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Hope in the Hard Places

Child Champions are bringing opportunities and help to children and families in one of the most remote, impoverished parts of Kenya.

by Leanna Summers

Photos by Tim Landis, Jon Taylor Sweet and Ty Van Rensburg

The dry lands of Turkana crack for miles along the Great Rift Valley and reach to the border of South Sudan. This expansive northwestern part of Kenya is home to the Turkana people who are farmers and herders.

The Turkana people staked a claim on this barren land generations ago. They brought camels and goats, the only animals hardy enough to survive this harsh environment.

The rugged terrain in Turkana has not stopped oil companies from starting to explore here, but getting in or out of the region is challenging. A few dirt roads lead to larger towns for those brave enough to venture down them. Raiders ambush travelers.

Raiders also steal herders’ camels and goats. Attacks are more dangerous now since these bandits have replaced their traditional weapons of spears and bows and arrows with AK-47s and use cell phones to coordinate attacks during broad daylight. Many herders die, leaving widows with no way to care for their children.

Turkana Children
Turkana Children
Turkana Children

Children in Turkana face these and other significant challenges, such as their education. School is not available to all children in Turkana. Traditionally, one boy from each family must stay out of school to herd goats or camels, and one girl from each family must stay out of school to prepare for a marriage. These children, called Raia, pay a high cost to be chosen for this role.

"These children are the carriers of the Turkana culture in its entirety to the next generation... "

Nicholas Nzivo, OCM Country Director in Kenya, explains. "These children are the carriers of the Turkana culture in its entirety to the next generation and are set aside by their parents to be married off to similarly minded families." The boys are taught to herd and raid cattle and, Nicholas says, "If they survive, they make the next generation of the traditional Turkana father, after giving away the blood-stained dowry cows as a bridal price." Many Raia wives eventually become widows with no means to support themselves.

Turkana Children

Healthcare is another challenge for children and families in Turkana. There are no adequate health facilities in Turkana; the nearest regional hospital is an eight-hour drive for those with enough money to hire a driver and the courage to take the roads. Many children get sick and die.

These challenges compelled OCM’s Child Champions to stake their own claim here — to give children and their families the chance to thrive.

Here are just a few of their stories.


Daniel

A Healer for the Sick

Daniel Nangirod, a 17-year-old sponsored boy, would have had a different future if it were not for his sponsorship through OCM. When he was young, both his parents died, so he moved in with his grandmother. When she died, his aunt and uncle, who care for 11 children, adopted him.

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Leah

A Widow’s Plight

Forty-year-old Leah Aiyo sits on a blanket outside her mud hut with her six children and her mother-in-law. It is 7:00 p.m., and dark. Leah has just finished cooking the family’s dinner of maize and beans on an open fire and starts to scoop their portions into bowls.

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Miriam

Taking Back Her Future

Miriam Awar keeps a tidy stick hut in Lotubae, Turkana, where she lives with her husband and cares for her grandchildren, including 10-year-old Apua. Miriam and her husband farm peas, sorghum and millet to provide for their family.

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Photo Gallery

Turkana Photo Gallery

Photographers and videographers documented life in Turkana to encourage others to help children there. Here are some of their photos. Photos by Cory Crawford, Tim Landis, Tanner Wendell Stewart, Jon Taylor Sweet, and Ty Van Rensburg.

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"Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

— Luke 9:48 —