December 2, 2008
Posted: 03:35 PM ET
Kenya is an amazing, complicated country – a country full of contradictions. On one hand, there is the astounding beauty of the Masai Mara, where lions and gazelle and giraffe roam freely and coexist in delicate balance with the Masai people. On the other hand, there is the gut-wrenching filth and choking poverty of the slums of Nairobi, where many inhabitants never leave the prison-like confines of their slums. Stunning natural beauty and open plains vs. acrid smoke, trash-choked rivers, and people packed together like sardines. These two worlds are less than 40 minutes apart by small aircraft. It feels like another planet when compared to the United States.
Most Westerners who travel to Kenya stop for just a moment in Nairobi as a jumping-off point for their safaris. It’s even indicated in the travel brochures – get in and out of Nairobi as fast as possible. I understand why. The city is not clean by western standards, and not particularly modern. The air is orange and hazy, thick with smoke from manufacturing plants and burning trash. The smell is something you don’t forget. Nor the taste.
Driving into Nairobi from the airport at 5:30am I was astonished by the sight of what must have been 100,000 men and women, well-dressed, walking from the slums into the city. Like an endless parade of ants - but these were people. They were all headed into the city to find work for the day. Apparently work is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Early bird gets the worm. You get there early enough, you can work. If not, you’ve just walked many miles for nothing.
I had never been to Africa before, but had heard countless stories of its beauty and majesty. I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting under the starry skies and listening to the loud barking of the Hippos in the nearby river, I felt as though Earnest Hemmingway should be sitting next to me, sharing a belt of whiskey while the monkeys played in the trees above our tents, and we plotted our next day’s adventure.
Even in this beautiful setting, I couldn’t stop thinking about those kids in Nairobi. It was impossible for me not to imagine my own son, 8 years old, switching places with the children in the slums–going to school in those filthy conditions, living in such squalor and disease. How would he cope? Could he cope? Would he be another innocent victim of HIV? Would he have a chance of survival? I fear not. He’d probably be another statistic. Another lost child in the pandemic of the AIDS virus. Just another tragic death. A life with so much promise, snuffed-out before it really began. And that breaks my heart.
The children I met were incredible. Eyes bright and open. The world full of promise. And that’s because of the incredible work of Larry and Francis Jones, and their organization Feed The Children. The kids in the schools where Larry teaches and feeds these children are the lucky ones. They have a chance, and they know it. The other children in the slums, their eyes were less bright, almost dark with discontent. And who could blame them? Life has dealt them a tough hand, and they have little chance. Thanks to Feed The Children, the kids I visited will have medicine, ARV drugs to deal with their HIV, and a chance at life. That all I can hope for.
Feed The Children feeds hundreds of thousands of children every day, right here in the U.S., in all fifty states. Larry and Francis Jones have my utmost respect, and the gratitude of millions.
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