As my grand-dad was a Pastor I grew up in a 'churchie' household and in my early twenties I married, had two children, then my husband left me, and even those within our local Church turned their back on me, yet I always lived with God in My heart, Six years later I suffered a mental breakdown, had counselling and medication, and the Lord came back into my life.
In this terrible time I was suicidal, my constant prayers with the Lord was that of seeking help, especially early mornings, and this seemed to give me strength and sustained me over all my years as the family grew up and even with a new husband (now 41 years of marriage) and another son.
It seemed I needed to do something with children as I'd been (in my view) a great mother and grand-ma. This was my empty-nest experience and I sought to serve somewhere but anything within Australia required dipolams so I searched what might be available overseas.
In volunteering overseas my initial thoughts focused on India but those doors closed and somehow Melon in Kenya kept coming to my attention. So Africa it was, yet my husband, concerned for my health was not that supportive. My adult children were a little horrified and distanced themselves from my dream, but I had complete confidence the Lord would be beside me every step of the way
Melon Mission was established in 2004 by the local Bishop (Joseph) as he recongised the need to provide for the basic food and educational needs for street children. Although he died in January 2011 what he founded has continued and what he dreamed, became my dream. I managed to get out of my comfort zone, travelling half way around the world alone (little wonder at my family's thrashhing about), yet God helped me manage all of it.
At Nairobi airport I was met by Mumma Beatrice, her eldest son James 28, daughter Joyce 26 and youngest Sam 23. They told me Melon Mission had grown from 200 children to nearly 500. They raised the money through a volunteer contributors' program. The staple diet is rice, vegetables and fruit, and when financially able, meat or chicken. There are no showers, very little water (the toilet is another story), and I found myself slepping in the same room as Joyce and Mumma Beatrice. The home was very small, the boys were housed in a bunk room along with male volunteers.
It's an hour of very hard walking on rough tracks to Melon school. All around me was poverty as the locals work all day for a pittence, moreover Iom unable to explain in words what I saw and how I felt. This is something each westerner needs to see with their own eyes to begin to comprehend. Culture shock is real.
The infant class, sixty four 3-5 year olds were jammed into a tiny, dirt floored and crumbling walls building. Some were sitting on planks on rocks which occasionally wobbled and they'd fall off. Others sat on bamboo. There is a past-use-by-date blackboard, very small books and tiny little lead pencils. Yet there were eager to learn the alphabet and numbers up to 100. There were no coloured pencils or books to colour-in. There were no reading or picture books and in Swahili there is no word for 'toys'. The children's precious items were bottle tops, a plastic bag and a favourite stone or stick to draw in the dirt.
At the school the children eat a slimy porridge in a cup in the morning, and lunch a spinage slop, and at their homes they would be lucky to have any food at all, and when they did eat it would be rice. At playtime (in the dirt and heat), the children would be all over me for a cuddle and a kiss and enjoy my love along with a lot of laughter and fun when I took a photo of them and showed it back on my digital camera.
Included in my tasks were family visits, and the sights were heartbraking, Homes are very small mud huts, without electricity, no water, and no sanitry and dirt floors. This is where they sleep and eat. In my eyes it was all very depressing, yet this has been their lives for generations. The lucky children have one parent, and they are indeed the lucky ones, as thousands have none. Some of these these children I saw eating grass and drink out of puddles that I'd seen other kids weeing in.
The manner of support
The cost to feed 'a family' with one parent and three children is $30AUS per month which provides for their needs. Any additional monies I was able to purchase over there, such treats as chips, biscuits, slices of bread along with fruit and vegetables. So little of my money provides so much. My heart was filled with joy and sorrow. The common people live in communes of about 40 of these huts, row after row.
Their Christian belief is astounding as there are many churches and they love worshipping the Lord. Their singing and music was beautiful to my ears. As an aisde, I noticed the Baboons have learnt that while the people are at church they are able to enter the town finding whatever rubbish is left around the place.
We've all seen on television how corruption in such places is so prevelant and its just the same in Melon. From what I saw, much of what is destined for the people doesn't gets to them. Aids Treatment is still not given, nor is birth control is part of their lives. It is very difficult to earn money. The nearest city is Nakaru which is two and a half hours from Nairobi and it's eight hours from the Game Parks. Finding ways of earning a shilling is very difficult for most of them.
Frustation at home
For me personally, one of the hardest things is that when fund raising in Australia, are the horrible attitudes of my fellow Australians. Terrible comments like: "Why don't you help the poor at home. Why go and help those little niggers, they breed like rats." (and much else besides). This greatly upsets me, but I'm comforted that the Lord keeps me strong so I might continue with this much needed ministry.
The day I left Melon they had a wonderful ceremony for all I had done. It was very touching, and to my surprise they made me a member of their Board. James had already gone through the books of account with me to show me how the money is used, and I can assure everyone, that every single cent given goes 100% to function Melon Mission.
I am extremely blessed to be going back again in May. I left half my heart with these wonderful children. They too deserve so much better. God will help me to continue to do everything in his power to do what is best. To contact Judy Sawtell – firstname.lastname@example.org