Armed guards (or bouncers, as Kenyans call them) walked us down a descending, muddy trail into Mathare Valley, one of Kenya’s largest slums, where 800,000 people live in an approximate two mile area.
Bile rose up in the back of my throat as my senses were overwhelmed with raw sewage and the smell of depraved humanity.
Silent tears streaked my face as we walked tightly in a group at a fast pace. We were told to “get in the project and get out” as quickly as possible. No cameras allowed (expect by our professional photographer, Keeley, who took pictures from her hip, under her jacket).
I simply do not have words to describe what I saw today. In my wildest imagination, I could never create these images. It was dark and oppressive. Evil and dangerous. The children looked so unhealthy, sick, desperate. The living conditions are not for the living.
Mathare Valley is a hell hole.
It is littered with young prostitutes, lonely orphans, vile pornography and extreme violence. Drug use and addiction, alcoholism are very common. The Compassion International project is deep in the center of the slum. We walked through absolute filth. I had to cover my mouth and nose several times to stop gagging.
I saw so much hopelessness. Where was God? How could He allow so much suffering?
The Compassion project is in the middle of this mess. The minute we entered the gate, I burst into tears, nearly sobbing. I felt such relief to be in a safer place. I immediately noticed the Compassion kids looked different. I saw something that was lacking in the rest of the Mathare Valley slum: it was hope.
There are nearly 300 children in this project, one of three in the area. Some of the beautiful children sang to us and performed a drama. Out of all the Compassion projects we’ve visited, I found it unbelievable to discover the most talented, gifted children in the worst of conditions.
It was like watching beauty rise from the ashes.
We went to the home of one of the boys who sang to us. His name is Vincent. He is in a child-led home, which is Kenya’s way of saying, he is a total orphan and there are no adults in his home. He is both brother, father and mother to his sibling. Vincent was orphaned as an 8 year old child and is now 18.
Compassion came alongside him and saved his life. Compassion gave him a job of delivering food, so he can provide for his brother. Vincent’s home was the most pathetic we’ve seen. It was just a dank, dark space, the size of a walk-in closet. It leaked rain water on us as we talked with him. There is no electricity, no running water. He does his homework by a small kerosine lamp.
We asked Vincent to describe a typical day: “I get up a 4 a.m. every morning. I get myself ready in the dark and then wake up my brother and he gets ready for school. I drop him off and then I walk an hour and a half to school, each way. I get home at 6:30 p.m. and I bring food home from school for my brother and I to eat. I do my homework by candlelight and then start again the next day.”
I asked him, “Are you afraid?”
He said that he used to be, but then he found Jesus. “I am not afraid with Christ in my life.”
There wasn’t a dry eye. We were simply overwhelmed by this amazing young boy, alone in the world, brave and strong, a Christ-follower. He smiled when he was asked what he did for fun. “I like music,” he said quietly.
Today, I went to Hell.
But I found Jesus in the midst of it, helping Vincent and his friends find a way out.
Even now, after being back at the hotel for two hours, I feel like I’m in shock. I will never forget the smells and images of Mathare Valley slum.
There are five children in the one Compassion project we visited who need a sponsor and countless others in the surrounding areas. Today, I saw what Compassion does. It simply and profoundly saves children from death. It gives them life.