The Santa that brings smiles to children’s faces all year round
No, not in the North Pole but right here in Nairobi; Agape Hope Children Centre and the amazing work being done by Oliver and Margaret. 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, 365 days in a year.
In my family, Christmas has been a time to share a meal and laughter together. Whether upcountry or in the city.
This year, I sent this message to my dad:
His response? Something to the tune of “We will miss you dearly, but support you fully”.
Finding Agape Hope Children Centre
I had been to a number of children’s homes before but they were otherwise well known and easily accessible. I figured those would be thronging with similar well-wishers. Same with anything showing up on Twitter.
So I started with what I know: Google. A myriad of permutations of “orphanage”, “children’s home”, and “child care” led me down a rabbit hole.
A good rabbit hole. Because it allowed me to find this link along with a few others that I visited and intend to visit soon.
Luckily they were on Google Maps (another children’s home visit earlier on the same day involved a police station stop and asking a few pedestrians for directions), but you’d doubt location until you arrived and saw the sign outside.
Welcomed by Santa
I don’t think there is a sight quite like being welcomed by Santa.
At first, I was taken aback by the man; a full Santa suit with beard and belt. He didn’t look hired, nor smell of alcohol. He was clean, authoritative, and the man who opened the gate for me said he’s the Mwenyewe (founder or owner in Swahili).
Here is the man running a children’s home for the past 11 years, “Dad” as I later learnt they all call him, in 30 degree sun, Santa suit, hat, beard, and all, watching over the children as they ate.
He didn’t get someone else to wear the suit, didn’t take anything off once while we were there, and could recall each of the hundred and eighty or so children’s names by heart.
“I can recall 99% of all the children’s names. And even that one percent, it’s that I won’t be able to recall in an instance. But I know their name.” — Oliver
My parents struggle to remember our names (3 boys), and Oliver’s ability to call each child that passed us by name was quite something.
Margaret, a soft spoken and absolutely lovely lady with the heart of an angel, is “Mum” to everyone in the compound, and Oliver’s wife.
She doesn’t always cook but on Christmas day, she takes pride in having the children eat her cooking.
Admittedly, I do know the sweet sweet taste of my own mother’s cooking (when she does cook). So I can only guess the kind of warmth that it brings the children at Agape every year.
“Usiogope, uko Agape.” — Margaret (“Mum”)
…translated as “Do not fear, you are at Agape”. A phrase used when children first arrive at Agape Hope Children Centre.
Police Threats and Street Children
Early 17th century: from Greek agapē ‘selfless love.’
They hadn’t mentioned it, but the meaning of Agape (a·ga·pe) rings true in everything they do. A show of selfless love at every turn.
As has been happening, the area Officer Commanding Police Station (OCS) would bring children, either from the streets or with issues at home to Oliver, but at the same time threaten to put him in jail for not feeding them enough.
Oliver and Margaret would always take in the children but it would put massive strains on food supply. They would then dig deep, and share the little they had but refused to turn away a child.
Cows, Chicken, and Rabbit to Supplement Food Donations
They say give a man a fish and they shall eat for a day, but give Oliver and Margaret a cow and they shall feed the children with milk for years.
Creative Minds and Spider Man Drawings
The girls’ sleeping quarters was an unexpected surprise. Oliver, very respectful of their privacy, would call out to them way before reaching the door and knocking.
Entering the room, your eye would immediately be caught be exercise books creatively reused and sculpted hanging as lanterns. Just beyond them, a hand drawn Spider Man poster.
A little can go a long way.
Instead of setting up that children’s home I’ve always dreamed of, perhaps I should look for more efficient ways to support currently established institutions or groups of people.
There must be ways of helping others like myself to discover and contribute to such “not-well-known” establishments. Mapping project?
A steady supply of resources is necessary for long term impact.
Added incentives by government through policy and engagement could spur charitable giving and institutions establishment. e.g where Agape is renting the property, the land lord should be offered tax/land-rate breaks.
Access to information and spaces for individuals like Oliver and Margaret to help shape ideas and contribute to shared knowledge among people with similar institutions. Particularly when there is overcrowding in one establishment, there can be a quick network of being able to find a bed + food for the child.
Agape Hope Children Centre Contacts
Mobile: +254 721 511963 / +254 722 320636
Location: Google Maps Link