School Dots

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Special Opportunity to Help Mogra!

The most profound moment of the week came unexpectedly one day when our friend John knocked at the door. The whole orphanage was quiet as my parents and I were enjoying the rare solace found only on Sunday afternoons. Being Catholic, we always arrive home from Mass for a restful hour before all of the children return from their own church service. Nevertheless, John asked us to join him outside with our cameras! We were told that once the bus of children arrived home from church, he needed us to take photos of each child for Mogra’s sponsorship program. I was instantly excited because the more I was informed about this program, the more I saw it as my chance to be able to continue helping this special place after I leave.

The children poured off the bus beaming with excitement, each one dressed in their Sunday best. As I followed them down the hill watching them skipping and laughing, I was surprised at how eager they were to have their pictures “professionally” taken. Most kids I know groan at the thought of having to stop playing in order to pose for a picture. After giving it more thought, I realized what these specific photos must mean to them; getting their pictures taken and uploaded to the website is their first step in possibly earning themselves a sponsor. As I know from conversations with the older children, with a sponsor—they have a chance.

 As I took each photo I felt that I got a quick glimpse into the personalities of each child. Some swung out their hips to pose with attitude; others fumbled with their hands and smiled at the ground-too shy to look into the camera. As each one stepped up for their turn I thought about how special each of them uniquely were and hoped they knew it! Some of them I’ve come to know well through my daily work in the preschool or after-school chats in homework hall. Some of them I’d realized, I still hadn’t even gotten the chance to introduce myself to yet! After we finished and started making our way back up the hill pleased with our accomplishment, we saw the bus returning with a second load of kids. Not done yet! Time for Round 2! I was once again struck by the vast number of kids living at Mogra!

Later, as I sorted through the hundreds of pictures of happy, smiling, hopeful kids on my computer I felt saddened by the thought that they have no one that looks out specifically just for them.  They have no one who can pick them out of a crowd of 320 kids and say “That one is mine!” It is heartbreaking as I see how much they crave that love. Through the weeks here I’ve been touched by the earnest smiles on the preschool students’ faces every time they get the chance to work alone with me or the teacher. Every day I am surprised to find how peaceful and content a 2-year-old baby can be just sitting on my lap tightly hugging me for 30 minutes nonstop. I’ve been overwhelmed by the outstretched hands of 6 toddlers at my knees pleading “Me! Me!” begging for it to be their turn for me to hold them even for just 10 seconds. I’ve been struck by the sight of 7th grade students bouncing in their chairs with excitement as I approach their table in the dining hall, anxiously awaiting to settle in while I read them a story. We’ve been told time and again that the children are so happy when visitors come to Mogra because it helps them realize, they are not alone.

It is for all of these reasons that I was so excited to learn about their sponsorship program and thought I should spread the word! The founder, Hannah, tells us that the whole Mogra Organization (the school and orphanage) has survived financially by the grace of God and I want so badly to be able to help God, help them. When they asked me if I could think of anyone else who would be interested in the opportunity to sponsor I couldn’t help but think of all of the amazing people I know back home, especially the special school I am so fortunate to be a part of. This sponsorship program offers a tangible, honest, and personal way to help really amazing kids. My heart warms just thinking of the genuine, ecstatic smiles that we could bring to the faces of these kids when they find out they’ve been sponsored.

To give you a little bit of information (more will be coming): If willing, families can go on to the sponsorship website and see pictures and read stories of all of the children who still need to be sponsored (there are only 30 kids who have already found sponsors). Once they decide on a child to sponsor they are asked to pay a monthly donation of $50. We have been overly assured that every penny (apart from any PayPal fees) goes directly toward the care expenses of that child. After, they will receive a sponsorship package with more information on the child they chose and the program itself. From there, they will continue to receive regular updates on the child and also be able to correspond with pictures and letters. It was also mentioned that sponsors could feel welcome to visit Mogra if they are ever in Kenya!

                A few people back home have reached out to me wanting me to let them know if I came across any way they could help. Those conversations alone make me hopeful as I would be more than grateful to find even just a few people willing to sponsor. Please know there is absolutely no pressure, sponsoring a child is a long-term commitment. Everyone has different causes they are passionate about, ways they are already contributing, and varying financial obligations they are dealing with. I wanted only to make everyone aware of this opportunity and the amazing impact our help can have! 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Update 1- Mogra Children's Home: Nairobi, Kenya

Hi Everyone!
Can you believe it is February already?! My time in Calcutta flew by so fast that it is so hard to believe that I am now sitting in my new room, in my new “apartment” within the campus of this special orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya writing you my next update!

                Being in Kenya now is so nice. The air is fresh, I am surrounded by beautiful green trees, smiling faces, and warm greetings of “Jambo!” While I haven’t escaped the noise, I can say that I am much happier waking to the sound of 320 children laughing and playing than the constant honking of Calcutta!

Our ride from the airport to the orphanage was long and my eyes were opened even more. It was hard for me to travel 10 hours away from India by plane and still land in a country full of indescribable poverty. It proved to me how widespread it really is. While I didn’t see any homeless lying on the streets or begging, we passed continuous rows of tin housed neighborhoods referred to as the “slums.” Our driver pointed to them and called them small slums, telling us that there were much larger ones all throughout Nairobi. He said “the slums” are where most of the people in the city live. I have seen neighborhoods like these before and each time I do, I get a feeling of disbelief. I think of my nice warm condo in Braintree, my big leather couch, and soft comfy bed. I admit, I feel so guilty! It doesn’t seem fair that I can live in such comfort while people here are crammed together in dirt-floored, box-sized tin houses only centimeters from their neighbors. We even passed a long row of these houses advertising themselves as hotels! This shocked me even more!

We passed the slum where Mogra Children’s Home (the orphanage I am working at) got its start. It since has moved to a beautiful location but still has a school located there where the children 6 years and older go each day. 

                We received a very warm welcome at Mogra! The staff and children have been so accommodating and friendly! On our first full day, they took us to the store to stock up on some food, they gave us a tour of both nurseries, the dorm rooms, both preschool classrooms, and the large cafeteria/study hall. They told us all about Mogra and the children. I couldn’t believe there were 320 of them! I also learned that 82 of them are under the age of two! They have a few kids who are now in high school and a couple that live here while they commute to college. The staff is so proud of the ones who have made it to college!

                The children here are so happy and cute, which is unbelievable when I hear of their backgrounds. I learned that many of them were abandoned by their parents. Hannah, the founder of Mogra, told us that many young girls get pregnant and are scared because they feel they are unfit mothers. Out of fear, these mothers do an unthinkable thing and physically throw their babies in the trash. Neighbors will find the babies, sometimes even little kids will find them, and bring them to the police. The police will take them to Mogra. She told us that they also have children here whose parents get divorced and because of this the mothers don’t feel they can raise their baby all alone. So, they travel to a far neighborhood and leave their baby on the side of the road, far from home so he/she could not be traced back to them. This was so heartbreaking to hear because Hannah said that these children are usually 2 or 3 years old. They are left in an unfamiliar place calling for their mommies. These poor babies too, are taken to Mogra.

                I know without a doubt that I have found the right place to volunteer! I asked John, the nice in-house doctor that was showing us around, what the limit was of children they could have live at Mogra. He told me they have already surpassed the maximum (which I could have guessed after seeing 3 babies in every crib at the nursery). Then he looked at me and said, “But how can we refuse?”


 These children are well taken care of by the staff and local volunteers who come every weekday. They are well-fed, well-clothed, and cleaned every day. However, after jumping into work and hopping from the nursery to the preschool it is clear that they are craving attention. With so many children and only a limited number of adults, these kids are looking to be loved. This is evident in how upon entering a room, after one minute I look down and see 10 little arms reaching for me. I pick up one baby and can only hold them for a minute before another child is pulling on their leg so I have no choice but to let them down. Once I do, I have 4 scrambling into my arms. If I sit, I must be prepared! Within seconds I can have 6 babies fighting over the last available inch on my lap! While overwhelming and exhausting, I must say I have never felt so loved!

It has been a little scary starting something new again in a whole new country. Every time I leave our room after a little rest to find the next place to be for the next couple of hours, I get a little nervous. Everything is still so new. But the second I am out the door, I have little hands reaching for mine as I am pulled to a new classroom or play area.

                 Last night I ate dinner with the older kids. They were between the ages of 11-15. Being a 3rd grade teacher, I have been the most nervous about how my interactions would go with the older ones! I was surprised to find that this was my favorite part of the day! These kids are so cute! They know English very well so I can communicate with them easily. They taught me to dance, I taught them a dance! We even sang our “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord!” song together because they knew it! They taught me some Swahili, making sure I learned that Jesus was “Mungu,” as we ate an African meal together (with our hands!).

                After dinner, a group of older kids led all of the children in songs of prayer. After each song, I watched as everyone bowed their heads to do a private prayer. Watching this brought tears to my eyes as I saw kids both young and old close their eyes and pray to God with so much love and focus. Some whispered their prayers out loud not caring who heard. Others squeezed their eyes shut so tight, praying their hearts out!

The past few nights I have been going to the cafeteria after prayer time to help out during study hall. I am begged to sit at the Grade 7 table. Here I find a group of sweet girls eagerly waiting for me to read them stories from a Disney Princess book. I marvel at how interested they are in reading about princess and how much they loved to hear me read in English for them. They ooh and ahh at the magical parts and smile at me with wide eyes when I ask them to make predictions. All goes well until we finish and they break out the 7th grade algebra! Haha!

We have been here for less than a week but I am already so excited to see what is in store for the rest of the month!

Rachel J

Update 2: Mogra Children's Home: Nairobi, Kenya

Happy February Vacation!

I hope you all are enjoying a well-deserved week off! I can’t believe I have just over 2 weeks left before coming home!

                This week has been full of eye opening experiences as we have gotten more comfortable with the work we are doing and the kids we are caring for. I love this orphanage! It is full of love, kindness, smiles, happiness, and so so full of God. I see God everywhere here. He is in the nursery as I watch the tired, overworked caretakers never run out of patience and smiles. He gives them endless energy as they work 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week to care for 40 babies under the age of 2. One worker said that there is so much work, so many babies and just not enough help so her 12-hour shift is full of non-stop movement. Her day off is full of sleep. I wonder when they have time for fun? She was shocked to learn that an average American gets 2 weeks off a year (I couldn’t tell her how many I get!). She said..”Oh, how I wish!”

I see how hard these kind caretakers work first-hand! While I jump around doing different jobs throughout the orphanage, I spend the most time in the nursery since there truly is endless work to be done there! For example, on Sunday my mom and I went up to help after Church. We fed and changed 10 infant babies while the caretakers fed, changed, and played with the other 30 older babies. It took us about 2 hours to feed all 10. I felt sad as I fed each one, knowing that it was one of their few chances that day to have individual attention, to be held and hugged. I wish I could have spent just a little longer holding each one but the crying of 5 other hungry infants rung in my ears and I knew I had to hurry to finish in order start feeding the next. My mom and I dragged ourselves back to the room for a break, exhausted after only a couple of hours. After a lunch break, I returned to the nursery with my dad and was told it was time to feed the infants again! I couldn’t believe it was already time to repeat the whole process all over!

God is in the preschool. He is the center of the songs they sing every morning. He is in their hearts as they close their eyes and pray to be good students, who work hard, and obey their teachers. He is in their focused faces as they stick out their tongues and try their best to make their number 3’s look like “the wings of a butterfly.” He is in their smiles as they look up at me when I enter their classroom. He is in their hands as they reach for mine, making me feel instantly welcomed.

Where I see God the most though, is in the older children. From the moment they return from school, the whole orphanage is filled with songs of love for God. They are constantly singing together. If they aren’t singing they’re holding hands, smiling, talking with each other. They pray together every night and the kids flock to the cafeteria when the bell for prayer time is rung. I have never seen middle school/high school students so happy! I remember this time of my life as being full of insecurities and worries as I struggled to find the place where I fit in. Even still, I had everything I could ever need and want and wasn’t nearly as happy as these kids are! Every single one of them has lost their parents and have been separated from siblings. They have lived through horrors I can’t even imagine. They have nothing that belongs just to them. I was told even their clothes are shared. What you see one wearing on Monday, someone else will be wearing on Tuesday. Their lives are so much the opposite of mine when I was their age which is one reason I continue to be amazed by their happiness. They aren’t ashamed to pray out loud together with their friends. They announce to a whole group how much they love and thank God. It is hard not to want what they have! God makes them so happy that they are more than content with having nothing else but Him. 

This boy is a sophmore in high school and trying to decide if he should grow up to be a judge or a priest!

Weekends are for laundry, here are young girls hand washing clothes for the week ahead!

To bathe, the children lug buckets of water to their dormitories where they take "bucket baths." 
Working with the kids to take all of the kernels of soooo many cobs of corn for lunch! 

Everyone pitches in!