THE FIRST OF A KIND: CAMP DAVID KENYA

What seemed like a dream finally came to reality. For the very first time, a camp for children with parents in prison in Kenya was held; and it was conducted by Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO), an organization based in USA. This was in partnership with Wells of Hope Ministries, UG and PREAJ Ministries based in Kenya. Camp David Kenya was held from 2nd to 5th September 2019 with the theme KUISHI, a Kiswahili word meaning Dying To Live.

On Sunday September 8th a team of 12, comprising friends from Camp David and Wells of Hope members (staff and Wells of Hope High School students) set off for Kenya in excitement for the week ahead. For most of the team, this was our very first time to travel to Kenya. I couldn’t help wondering what the country was like; say culture and dishes; all I knew was what I had heard from people who had been there. At the border, we were warmly welcomed by Chaplain Chrispinus Wafula, a Welfare Officer at Busia Prison and Programs Coordinator of Wells of Hope interventions in Kenya. Right from the border, the most spoken language was Kiswahili; this reminded me of the Kiswahili lessons a friend of mine was to guide me through, which never happened. After checking into one of the hotels in Busia (Kenya) town, the team was treated to a lovely meal and later reviewed the weekly program before retiring to bed.

On Monday morning, we headed to Satellite Academy which was the campsite; we were very excited to meet the children and staff who were going to help out during camp. The camp was commenced with setting up locations of the different rotations which included: What About It (a class about helping children cope with parental imprisonment), Crafts, Field Games, Team Pictures (which was done on the first day), Slingshots and Team Building.  Unlike Camp David Uganda, most of the children who attended camp are boys. We were told that most families still keep the girls at home to do chores or take care of the homes while the boys go to school. The children were grouped into 5 teams; 2 (Jades & Pearls) for girls and 3 (Lions, Tigers & Panthers) for boys. Two staff who played the role of counselors were attached to a team. Other team members and volunteers were part of the support staff (in charge of meals, cleanliness of campsite, among other duties) and leadership; the Camp Directors were Marjorie Lunkuse Wells of Hope’s Deputy Executive Director, Ben & Grace Smith, Founders and Directors of Camp David of the Ozarks (CDO). Francis Ssuubi, Wells of Hope Founder was the Camp Uncle.

The classes/sessions were conducted with translators because most of the children related better with Kiswahili.

Ben, who the children preferred to call Papa Big Heart conducting the What About It (WAI) class
Lexie showing Ferrny and Singapaul how to make a face mask
Godfrey conducting conducting a Team Building class with the Lions

At first, the children were a bit shy and reserved but with time, they were able to open up and be actively engaged in the sessions as they cheerfully mingled with the visitors. Due to the language barrier, I was a bit skeptical about our interaction with the children during some activities. I had no idea how it was going to be but I was totally amazed to see the children (especially those who were withdrawn) joyfully engaged in football, talent show and the shaving cream battle. The wide smiles on the children’s faces took away all the anxiety I had earlier.

Children and staff sharing a photo during the shaving cream battle
Talent Show: The Tigers making a presentation about the camp theme, Dying To Live,
Jabari (in yellow T-Shirt) playing football with children during their free time

Some of the top highlights during the camp were the shaving cream battle, celebrating the birthdays of the children and witnessing 12 children being baptized. The birthday party was held in the main hall; the decoration was breathtaking! One at a time, each team made an entrance while they were being cheered on by staff.

Grace, who the children preferred to call Mama Rose giving Juma a high-five as he entered the Hall

The children couldn’t hide their glee as they cut their birthday cakes and received their gifts. For most of these children, it was a whole new experience. The girls wrapped their hands around their dolls while the boys played with their toy trucks and soccer balls. Among other gifts included: flip-flops, dresses and towels.

Francis Ssuubi, Wells of Hope founder joining the Lions as they celebrate their birthdays

12 children who had undergone a baptism session with Ben (who the children preferred to call Papa Big Heart) were baptized by Papa Big Heart and Mama Rose.

The camp was climaxed with handing over photo albums to the children, awarding certificates, awarding medals to winners and a campfire where the children roasted corn. The overall winners among the 5 teams were the tigers; who showed great teamwork and competition.

The tigers who emerged winners

Camp David Kenya was such a great experience for the children with incarcerated parents in Kenya; most of them came from different regions/cities like Nairobi. Chrispinus and his team traced their families prior to the camp and most of the children come from very remote areas. During camp, I got to know some of the stories of these children: Jane 7 years (not real name) stays with her grandmother who’s very frail and sickly. Her mother abandoned her and her father is serving a long term sentence in prison. During camp, Jane was worried about her granny’s well-being. Back at home, she’s the only one who used to look after her granny. Esther 15 years (not real name) stays with her father and stepmother who mistreats her. Her father doesn’t want her to go to school; it’s through a relative who stays nearby that she’s able to attend some classes at school and rush back home before her father returns from work.  Esther’s mother is serving a long-term sentence in prison. These stories reminded me of the children with incarcerated parents in Uganda (under the care of Wells of Hope Ministries). I am glad that by the end of the week, these children had found hope in God for a better future and they could afford to smile amidst their circumstances.

My sincere gratitude to the staff and volunteers in Kenya were very caring; they let go of their busy work schedules to come and serve during camp.

Thanks to Wells of Hope Ministries for giving me an opportunity to serve alongside the team from Camp David of the Ozarks and PREAJ Ministries in Kenya.

Katty, who was part of the media team, painting children’s nails
Jabari and Daniel Smith playing football with the children
Papa Big Heart & Mama Rose sharing a photo with the children. They were joined by Chrispinus Wafula and Judy, the headteacher of Satellite Academy

Compiled by: Lucy N, Assistant Communications Officer at Wells of Hope Ministries

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