Our Friend Luca : Volunteering in Rusinga Island, Kenya

Our Friend Luca - Volunteering in Rusinga Island Kenya - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

“Luca! Luca!”

Youthful voices rang out from behind desert bushes. The sun was slowly retreating, casting shadows on the earth’s cracked floor. In the distance, Lake Victoria began to become a twinkling poster of fishing boats. Despite our proximity to the greatest lake in Africa, we were surrounded by twigs thirsty for a gulp of fresh water and eager for a cleansing shower from above.

The man in front of me held out his hand, waving at a gaggle of schoolchildren busying themselves by playing games in the corn fields. With a height half of what it should be in April, the children were easily visible through corn stalks from the swerving path we were taking en route to our temporary home. Luca had been kept up in Kenya with a local family on Rucinga Island since December. I, in a much shorter stay, intended to be there for ten days. Both of us had come to volunteer at an orphanage catering to children without families and elder in need of assistance and did so acknowledging that making any difference we could make would be of great impact.

Having been there for four months, Luca was a well-established icon in the hills: an idol, an inspiration, a giver, a lifeline, and a friend.

Taller than most men in his hometown in Italy, he towered high above the couple hundred men women and children in Rucinga and was forced to duck when passing under doorways or covered walkways of mud homes sealed with cow dung.

We continued toward home.
“Luca!”
He was greeted by running hugs and high fives.
Each enthusiastically returned.

“Luca!”
He was greeted by outstretched palms.
Each filled with a lollypop or pencil.

“Luca!”
He was greeted with simple smiles.
Each matched and enhanced by one double the size.

By the time we’d arrived home, we met what seemed to be the entire community.
Everyone except our Kenyan Family.

Click on an image to see photos of Luca and his biggest fans close-up:

 

Robert, a man in his late sixties, was a retired teacher and principal.
Marie, a woman of equal age, was a house wife as devoted to her daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, and tending to the garden as the pair was to their strict religious beliefs.

For a short time, they were our Kenyan Mother and Father.
Robert shared tales of his years spent encouraging others to discover permaculture’s impactful ways, trips to Scandinavia as an exchange teacher and awards received by UNESCO and other worldwide-known operations. At one point, it seems, he was in charge of his own every move and was an exceptionally skilled player in the game of life.
His lifelong partner Marie told of life’s hardships: Her sister in need of an operation only available if she is flown to India; God’s plan to keep away the rains and release them only when prayers are strong enough; Crops refusing to grow; Money-tight pockets.

In Rucinga God is in charge. And despite His excellent track record, at the moment He isn’t handing out favors. At least, this is the general thought of the locals. Living in the past and hoping for the future, it has become all too easy to become caught up in the drastic and dramatic difference between the two. Tales of the past are filled with color, life, and excitement. Tales of the future are filled with fear, hate, and darkness.

Lately, the belief is that God has not provided. Houses do not have electricity or running water. Donkeys are overworked from carrying Lake Victoria’s bucketed water on their backs up steep hills. Solar panels are available for a hefty fee the next town over, roughly 45 minutes away by motorbike. A single charging point is available in the village at one of five corrugated iron shacks making up the entirety of the community’s central square. Ugali, chapati, rice, and beans are affordable but provide little nutritional value. Fruits and vegetables will not grow without rain or proper irrigation. Children do not have pens or paper to write with and their $3 monthly school fee rarely lasts long enough to provide breakfast and lunch as it should. Plans are made for more positive futures, but the execution is sloppy and once more, God is blamed.

 

Click on an image to see photos of Luca and his biggest fans close-up:

 

Then, Luca came. In his early twenties his jobs working in restaurants in Italy has not yet provided him with golden walkways or diamond doorknobs. At home, he’s working day in and day out to support himself. And still, he managed to walk into a community who’d lost hope in their One. Towering over young and old, he purchased families solar panels, gave struggling donkeys his own fruit to enhance their energy levels, and promised pens to children whose own thoughts needed to be expressed on paper. He passed out lollypops and high fives, and coached a high school basketball team with a court made of dirt to jump-shot stardom despite their lack of shoes or hoops.

To the Island of Rucinga in a village where God is blamed for not listening and not reacting during difficult times, a gentle giant was delivered.

“I felt like I’ve done nothing,” he told me as we walked through the village during my final day in Rusinga.
“Look around,” I replied, “You’ve done more than anyone could ever dream.”

Luca and School Boys in Black and White 2 - Rucinga Island Kenya - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps - www.MissMaps.com

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