By Xenia Franck
If you were to ask me what my favorite thing about Africa is, I might briefly consider the fresh fruits, the sunshine and the bright colors. But without a doubt I would say my favorite part about the country would be the children.
If then you might ask me which children I refer to, the answer would be the children of the St. Tabitha home. Altogether, the directors of St. Tabitha’s care for nearly 50 students: A hefty task in a country where most families struggle to pay the school fees of just their own children. The students enrolled in secondary school or above are in boarding schools. The age range of those in attendance can vary. It all depends on how long a child was out of school before they came to Fr. Agapios and were placed in his care.
Among the 30 or so children who live at St. Tabitha’s, there is a diversity reminiscent of a big box of crayons. This gathering of children makes up a community that is full of joy and filial love. There are a few who are handicapped and cared for tenderly by the others. Some are bright as can be and stand out as leaders for everyone; others are staples in the home and always flock toward caring for the younger students. I would consider these children, who are considered by the world as misfortunate, more fortunate than many people who live in physical excess and internal poverty. Even if they are hungry for a day here and there, they have found true faith. They are receiving the empowerment of education and they are surrounded by a loving community. These blessings shine in their faces.
Willis is a 19-year-old man from the Kibera slum. He had known Fr. Agapios for some time but hadn’t embraced the offer for a different life when the Father offered it to him. He had come to see the dim future ahead of him if he stayed in the slum and wanted a chance at a new beginning. When we first met him in Kibera, his face was heavy. He didn’t speak much, he didn’t look up at you and he wasn’t considered to as the “church-going” type. Within a week after coming to St. Tabitha’s, out in the beautiful farm country of Western Kenya, we began to see him smile and lighten up.
Eight months later, we came back and Willis was a new man. He was taking care of the younger children, was responsible for the work at the shamba, was going to all the church services and was just full of life. I consider it an honor and one of the great joys of my life to have witnessed such a transformation in one of the Lord’s little ones.
Scholastica is one of the lights among the young girls. She is 10 years old, but as small as those much younger than her. Her tiny face always lights up with the biggest smile which can’t help but spread to those around her.
I didn’t get to see her transformation or where she came from. I have only known her on the bright side of her story. She is one of the smartest in her class and is often the one called upon to speak for others, to answer questions and to be a good example for others. The St. Tabitha School has a wide repertoire of poems, songs and dances that they know and perform and Scholastica always plays a central role, memorizing her lines perfectly and executing the dances beautifully. Her skills and intelligence do not make her proud or haughty, instead, she is humble and selfless, always giving and serving, a friend to all.
Each of the children at the St. Tabitha home is worthy of telling their story for the inspiration and edification of all who read. Meeting these children has been an unexpected and unforgettable, experience. I cannot forget them. I cannot go on living life the same with the memory of them. My heart has grown as they have each found a place at St. Tabitha’s. They have taught me how to love, how to be a family and how to be humble. I cannot pity them as misfortunate. I honor and respect them. I love them and they are truly worthy of being loved.