“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” Coach John Wooden
Job cuts, salary reductions, mandated furloughs, foreclosures and an unmoving cloud of uncertainty have dominated our lives for several years. The speaking, training and consulting industry has not been spared the pain of lost business. Even drastically reduced fees are not incentives to make the phone ring. I used to receive about six requests a month to offer speeches pro bono but even those requests have almost disappeared. How is that for your ego?
When we lose our jobs and the sense of identity and belonging that comes with them, we also risk losing the awareness of our infinite potential for facing the challenges of the new normal. Yet we have to seek not only survival opportunities but also to use untapped creativity with renewed energy, hope, and focus and propel our personal goals and those of the organization we work for to new heights.
You have to know that regardless of what you are going through, you are way better off than millions of people. Escape your “me” attitude and find ways to help those who are in worse conditions than you are.
My shrinking business became secondary within a few days after my arrival in a recent visit to Kenya. I encountered a man with only two teeth, sunken eyes, unkempt hair and clothes literally hanging on his skeletal frame who opened his arms to hug me as he asked, “Do you remember me?” I could not recall ever seeing him in my life. After I confused with embarrassment that I didn’t, he told me his name. He was one of my 7th grade best friends. I had even informed him that I was leaving for the USA in January 1986. Poverty had reduced him to a walking object.
The following day I saw a 17 year-old high school senior student who had been suspended from school because he had unpaid balance of tuition and fees totaling $106. When I asked his mother what she planned to do about it she said, “Nothing.” She and her two sons receive about $50/month from her working daughter for their sustenance. On February 2nd the Daily Nation newspaper reported a mother of six who committed suicide because she lacked $250 her daughter needed to attend high school.
I am not a stranger to the vulnerabilities of life. I had experienced the deaths of five younger siblings by the time I turned forty. I know the deep darkness of a dysfunctional polygamous family and the humiliation of being labeled an underperformer after spending six years in three grades. Yet the suffering of families and the condition of my friend forced me to question the meaning of life. My desire to wake up declined and I experienced nightmares I was not used to.
After weeks of carrying the burden of the emptiness in life with prayers and fasting, it occurred to me that if nothing was done, other mothers would kill themselves, promising students would wind up in wasted condition like my childhood friend and many girls would turn their bodies into commercial commodities of survival. I committed to seek help for high school students who are orphans, children of widows and those from very poor families. By the end of April, I had secured financial support for about 30 students (we have more in need).
What had brought deep darkness in my life became the springboard I so needed to regain a sense of purpose. Doing nothing is not a recovery plan when things have gone wrong. Help someone in worse condition than you. Learn something new. Develop new friendships. Ask for help—this is not a sign of weakness. Write down your experiences and expectations and share them with a person that you know will encourage you.
Sponsors (those who commit a minimum of $250/year, but any amount of contribution helps) get their student’s name, photo, school name, the address and principal’s contact (including phone number). The $250 is 100% used for tuition and fees while undesignated funds are used for operational purposes. To make sure the funds are used for tuition and fees only we make sure neither the students, guardians or headmasters receive them. Bishop Daniel Matheka and Pastor Kiseve (who has been in Boise) are in charge and we also contact the principals to confirm and make sure the students are in school.
To help, mail a check to Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope Inc, Idaho United Credit Union, P.O Box 2268, Boise, ID 83701. (This is a non-profit program—Federal ID # 27-3127770)
Kithetheesyo, my son, is starting high school this fall. His three sisters have traveled that same path. There is no fanfare. Every student from his middle school will attend high school, if they so wish.
Joining high school in Kangundo, Kenya, was a childhood passage that left vivid memories only death or permanent mental lapse can erase. Seventh graders sat for the examination set by educators from three nations, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (former British colonies). The few hundreds of youngsters who passed the exam had an opportunity to enter high school and increase their chances of living up to their potential. Failing in that exam relegated thousands of youngsters to a pool of poorly paid manual jobs. Nothing short of a miracle could help those who failed the exam better their future life status.
Passing the exam was so rare that it took some schools many years before they could have one of their own admitted in what we called government high school. I was in my early teenage years when someone I knew, my uncle Makau—we called him Jimmy, passed the exam. His joyous screams, from about a quarter of mile from home, were what alerted the family that January afternoon in 1969.
My memory is not clear about how my uncle learned his results. Normally, the government-controlled radio would make announcement that results were out. Neighbors who had a radio and knew someone who took the exam would run to inform him/her about the announcement.
What I remember is Jimmy’s beaming face and his inability to sit still as he told the story and how the family was overwhelmed by this more than welcome circumstance. Jimmy had sat and failed to pass that exam in two previous years. Who would guess the source of joy…after three years in the same grade? What a relief! Some pupils had tried and failed that exam for seven years.
There was a social promotion that came with passing the exam. One could wear long trousers, a privilege reserved for high schoolers in those days. Those with a well-to-do dad or a family member had no struggle going through this transformation. It wasn’t so for Uncle Jimmy.
My grandfather, not yet a member of the Catholic church, was ready to capitalize on Jimmy’s dilemma. Jimmy had to purchase his first pair of trousers from his own father. Grandfather needed money for traditional beer. Jimmy, from manual labor projects, had gathered some money to buy luggage, toiletries and maybe a new shirt but not enough for a new pair of trousers.
Jimmy was admitted at Kabaa High School, a premier institution about sixty miles from home. That is where I come in. Jimmy’s young brother, Munyioki and I were naturally the ones to carry Jimmy’s luggage (with a wheelbarrow), from home to the Kangundo shopping center where he would take a bus. And that is where, three months later, we went to pick up Jimmy’s luggage after schools were closed. We too became part of Jimmy’s success—we could go to the shopping center where students with no business were prohibited.
Joining high school was not a personal achievement. It was a family affair. It wasn’t a routine thing. It was, for many communities, the first sign of a bright future when one of their own entered the world out there to learn the western education—the certificate one needed to progress.