Wednesday, 6 April 2016

JEHO: Peace, Love, and Education

By Suzzanne Pautler

We’ve all commented on it in past blogs. Love. It’s the prevailing feeling every time we walk through the front doors of the JEHO orphanage.  Each child greets us with a hug or a handshake.  Every adult adorns a huge grin and shares kisses on our cheeks.  The warm welcome, the genuine excitement, and the shared love within the room continually results in strong student-teacher interactions, focused work ethic, and great motivation during the Necessary Arts drama and art workshops.  

Necessary Arts is currently delivering its sixth workshop to the 40+ children of JEHO. The founder of Necessary Arts, Naima Thompson, first entered their door two years ago. She is responsible for building the foundation of trust and respect that exists between Necessary Arts and the family, which has created the positive environment in which we are welcomed back over and over again.  Necessary Arts developed the workshops to cover three core areas:  theatre arts, literacy development, and leadership.  According to the students, the series of workshops has taken them on a two year journey of how “to be confident on stage, to never be afraid of anyone, to make friends, to better communicate with others, to concentrate, to use stage directions when acting, to cooperate, to be attentive, to never be shy, to express oneself, to speak in a loud voice, to have confidence when speaking English, to love one another, to avoid fear, and to avoid bad company.”  Did we really teach all of that?  I thought we focused on making eye contact, using our bodies to deliver non-verbal messages, projecting our voices, and having a stage presence.  The students, who range in age from 5 months to 19 years, are telling us that we have succeeded.  And from our adult perspective, we can see and feel the student success and confidence all around us.  

No matter that the children come from a variety of backgrounds and home lives, Pastor Joseph commits to each child that walks in his door.  He finds the time to support each one in the most suitable and appropriate manner. He does not want any child to feel different or not as good as his or her peers.  No matter how broken the child appears, the others welcome him or her into the family with an outpouring of love, patience, respect and dignity. Necessary Arts complements his approach. Pastor Joseph repeatedly reminds us that he values the work we do and the life skills that we teach his children. He knows that our messages of confidence, leadership, humanity, and global citizenship are understood by each child, carried in their hearts, and enacted in the real world. Today he stated that he can walk into the room without any prior knowledge of the activity, and just by looking at the children’s faces, he knows they are engaged and learning in topics that will impact their lives.  

The door to JEHO is a revolving one with students coming and going, moving in and out, attending day schools and boarding schools.  All students in Kenya have the right to attend primary school at no cost.  However, as the students get older, the school fees advance.  For the first time, JEHO struggled to find the finances to enroll each of their 20 secondary students in school.  And for the first time ever, Pastor Joseph is nearly speechless, because every child in his family in enrolled in school!  Every child is on a level playing field.  Every child feels valued and empowered by receiving an education.  Every child knows he or she is loved.  Every child demonstrates a sense of success and victory by attending school.  No wonder the ever loquacious Pastor Joseph is nearly speechless! Necessary Arts is proud to have sponsored and paid for these school fees, and to share in many successes as these children grow up. Pastor Joseph intentionally keeps the students who are academically weaker at a school nearby. This way he can closely monitor their situation as they bridge into their new academic setting. When necessary, he organizes outside tuitions to ensure they have every chance to succeed.  A stable, structured education provides the necessary resources for helping them along this path.  Both the children and the adults are optimistic now that each child has access to such an opportunity.

Over our two years of visits we have seen much growth and development within the orphanage.  For example, we first encountered the two bedrooms (one for boys, one for girls) full of wooden bunk beds.  On a subsequent visit, the bunk beds were gone and the students were sleeping on floor mats. I couldn’t understand why.  Pastor Joseph explained that bugs had started eating the wooden bunk beds and they were no longer safe for the children to sleep on each night, which is why they had to be removed. Today we were happy to see that the bunk beds have been replaced with metal ones which should last indefinitely. Another area in which we’ve seen development is on the rooftop of their building.  It began as a simple open space where the students could play. Today it houses rabbits, chickens, and a garden. The children are demonstrating great responsibility in the sustainable development of such food sources. They very proudly showed off the green onions they often add to their meals.  One of the next goals is to bring the kitchen up to the rooftop.  Right now, the smoke from the wood-burning kitchen fire on the ground floor creates an unhealthy space for the children, resulting in labored breathing and coughing.  It can’t all be accomplished in one day, but little by little Pastor Joseph is making great strides to improve the lives of his little angels.

Necessary Arts has completed the first cycle of workshops with the JEHO students.  More than a sense of pride or accomplishment, there exists a continued feeling of love and respect. Necessary Arts is, and always will be, a part of the JEHO family. These 40+ children have a special place in our hearts, and we in theirs.  Therefore, it is not with sadness that our workshop cycle is ending.  Rather it is with joy and pride that we share our JEHO family with The Art of Confidence, whose mission is to make an impact on the world through the ARTS, by giving students the opportunity to perform and showcase their talents and strengths. The Art of Confidence believes that the ARTS are the pathway that allows individuals to exude confidence and be resilient.  We learned from the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference that making partnerships is the key to success in delivering humanitarian work. Connecting with other partner organizations has a much greater impact than working solo. Necessary Arts is proud to have partnered with AMREF, UNHCR, and now AOC, as we have seen how students benefit from the shared collaboration.  We at Necessary Arts are eager to continue celebrating successes, spreading love, and taking pride in being part of such extraordinary humanitarian efforts.

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