THE EASTER STORY BEING LIVED
- Published: Monday, 09 April 2018 13:21
Tuesday after Easter I am reading the story of Peter and John going into the temple and being confronted with the beggar pleading for some help, and all they could do was look him straight in the eye and say, “ Silver and gold we have none, but in the name of Jesus get up and walk.’ His ankles firmed immediately and he got up and walked and gave God praise.I left for the Centre wondering what I would have to offer today to anyone who would be looking straight at me and begging? I sat and listened to Mama Peris (not her real name) All three of her children are students at our school, and normally very diligent and keen about their day at school.
However the oldest in Grade 8 had been off the boil over recent weeks and finally the teacher took him to the school counsellor. It was here that I was called to listen. Mama survives by working in an informal bar that sells illicit brew. Our police tolerate it all for a small cut but they insist that by 11.00pm the bar is closed.
In late January the police found the bar opened beyond that stipulated hour and on missing the owner they arrested our Mama. She spent 24 hours in our (mind you) police post and eventually was told, if she gave them two thousand shillings she could go free. She pleaded for some slack, as she had three kids to look after and she truly had no money to give. Her begging for mercy fell on deaf ears and she was taken to the larger police station in the Industrial area. There she spent three days (tomb time) before the police informed her that she could go free if she paid five thousand shillings. Again her pleas fell on deaf ears and she was taken to court to be charged with dealing with illicit brew. On arrival at court, she was hurried in the back door and shown a prison striped uniform as a crude form of intimidation. The accompanying police told her she would be wearing that uniform soon, unless she paid fifteen thousand shillings. She pleaded for mercy but was hauled into court and given a six months sentence.
Meanwhile the three children knew little of their mother’s welfare and settled down to survive on their own. They recalled how it was easy when school was on, as they were fed once a day and many times one of them managed to scrape up a few left overs from the bucket and take this home for food. However as the second month was concluding they had become pretty disillusioned, dirty and dispirited enough for the class teacher of one of the children to bring the child to the school counselor. Meanwhile the mother having done two months was given a pardon and only the previous day had returned home to find her children at least safe, even if in a poor state. We all took a breath as a very tangible silence gripped the room, and with it a massive sense of hopelessness and despair.
I have often quoted that Ruben Centre is the privileged context to live the gospel and if that sentiment was to be honoured , I would have to look her straight in the eye and say,’ in the name of Jesus get up and walk- again. Something had to be done as there could be no other way. School is breaking for three weeks holiday and so first step will be to give mama some work, and the family some emergency rations. However it doesn’t end there because the next day and the last day of Term 1 there is to the Annual General Meeting of parents. I am dreading this meeting and being the carrier of disastrous news to all parents and especially our Mama here.
(Two days later )
For over fifteen years the UN World Food Program ( WFP) have been supplying food to be cooked for the students. Last year they handed this program, along with the funds to buy food to the Kenyan government to manage. Now those funds are exhausted and the Kenyan government is refusing to fund the feeding program. The instructions from the government is that we tell the parents to pay for the food. It is only six hundred shilling (Aus $ 8.50 ) per term or ten shillings ( 15 cents) per day. Everyone can afford that,’ the elite that govern claim.
Maybe a small percentage of our parents are capable of paying that money but what of our Mama of three children who now has to find thirty shillings along with all the other demands of rent, water, medicine, transport, clothes and food and fuel for them all. On a good day she and others like her, may get some casual work and receive two to three hundred shillings, but there are more bad days than good days.
This new demand on families will quickly rare its ugly head at school in the form of the haves and have nots. Children without money and denied food will soon opt to drop out of school rather than suck up the sense of failure and humiliation. Others will try to steal the money either from home or nearby further complicating the situation.
Climate change, poor harvest, abandoned farms, and the inevitable urban drift are all contributing factors to the five million Kenyan households needing food relief and suddenly now that is no longer a statistic but an in your face reality for our kids in our Ruben Centre.
I was dreading the AGM, which is conducted in Kiswahili and it is about the only time in a year that I get to work a crowd in that language and I feared being rusty to say the least. The foul news I am the carrier of may have even got me more confused. Suddenly, that privileged context to live the gospel thing was under threat. Mary the M C looked me straight in the eye and handed me the microphone. Instantly my feet and ankles became firm and I sprang to my feet and told it straight. ‘ Your national government is hopeless, your government does nothing for you, your government steal money and wastes it on its own interest but can’t find even a few coins to feed your children. Your county government hasn’t been able to find one shilling for three years to help us administer the Early Child Learning centre (pre primary level), your government can’t provide teachers for your children in their state owned school. At present they provide only twenty-eight teachers for the two thousand and nine hundred children. Your government can’t register the Special Needs Program that has fifty vulnerable children in it making it ineligible for government funds. In short parents, your government is a disgrace. “
I felt emboldened and on a roll so I went on, “ And you the parents are no better. “You come here every year and clap your hands and agree with the head teacher to pull your weight and yet you leave and do nothing. Last year you heard her ask that each family might contribute to painting and maintaining the new school that Brother Frank built and you all agreed, yet in reality only ten families paid up. Ten, which is not even one percent. A disgrace.”
I said I had no more to say and sat down. There was no shortage of parents wanting to ‘jump to their feet’ and have their say, and to my total surprise the ones who spoke all totally agreed that they had more or less abandoned their own children and left them to be carried by the brother. Several agreed that the parents could find the money to feed their own children. One woman spoke of rallying the parents so that they could all march on the government offices and demand some respect and basic rights. I suddenly felt alive and promised I too would ‘get up and walk with them.” I felt the Easter story come alive, and now with renewed energy I must focus on Mama and her kids, so they too know it is Easter.
By: Br. Frank
Director Ruben Centre