An Inside Look At The Lahash Staff Travelers

Written by Leisha Otieno

As a part of the Lahash staff based in East Africa, I don’t get to spend much time with my coworkers based in the Portland office, but in a moment like now, surrounded by the staff members of Lahash Portland, we really feel like the Lahash International community.  Just like me, many of you don’t get the opportunity to regularly see the Lahash team in action, so here is a peek at the team from an “inside outsider” perspective:

Dan “The Man With the Plan” Holcomb
Every single member of the Lahash International staff has joined this team from a strong sense of motivation to follow the vision Dan has laid out for Lahash.  I’ve been working with Dan for seven and a half years, and have gladly followed his lead across oceans, borders, highways, rivers, alleys and on “short” walks all across East Africa.  This current trip, though, has highlighted that, beyond his passionate vision, Dan has been developing into a very competent manager and wise leader.  Aside from leading the team, he is facilitating hours and hours of meetings with our partners, requiring humility, wisdom, deference and honesty in divine proportions.  In heavy moments, though, we can always count on Dan’s quirky sense of humor and impressions (of varying degrees of accuracy) to inspire a laugh.

Katie “The Sponsah Lady” Nelson
When the kids at our partner’s projects first meet Katie and she explains that her job is to find sponsors and help them understand and communicate with the kids, she becomes a subject of something bordering on awe.  Katie is the closest most of these kids will ever get to their sponsors, so her innate ability to connect with and love on each of the 200+ kids in the sponsorship program makes her immensely valuable as part of the team.  In the midst of distributing sponsor gifts, helping the kids write letters and make gifts for their sponsors, trying to communicate with kids who speak one of six or seven different languages, and going over sponsorship policies with partner staff members, Katie would be the first to admit that she is not always operating in her comfort zone.  However she has a layer of granite at her core, and always finds a reserve of strength to push her through the awkwardness of cross-cultural, cross-generational communication to facilitate messages of love and value between vulnerable children and their sponsors.

Casey “The Director” Schilperoort
Casey has worn a couple of different “director” titles during his time at Lahash, including a recent stint as Interim Executive Director while Dan was on sabbatical, but the most consistent one is the one that puts him behind the lens of a camera.  Advocacy on behalf of the vulnerable children of East Africa is key to the vision and DNA of Lahash, and Casey is responsible for the stories we tell.  This involves far more than just pointing his video camera at a group of cute kids, but requires a lot of prayer and consideration of how to tell these stories in a way that is respectful, honest, beautiful, poignant, and motivating.  A trip like this is the opportunity to collect all the footage that he will use in advocacy and fundraising materials for the next 1-2 years, which means a lot of planning to be sure that he gets all the interviews and locations he needs, all the while stewarding battery life and memory cards.  Despite the nearly constant burden to capture one more moment, Casey is always the first with a joyous laugh or a friendly word for a stranger shouting to him on the street.

Will “Mpiga Picha” Campbell
“Mpiga Picha” is Swahili for photographer, one of the most popular people at any location as children chase Will around asking to have their “snap” taken.  He sees goofy faces, shy glances and confident smiles through his lens as he takes portrait photos of each child, as well as hour after hour of candid shots of life at each of our partners’ program locations.  Many people would love to have that job, taking pictures of cute kids, but forget the very unglamorous hours that follow: hours spent transferring files, choosing the quality shots, editing and re-editing, then posting or filing for later use.  After spending most of 2012 in East Africa, this trip has been a bit of a homecoming for Will, and it is delightful to see the kids’ faces light up as they recognize “WILLY!”  His genuine affection for and remembrance of the kids endears him to them even more.

Edwin “The Problem Solver” Angote
I like to joke about Edwin being the “Protector and Defender of the Traveler,” because, like the best of jokes, it’s funny because it’s true.  He is well-equipped for this role due to his experience growing up among German and American missionaries in Kenya, and his innate ability to find a solution to any of the numerous obstacles that may crop up on an international trip.  From tracking down a rescue vehicle on the mud-bogged roads of northern Uganda to finding a reasonably clean toilet in the slums of Nairobi, Edwin goes above and beyond the call of duty to provide visitors with the best possible experience.  Being the second-longest serving staff member of Lahash and working very closely with our partners gives him an unparalleled library of information about the ins and outs of each partnership, and his jovial good nature makes him a joy to spend weeks or months on the road with.

Finally, me, your humble scribe!  Actually, that’s not a bad title…

Leisha “The Scribe” Otieno
Although I’ve served in many, many roles during the years I’ve been working with Lahash, on this trip my role seems to be the chronicler, taking notes in meetings and transcribing those notes into useful formats.  It has been a joy to just sit back, assisting when, where and with whatever is needed, and enjoying being part of a traveling community with my co-workers.  With each passing day, I feel like I soak up more and more of their optimism, energy and drive, not to mention their passionate love of Jesus, the reason we all do what we do.  Although the days are quickly passing, and in two weeks they’ll return to their families, here is one East African resident who will be sadly missing the jokes and camaraderie of being physically part of the Lahash International community.