Archive for April, 2009

Church in Action: From San Francisco to Nairobi, Kenya

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

I believe in the beauty of children, and as a photographer I have my own way of seeing them. I like how light shines off the backs of their hands, silvers their cheekbones and warms their dark (or light) hair. I like their differences—the personality that looks out at you announcing I am bold, restless, shy, hopeful.
15-year-old Vannah cares for her 5 younger brothers and sisters after the death of their parents to AIDS.

Light also illuminates the darkness in which they sometimes live. When I visited a friend, Heidi Pidcoke, who works with children in the slums around Nairobi, Kenya, I became aware of a depth of hurt and abandonment unlike any I’d seen before. These children—14, 15, 16-year-old girls—were all orphans and caring for their younger brothers and sisters. Children cared for children all because their parents had died of AIDS and they had no aunts, uncles or grandparents around to help.

Jacob and Sophie help their mom at the bake sale

Being children, they had dreams. But when I asked about them I found they were largely unattainable. These “dreams” by the way, would be considered rights where we live. They wanted to go to school, get a backpack to carry their books, have enough food for themselves and their brothers and sisters.

Jacob organizes the food and handles the cash container

I decided to focus on the schooling of the girls that headed six of the families I met. I talked this project over with members of the Mission and Justice Committee of Temple United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA. We soon recruited many enthusiastic committed friends from the TUMC community, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA. And I must say, never underestimate the power of a well-placed bake sale.

So, one Saturday morning in Noe Valley we sold Sandra Hardin’s bread, the Crain’s devastatingly good pecan pies and German chocolate cake, and cookies, muffins, candy from many of our friends at Temple and beyond. Sophie and Jacob, children of the M&J Committee chair Mary Hagen, did the artwork and managed the cash box. Frank Espada, photographer extraordinaire, documented the event.

All bake sale photos thanks to Frank Espada

We raised $1900 in four hours. Then with the additional help of donations from the Quakers and Barbara Brown, who committed to funding the entire four years of high school for one of the girls, we more than reached our goal. In January 2009, six of the girls started high school and another six began vocational training.

I thank all of my friends who took part in this project. Because of you six orphaned, teenage girls will now have an education and practical skills to support themselves and their families. “If you educate a boy you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl you educate a community.” African proverb