush” of Kenya have far less than I. Going there I already knew that a thousand times over. But the thing that gets me the most whenever I think about it is the less they have the more they rely on faith and faith alone. The more hurt they encounter the more they pray. And, the joys they get from the small things in life are all gifts in their own shape and form.. The solution to poverty is not a debate. It’s not something that takes a ton of deliberation and thought. It takes something very simple… influence.
“One life touches another and potentially both lives are changed. One life touches another and potentially the entire world is changed (from The Amazing Law of Influence).”
Poverty is but one face of the world. There are so many opportunities and experiences that await me in my life. There are thousands of places that can change a solid perception, and a million ways that my paradigm can be changed for the better before entering the so called “big world.” My experiences so far are a mere smudge on the windshield of life in my opinion. The goal is to become acquainted with the world. The way to do it- take advantage of opportunity. The time to start- now. After all, it’s physically impossible to trek the world with a walker.
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