A Child Champion introduces brickmaking to youths at a Hope Center in Kenya to equip them with a skill that will earn income and help them be independent as they get older. He hopes that the kids can be agents of change in the community and bless people like they have been blessed at the Hope Center.
When Daniel Chengo’s son enrolled in the OneChild program at Matumani Hope Center in Malindi, Kenya, he had high hopes that his son would have a brighter future. However, he never figured that he, too, would be greatly involved in helping to change the lives of many other kids in his village.
In 2009, the news went around Bahati village in Malindi, a coastal town in Kenya, that an organization, then called Mission of Mercy and now called OneChild, was seeking to partner with a local church to sponsor vulnerable kids living in poverty and bring change to their lives.
“When the announcement was made in church for people to bring their children for registration, the church’s pastor, who is my close friend, shared it with me,” says Daniel, who also ministers at the Sunday school department in his church. “I didn’t think twice because, to me, it was an answered prayer.”
His son, Kevin Chengo, who then was 5 years old, was enrolled into the OneChild program.
Daniel, like most members of his impoverished community, was struggling to provide for his family. With the little rainfall that the area receives annually, most of the villagers are peasant farmers and rely on farming cassavas to feed their families. And for those who are lucky enough to have extra cassavas to sell, they can make the equivalent of $1 to $2 a day.
Others in the village cut trees to make charcoal to sell, but with the current extreme deforestation in the area, they are unable to make a living from selling charcoal alone.
The high child poverty levels in the area made caregivers not consider education as a priority a decade ago, and with kids lacking mentors, most never dared to dream. The few that dared to dream had their dreams cut short by poverty that never allowed them to attend school.
“A decade ago, this community was different. Very few children attended school because most of them were helping their parents look for food. And the levels of stress then were so high that some kids got involved in drug and substance abuse,” Daniel says.
Building Better, Brick by Brick
After Daniel’s son was enrolled in the OneChild program, Daniel was elected by the caregivers to chair the Hope Center’s committee. Having been given a major role, Daniel started thinking of ways to make the Hope Center better.
“We had a lot of items from the sponsors come in, but we did not have a place to securely store some of the items that didn’t go directly to the children,” he says. “Like food items that they ate at the Hope Center, it needed proper and sufficient storage. Yet all we had was a tiny structure that acted as an office for both the church and the Hope Center and also doubled up as a store.”
Daniel is also a mason. He had the idea to have the caregivers construct a better building. He then suggested to caregivers during a meeting to bring in locally available material like sand and water so that they could make bricks to construct a building.
He then also asked other volunteers to help him make the bricks. With his guidance, they were able to make bricks.
However, they couldn’t afford cement they needed to construct a building. But OneChild stepped in to help purchase the needed cement, and together with effort from the caregivers, built a structure that was partitioned into a store and an office.
This motivated Daniel to share his skills with more people in the community, particularly teenagers at the Hope Center.
“When I received the calling to minister, I believe I was called to minister to the kids, in Sunday school and at the Hope Center,” says Daniel. “I just didn’t know that God had set me up for a greater calling, which is to teach masonry. Masonry is so dear to me and having to pass it down to precious little ones is a blessing.”
Teaching a Valuable Life Skill
With the Hope Center offering food, gifts, and play equipment, kids attend the program full time, and they get to learn about Jesus and also receive medical care. The full-time attendance offered an opportunity for Daniel to gather the older kids and introduce masonry skills.
“Children are a resource, but it is easier to assume that one can get a hold of them anywhere and anytime. But the truth is that they are not easy to find, more so when you have nothing to attract them. The Hope Center has played a major role at attracting the kids and motivating them to learn, and it is from this understanding that I took the chance to tap into this great resource,” he says.
Once the older kids at the center grew into teenagers, Daniel started teaching them how to make bricks. His hope was to construct classrooms in the future, after the kids had mastered the skills. Apart from meeting the then-urgent need for classrooms at the center, he wanted to ensure that the kids had an income-earning skill when they got older.
“We had a small learning space for the kids, and I think then, they were over 200. So, we needed to have classrooms that would accommodate all of them and make their experience at the Hope Center more comfortable,” Daniel says.
“But above all, I had realized that kids go through the formal education system and finish their schooling without any extra skill, so I wanted the kids in my community to stand out and have a skill that will make them independent in the future.”
He continues, “My hope is that the kids can learn skills that will help create jobs, for transformation in the community.”
In 2016, Daniel, together with the kids, managed to make over 600 bricks.
With the bricks done, the caregivers stepped in and helped construct three classrooms, and now kids get to comfortably learn while at the Hope Center.
Encouraged to do Great Things
The classrooms have greatly saved the kids from the adverse weather, the scorching sun that is experienced for a better part of the year, and dust and rain.
Daniel says teaching masonry has gone a long way in enforcing discipline in the kids.
“Masonry needs a lot of keenness and patience before one can master the skill,” he says. “So, I keep encouraging them whenever I see they are almost losing interest because most kids love when things work out fast and perfect on the first trial.”
He further says that apart from the skill being an addition to what the formal education system in Kenya offers, to some kids, it is all they excel at in life.
“Not everyone is blessed to excel in formal education. We have those that are blessed with craftsmanship, and it is wonderful to identify and nurture these skills at a younger age.”
Thanks to OneChild’s support, the community has experienced much positive change over the last 12 years. Most kids now enjoy going to school because they receive food baskets, school uniforms, and shoes from the Hope Center. They no longer need to stay out farming or working menial jobs with their parents to bring food to the table.
The kids and teenagers can now dream, too, because they have great Child Champions like Daniel at the center to look up to and encourage them to do great things, which fills them with hope.
Daniel’s hope for the kids is that they carry on with masonry even after they exit the program at the Hope Center, and that they can touch and change people’s lives, the same way OneChild changed the community in Bahati village.
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