My Bipolar Trip to Kenya

Sweet and spunky Margaret, who I’ve known since she was just a toddler

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The past seven weeks in Kenya have been quite a ride. In reflection, I’m not even sure how to describe it, but I imagine if bipolar could be an adjective to describe things other than humans, this would be an appropriate time to use it. On this trip to Kenya I experienced some of the most exciting days of my life and also some of the saddest.  Some joyful moments were overshadowed by unfortunate circumstances, but I can’t discount how many amazing things happened. Most days I was up by seven and not in bed until after midnight.  I was busy to say the least! Here’s a brief recap and what you can expect to hear about soon: 

The bad and downright ugly:

The worst part of the trip was dealing with the orphanage. It’s no secret that there have been issues at Watoto Wa Baraka for a while now (this was my third trip back to volunteer there), mostly on the financial side. But when I discovered that an employee and family member of the director broke a child’s leg shortly after I left last time, I was appalled. She caned him until she broke his leg (his femur bone actually). The woman was never fired and kids have complained about her to the director. And nothing was done. I was furious at how many children, staff members, and even volunteers knew what happened. And no one did anything. And she’s still allowed to discipline the children. I spent a good week meeting with different government officials to get the ball rolling on an investigation. I have since heard that the director is hurt that I didn’t speak to him first. One, he would have punished children or fired staff members that he thought told me about it since they were all told it was a big secret (which truth be told, he’d probably be shocked if he found out how I know). And, the fact that he didn’t fire her immediately shows me that he has not put those children first. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that the investigation protects the children and looks out for their best interest. In a small step forward, after I reported the abuse, the director tried to kick out all of the older children that he thought might be talking. I seriously wonder what happened to his conscience. How do you kick orphans out? Luckily, the government intervened immediately and even though the children are still staying in that home, at least they are getting fed well and are still in school. Small steps. I put a lot of people’s lives at risk by reporting the orphanage and am living with those consequences. I’m staying mum on that one but let’s just say for some people, things will never be the same. While I probably won’t write anymore on this issue because it’s downright nauseating just how many things happened while I was there, I will post if anything changes.

My last few days in Nairobi (yes, I still love that dirty overcrowded city), I saw police using unnecessary force on someone, an attempted mugging, and mild mob violence on a child in a slum. It just reached that point where I knew it was time to go.

And now for the amazing and beautiful part of Kenya:

John sporting one of his school uniforms

First and foremost, John is finally in a boarding school. And not just any boarding school- it is seriously amazing! I wish I could gush about every last detail, but I still plan on posting about our school search. He’s in a private boarding school with small class sizes, a proper science lab (a rarity in Kenya), a computer lab with internet, a well-balanced diet, and amazing staff. Schools like this would make people’s jaw drop in our village. While I might need to sell one of my kidneys to make the next payment, I can’t think of anyone else that deserves this as much as he does. When we visited the school the first time, John told the principal, “Never in all my life have I seen a school such as this.” The principal laughed heartily, turned to me, and said, “This boy, he is very funny.” :) If only the principal knew…

Enjoying the beautiful coast of Kenya

At the beginning of my trip to Kenya, the boys and I went to Mombasa. They had never seen the beach and wondered whether people there cook with the salt water. The question has yet to be answered on my blog, but soon! We spent an amazing week swimming in the ocean, playing in the pool, making friends with beach boys, befriending a dog at our guesthouse, and eating delicious food.

I visited my friend’s project called Lisha Mtoto, a feeding and education program in Kibera. It was incredible! I’m so impressed by the children, the parents’ involvement, and the management of it. More on that to come.

I also visited with old friends and made lots, and lots, of new friends- muzungu volunteers who share similar interests and locals that inspired me and lifted my spirits when things got tough. From a restaurant employee who promised to visit John at boarding school to the artisans of Kibera to a local with great ideas, I can’t wait to keep in touch with everyone.

John’s birthday dinner at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi

We celebrated John’s 21st birthday. It’s actually his first birthday ever to celebrate… heck he didn’t even know when his birth date was until I dug up his birth certificate because I needed it for school applications. Jackie and I left him speechless with our little birthday surprise and it was a very memorable evening.

So, this trip to Kenya was no less of an adventure than any other, and I can’t wait to share some photos, stories, and special moments with you (like the fact that four motorbike taxis broke down on me and I think I’m cursed).

Here are just a few more pictures from the beautiful kids of Watoto Wa Baraka. I will miss them dearly and I hope they always know how much I love them…

Smart and sporty Daniel and sweet Mary who never fails to smile on command


Baby Joyce, the drama queen and future actress. Love this girl.


Ebenezer, the most helpful and loving child I think I’ve ever met
Lulu, irresistibly cute and could care less about muzungus :)
Mwangi, Mwangi, and Solomon. The Mwangis are the best of friends!
New Year’s Eve at Mithini- sharing the joy of s’mores with these kids!
Wambui, a great big sister who looks after Margaret and Mary as if she were their mother.

If you have followed my blog for a while, or my personal facebook page, you might recognize the girls in the first and last picture… they are John’s nieces and I posted their photos from 2008 in this post. And if you need to see another precious photo of Mwangi, click here.

8 thoughts on “My Bipolar Trip to Kenya

  • Laura, I’d seen a little bit about the orphanage from other things you have said online, and I am so sorry for the children involved. I’m praying that the progress you all initiated with the investigation moves along and health, safety, and wellness comes for all of those beautiful, smiling faces.

    I’m so glad you decided to go — the kids needed you and you met so many great people who share your passions. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

    • It really is awful. I just can’t imagine. The little boy spent 6 weeks in the hospital for it. But justice will come in some form another I’m certain.

  • Your first story about the orphanage made me tear up because of how awful it was. Then your photo and stories about John made me tear up because of the amazingness. You must have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

    • Kyle, I was a hot mess. That’s the best way to describe it. In Nairobi, I’d get a phone call at 6am from a child and just cry. Then by 9am, I was shopping for John’s school uniforms. Or visiting inspiring people in Kibera. Or discussing new projects with friends. Life was a rollercoaster but I survived… especially knowing that those kids aren’t as fortunate.

  • I am so sad to read the first part of your post. How disgusting. Then again, I am so thrilled you stood up for the child. I am sure it was risky for you, too. I can’t wait to read more!

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