Dreaming Big in a Hard Place

Story and photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Content Specialist

A sponsored boy in Kenya discovers his talent, which is nurtured at his Hope Center, and he now lives his dream of playing in a band.

Stephen is enrolled at the Neema Hope Center in Kakoneni, a village in Kilifi County, Kenya.

As a child, Stephen was always amazed by how his older cousin would play the drum sets, guitar, and musical keyboard.

Stephen enjoyed watching his cousin and band members practice music and he always thought music was magical.

“Whenever they practiced their music, I would sit by the side to listen and enjoy,” Stephen says. “I followed my cousin to all his music concerts in the village just because the whole experience was adorable.”

Stephen, 14, is in the seventh grade and was enrolled into the OneChild sponsorship program at Neema Hope Center in 2012 when he was in kindergarten.

Stephen helps care for his younger sisters as his father is often away finding work. His parents separated and the children were left under the care of their father.

He lives in poverty with his father and siblings in Kakoneni, a village in Kilifi County, Kenya. Most of the time Stephen is left alone to care for his siblings because his father works in Malindi, which is 20 miles from home, and he only visits once in a while. His parents separated, and Stephen and his siblings were left under the care of their father.

With his father away most of the time, Stephen must care for his three younger sisters who are between the age of 3 and 8. His two older brothers help him with house chores since they can do most chores independently.

Stephen juggles attending school from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and caring for his sisters.

“I love reading. I leave home before 6 a.m. so that I can be at school at 6 a.m.,” he says. “This allows me to read for 30 minutes because it is always quiet. It gets noisy when other kids start coming into school.”

Hope Center the ‘Go-To’ Place

But before school, Stephen always ensures he has made breakfast for his younger siblings. He and his brother have a duty roster and take turns doing the chores. Some days, however, he goes to school hungry when they cannot afford breakfast.

On good days when they have a meal, he rushes home to prepare and have lunch with siblings before returning to school for afternoon classes.

On bad days, Stephen says, “We at times have nothing and lack someone to turn to. But when I lack food, I just walk to the Hope Center. My Child Champions always have a meal for me at lunchtime even when it is not program day.”

Over the years, and with help and encouragement from his Child Champions, Stephen has learned to play several musical instruments, including the bass.

He continues, “The Hope Center is our home. When my siblings get sick and we have no money for hospital bills or lack food at home, I just walk to the Hope Center. It is my go-to place in times of need. My Child Champions, Nelly and Benjamin, always provide solutions to our problems at home.”

School ends at 5 p.m. However, Stephen doesn’t go home immediately. He remains behind to consult his teachers on any subject he failed to understand during the day.

At school, one of his teachers has devoted her time to helping Stephen. She goes over homework corrections to help him improve his grades.

After the evening session at school, Stephen passes by the Hope Center on his way home to further study. The church at the Hope Center has electricity but Stephen’s home does not. His Child Champions take turns waiting for Stephen to complete studying in the evening before they can close the church. He at times studies until 8 p.m. before heading home.

Stephen stays as late as 8 p.m. at his Hope Center working on his homework.

“I choose to study at the Hope Center for long hours because it is peaceful and the environment is learning-friendly,” Stephen says.

“At home, I can’t read. Once I am home, I am always cleaning, doing house chores, and also attending to my baby sister.”

Child Champion Nelly says, “Stephen is one of the few people I can tell where they are. His everyday schedule entails dropping by here, even if he is just passing by to say hello. When we fail to see him at the Hope Center, we get worried. Seeing him around, to us, is an indication that he is either OK or a problem he had has been solved.”

Learning to Make His Own Music

Stephen says the Hope Center helps reduce the burdens at home. In addition to receiving care from the center, he receives school uniforms, revision books, and food baskets. His examination fee at school is also paid for by the Hope Center.

He also gets to learn about Jesus when he attends the program on Saturdays.

With the help of the church that partners with Stephen’s Hope Center, Child Champions purchased several musical instruments, like this keyboard.

But despite all the challenges Stephen faces, he is always tops in his class. He is also talented at playing musical instruments.

After watching his cousin play instruments in bands and also in the church, Stephen wanted to learn music as well.

He was, however, never allowed to learn to play the instruments owned by the band or the church because they feared kids would damage them.

So, Stephen instead went home and designed a drum set using plastic containers. He would then listen to his cousin playing the drums in the band and imitate him.

Later, the Hope Center, through the church, purchased some musical instruments, and Stephen was allowed to play them while at the Hope Center.

Stephen loves to play the electric guitar.

His knowledge in playing drums earned him a position as a drummer in his church before he was 10.

“I was overjoyed when I was offered the chance to play drums in church. It was always my dream,” he recalls.

He later learned to play the electric and bass guitars, then the musical keyboard and the trumpet. Currently, he is learning vocals and at times leads the choir in church.

Balancing Music and Studies

His passion and talent for music also earned him a position in a local band led by Joshua, a volunteer at the Hope Center.

“Joshua inspires me,” Stephen says. “I love how he can play most instruments, and above that, he is so kind. He pushes me to better my skills. He linked me up with the band and made sure I was registered. I never imagined I would play in a band, but God used Joshua to lead me to my dream.”

Stephen’s band is usually contracted to perform at different events within Kilifi County. From that, Stephen earns a little cash that goes into further supporting his family’s needs at home.

He says support from Joshua and the other Child Champions has helped him balance his love for music and education.

“I have to strike a balance because I love both music and my studies, and this is only possible because of the Hope Center and the church,” Stephen says.

Thanks to Stephen’s position in the band, younger kids are slowly trying to train on the instruments because Stephen inspires them. He also volunteers to teach kids to play instruments every Sunday after the church service.

Stephen hopes to serve in the military when he grows up because he admires the discipline in the forces.

His prayer for his siblings and the kids in his community is that, despite the hardship in the area, they can identify their talents and excel in them. He also prays that more people can volunteer to be champions for the young kids so that they can be better adults in the future.

Help kids like Stephen realize their potential and give them hope for a better future through sponsorship.

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