I’ve lived in Africa long enough to watch some kids grow up. I’ve seen a boy struggle with the effects of HIV through his formative years only to succumb to it at the age of twenty. But I’ve also seen an orphan rise to the top of his class, graduate university and go on to be the owner of a successful business. With so many of the children that I encounter here each day, I can’t help but wonder what will become of them in ten or twenty years.
Emali, Kenya is divided by the Nairobi – Mombasa highway. It’s not only a physical boundary, but a geographic one as well. The south side of the road marks the boundary of the blistering, flat planes, home to the Maasai tribe, that receive little if any rain at all during the year. The north side marks the beginning of the hills inhabited by the Kamba tribe, where soil is more fertile and rain a bit more regular. As Maasais, Lewis and his family live on the wrong side of the road.
It takes nearly an hour to reach Lewis’ home by Land Rover after a turnoff from the main highway. Along the trail we pass ostriches and zebra and a trio of giraffes roaming in the wilderness. Groups of uniformed children sometimes emerge from the thick thorny brush on their commute home from school. A shepherd pushes his thirsty herd down the path in search for water, trailed by a heavy wake of dust. The only thing that I know about Lewis is that he was identified as having both anemia and stunted growth by researches earlier in the year. The cases are abnormally high in this area, and it’s easy to see why. How can anyone even attempt to live off of this land? How is survival here possible?
Normally when I come out to film the story of a family for ChildFund NZ the dynamic is a bit different. Normally I come out after the fact, when the story has already been written, when interventions have been made, and when success has been achieved. But the verdict is still out on Lewis and his mother, his brothers and sisters. They’re unable to grow food for themselves and often have to rely on the generosity of others to get a meal. Because of this I expect an uphill battle in the filming process. I expect the first thing Lewis’ mother will do will be to look me sternly in the eye and ask, “What’s in this for us, Americano?”
But as usual, my expectations are unfounded. We’re greeted by Mercy, Lewis’ mother, with cups of sweet tea and a smile. She sends out an emissary to gather all the available stools from the neighbors so that we can have somewhere to sit. Lewis and his younger sister timidly hide behind their mother’s colorful cape and whisper to one another while the visitors drink in the hospitality.
Mercy does not refuse us and agrees to let me film her family’s story–at least the first half of it. I’m convinced this story is only partially told. I hope that I can return in a few years’ time and see the healthy young man that Lewis has become, and to see how his family and neighbors have prospered. I hope to be able to watch as Mercy’s grandchildren sit incredulously, listening to her stories of how hard life was back before they were born. I hope that, unlike Lewis, his own children’s greatest worry will be passing their exams, and not finding their next meal. What’s greater than envisioning this future prosperity is knowing that all of it is well within the realm of possibility. The video at the top of this post explains how ChildFund New Zealand will accomplish this. The project will help Lewis’ and 1,500 other families in Emali overcome the effects of drought in their area.