I have written before about Fr. Tom's Kids and the Dominican Mission in East Africa. Fr. Martin Martiny, OP (my former classmate) has written an "update" on the incredible work being done by the Dominican priests and sisters, bringing Christ's love to a small part of the world that knows none. Please read the letter below--perhaps you may be inspired to send some alms their way.
7 March 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Abraham Lincoln once said, "Die when I may, I want it said of me that I plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow."
We Dominican Friars have no illusions here in the midst of the rainy season in Kisumu, Kenya that our actions will save the world from the ravages of poverty, HIV, typhoid, malaria, war, rape, polygamy.... We are confident, nonetheless, that we can plant a few flowers, and sow and nurture the seeds of the faith in a part of the world where beauty and faith are most in need.
As a Dominican priest and missionary, I, Fr. Martin Martiny, serve with my brother and sister Dominicans, along the shores of Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile amongst a community of Kenyans who are mostly of the Luo tribe. As a Dominican family, we are teaching, preaching, serving as chaplains at a local university, running a primary/secondary school called Our Lady of Grace, and a program of focused charity called Fr. Tom's Kids, in honor of Fr. Tom Health who was killed in a robbery in 2005 and who had a great devotion to the youths of the area.
Our Lady of Grace school offers daily Mass and is home to the only chapel in a high school in this archdiocese with the Blessed Sacrament in permanent repose. We have around 220 full time students, almost all of them boarders and none of them able to pay the fees necessary to go to school. Today, we have about 70 kids attending Our Lady of Grace whose sponsors have been unable to continue their contributions. Undesignated donations have enabled us to keep all of them so far but it has been ‘a close run thing’, as Wellington described the battle of Waterloo. Even in the midst of the financial challenges, we have continued to accept the cases of kids who are really impossible to turn away.
Recently, Dominican sisters brought us out of the blue, 5 kids whom they could no longer assist. One is a small girl who is just about completely blind, another is a healthy and cheerful dwarf, and three others are suffering from rather severe physical handicaps---missing hands, feet, or a substantially shortened leg. We could not in good faith take the girl going blind; but were able to get her into a school for the blind run by Franciscan sisters about 45 minutes from here. The rest we did accept as an act of faith and we are feeling our way to how we can best help them. So far we just treat them like any other students and they seem to be thriving under these circumstances. None of these kids, however, has a sponsor; so....
We have also accepted responsibility for a young boy whose bone marrow has essentially shut down. He has been in and out of the hospital because he has almost no platelets and a far below minimum level of blood cells. We, with the help of a local couple, are keeping him in school while keeping an eye on him. There is no good reason why he is able to go to school. By all rights an infection should have already taken him away. We have placed him under the spiritual protection of Mother Rose Hawthorne, the founder of the Hawthorne Dominicans, and to date he remains in school as an actively participating student. This is Wycliff, for whom some of you have offered prayers.
We do not, moreover, send away young girls who get pregnant---where would we send them? We do our best to avoid making them feel rejected. Most come from incredibly challenging backgrounds and have suffered severe humiliation and extraordinary emotional harm in their earliest years. We stress patience and kindness in the midst of personal self-discipline.
We have one girl who was brought at the age of 12 by a religious sister and relative. She was a total orphan and had bounced from relative to relative all of her life. No one would accept responsibility for her for longer than a few days. She was, consequently, starved for love and respect at the same time she had never had anyone demand that she live by rules and guidelines. She was okay at first; then became wild and kept running away. Eventually, I had to call in her grandfather and tell him we could not help her if she was always running away. We do not run a prison. The grandfather took her home; but she essentially was without any supervision.
Although she was not ours, I continued to send for her about every month or so to see how she was doing---not well. Eventually, she showed up at my office beaten, covered with dirt, wearing torn clothing and smelling like a polecat. She was just exhausted and at the end of her tether. We talked for a while. I asked if she was pregnant. She said she did not know. I sent her up to get a bath and afterwards we talked some more. We gave her a pregnancy test. She was a thirteen year old positive for motherhood and negative for all the local diseases. She was also in shock. The father, in his mid twenties, disappeared, of course, from the picture. We did not send her away and did our best to reassure her that she remains our daughter. She eventually gave birth to a daughter, Clare Siena Shakira, and is now reenrolled in primary school grade 6. Her determination to complete school and to be a good mother is impressive, although we have to remind ourselves now and again that she is still only 15 years old.
We are purchasing Catholic bibles for our religion program. Believe it or not, one cannot get a Revised Standard Version of the bible with the Apocrypha in Kenya. We would like to get 100 copies of the Good News for the primary and another 136 copies of the RSV for the secondary students---both with the Apocrypha. Few, if any, Catholic schools in Kenya use the Catholic version of the bible because it either doesn't exist in the RSV for high school or it is more expensive in the Good News Version. The missing 7 books, however, are important in teaching about marriage and about the Resurrection, just to mention two areas.
So these are some of the challenges we face in trying to preach Christ to the locals here and my less than brief introduction to Our Lady of Grace School and Fr. Tom's Kids in Kisumu, Kenya. We ask for your continuing prayers and are grateful to all our benefactors.
Fr. L. Martin Martiny, O.P.