In a small humble village, along a winding rough dirt path, two rights off of Ngecha Road grows a beautiful secret...
If you take a left on Ngecha road (past the friendly old man who sells flowers), and you go down a winding, rough dirt path that will make your car do a little jiggle, then you take a right then another right, you will find yourself in the jubilant and lively community of Kinanda, a village that will always welcome you with a smile. It has come very far to get to the place it is now; a spiritually active and united neighborhood.
A few years ago, I was approached by my aunt (who isn’t really my aunt but a close family friend), Aunty Kelley, who told me of a program she wanted to start in her home with the village next to her house: Kinanda Village. She told me she wanted to do classes with the youth about spiritual concepts, like that we must always love each other, that we are all equal, that we have a soul, and that God exists. My aunt asked if I wanted to help run the class along with another teacher and a few translators because of the language barrier. At the time, neither I, nor anyone else, had any clue of the future of this small and humble idea.
Aunty Kelley later explained that what triggered this idea was that a little while prior, a young girl named Hope had been murdered in that same Kinanda area. In hopes of honoring her, this class was supposed to act as guidance, a compass for other children in the community. “I also thought that if we started the children’s classes in Hope’s name, somehow, we would keep her alive.” My aunt told me.
“We all prayed, we all talked about how we could get into the Kinanda road community.” Aunty Kelley said, referring to how Baha'is were trying to start core activities in the area to help the community grow spiritually. “Little did we think that the death of a young child would open up those doors. But you know there are many passages in the writings where it says with one sacrifice comes many other opportunities so there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank Hope.”
So not too long after, I found myself sitting on a mat in my Aunt’s garden, facing four small timid faces; Philip, Layla, Beaton, and Minea, names coaxed out of them with a lot of effort. I didn’t speak Kiswahili - the native language of Kenya - very well so a young woman was there to translate. We read a story with a moral, we said a prayer together, and I put on a puppet show (which granted me small smiles out of my tough audience). Then they each had a couple of biscuits and went home.
A little dismayed from the lack of enthusiasm of the first class, I would find in the coming several weeks that the numbers would grow, and grow and grow. And so would the enthusiasm.
Several weeks later, at least fifteen children, toddlers to 9 year olds, were running around in that garden. We learned songs, read more stories, played more games, had more puppet shows, learned more prayers until the numbers were so big that we had to break into two classes and more translators came to help. A year went by, and every week I looked forward to the classes.
I learned the amazing huge personalities all the very small kids had, and we started to feel like an ever-growing family. Each one of them had so much to say, so much kindness in them, so much happiness. Each one of them was a “mine rich in gems of inestimable value” as Bahá’u’lláh beautifully put it.
Soon, we found that we were only catering to the needs of the smaller children, so a junior youth group, which is essentially a Baha’i program catered to young teens, was started for the older children, lead by my mum. That grew too, and turned out to be successful, as they completed Ruhi 1 and 3. Slowly, very slowly, as they sponged up the words of God, the changes in the ways the older kids addressed each other and the younger kids started to become evident (less smacking, more kind words!).
The team of teachers was ever expanding, too. A friend of mine, Arya, joined in, and together we took on the younger children. And a young woman, Caroline, the mother of Hope, proved to be endlessly compassionate and loving when the rest of us felt like pulling out our hair. The graduates of the junior youth group started helping with the classes too, especially two youth, Patrick and Nancy, who became good friends of mine quickly. “It was wonderful to see these youth taking ownership of the process.” Commented their junior youth animator.
Not too long after, we found that my aunt’s garden started to resemble a small saucepan about to overflow, so the classes were moved into the village, a big step because of its implications. This class was no longer us coming in to teach things to the members of a community, but the classes were theirs, in their homes, and we were just there to accompany them and learn with them, joining them for the ride.
This change was met with so much enthusiasm, not only from the kids but from the parents too, and one family even offered up their home for the classes to take place.
Playing cards with the youth!
This step also meant that adults of the community started getting involved. At first, it started as mothers hovering around during class time, adding things, helping with a distracting child. But soon, we found that more had to be done for them. So a Ruhi study circle was started, a Baha’i program that follows a set of workbooks that have spiritual and Baha’i concepts. After that, a devotional group was started for the mothers of the community.
The tutor of the study circle commented that “It was an initiative suggested by them after they had done Ruhi 1 and all I did was support it.”
Now the whole Kinanda Village was participating in one way or another, from little toddlers to elderly mamas.
The energy of the village was evolving, everyone could feel it!
Anticipation and warmth filled the air, people greeted each other in passing by, there was much less violence and arguments between the children, more sharing, more laughter. We stopped receiving suspicious looks from a member of the village as we came in every Saturday -- only greetings and grins.
As another teacher puts it, “I’ve seen as the children have calmed down, there are much fewer fights, they greet us with such affection, and they say the prayers in a more respectful manner.”
Now when we walk into the village we are greeted with the usual; first we have a party of young welcomers who run up to us, hugging our legs and reaching out to help us carry all the activity baskets, my guitar bag and the fruit basket-- no matter the disparity in their size proportionate to the weight of the bags-- then with a young kid who jumped up for a piggy back ride and others at our sides, we enter the village and are greeted with waves and “Habari”s from everyone.
And as we enter the village, getting ready for another lively and spiritual class, I can’t help but think that we could have never imagined that out of such a tragedy of the loss of young Hope’s life, could grow such a beautiful love and family, in a small humble village, along a winding, rough dirt path, two rights off of Ngecha Road, past the friendly old man who sells flowers.