In Kenya, RHS grad seeks home for orphans

Brian Ash, right, on a bunk bed with some of his adopted orphans in Kenya. Mr. Ash, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield High School, has helped save 30 orphaned children ages 4 through 22 since beginning ARRIVE in Kenya. In September, ARRIVE partnered with Trekking for Kids and received 15 bunk beds, 30 mattresses, 30 pillows, and 30 backpacks for the children, who previously slept on the ground on a thin mat with no pillow.

Brian Ash, right, on a bunk bed with some of his adopted orphans in Kenya. Mr. Ash, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield High School, has helped save 30 orphaned children ages 4 through 22 since beginning ARRIVE in Kenya. In September, ARRIVE partnered with Trekking for Kids and received 15 bunk beds, 30 mattresses, 30 pillows, and 30 backpacks for the children, who previously slept on the ground on a thin mat with no pillow.

From sleeping on the Earth’s soil to observing the moon and the stars in space, ARRIVE in Kenya has made galactic strides since officially becoming a nonprofit four months ago.

Brian Ash, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield High School, co-founded with Pastor Robert Nyamwange in 2012 the organization that rescues drug-addicted orphans living on the streets.

The group adopts them to stay in its orphanage, the Keumbu Rehema Children’s Home, and educates them at its school, the Emmanuel Lights Academy.

However, Mr. Ash doesn’t want to rest on what’s been accomplished thus far — becoming the No. 1-ranked school out of 51 schools in west Kenya’s Nyanza District, securing 30 beds and pillows for all the orphans, and receiving a donated telescope to teach the kids about outer space. That’s why he’s working so tirelessly toward achieving his future goal of building a permanent structure to house all his kids.

“What we have now is nice compared to where the kids were living before this, but it’s not a permanent solution — it’s more like a shelter, not a real house,” he said.  “We want to be able to give them a permanent home with a study lounge, a library, multiple bedrooms, and a kitchen.”

ARRIVE’s expansion plans encompass more than just the vision of a new building; they include sustainability through increasing livestock and the planting of crops, the advancement of a child’s education to a secondary, high-school level, and the possibility of having a child from all 42 of Kenya’s native tribes in an effort to overcome the country’s violence.

So far, ARRIVE has helped children from seven tribes — more than 16% — and that’s what is motivating Mr. Ash to create a building with enough space for 50 or more kids.

He says several street kids have walked from the city of Kisii to ARRIVE’s home in the village of Nyaturubo to have a chance to live and learn, only to be turned away because there isn’t enough room for them.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to turn down a kid who just walked two days without eating, who’s battling drug addiction, and send him or her back to the streets they just came from,” he said. “I don’t want us to do that anymore.”

Some of ARRIVE in Kenya’s students celebrate the arrival of 30 new JanSport backpacks, which arrived  in September, thanks to a donation from the nonprofit organization Trekking for Kids.

Some of ARRIVE in Kenya’s students celebrate the arrival of 30 new JanSport backpacks, which arrived in September, thanks to a donation from the nonprofit organization Trekking for Kids.

It has happened often this fall, and all ARRIVE can do is give the child a meal, some new clothing and a ride back to Kisii — a place where Mr. Ash has made connections and studied to better understand the life of the kids he is saving.

Despite being warned against it, he decided to sleep on the street one night in October to experience firsthand what it was like to be a street boy.

“They say two things when you go into a Kenyan city — don’t go out at night and don’t talk to the homeless,” Mr. Ash said. “I didn’t really listen to that advice.

“There were no other white people anywhere around me, so I stood out — people were shocked, they couldn’t believe a white person was out there sleeping on the street.

“The street boys I’ve gotten to know there slept with me and made sure nothing happened to me — they usually all sleep together with no blankets and no pillows,” he said.

“It was a great experience, but I won’t be doing it again anytime soon.

“I can’t imagine doing that every night of my life and waking up the next morning and that still being my reality,” he said. “I learned more in that one night than I did in the four months prior.”

Sleeping on the hard ground without a pillow wasn’t a new custom for Mr. Ash.

He and his 30 kids — 22 former street boys and eight orphans who came to the school without living on the streets — slept in the dirt on thin mats until ARRIVE received bunk beds, mattresses and pillows from a nonprofit called Trekking for Kids, which takes people to iconic destinations around the world and uses those profits to benefit orphaned children living in those areas, in September.

“I made a vow I wouldn’t sleep on a bed until all the kids were sleeping in beds,” he said. “Trekking for Kids heard about what we do and wanted to partner, and now each kid sleeps on his or her own very bed.”

Trekking for Kids also donated 30 new JanSport backpacks to ARRIVE so the kids didn’t have to use plastic bags to carry their schoolbooks.

The kids are on their summer break until January, said Mr. Ash, who is home for the month.

He stresses that the children have made remarkable progress in school.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the school and what the future has in store for us,” he said. “The Emmanuel Lights Academy was ranked the No. 1 school out of 51 schools. This is remarkable because Emmauel Lights Academy is the only school in the area to offer free education and is the only school that has former street children attending.”

In particular, a former street girl named Meir, who has lived with Pastor Robert and his wife, Terry, for three years, recently finished her exams and was ranked the No. 1 eighth grade student in all of the 51 surrounding schools.

Her father died when she was very young and her mother was diagnosed with HIV a few years ago and has since died.

“Every morning Meir would pick through garbage and beg for money to buy food,” Mr. Ash said. “Meir and her very intelligent brain were almost wasted away living a horrific life on the streets.

“Now she is one step further to reaching her dream of becoming a doctor — it’s amazing she has that opportunity despite where she came from,” he said. “She just completed the Kenyan national tests called the KCPE exams and could be leaving us to live with another organization for kids going into high school, but we don’t know yet.”

Mr. Ash said he hasn’t taught as much over the last couple of months, leaving that duty to Pastor Robert and Terry and the 12 volunteers ARRIVE has hosted from such countries as Canada, South Korea, Norway, Ghana, and the United States.

However, he is as busy as ever cutting the grass, planting flowers, looking after livestock, cooking food in the kitchen, and teaching what he calls “life skills.”

That’s where his computer, and the telescope ARRIVE received from a donor in Colorado this fall, have made a huge difference in the kids’ lives.

“I let them play with my Mac laptop so they can develop computer skills,” he said. “It’s the only Mac within at least 100 miles.”

As cool as the computer may seem to orphans who had never seen one until arriving at the school, looking into outer space and seeing the moon through a telescope for the first time was a hundred times more mind-blowing.

“One of my favorite moments,” Mr. Ash recalled. “They had never seen the moon or the stars close up before — one night we even saw Jupiter, I think — their eyes went so wide.

“My mind has always been boggled by space and the existence of other life forms, and I took an astronomy class, so this was a perfect teaching opportunity for me to help them learn about our solar system,” he said. “They are obsessed with the telescope — every night they want to use it to look up into the sky — and always asking questions like, ‘Can you see God with the telescope?’ ‘Are there houses on the moon?’”

Somewhere in between teaching 30 kids about outer space and sleeping on the streets with dozens of homeless boys, Mr. Ash had the time to film and edit a six-minute video highlighting the nonprofit’s recent work and showing the harsh life of the street boys in Kisii.

“Most street children pick through the city’s garbage to resell plastics for a fraction of a cent,” the video’s introduction states.

To see the video, go to YouTube

To donate, visit arriveinkenya.com or make a check out to ARRIVE in Kenya and send it to 102 Stonecrest Road, Ridgefield CT 06877. For more information, call Vivian Epstein at 203-438-7634 or email her at [email protected] .

 

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