Ending May on a High Note

This last week the whole office has been on emotional high.  I am so privileged to have witnessed these events; being the eyes and ears for IJM. 

On Tuesday one of our child sexual abuse clients was vindicated as her attacker was put away for 20 years.  On Thursday two young illegal detention clients – 17 and 23 were exonerated and finally acquitted of all false charges held against them.  They are now free to rebuild their lives.  Resuming education and earning a living for their family. 

Then on the same day THE most exciting news ever:  our 78-year old illegal detention client, who has been behind bars for the past 18 months; who has been fasted and prayed for; tears shed for; two years of hard slog  for – was granted bail pending appeal in a historic ruling, allowing him to be free and stay with his family, in his own home whilst awaiting the next appeal hearing.

Earlier in the week, I had a post all written up, approved and ready to go, but then Thursday took over and rolled right on into Friday without a breather…  So here’s what I meant to say:

Caught in Court

On Tuesday I accompanied one of our legal interns to the judgment hearing in a case for one of our child sexual abuse (CSA) clients called Leandra*.  This was an interesting experience for me because it was the first time that I had been inside the court room for a judgment hearing.  I’ve been outside the court room for a when a judgment has been read.  I’ve been inside the court room for a few mentions and adjournments, but this was the first judgment I had attended. 

No big deal right?  You rock up to court and wait for the magistrate to read the verdict.  If it’s favourable you celebrate and if not, well then… that’s another story.  All well and good, except my line of thinking was completely devoid of all the emotions that could rise to the surface as a result of the hearing.

….

Leandra had been abducted by the perpetrator and was missing for 5 days.  He moved her around to different locations and raped her repeatedly.  Leandra and her family suffered much trauma during this ordeal.  “I lost my mind during that time, forgetting where I kept my keys” remarked Leandra’s mother as we waited for court session to start.

So when the judgment was read, it was little wonder that a normally composed Mama-Leandra wept.  She was so nervous before the verdict.  As the magistrate was reading out the charges, my stomach was doing somersaults.  “May the results be in our favour.  Please God, these people have suffered.”  I became anxious for Leandra and her family.  At the same time, it was eery watching the accused at the dock, looking subdued, even shedding tears.  “But you knew you were taking advantage of a young girl.  Her life is forever changed now because of you”.   It was even more somber seeing him turn and look at his father in the gallery as he was led away.  Sentenced to 20 years in prison.

I’m glad I was there.  It put some flesh and bones on a case I’ve read and have chatted to my colleagues a few times about.  To see with my own eyes a concerned mother, vindicated on behalf of her daughter.

*Real name withheld to protect the identity of our client.

The Beauty of Justice

Like I mentioned earlier, Thursday was an even more victorious day.  It felt like the heavens had literally opened up and these two stunning judgements fell into our laps.  Of course, this was not the case at all.  For these three clients our team (including many past interns/fellows and staff) have worked so hard.  It has been a journey of much toil, heartbreak and now incredible joy!  For me to have witnessed history being made in seeing 78-year old Michael walk free, it is an immense privilege (I’m still smiling as write this). 

I attended the high court along with our Field Office Director, legal Fellow John Ramsey  and a former IJM employee who is now the principal of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights.  These people have done a huge amount of work on Michael’s case, so this hearing was very special to them.   As soon as the judge started to read Michael’s name I literally stopped breathing.  By the time he was done, John and I looked at eachother and ran out of the court room: relief, joy, amazement, gratitude…  Only a few things we were feeling.

The rest of the day was intensely long and emotional as we had to wait for all the necessary signatures on the release documentation at the courthouse that would allow Michael to go home that very day.  At the prison, I was joined by two of our Aftercare staff as we waited along with Michael’s excited family for 3 hours. Our Field Office Director had to seek sought signatures, documentation, etc to get Michael released.  Eventually he walked through the prison gates in good spirits, victorious and free!  It was a beautiful sight.

Please visit the IJM site and read about Michael’s story, complete with the images I captured on the day :).

God sets the lonely in families,[c]
   he leads out the prisoners with singing – Psalm 68:6

Michael, his son and I

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“…plans to give you a HOPE and a FUTURE.”

One of the things I love about working with IJM is the wide variety of work we do around the world.  Whilst it’s a blessing to see the difference we make in people’s lives in Kenya, it’s just as exciting to hear about the hope brought by our field offices in other countries.

Below is an interview with IJM’s founder and director Gary Haugen and CNN’s Jim Clancy:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/05/18/cfp.haugen.intv.cnn?hpt=T2

View this hope through the lense of one woman’s story:

http://www.ijm.org/main/ijm-from-the-field-may-2011

“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.”

– Psalm 9:9

Things that make you go “hmmm…?”

Do remember when that song by C+C Music Factory came out?  I’ve had plenty of those moments since then, and Saturday was no exception.

When someone tells you about a place where water travels uphill and cars start moving by themselves, what’s you’re expression?  “Get out of town!”  Or maybe “No freakin’ way!”  Or “Yeah right!”.  Those where my expressions until I travelled with a group of friends/work mates to Kituluni Hill in Machakos to see this for ourselves. 

Machakos is a small town just under a couple of hours outside of Nairobi.  Life is a bit more chillaxed and rural.  I imagined the Gravity-Defying hill to be a mysterious, mystical grove… somewhere like Rivendell or something.  To be honest, we were all thinking that, because we drove right past the magical anti-gravity spot.  Turning back, the only thing that gave away the site was a group of young men hanging out by the side of the road.  They were the demonstrator tour-guides.

In turned out that this magical site was just a random spot in the road.  We watched in awe as they poured water on the road and it travelled uphill instead of downwards. 

We then got completely confuzzled as the car travelled uphill by itself, with the ignition turned off.  We tested it forwards, in reverse…  Still the same story!  What was even crazier, was that when we tried to push the car down the hill, it was difficult!

Unfortunately my camera battery died, just in time to take some videos :(.  Nevertheless, if you don’t believe me check out this article here and this youtube video

Still unconvinced?  Come visit me and we can go together!

Plead the case of the Orphan…

Yesterday, I wrote about my adventures on Sunday but Monday was Labour Day – also a public holiday.  Man, I love this country – two long weekends in a row. 🙂  I was privileged to join John and Anna Ramsey on a visit to an orphanage in Mathare slum for a medical clinic.  Anna is a nurse by profession and works with World Gospel Mission an organisation that among other things gives basic medical treatment at different orphanages. 

I’m glad I went.  It was easy, yet difficult.  Happy, yet immensely sad.  It was my first time visiting an orphanage and was a chance for me to see another side of injustice in the flesh.  A chance to grasp even just a little more the depth of pain that God feels when He has to remind us to “defend the cause of the orphan” (Isaiah 1:17). 

Mathare has the second largest slum in Nairobi after Kibera, with an estimated population of 300,000 residents.  It’s bustling and full of life. People are surviving – they’re running businesses, raising children, even rearing goats…  Yet, I still had the overwhelming sense that the people here deserve so much more.  Non-existent refuse collection, open sewers, cramped living conditions are just a few of the things people contend with on a daily basis.  Quite a bit of our CSA casework comes from this area.  So, to finally walk through the streets Mathare made an impact.

The main goal of the visit was to do simple medical check-ups on the 40+ children and give them medication and vitamins.  Should be easy right?  Try that with four children, desperate for attention, clinging to your hands and legs, whilst 5 more crowd around the child being examined.  The children were really sweet, but it was very intense and slightly chaotic.  By the end of the session, I was pretty tired and I wasn’t even the doctor or nurse treating the children!

Reflecting on this brief experience, I have mixed emotions.  I definitely enjoyed spending time with these little people.  Their tenacity and optimism in the face of such basic, even unsavoury conditions is awesome.  At the same time – they’re better off in that orphanage than roaming the streets alone.  The staff in the facility were doing their best, with the small resources they had.  A few times during the day, I fought back tears as I thought about how vulnerable these children were and how they needed more intensive, constant adult affirmation, attention and love than they were currently getting.

Even if situations like this can look so futile, it’s comforting to know that these children – the least of these, those who appear to be bottom of the food chain, are known intimately and loved by their Creator.  They are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Ni Kuhusu Safari (It’s about the Journey)

**Before I start this post, I just want to give a quick shout out to my little brother who graduated a couple of days ago!  Congrats on following the journey through! :)**

Back to my journeying…

The saying “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey / who you’re journeying with” is increasingly poignant to me as I get older.  Achievement, success, destiny… they’re all well and good but if we’re not learning things along the way; if we’re not changing, growing or becoming better people then it’s all meaningless.

This concept was illustrated so aptly for me over the weekend.  On Friday after devotions, it was announced that an ex-IDT client of ours had invited IJM to a “lunch” on Sunday.  Moved by the desire to get free food celebrate with this client and capture images as a good Communications Intern, I was more than happy to accept this invitation.  Those of us who attended, shared the same sentiments (celebrating with the client, that is).  The fact that we were all single (bar one), slightly crazy and always up for an adventure was neither here nor there…

Our ex-client’s home is about 1.5 hours outside of Nairobi, so we were comfortable that it would be a whole day affair.  Most of us were anticipating much jubilation, so didn’t have breakfast.  A crucial mistake.  We got a little bit lost trying to catch up with our other work mate, who was attending church near the client’s home and ended up reaching the venue much later than we anticipated.  “No worries” we thought – they’ll probably be halfway through eating when we arrive. 

Arriving at our client’s place we found that half the village had turned up and were seated under a large tent listening to different speakers of some prestige.  It turns out that the lunch was actually a dedication for our client’s new home and we had arrived just in time to hear the exhortations from the local pastors.

Nice.  Or maybe not?  The problem was the sermon was in spoken Kiswahili and being translated into Gikuyu (the language of the Kikuyu tribe).  Ninety minutes later and the pastors were still going.  At this point, we were getting a touch perplexed.  Even more disconcerting was that we had been made to stand a number of times.  It gave the appearance of a closing prayer, but was actually a method of ensuring that we were still awake.  That being said, it was entertaining watching the lead pastor and his interpreter bantering (and hollering) back and forth despite the fact I couldn’t understand anything.

Eventually we were led to the house for the blessing, where there was much singing, dancing and general merriment. 

The food was still awhile off from being served and some of us were close to crying or dying of hunger.  However, our saviour came in the form of Lucy, our  work mate. Her extended family was having a function at her parent’s place nearby, so it was quickly agreed that the best cause of action was to head there and eat before we considered other options.  Undeterred by the fact that we were straight-up gate-crashing a family party we headed there.  .  Ooh-wee.  Food at last!

Satisfied from our meal and gooood Kenya tea, we were in a position to think straight.  As Sam – one work mate put it “before, everything was so grey, now life has colour…”.  We called up our client to send apologies for the early departure and he insisted that we return to retrieve our gifts.  Back to our client’s house we went – for some official photos and lovely gifts of Kenyan Tea leaves from his farm.

Did we achieve our aim?  Sort of… We reached the client’s home and participated in some celebration… and we did eat, although not at the original function.  What did make the day worthwhile was the journey we had together.  In the car we had insane conversations, sang to radio at the top of our voices and generally enjoyed eachother’s company.  It was Lucy’s first time travelling with us she remarked “I’ve heard about you guys and your travelling.  If that’s what it’s like being with you people, then I’ve been missing out!”. 

As I look back on the last few years of my life journey I can definitely say that whenever I stopped paying attention to what I was learning or who I was with, I was missing out – even amidst the mundane or changing plans. 🙂

Lucy, Sam, Christine & Daniel