By Jim Towey
The children of Nairobi, Kenya taught me a great deal about the irrepressible nature, the irresistible beauty of human dignity.
In the Huruma slum located about thirty minutes from the nation’s capital, the scrap metal huts and sheds that pass for homes have no proper roofs or floors. Children sleep on the hard ground. A rainfall of any consequence brings mud with it. No one in the West would want their own children to live in such conditions.
But thanks to the love of the Missionaries of Charity sisters (MCs) and the generosity of fellow Kenyans (a large group of uniformed high school students dropped off bags of donations the Friday I was there), about 100 neighborhood children are elevated above their dire environment. They are outfitted with a set of clean clothing and a backpack filled with school supplies. Each day at 7:30 a.m. they come to the MC compound for meals, singing and study, and stay all day. The kids arrive clean, carefully groomed, and well-mannered. They exude energy, sing heartily, and play like any child their age.
Most come from intact families, and you could tell. When you interacted with one, he or she maintained eye contact with you. Each wanted to pose for a photo and then demanded to see it. The Divine image, too, was on display. God carved all of them in the palm of His hand, as the prophet Isaiah described, and their uniqueness and individuality blossomed as if in eternal spring. By helping the children in their care develop a positive sense of self, the MCs inculcate an awareness of giftedness and beauty and blessing.
Kenyans grow up fast amid Covid…they must
Unfortunately, childhoods end prematurely in materially poor countries like Kenya. By the onset of puberty, the children-turned-teenagers of most families face hard lives with little opportunity. They must grow up quickly. Some find a way out of the slums through education and initiative, but many don’t. (As an aside, the stupefying conversation in the West about whether a boy is a girl, or a girl a boy, and whether there are multitudes of genders, find no place in Kenyan discourse. Life is too serious, too precarious for that.) While many universities of the rich countries infantilize students and treat college as an extension of childhood, the young adults of Kenya know that their personal growth, if not survival, requires the cultivation of an inner life, work ethic, coping skills, and a sense of responsibility for others.
Covid doesn’t make the “top ten” list of worries for the people of Huruma. And yet, the way the pandemic was handled by the government inflicted grave damage on the poor and has left Kenya’s economy staggering. Lockdowns crippled tourism and employment. The average worker’s take home pay is roughly $350. Social distancing meant that if you wanted to take a public bus, you had to pay 200 Kenyan Shillings instead of 100 to cover the cost of the empty seat beside you. The MCs had to shrink their school by half to comply with public health orders. Kenya still requires proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry. These practices mimic what the West imposed on its citizens; Dr. Anthony Fauci’s public health guidance on managing Covid was exported worldwide.
Not so fast, Dr. Fauci
Fauci held a farewell press conference recently and declared himself victor. To that I say, not so fast. One can mourn the casualties of Covid and acknowledge Fauci’s efforts on vaccination in America without forfeiting the right to critically analyze the whole picture. Dennis Prager, an author and broadcaster I admire for his sincere pursuit of truth, summarized the consequences of Fauci’s lockdown, closure, and vaccination mandates: “Economies were devastated, millions of people who owned small businesses had their financial lives ruined, and young people suffered on every level…For nearly two years, young Americans were deprived of an education, deprived of interaction with peers, and masked everywhere they went outside of their homes. One result is that young Americans now have the highest rate of mental and psychological problems recorded in the country’s history, have the highest rates of depression and suicide and are academically at the lowest level for their age ever recorded.”
History will judge Anthony Fauci and decide what his legacy will be. But I saw in Nairobi a glimpse of what Mother Teresa’s looks like. Her nuns in Huruma provide around-the-clock care for 42 children and 48 adults with developmental disabilities, 50 pregnant mothers and their children, and a day care program for area kids. Her priests have outreach programs for teens and young adults, visit the incarcerated, and feed the hungry at their soup kitchen in nearby Pangani, all the while ministering to the sacramental needs of the faithful.
The MCs and their helpers in Kenya and 138 other countries defend the God-given right of the poor to age with dignity. Mother Teresa’s legacy continues to be something beautiful for God.