I met 14-year-old Stephen after he walked three hours to Karura Community Chapel.  He was sitting quietly in the church office when I arrived, and his eyes stayed glued to the floor as I shook his hand and introduced myself.  He was so soft-spoken that I had to lean in to hear him reply in perfect English:

“My name is Stephen Odhiambo Oumo.  It is nice to meet you too.”

I pulled up a chair next to his and invited him to tell me a little about himself and why he’d come.

“I am alone,” he said so matter-of-factly that I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.

“What do you mean alone?” I asked.

His answer stunned me.

Stephen was orphaned at three.  He has no parents, no siblings and lives alone in Mathare Slum.  Four weeks ago the aunt he relied on for occasional meals left Nairobi to attend a funeral and never came back.  He hasn’t heard from her since.

I realized then that when Stephen said he was alone, he really meant it.  He has nobody in his life to support him, no one to wonder where he is or to tell him he is loved.

A panoramic view of Mathare slum, Stephen’s hometown.

It was hard not to pity him, but he didn’t come to the church looking for pity.  He didn’t even come looking for food or money or a place to live.  He came because he wants to go to school.

Sitting Beside Me

Stephen has been unable to attend classes ever since school started nearly five months ago.  Like so many others his age, he can’t afford to pay the fees associated with Kenya’s public high school system, and without an education he knows his chances of ever leaving the slums are next to none.

Stephen stands outside his home in Mathare.

I’d heard stories like this before, told by teachers wishing I’d work harder in school – stories about children living in poverty for whom going to school is a privilege and not an obligation, children who walk miles to get there rain or shine.   But those kids didn’t have faces.  Now one of them was sitting beside me.

I asked Stephen if he’d mind showing me where he lives.  He agreed, and so along with Pastor Peter, one of the outreach pastors at Karura, we headed to Mathare Slum.

The Lonely side of Mathare

Stephen’s home is a lot like other homes in Mathare.  Outside his doorstep is the ubiquitous stream of wastewater; inside is a single room divided in half by a sheet.  There is just enough space to accommodate a small bed, a table, a bench, and a knee-high charcoal-burning stove.  Nothing unusual.

The inside of Stephen’s house

The longer I was there though, the more I noticed something very unusual:  total silence.

The slums are famously noisy.  Always awake, sound pours in through the walls at all hours.  At first I thought Stephen really lucked out finding such a quiet oasis in the middle of the clamor. But sitting in my own room late that night as the rest of the house slept, it occurred to me how isolated that silence must make him feel.   And how much more alone.

Above and Beyond

Not long after the outreach team heard his story, Stephen was enrolled in Karura Community Chapel’s Scholarship Program, which provides assistance to individuals who otherwise can’t afford to pay for school.  Right now there are over twenty students enrolled in the program, many of them orphans like Stephen.  The church’s goal is to eventually pair each of them with a sponsoring family or small group. In the meantime the church is doing what they can with the funds they have.

So far, the program is working for Stephen.  Recently, a church member went above and beyond the call and volunteered to pay not only his school fees, including a meal, but his daily bus fare as well.  The KaruraCC Benevolence Team allocated funds to pay for his uniform, shoes, books, and a bookbag.  There is even a plan unfolding that will allow Stephen to move out of Mathare and into a dorm with other students his age.

Stephen at New Dawn wearing his new school uniform

New Dawn

Stephen is now in his second week at New Dawn Educational Center, a high school operated by a staff of administrators and teachers with hearts for social justice and seeing lives transformed.

And his life is being transformed, and not just because he can attend school.

Stephen has family now. He has a community of supporters who love him, pray for him, affirm him, and care about his future.

On a recent visit to his school, I saw him talking with classmates from across the lawn.  I couldn’t believe this was the shy boy I met just a few weeks before.   Stephen looked alive.  He looked confident.  He looked happy.

He looked anything but alone.

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Next Steps
    • Visit www.newdawnkenya.com to learn more about Stephen’s new school, the New Dawn Educational Center.
    • Find out how you can sponsor a child like Stephen by visiting www.WorldVision.org or www.compassion.com.
    • Pray for Stephen’s education. Pray that he would continue to work hard, build rich friendships and continue onto higher education!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Bridgette was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2011. She graduated from Indiana University in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Italian. She loves live music, good books, daylight savings time, and eating local wherever she is.

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Comments

  1. Curtis Honeycutt said... 

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    June 27th, 2011 at 9:33 am  

    What a hope-filled story! Awesome stuff, Bridgette!

  2. Gary Paultre said... 

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    June 27th, 2011 at 9:55 am  

    What a great story! I’ll be praying for Stephen to do well with his school and new life. Hope is a wonderful thing :)

    gp

  3. Josie Tilyou said... 

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    June 27th, 2011 at 9:59 am  

    Great writing, with total focus on Stephen.
    Thanks for sharing details of his life & his new found hope. Glad to hear how quickly you & the Church were able to help him! Changing lives one at a time is “planting the seed” & watching God transform hearts.
    Great job Bridgette in listening to the Holy Spirit prompting you to reach out & shake Stephen’s hand!
    I’m so proud of you. My prayers are with you daily.

  4. Lydia Fox said... 

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    June 27th, 2011 at 1:00 pm  

    LOVE what you shared. Thanks for allowing us to experience Stephen’s story.

  5. Jo Nading said... 

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    June 27th, 2011 at 10:41 pm  

    wow. Look at that last picture of Stephen! He looks like a totally different person. Compare it to the one in his house in the slum….wow. This is just an awesome story – it’s so hard for me to not want to just write a check and stick it “in the mail” – but I know that doesn’t fix the problem as a whole…but boy when I read the stories you all write….I feel so connected. That means you are a great writer!!!! Thanks for sharing your experiences and your heart. Blessings and prayers coming your way.

  6. Jim.M said... 

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    June 28th, 2011 at 9:35 am  

    Bridgette, Very nice story. Following the links to New Dawn Kenya and reading about NDKE and the schools integration into agriculture and food production and job placement for those who attend NDKE was interesting. What a blessing! A ladder out of poverty.

    From this article it looks like Karura Community Chapel is Supporting marginalized youth from the slums so that they have opportunity through these programs and others. Also from the links I gather World Vision is involved in similar support of New Dawn Kenya.

    Richard Stearns of World Vision in his book “The Hole in our Gospel” quotes an old African saying “if you think you are too small to make a difference,try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito”…love that and it applies here. There is so much suffering, when it is seen seen as opportunity for us to step in and help, no support is too small. No one should “be alone”. Helen Keller “saw” this when she said “The world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”…

    I pray that God will continue bless Karura Community Chapel so that they may continue to stand in the void for those like Stephen. I also pray that God will multiply these blessings through Stephen.

    Thanks for this story of great Hope.

  7. Dave Rod said... 

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    June 29th, 2011 at 3:57 pm  

    Phenomenal story Bridgett! Reminds me of Psalm 68:6 God sets the lonely in families. Needed Stephen’s story today.

  8. Ceri said... 

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    June 29th, 2011 at 4:43 pm  

    I can see the glimmer of pride in his eyes in his new uniform! Wonderful story of hope!

  9. Nancy Gaciru said... 

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    June 30th, 2011 at 3:52 am  

    Bridgette this is inspiring being one of the poeple who are involved with helping one of the kids I have never really seen what we do……? This has just opended up my eyes and seeing how Stephen’s face lights up when he is uniform…..this makes it all worth it. Thanks!

  10. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    July 2nd, 2011 at 10:43 am  

    Bridgette, Stephen’s story captured by your beautiful writing truly touched my heart and brings tears to my eyes! Praise God for the work He is doing there through you, Karura Community Chapel, all those who are supporting/ a part of this!

    I hope Stephen knows His heavenly Father, who is always present. :)

  11. Jessica said... 

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    July 4th, 2011 at 11:50 pm  

    This story was a gift to me, Bridgette! To see that transformation of lives is more than just a possibility, and that it is actually happening on a daily basis, builds my faith. Please pass on my love to the incredible community at Karura! Peace to you!

  12. Katie a said... 

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    July 6th, 2011 at 8:40 am  

    Wow Bridgette. Amazing story and oh how God is using you!!! I am so thankful I get hear your stories and see what you are experiencing. Thank you for sharing and using the incredible talents God has given you!! Love you

  13. Matt Howard said... 

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    July 7th, 2011 at 2:32 pm  

    Our small group set this week aside to read an article on world next door and to pray for the ministry and people it has impacted. Reading this article was telling of the beautiful hands and feet of Christ through Karura Community Chapel. What a wonderful story – thank you bringing it the suburbs. Prayers with you, Stephen, and the Chapel!

  14. Jane VanOsdol said... 

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    July 11th, 2011 at 1:48 pm  

    I am so glad Stephen is being
    sponsored for school! I pray that he can catch the vision of what God wants to do with his life.

  15. Rob said... 

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    July 13th, 2011 at 9:19 am  

    Warning, reading stories like this will – should – do something to our hearts. That’s a running theme for me as I read along with WND this summer: heart softening in process.
    I would love to meet him in 10 years!
    Thanks Bridgette.

  16. Dave Booram said... 

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    July 27th, 2011 at 7:20 am  

    Bridget, awesome story. So glad you took the big step.

  17. Rachel said... 

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    August 9th, 2011 at 9:59 am  

    Bridgette!! I am so very proud of you! This was such a great story, and I can’t wait to hear more about your adventure when you get back!!! :-) <3

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