By Erin Stillion, financial auditor for Unbound
Erin Stillion, financial auditor for Unbound in Kansas, recently traveled to Kenya to perform a financial audit for Unbound’s Nairobi project. While he was there he met an amazing young man that made a huge impact on his life. This is Erin’s story.
The sun was already beating down on a sea of rusted tin roofs. Our team was wrapping up a financial audit in Unbound’s Nairobi project, spending several days poring over documents, reading policy manuals, interviewing staff, assessing procedures and visiting families. I was exhausted, but brimming with anticipation.
We visited 24 families over the course of two days – Thursday and Friday. The families were excited to have us as guests in their homes, and thrilled to answer a variety of questions we posed to them.
We talked about bank accounts, mothers groups, small businesses, grade cards, dreams and hopes. They beamed when we told them that their sponsors were proud of them.
We learned what we traveled to Kenya to find out. Your generosity is changing lives. We’ve seen the evidence. Statistically, Saturday morning wouldn’t change our report.
But, somehow, I was certain that Saturday was important.
The entire subproject staff and an Unbound scholarship student serving as our translator accompanied us to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Kenya and one of the largest in all of Africa.
We were met by an energetic mother who greeted us by saying, “Jambo! Welcome to Kibera!” It was her way of letting the community know we were her guests.
More than 900 Unbound sponsored friends and their families live in Kibera. The crowded settlement straddles the Uganda Railway line, with many houses and shops within arm’s reach of a passing train.
We were inundated with smells and sounds. Everywhere there was evidence of the microeconomy of the slum — vendors selling small bags of corn flour and single rolls of toilet paper, and pieces of chicken on grills — a life lived meal to meal. A nearby brood of chickens will likely supply the same grills just weeks from now.
Before long, we began to recognize the chatter of children changing to a sing-song chant of “How-are-youuuuu? I’m fine!”
They were shy when I directed my attention to them, uncertain about shaking my hand or giving me a high-five. Each smile was worth a million dollars when I made eye contact and acknowledged them.
We took a series of turns through narrow alleys, ducking corners of tin roofs, weaving around drying laundry, stepping over streams and puddles, and avoiding refuse piles as much as possible.
Pauline, an Unbound staff member, was with us and greeted a woman who gestured for us to enter her home, a small but tidy room.
“This is Joseph’s mother,” she said, referencing the list we had provided to her to select the handful of visits we would make. Joseph was one of the sponsored children we would visit with.
“Joseph is coming,” his mother assured us.
We asked Joseph’s mother about her participation in the mothers group and about her other children, until Joseph arrived.
He was polite, well-spoken and thoughtful. He shared about being sponsored in the Unbound program, and answered all of our standard questions.
My heart broke when he said he was thankful for Unbound because he was a nobody and sponsorship made him a somebody. He tells us that in a year he will have completed his computer science degree.
“Unbound,” he says, “took me from nowhere to somewhere.”
It was a perfectly normal question, but even as I posed it I knew the weight it carried. “What will you do when you graduate?”
“I’ll get a job in town [Nairobi proper], but this is where I live,” Joseph said. “These are my roots. You don’t just leave your roots.”
I’d never seen a mother more proud.
We walked back to the office down the Uganda Railway line, past small shops or vendors selling shiny secondhand shoes, single rolls of toilet paper, cell phones and grilled chicken.
Statistically, nothing about the audit changed. But my perspective was certainly different. Joseph’s words sank in as we walked. I became painfully aware that I started the day assuming that Kibera was “nowhere” and that “somewhere” was simply somewhere else.
What I do know is that in our worldwide community of compassion no one is a nobody, and we are all on the way to somewhere. I’m glad that, on this Saturday, the journey took me to Kibera, and I had the privilege to travel just a few steps with Joseph.