To Americans doing missionary work in Kenya — at an orphanage for kids left parentless by the AIDS epidemic, at a school in one of Africa’s largest slums, and at a preschool in the rural outback that serves as the one neutral location in an otherwise war-torn region — it isn’t hard to find striking examples of the disparity between the rich, safe, comfortable life in the United States and what Kenyans endure.
It also isn’t hard to find ways to help. When people have next to nothing, it doesn’t take much to make an immense improvement.
In the seven years that Charlie and Cathie Schmelzenbach, of Soldotna, have been doing missionary work in Kenya, they’ve seen needs that dwarf any contribution they could ever hope to make, yet they’ve also found never-ending ways in which even seemingly small efforts — by American standards — have a large impact.
“When we first found these kids they were sleeping on a dirt floor. They were walking a mile to get water. They had no electricity, no water. Some of them had beds, some of them didn’t. You just can’t walk away from something like that,” Cathie said.
On a photo safari trip in northern Kenya, they visited Archer’s Point, a point where travelers need to stop and join with an armed guard before venturing into the aptly named badlands. There they visited a preschool, which serves as a regional meeting place and agreed-upon neutral ground safe from the intertribal violence that is endemic in the area.
The school has a dirt floor, no electricity and relies on light coming in through an open window and slats between wallboards. Cathie, a retired computer specialist in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, is particularly touched by the challenges schools in Kenya face.
“They knew I was a teacher and so the kids said, ‘Oh, come with us, teacher,’” Cathie said. “So they took me into their classroom and this one girl went over to the bookshelf and got their one book, and held it over their heads so nobody could touch it, and she laid it on the table and said, ‘Look what we have.’”
One book for an entire school, and they felt blessed to have even that. Continue reading