08 Nov A Firm Foundation
by Jen Johnson
Deep in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, children who lost their first families are now forming a new family together. On what was once ten acres of uncleared bush land, precious seeds are being planted with hope for many beautiful harvests.
Benson Mungai found comfort and purpose in the rhythms of life on the farm where he grew up. As one of twelve children raised in Kenya by a single mother, he remembers poverty well. But the difficult memories are outweighed by an enduring desire to plant, cultivate, and harvest. Moved by the plight of abandoned vulnerable children in Kenya, he wanted to help. His natural response? He began to look for a plot of land, envisioning a bountiful farm life for kids who needed a safe place to grow up. Benson believed strongly in the importance of sustainability, even though it meant a slow start to his plans. He found partners who embraced his vision and took the leap of faith to back him financially, knowing that the long-term goal of sustainability would take many years to reach.
In 2009, he purchased a ten-acre plot of land deep in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. He also met his wife, Eunice, who admits that she initially found his vision “very mysterious.” The ten acres was nothing but dry bush land. “How will it really come to pass that we will have a home here?” she wondered. “The bush was so big… But he’s a man of faith, he has really inspired my heart with his big faith. And I also want to get to our destiny.” Eunice married into the hope that someday, with God’s help, they would have a home, a school she could develop, and a thriving farm, all designed to help children who had nowhere else to go and nothing to call their own.
By the time Lahash first crossed paths with the Mungais, they had made incredible progress. Much of the bush had been cleared. They had food growing, they had a house, and they had a name: Nipe Tumaini Children’s Home. NEE-pay Too-ma-EE-nee means “give me hope” in Swahili, and that’s exactly what they planned to do once they were officially permitted by the Kenyan government to receive children. Lahash was happy to partner with Nipe Tumaini to give hope to vulnerable kids in desperate need of a permanent place to call home.
Jane, Joseph, and Yvonne were three of those waiting children. Jane, the oldest, was about nine. Joseph was about seven, and little Yvonne was a toddler when they were placed at a government “rescue center” through the Kenya Children’s Office. The neighbors had realized that the three children were surviving on their own without a parent or caregiver. Jane had taken on the role of mama to her baby sister, carrying her around, feeding her, and never leaving her alone. Joseph had taken on the role of provider, going out to find something for the three to eat each day, by whatever means he could. At the rescue center, they were given food and shelter, but not much more. The rescue centers provide care “as if the children are leaving tomorrow.” Their goal is to either trace family members who can take in the children, or to find a government-approved home where they can be well cared for. On the 5th of November, 2015, Nipe Tumaini became that home for Jane, Joseph, and Yvonne as well as several other children with similar stories. Benson remembers the feelings of that day well:
When they came… that was now my greatest joy. It was. When we started I used to say, “I don’t know whether I will see this happen, but it’s my prayer that I will see it.” So when the kids came, I felt like I have accomplished everything. Taking six years, and now the kids are here! I felt like, “Oh! Everything now I have done! I have seen my vision come true, my dream come true.” It was really great… having looked from where we came from, and where we were at that time, and now we have the children with us… we really thank God for that.
At Nipe Tumaini, Joseph grabbed food at mealtimes like he was afraid it would be the last time he and his sisters got to eat. Yvonne was hesitant to leave Jane, and even called her “mama.” Jane would not eat until Yvonne had eaten first; it was almost as if she had forgotten how to be a child. The process of building safety, trust, and a sense of family had begun. Gently and consistently, Benson and Eunice reminded them that they were safe and they could be kids. There would always be enough food, all they had to do was ask for more. There were adults to provide and to be the parents to all three of them, Jane and Joseph did not have to fill that role. Little by little, Yvonne identified Benson and Eunice as “baba” and “mama,” and Jane and Joseph did the same.
As a trained teacher, Eunice was eager for the older kids to begin learning. Lahash was working to match the children with sponsors to help pay for their schooling, and Nipe Tumaini Academy was still being constructed right on the compound. So Eunice began some simple homeschooling. She quickly realized that most of the older kids had little to no experience with school at all. At nine, Jane was the oldest child there, and already felt like she was behind. She knew that she should have been in school and should know how to read. Eunice told her, “Don’t worry, I’m a good teacher. Soon, you will know how to read.”
In less than two years’ time, the school was complete, another teacher was added, and Jane was at the top of the class, excelling in reading and beginning to learn English. Joseph was not far behind, enjoying school and working hard to develop his skills. The school has now opened its doors to several children from the nearby area, and Eunice cultivates a joyful learning environment full of interesting lessons, singing and games. Major academic progress is evident for every young student.
Between family life, schooling, and running the farm, there is never a dull moment at Nipe Tumaini. Benson and Eunice thoroughly enjoy raising this large family, and yet even with the fullness of the present, they are always looking toward the future. Benson believes that Nipe Tumaini must be built on a firm foundation of sustainability, so there can be something to pass along to the next generation. This applies to the farm, and also to the lives of the children. Little by little, they are teaching them skills and increasing their responsibility at home, so they can feel confident and self-reliant as young adults someday.
We are doing all this to make sure that we don’t just bring them up in a place where they are not doing something. Because if you want to help the child, if you want to help somebody, you have to help them reach to a point where they can have that responsibility and they can start doing things on their own. We try just to show them, “You are able to do this, and you are able to do that.” Yvonne now is a bit young, but even she can manage after eating to take the cup and plate to the kitchen.
As much as they are building a firm foundation of sustainability and self-reliance, they are also building a firm foundation of faith. From the very beginning, Eunice has told the children, “God loves you so much, and we love you very much, and the reason why we’re all here together is because Jesus loves us all so much.” They spend time in prayer, Bible study, and worship together as a family, trusting that this foundation will help each child so that “when the time comes, they know what decision they are making.” The kids have found their place within the Nipe Tumaini family, and Benson and Eunice pray that each child will know their eternal place within the family of God.
Lahash and other partners play an active role in helping to solidify this foundation of sustainability, self-reliance, and faith. Lahash funds yearly Bible Camps for the kids, and Rice & Beans Month has helped to fund drip irrigation systems and a large water storage tank to decrease the farm’s dependence on unreliable rainfall. The school has been expanded to accommodate more students, and a second house has been built that will soon be home to another couple and ten new children. The vision is big, and the joys are rich:
The best thing is to have the kids. I count it as a great benefit… to see that child having a father and a mother, the child that was abandoned. The child that never had hope having hope. You know, when that child knows, “I will go to school, and from school I’ll go back home and I’ll meet baba and mama.” That’s our greatest joy, just to see them… you know some of these kids, they had undergone several challenges and hardships. We are trying now to bring back trust, so that they can feel that they have somebody, that they are in safe hands.
Remembering ten acres of empty bush land, Benson smiles every time he sees a child pick a piece of fruit from the farm and eat it out of hand. He hears them singing and laughing together as they make their way to the school building in the morning, and he watches as they grow strong in body and in spirit. Always a farmer, he speaks words of faith over the crops in the field and the kids in the house, often at the same time:
“You just start planting the seeds knowing that one day, one time, you will see the harvest of that seed. It doesn’t matter how long it will take. It might take ten years, three years, five years, one hundred years, you never know. But one day you will see it.”