SUD Academy | Nairobi, Kenya Mission Photography
An Experience Beyond Words
In February of this year, my family and I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to serve alongside my great aunt's organization, Christian Mission Aid. Larry and Debbie Kitchel founded Christian Mission Aid in 1986 and they now reach millions of people in Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan. My entire life, we've heard stories and seen photos from my aunt's amazing work in Africa and so my family was finally able to go visit and serve in their various ministry programs.
Through the course of the week, we helped with 6 different ministries, so this is the first of six stories you'll hear from our trip. Our hope is that we can raise these communities up, tell their stories, and give back however we're able.
Day One: SUD Academy
Our very first day there, we were certainly jet legged and tired from our 2-days of travel, but we were more than ready to dive in and begin meeting the people of Kenya. We got in our team's vehicle and headed to SUD Academy, where they educate Sudanese refugee children.
History of South Sudan
Sudan has been war torn and in conflict for decades. South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to break away from Sudan in 2011, but the fighting there is still ongoing without resolve. The army has split and there have been clashes around the country including mass killings along ethnic lines. Many of the students have witnessed family, relatives and neighbors being killed by government militiamen; watched their livestock being stolen; watched their villages and homes being burnt to the ground. These youth bravely escaped along dusty snake infested routes, without food and water to refugee camps in Kenya. Some made the journey with their families; some made it on their own not knowing if their parents are now dead or alive. Their principal, Mr. Deng, is one of the refugee success stories. Mr. Deng was one of the "Lost boys of Sudan". His only choice in Sudan was to join the military very young or escape. He escaped, got an education, and now leads the SUD Academy.
Meeting Mr. Deng and hearing his story, was truly amazing. To escape such conditions, and then work as hard as he has to give back to his community is inspiring.
In an interview we had with him in his office, we asked what the school's greatest needs are. Mr. Deng kindly explained their need for chairs, desks, and a new printer as they currently don't have any ink.
As we introduced our family to all the students and started to do our class, we saw exactly what the Principal had mentioned. Multiple students shared benches and desks, while some stood. Papers were piled wherever they'd fit, and the desks were cracking with any subtle movement as we taught. While the education is present, the physical needs are great.
How does CMA help?
Christian Mission Aid does everything they can to see SUD Academy succeed for these incredible refugee students. They partner with other organizations to see that funding comes through and oversee the daily essentials like having enough teachers, and ensuring there's enough food for lunch, as it might be the only meal they get that day.
While we were there, we taught two classes, one for the guys and one for the girls, to teach basic health essentials, manners, and provide general life advice. For the ladies, they call these 'Smart Girl Talks' and they do them at several different schools each week.
Steve, the youth coordinator at CMA lead the guys' class and Mildred, lead the girls. My family was able to participate and answer any questions the class had.
And here's the ladies...
A Special Guest
We had someone extra special serve with us at SUD Academy, my aunt's adopted daughter! Her name is Gaudensia and she grew up in the same area of this school when she was younger. Gaudensia has quite the story of how she never gave up, how she met Debbie, went to school, and changed the position of her life. It was so amazing getting to meet + hear her story in person, especially as she really engaged with the students. They were laughing and smiling all around. Gaudensia now lives with her husband and daughter in Germany where her husband is from.
Throughout our time in Kenya, we were constantly impressed with how respectful and kind the students are. It didn't matter what grade or age, the students were glad to be in school, and overly grateful for the opportunity they had to learn (no matter the conditions), in hopes that they could change the shape of their own family's life someday.
After we finished up both classes, they raced into a line outside with their bowls ready to eat as I mentioned earlier, it could be their only meal of the day. The school has two cooks, both women, who have a small rectangular area where the would cook in this giant pot. That day they had rice and beans. One thing I'll never forget was how the cook would constantly stand in the doorway, smiling as she watched the kids. I could tell she really enjoyed her job, and believed in the students.
Afterwards, there was free time so after the students got familiar with the camera, they were posing in all which ways, just loving getting to see their photo on the camera screen. They would even pull Caleb or I in for a few. In Kenya, the students learn both Swahili and English in school so fortunately there wasn't much of a language barrier beyond our accents and the speed in which we speak. I loved getting to see the students be themselves and have fun!
After break my mom taught an art class for any students interested in drawing and painting. Most of the students had never even seen paint brushes before, so they'd play with the bristles before even touching their paint. My mom taught how to draw a lion using basic shapes, and then used coffee and food coloring as the paint so the students could repeat the process after we left. There were several very talented students, and their perspective of bold, bright colors is super intriguing.
See how bright and colorful they are? More photos and art will be displayed at the ACC Art Show in Bismarck, ND on March 16-17th if you'd like to see more.
The day wouldn't have been complete without some sports so everyone head out back behind the school building to their volleyball court. It doesn't matter what culture or place you're in, people reallllly like their sports.
Going into this adventure in Kenya, we really had no idea what to expect so to meet such excellent students while learning about their intense history in Sudan was almost hard to comprehend. And then to witness how broken their facilities and desks are, while seeing their desire to constantly learn was heartbreaking. In America, we have the reverse problem it seems... gorgeous buildings and unlimited resources, while we can't get our kids' attention for more than a couple moments. How can we fix either situation? I know that's a huge question, but everything comes back to education. If we want to change cultures and traditions to improve communities and people's livelihood, we need a strong education. Without it, the cycle of hurt and poverty continues...
The good news is that we can start one step at a time. If you'd like to help SUD Academy, and ensure these kids have the basic resources needed to receive the education they're longing for, you can give to CMA directly back to the school. Simply go here and choose 'Children & Youth Ministry' to help the students and teachers you've met throughout this post. You can't imagine the gratitude they'd have, as they're already so grateful.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about SUD, CMA, or how to get involved, please comment below.