Eventually, one grows accustomed to the sensory assault made by ever-present raw sewage lying in ditches along dusty streets and narrow alleyways, and learns the art of dodging trash piles—some smoldering, adding the toxic fumes of burning plastic and who-knows-what to the already-foul odors hanging thick in the air.
Then there are the people. Always there are people going this way and that, trying to eke out a living; or just sitting, almost in a stupor, as they wait for the heat of the day—or the effects of that last bottle of homemade brew—to fade. Some are just dying. Drug dealers, pimps and human traffickers lurk in the shadows, waiting for nightfall so the exploitation can begin again. Such are the conditions that define most urban slums in developing nations of the world. And all are places where children are criminally neglected and abused. That’s something no one with a functioning conscience ever gets accustomed to.
But Jocada Academy—the result of a partnership begun more than six years ago between Heaven’s Family and Carolyne Irasunda, a woman with a passion for Jesus and for providing slum kids with an education—is working to change all that in Mukuru, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. I want to bring you an update on the good things happening at Jocada, an oasis amid a human desert.
As some may recall, Jocada first started with kids coming to learn the Bible and basic school subjects such as reading and writing. Headmaster Carolyne was thrilled by the academy’s ability to meet these basic needs; but she knew it was possible, through God’s strength, to do more. It started first, with getting parents involved. Most parents could not pay tuition for their kids to go to school, so the Education Ministry worked with Carolyne to set up ways they could pay with labor instead of cash. She even arranged for one father to sleep at the school at night to guard it from thieves. Getting parents involved eventually led to Carolyne starting an ongoing discipleship program for parents on weekends that has resulted in many giving their hearts to Jesus.
Another marvelous development has been the recent addition of life-skill lessons that teach kids things like how to cultivate staple foods like maize. Seeing the fruit of their labors grow before their very eyes—and then eating it at harvest time—has brought great joy to the children of Jocada Academy!
Carolyne then told me something else: The children are staying after classes into the evenings to do their homework, using candles because the school cannot afford the high cost of electricity. At first I didn’t understand the significance of this. After all, most of us know kids who rush home after school to watch TV, play video games, and eat snacks. Jocada kids, however, stay at school because they are afraid to go home because it’s often a lonely, dangerous place to be. Fathers, if still in their child’s life, are often drunk and abusive. Mothers force their kids to work to make extra money—which might mean being prostituted to neighbors or outsiders for the evening. Arguments and violence are also common among families. Jocada provides a sanctuary of peace and safety where students can do their schoolwork and enjoy the friendship of peers who also have a brighter future.
Jocada Academy continues to provide this oasis of learning and refuge because of Heaven’s Family sponsors who help subsidize the tuition of a portion of the 119 children who are blessed to attend the school. As I ponder again what life in the slums is like, I’m so grateful for the difference—and sense of hope—that Jocada is giving to every one of these precious children. Jesus, through His people, is giving them a sanctuary in the slum, a place where they can learn of His love for them…a love that will change their hearts and lives forever.