When Hope Gives You Strength
to Walk Toward Your Dream

By Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

A Child Champion in Kenya recalls the nearly insurmountable hurdles of poverty in his childhood, and how he overcame them to live his dream life. He shares his story to encourage kids in hard places in his community.

Benson is the Director at Hossana Hope Center in Malindi, Kenya, where he lives out his dream of helping kids.

“My experience as a child growing up in poverty shaped me, but it did not define me,” says Benson, the Director at Hossana Hope Center in Malindi, Kenya.

Benson, 32, the fifth of nine children, was born and raised in Malanga, an impoverished village in Malindi.

He recalls his family living in poverty in a tiny, two-room house with earthen walls.

One room had a mat made from papyrus reeds that served as a bed for his parents. The other room was a living room by day and the kids’ bedroom by night.

The kids slept on the floor because their parents could not afford another mat for them.

As his first three brothers became teenagers, Benson says, his uncles urged them to build a separate house where they could sleep. So, Benson and his brothers built a 5-foot-tall structure with earthen walls.

They couldn’t afford to buy enough coconut leaves to cover the roof, so they used the few they had and patched up the remaining gaps with makeshift materials.

“We were happy to have a separate house as boys,” Benson says. “The cracks on the roof never mattered. I would fall asleep watching the stars at night, and I loved it. It only got tough on rainy nights. We would squeeze up in one corner that had no patches to get through the night.”

Their father worked as a cook at a college in Kilifi town, 32 miles away from home, while their mother was a housewife.

Tragedy Sends Family Deep Into Poverty

When Benson was in grade three in 2002 his father suffered a stroke and lost the ability to walk. His mother had to step up and become the family’s breadwinner while also taking care of their invalid father. She worked as a casual laborer on farms to get food.

Benson enjoys teaching kids, playing with them, and listening to them.

Benson says his father’s disability sent the family deep into poverty. The kids were forced to join their mother to work on farms every morning before school.

“After Father got sick, we had to adjust our morning routines,” Benson says.

“We would wake up early to go join our mother in digging on people’s farms, and they would pay us giving us cassavas (edible root vegetables). We would rush home, boil the cassava, eat, then run to school before 8 a.m. That was the only way we would have something for the day.”

The most common foods in his community are vegetables and ugali, a thick porridge made from cornmeal, which is also a staple food in Kenya. But Benson’s family had only boiled cassavas because their mother could not afford ugali and vegetables.

On weekends when not in school, Benson and his brothers would spend the day helping their mother work on the farms. However, he says that was only possible on the days that their mother got jobs on the farms.

On the days that she lacked work, the older kids would go hungry for the day because she could only afford to get a little porridge flour from her neighbors, which would serve as food for the youngest child. Child hunger was a real issue in his family.

At times, their mother would walk for 20 miles to look for mangoes in the hills far away from home so they could have that as their only meal in the evenings.

In addition to struggling to get food, the family also struggled with other basic needs.

Benson plays with some of the kids at the Hope Center.

“Food was the primary need. Other things like clothes were secondary needs that were never treated with any urgency,” Benson says.

The nine of them had two pairs of clothes each. They would wear one pair for a week before changing to the other. That was the order of the day back then until one of the pairs wore out.

“On the days that we had only a pair of clothes, we would wash them once a week, at night, air dry them, then put them on the following morning,” Benson says.

But despite the hardships, he says that their mother did her best to ensure that in addition to the clothes, they each had flip-flops to wear to church on Sundays.

Childhood Dreams and Backup Dreams

As a child, Benson says, he had many dreams.

“I wanted to become an engineer,” he says, then laughs before pausing for a second. “Growing up, I had four dreams. Apart from becoming an engineer, I also wanted to become a doctor, then a teacher, and also a journalist.”

Benson works with kids at their Hope Center.

He had the dreams with the hope that if he failed to achieve the first dream, he had a backup plan of what other vocation he would pursue.

“I now look back and wish I had a mentor to guide me,” Benson says. “I think I would have figured out early in life what my gifts were and what I wanted to become. This would help me sharpen my skills and focus on growing up.”

After completing his primary education, Benson had to stay home for nearly a year before joining high school because his family could not afford to pay his school fees.

After nine months of waiting, hope came Benson’s way. He heard about a scholarship fund being issued in his village. He applied for it and got it. So, he was able to attend high school because the tuition fee through his four years of high school was fully covered by the scholarship.

Answering a Calling to Serve Kids

While in high school, Benson began volunteering to serve in the Sunday school at his church during school holidays. While serving at Sunday school, he learned about Matumaini Hope Center at his church.

“I realized that I enjoyed teaching the kids, playing with them, and listening to them,” he says. “I knew it was something I wanted to pursue in the long run.”

After graduating from high school, he had to take a year off to save up for his college tuition. He had gotten a chance to study teaching, one of his many childhood dreams.

In 2015, he joined Matumanini Hope Center as a volunteer teacher, and in April 2016, the center employed him as a Child Champion. He was then transferred to Hossana Hope Center in 2020 to be the center’s Director.

After getting the job, Benson and his older brothers began paying school fees for their younger siblings, who have since completed high school.

Sharing His Tale of Hope

Benson’s childhood is similar to what most kids living in poverty go through. Thanks to the Hope Center in his community now, registered kids have someone to hold their hands, unlike Benson who had no Child Champion growing up.

Benson believes strongly in the power of hope.

“When I look back at how we were, I wonder how we survived,” he says.

“I think God deeply cared for us. Because despite all the challenges, I was so hopeful for a brighter future as an adult. I think there was a cloud covering us, and God had an angel watching over us.”

As he recalls his childhood, he says despite the poverty, his hope for the future gave him the strength to walk toward his dream of being a teacher.

“Whenever we went to sleep hungry, or when I was sick and had no medicines, it was at moments like that, that I saw clear pictures of my future. I saw myself affording basic needs, taking care of my family, and pursuing my career. I think such moments allowed me to see into my future,” Benson says.

Today, Benson tells his story to the kids at the Hope Center to encourage them not to give up hope.

“Hope is so powerful,” he says “It makes dreams come true and it changes situations. When I realized how powerful hope is, I decided I will not only give hope to kids in hard places but would also encourage them to never give up hope.”

He says that most kids at the center, who come from poor families, at first doubt his story. So they come to him to confirm it.

“I tell my story without shame because I know a child will be hopeful after seeing who I am today despite what I went through as a child,” Benson says.

His hope for kids in hard places is that they can use their current situations as motivation to put their best foot forward, and later use their story to give hope to other people.

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