Childhood Hardships Fuel
The grueling challenges a Kenyan woman endured in her childhood inspire her to devote a life of service to kids living in hard places.
In 2007, Emarti Hope Center was established in a remote village in Kajiado, Kenya. When kids from the community were registered in the OneChild sponsorship program, the host church came up with a plan for church members to help care for the kids at the Hope Center.
A duty roster was made and volunteers from the church were assigned different duties on program days. The duties included cooking, cleaning, and teaching the kids at the Hope Center.
Magdalene Mbotela was among the people assigned to prepare meals for the kids. After two years the church leadership recognized that, of those who volunteered at the center, Magdalene was one of the most consistent and motivated people who served the kids.
The church then decided to permanently have Magdalene and three other ladies continue to prepare food for the kids. Magdalene’s son, Daudi, was among the kids registered into the program.
“I found it easy to come to cook for the kids,” Magdalene says. “It just felt as though I was cooking for my own kids at home and my joy then was to see kids happy after a meal.
“I knew that service to the kids was service to God.
“So whenever a child would come to me asking for more food, I would get fulfilled knowing they loved it and that I cooked my best.”
A Long and Difficult Walk to School
The hardships Magdalene faced in her own childhood makes helping the kids especially important to her. Magdalene says that, despite growing up in a good home, she, like most kids in her village had a difficult childhood.
She is the fourth of nine siblings. They lived with their parents in a close-knit village in Kajiado.
Magdelene recalls that their village was so remote that there were no roads, and they struggled to access essential services in the areas like education and health care. She doesn’t recall seeing a medical facility in her community. For her education, she had to walk 28 miles round-trip to attend school.
“We would leave home before dawn at 4:30 a.m. to be at school before 8 a.m., and return after sunset at around 7 p.m.,” she recalls.
In addition to the long distance they had to walk, she says the journey to school was a risky one.
With no clear road, they had to follow some bushy paths and cross two small rocky hills and three seasonal rivers to get to school.
“We had shoes, but we had to carry the shoes and walk barefooted because we’d risk slipping and falling down when climbing up and down the rocky hills. I still have scars on my foot that I got from sliding and falling while walking to school,” she recounts.
Magdalene and kids from her neighborhood also encountered wild animals like elephants, buffaloes, lions, snakes, gazelles, hyenas, cheetahs, and wild dogs on their way to school.
She says, traditionally, boys and girls were not allowed to freely interact unless they were family members. The genders had to maintain some distance as a sign of respect for each other.
So, on days when her elder brothers had left early for school, she had to seek company from girls in her neighborhood. When the girls encountered wild animals, they had to wait for the animals to go away before they could continue their journey to school.
Also, on rainy days, the seasonal rivers would flood so they had to wait for the water to recede so they could cross over.
At times they would be forced to spend the night in random homes near the school when the rivers flooded while they were at school.
But despite the challenges, Magdalene never gave up.
“The journey became lighter because we were each other’s keepers,” she says.
“I never walked alone to school and having my friends with me encouraged me to go on with my education. I also loved learning things that I wouldn’t have learned if I stayed at home.”
Moved By the Word of Christ
Despite Magdalene’s love for learning, she was only able to complete primary school before she was married off when she was 16. She says that at that time most parents didn’t support education for girls in her community beyond the primary level.
“They thought primary level education was enough for the girl child. So only boys were allowed to go beyond. The girls had to be married off after primary school. It was not our choice but a decision by the elders in our community,” she says.
While Magdalene was still in school, she had the opportunity to learn about Jesus. She recalls that when she was about 12, some missionaries built the first church in their village. They would then walk door-to-door talking to people about Jesus.
She recalls that an evangelist visited their home and spoke about obedience to God from Leviticus 26.
“That Word never left me,” she says. “I thought about it, and I felt compelled at heart to follow Christ.”
When she went to church the following Sunday, at 14 years of age, Magdalene decided to give her life to Christ.
She loved singing in church and cleaning the church every Saturday evening.
Helping Kids in Hard Places Thrive
After Magdalene got married, she and her husband, who is now deceased, had five children. Of the five, one of her sons was registered when the Hope Center was launched.
That’s when Magdalene began serving at the Hope Center.
“I am humbled to be among the people who help hold the hands of these kids,” she says.
“I know what I felt when I had to leave school because then people never thought I would amount to much. But seeing kids at the center explore greater heights gives me joy because I am part of their journey.”
Her son Daudi already graduated from the program and is waiting to start college.
She says seeing her son thrive in life inspires her to go to the Hope Center to cook for other kids with the hope that they, too, can thrive as her son is.
“My son is so responsible. He’s currently pursuing a career in soccer as he awaits to start college,” says Magdalene. “If he hadn’t joined the Hope Center, who knows — maybe he would be struggling with the peer pressure that has kids doing drugs in the community.
“I also believe that God rewards me. He takes care of my children as I serve other children. And this is one reward that I doubt I would have gotten if I was not serving these kids.”
Her hope in life is that all kids in her community can be allowed to dream and be supported to achieve their dreams.
“I hoped to become a teacher, but it was all a dream. I hope all kids in hard places get to live their dreams and that we, their support system, can help them reach there,” she says.
Although Magdalene may not realize it, her example of faithfulness and service are teaching the kids valuable lessons every time they see her.
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