When Daniel Odongo was born 25 years ago in Musango, Mumias West Kakamega County, his father wanted nothing to do with him.
He abandoned him, leaving a blind Odongo with nothing much but an indomitable dream. As he grew up, young Odongo could not see, but somehow harboured dreams of becoming a pilot.
Today, Odongo is a pilot student at Skylink Flying School, flying across the country; Mombasa, Eldoret, Maasai Mara and Amboseli National Park.
Although he refers to himself as the ‘Blind Captain,’ Odongo can now see after his eyesight was restored three years ago, through surgery.
“Flying was my dream despite disability challenges,” says Odongo, when we find him in the company of mentally challenged students at St Maurus Special School in Mathare Area Three.
He adds: “These are my brothers and sisters. It was while here that I got sponsors who paid for my secondary and university education.”
Odongo came to the slum-based special school after a sojourn with a nun.
“Two years after my mother and I started to live with my grandmother, my father and siblings demanded that my mum returns home, alone. She went back, leaving me with my grandmother,” he says.
Unfortunately, Odongo’s grandmother died soon after and he was forced to join St Peters Mumias Convent, in 1989.
Odongo’s mother, Emelda Nyarotso, says there were differences with her husband over their son’s condition, forcing her to flee with the baby. Later on, she left the child with its grandmother.
When my mother died, the child had nowhere to go. A sister from Mumias took him to school. I monitored him secretly,” she says.
The nun admitted him to Kibos Primary School for the Blind in Kisumu, where he sat his Class Eight exams in 2006.
An aunt promptly introduced him to St Maurus Special School and later, Thika School for the Blind; he left in 2010 after sitting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams and scoring a B-.
Damaris Sombe, head teacher at St Maurus Special School, lauds him: “He is one of the success stories this institution has produced.”
Thika School for the Blind Deputy Principal Anne Mwanthi is excited that Odongo, who entirely depended on the Braille to study, is learning to be a pilot.
“Despite his condition, he was a bright student and could have become anything he wanted in life. I am not surprised that he is now flying.”
But what surprised Ms Mwanthi is learning that her student’s eyesight was restored. “It is a rare occurrence. I have taught in this school since early 90s, and such cases are rare. The first was with a girl called Abigael in the year 2000.”
While at the special school, the Indiana Foundation sponsored his admission to Kenyatta University, where he pursued a degree in special needs education.
During the second semester of November 2013, Odongo was diagnosed with cerebral malaria and taken to Kikuyu Hospital.
After four days, he was discharged but as he prepared to head to campus, a doctor asked to examine his eyes.
Odongo was booked for a left eye operation, which was replaced with artificial lens.
“I could only see a bright light but could not identify objects,” he says.
Soon after, the right eye was also operated on, and after undergoing medication for three months, l fully recovered my eyesight. I cried tears of joy, it was a miracle,” he says.
Having been used to learning using the Braille and Braille machine from primary, secondary and part of his university education, the now seeing Odongo found alphabetical letters strange.
“Adapting to my new environment was tricky. I could not write words because l did not understand them,” he says.
Odongo took about two years to muster the alphabet as well as read and write.
Often, he would resort to Sign Language, Tactile or Telephony to understand better. Odongo confesses that though he continued to nurse the dream to become a pilot, he did not know where to start from. Then fate checked in and an opportunity presented itself in January last year when he boarded a plane to Mombasa.
“After landing, l remained in the plane as other passengers disembarked. A hostess came over to ask if l needed help. I told him l wanted to meet the captain.” The hostess looked at him in disapproval, but a determined Odongo insisted on seeing the captain.
He was shortly introduced to Jamal, who worked with Jambo Jet. “He was nice to me and advised me to enroll for a flying course.”
Back in Nairobi, Odongo inquired what he needed to study at Skylink Flying School located at Wilson Airport. He found out that he needed about Sh4 million to acquire a commercial pilot licence.
He says: “I pleaded with them to admit me with the Sh12,000 I had, and promised to pay the rest while studying.”
Now in his second year of study, Odongo has only paid Sh170,000, and is looking for well-wishers to support him achieve his long-held dream.
Even as he inches slowly to actualising his dream, Odongo’s father has since asked for forgiveness. His mother says: “My husband is a Christian and realised later it was not Odongo’s wish to be born that way. He apologised to Odongo and they are now good friends.”
Though he has forgiven his father, Odongo is yet to reconcile with his siblings. “Since distancing from me at birth, none of them seems interested in me,” he says.
DEAR WELL WISHERS
We hope and pray that this finds you well. As the Raha family we would like to thank you for your continuous support and love towards the children at Raha. Indeed you have been part of The Body of Christ by committing to serve these little ones. Our prayer is that we will seek to identify with their struggles in this life, as we are guided by God’s love in protecting, educating, caring for and transforming their lives. By so doing we will all have touched lives and helped in shaping future servants.
It is in the same spirit that we have worked to see that the needs of Raha children are met and basic needs availed every single day despite the limited resources available. We have witnessed many incidences of God’s provision where we have reached a rock-bottom only for us to remain with smiles and tears on our faces as we marvel at His blessings of love and care upon His children. In this regard it’s therefore our pleasure to offer you an opportunity of being one of us as we all witness lives being transformed.
We have thought of an idea that we would love to make you part of this beautiful journey of helping the boys transform their lives and become products of God’s doings and them becoming of great help in their families.
This model is based on networking and joining hands as we work towards positively impacting the lives of our future generation. You can therefore become “Friends of Raha” by working with us in the following ways:
1.Form groups in different countries called the FRIENDS OF RAHA. Each group will have a leader for organizational and communication purposes. These groups will adopt a “tell a friend to tell a friend’ approach as they share about Raha Kids with other people in their circles. They can discuss ways in which they can support Raha in prayers, donations of whatever kind and fundraising activities/events.
2.Facilitate volunteering opportunities for friends of Raha. This will offer the volunteers a first-hand experience of what it means to work and spend time with the needy and vulnerable children that we work with. The volunteers will then share their experiences with everybody in their groups. The group leaders will organize and plan with the Raha administration the volunteers’ schedule. This will also be an opportunity to send whatever donation the group may have or individuals from the group through the volunteer(s)
3.Develop group chats platforms; one for the group leaders and another one for all friends of Raha to always share their experiences and ideas.
4.To make it easy for all friends to support Raha in different capacities from wherever they are without necessarily having to travel. We understand that many of the friends have tight schedules and sometimes are not able to leave work and other commitments. We are therefore more than willing to set up skype sessions for those who would like to speak to the kids and offer a word of hope and even pray with them.
We hope and pray that together we can impact the lives of the many children that are needy and vulnerable as a way of extending the blessings that God has freely and graciously bestowed on us.
And when they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Receiving Children in Jesus’ Name—Receiving God
Now comes the second thing Jesus said (v. 37), and it is utterly unexpected. We might have expected him to pick up on his point in verse 35 and apply it to children. Something like: “Now here’s a child. The person in our society that men don’t serve. The person men don’t take the time for. The person you don’t think is worth your time. Well I am showing you that children are worth your time. They are significant. When you receive one of them and serve one of them, you are serving a person just as valuable as the emperor of Rome.”
But that is not what Jesus says. Jesus turns the whole discussion away from the value of the child to the value of God. This is what is so different about Jesus and about the Bible—even from many of our Christian child-advocates writing today. Jesus says: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Two Utterly Crucial Elements to Caring for Children
Two things are utterly crucial in caring for children. One: is it done in Jesus’ name? “Whoever receives one such child in my name . . . ” Ministering to children in any way but in the name of Jesus, does not fulfill the will of Jesus. And the second crucial thing in caring for children is that we do it with a longing to experience more of Jesus and more of the One who sent him, God the Father. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Why does he say this? Why does he bring everything to a focus on God and the value of receiving more of God? Do you ever want to say to Jesus, “Lighten up! Does everything always have to be theological?” The answer is yes, it does. For Jesus everything has to do with God, or it is fundamentally distorted.
How to Serve Children Best and Why
And if someone asks, What about the children? Aren’t you supposed to serve the children because of the children? Surely the answer of Jesus here is this: you serve a child best when you receive a child and care for a child and spend time with a child and hold a child NOT in the name of the child, or in the name of mankind or in the name of mercy or in the name of America’s future, but in the name of Jesus, the Son of the living God. And you serve children best when you receive a child not merely because your joy is first in the child, but first and finally in God.
Why is this the best way to serve? Because the most important blessing you can give to a child is the all-satisfying centrality of God in life. And, believe me, this is caught more than taught. And that’s why you must serve them in this way; you would lead them in this way.
Ragged, hungry and rejected by society, thousands of street children abandoned by nearly all live in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
There is no official figure on the number of homeless children in Kenya, a sign of the lack of interest by Kenyan authorities of the problem.
One estimate, by the Consortium of Street Children (CSC), an international charity, suggests the number of street children could be as high as between 250,000 and 300,000 throughout Kenya, including 60,000 in Nairobi alone.
In the district of Mlango Kubwa in central Nairobi, a former landfill is a refuge for street children, who call it “the base”.
Here they sleep on the hard floor, close to the rubbish dumps where they scavenge for scraps to make some profit, but at least the place is safe from outside eyes.
A few hours after dawn, some children are still lying on the ground, the plastic bottles from which they sniff glue beside them. Other spaces are empty, with those youngsters having headed off to work, begging on the streets.
“When people see some of these kids, they do not take them as human beings,” said Moha, himself a former street child, who escaped the tough life, and ekes out a living now dancing alongside bands. “When people see them sniffing glue and dirty, they beat them or insult them.”
Some children are pushed onto the street following the death of parents — sometimes due to HIV/AIDS — or after running away from violence at home. Others live on the street simply because their families are too poor to look after them.
‘ACT OF DESPAIR’
“It is quite difficult to describe the situation… you find if they sleep outside someone’s shop, in the morning, instead of the owner waking them up gently, they kick them or even pour water on them,” Moha said.
Many leave their rural areas – where traditional community ties have loosened – for cities, where they have more chance of surviving by begging, finding odd jobs, scavenging rubbish sites, or prostitution.
Abandoned by the state, several charities offer help. Alfajiri is one of them, a project set up by Australian artist Lenore Boyd, who offers drawing lessons.
“It’s just to invite the kids, to get them to create. It’s not to teach them, it’s not to impose anything on them,” Boyd said. “It’s to say: ‘Tell your story’. They’re very focused and they do lovely work… they tell the stories in their heart and they just enjoy themselves.”
When Boyd walks the streets of the slum, children throw themselves at her, finding friendship and love they otherwise lack.
“Everybody needs to think about the way they’ve been treated, and why they’re living on the streets, and suffering on the streets,” Boyd said. “These kids are traumatised, they are kids who had huge suffering, they’re abandoned… going to the streets is an act of despair.”