A Birthday to Remember

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist   |  Photos by Donna Atola and Benjamin, Hope Center staff member

A sponsored child in Malindi, Kenya, has her first birthday celebration after joining the Hope Center – a memory she holds dear, thanks to her sponsor who sent a birthday gift.

Mesalim, left, invited many friends to her birthday party, the first one she was ever able to celebrate thanks to a gift from her sponsor.

Everyone loves a good celebration to mark a trip around the sun. It is a timeless tradition for most people. But for most kids living in poverty in Kenya, the idea of a birthday celebration is foreign simply because it’s too expensive.

Mesalim, 7, had never celebrated a birthday before being enrolled at the Neema Hope Center in Kakoneni, a village in Malindi. Malindi is a coastal town in Kenya, 425 miles southeast of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

Mesalim lives with her grandparents because both her parents had passed away. She was enrolled in OneChild’s program in 2019 after her grandmother heard from a neighbor about openings for registration of kids at the Hope Center.

Her grandmother, Kabibi Zia, prayed for Mesalim to be selected.

“I am still glad that she got the chance to join the program,” Kabibi says. “A huge burden of caring for her in my old age is being taken care of.”

The Child Champions at the Hope Center teach the kids about Jesus, guide and counsel them, and also teach them skills like knitting and tailoring. The Hope Center also has play equipment, where Mesalim enjoys playing with her friends. The center also offers the kids food on each program day.

In addition, Child Champions visit the kids at home to check on them and their families, pray together, and deliver food baskets.

With her grandmother’s guidance, Mesalim cuts her first-ever birthday cake into slices.

The baskets serve the rest of the family because most people in the community, like Mesalim’s family, struggle to put food on the table.

Families Work Hard to Make Ends Meet

Mesalim’s grandfather, Zia Baya is a peasant farmer. He has a few goats and also grows maize during the short rainy season. Everything he grows is consumed by his family at home. Kabibi is a fruit vendor, selling fruits that are in season to earn a living.

Kabibi says her business earns her the equivalent of 80 cents to $1 a day. The little income is never enough to meet the needs of their household of five.

Most people in Kabibi’s neighborhood earn very little from small-scale grocery businesses, peasant farming, and other day-labor jobs. The little income is rarely enough to meet families’ basic needs.

Because money is so tight, no one thinks about birthday celebrations.

“I had never heard, seen, or attended a birthday party before,” Kabibi says. “I knew about such parties first from the Child Champion at the Hope Center.”

She says people in her community treat birthdays like any other normal day.

Mesalim and her family show some of the gifts she received from her sponsor.

“Most of us only remember our birth dates when we are asked, for example, in a hospital. And even then, you have to confirm the exact date,” Kabibi says.

A Blissful ‘First’ Birthday Party

Like most kids in her community, Mesalim had never celebrated her birthday. But in 2021 as she turned 7, her sponsor, Cyndi, sent her a birthday gift.

Benjamin, her Child Champion, informed them of the gift, and they planned on throwing Mesalim a party.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but Benjamin had told me that I would have a cake and other presents and that I should invite my friends,” Mesalim says. “I love cakes, but I only get to taste them from other kids in school. So, I was excited to finally have one for the first time.”

Even months after her first-ever birthday party, Mesalim still talks about it excitedly.

“That week leading to my party, I kept counting days and I reminded my grandmother each morning before leaving for school.”

At school, Mesalim told all her friends about her birthday party and invited them. She also invited her neighbors and her friends from church.

When the day came, Benjamin and other Child Champions got a cake and brought other presents to Mesalim’s home where the party was to take place.

She received a beautiful dress, shoes, a bag, and some writing materials as presents, thanks to her sponsor. Her family also received a food basket.

They later sang and danced before cutting and sharing the cake.

“I loved my presents so much and I enjoyed the cake,” Mesalim says. “It was so nice to have my friends over. May God bless Cyndi for making it all beautiful for me.”

Her grandmother says that, months later, Mesalim still speaks about her birthday.

“This is a story I listen to almost daily. Mesalim loved it and it is a memory she will never erase. It was also my first time, and I was also so excited about it. Her sponsor has touched us, and we are forever grateful for the sponsorship,” Kabibi says.

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