Friendship leads to relationship between church, Kenyan slum

Saturday, June 16, 2007
This group of statuettes are just a few of arts and crafts products from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, being sold at Calvary Episcopal Church in Sedalia, Mo. Betty Hopkins, a member of Calvary Episcopal Church, is calling the project The Art of Hope: A Church Outreach to Kenya. (HAL SMITH ~ The Sedalia Democrat)

SEDALIA, Mo. -- A friendship between a young man from Kenya and a Sedalia woman has resulted in a church outreach to a slum village half a world away.

Betty Hopkins met Nicholas "Nick" Musyoka at a YMCA camp in New York about three years ago. Since then, Hopkins has been selling artifacts that Musyoka, 26, sends her from the Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. Her church, Calvary Episcopal, is selling the African pieces. It is calling the project The Art of Hope: A Church Outreach to Kenya.

"I'd never dreamed it would turn into this project," Hopkins said. In Musyoka's words, the story is "of how a single act of understanding and listening can help make a difference thousands of miles away. I also believe that it portrays how determination and relentless belief can give hope in hopeless circumstances."

"I believe that ending global poverty is a tough war, but with committed efforts and focus, it can be won," Musyoka wrote in an e-mail to The Democrat. "Africa has a lot of potential, and I truly believe that with the 'trade not aid' approach, we can move fast and stop the suffering of many people."

The hopeless circumstances in Kibera consist of mud-walled houses with corrugated iron roofs. The people live without indoor plumbing, electricity, roads or hospitals.

Betty Hopkins showed some of the arts and crafts products from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, being sold by the church as an outreach project seen June 8 in Sedalia, Mo.

"Kibera doesn't appear anywhere on a tourist map," Musyoka wrote. "It's like a forgotten city where close to a million people live, actually around one-third of Nairobi residents. Life can be tough and unbearable and there is very little or at times no hope of breaking the cycle of poverty from generation to generation," Musyoka wrote.

When Hopkins first saw photos of the slum, she said, she "couldn't believe it."

Musyoka, the eldest of two brothers, a sister and four stepsisters, lived in the slum for 20 years. He now rents a house with a roommate near the one-room shanty where his family still lives. The $75 a month Musyoka's father made by selling magazines and papers he collected was not enough to pay for Musyoka's education.

His mother got Musyoka a sponsorship through the Canadian charity, Friends in the West. The sponsorship paid for his schooling through his second year of high school. Musyoka's mother sold her only small piece of land and, with the help of friends in the slum, he was able to complete high school. Musyoka was the first student since his high school started in 1979 to test high enough to qualify for public university.

Musyoka was determined to continue his education. He packed boxes at a factory to save money to pay for college. There is typically a two-year waiting list to get into the university. Musyoka soon realized his savings weren't enough after he enrolled to study chemistry at the University of Nairobi in 2001.

Hopkins suggested that Musyoka send her curios from Kenya that she could sell. Musyoka has sent about a dozen boxes to Hopkins, and she has sold about $5,000 worth of arts and crafts.

"He's got a lot of ambition, and he wants to better himself," Hopkins said. "He hoped he could find some way to better his situation."

Musyoka has used the money to help educate his siblings, support his own education and start a computer business.

The business makes about $150 a month that Musyoka splits with his stepsister and another employee who works there.

"I hope to expand it to a computer school in future and create economic opportunities that will spur rural economic development. Currently, it doesn't have Internet connectivity and I am hoping to connect the village to the entire world," Musyoka said.

Musyoka graduated with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Nairobi in September. He hopes to pursue a master's degree in business or applied chemistry in the United States.

"I would like to further my studies and get a job, even if its not in Kenya," he said. "Then I will be back and contribute at a higher level."

Groups of women and young people make the curios from cow bones, banana, nylon sacks, stones, reed, wood and beads. Chris Young, of Sedalia, has helped Musyoka develop a Web site, www.craftsandcurios.com to sell the handmade artifacts.

"I have created a wide network of the artists, and I buy their items at a higher price compared to what they sell them locally, and they are so happy to have a wider market for their products at better prices," Musyoka said.

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