Being a teenager is a hard thing to be.
Especially when you don't have parents.
A lot of times, I hear myself explaining our vision here at Flying Kites and I know that I am pitching it unforgivably low. But there is a lot of noise in this sector and oftentimes, we are competing with neatly defined problems and solutions (damn you, tidy problem-solvers): End a disease, drill for clean water, give a pair of shoes.
I struggle on the section where grants ask you to list your ultimate goal. Yes, of course we have indicators for child development and academic performance and health and well-being, but at the end of the day, our objectives are somewhat less tangible - we want to help the children who come through our programs to become happy and healthy adults; who make good choices and marry nice people and build strong careers, families, communities.
In a pinch, the pitch is easier when boiled down to: homeless child + bed, food, love = problem solved.
A warm bath after a traumatic incident; new pajamas donated by a sponsor in Wellesley; a homemade meal cultivated from our farm outside the kitchen window and served by a mother of nine children who knows the precise ingredients for dealing with a terrified child -- the right amount of space, the right about of attention. Climb into a sturdy bed, built from wood from the mountains above and under blankets donated by a local father who wants to contribute what he can to FK. Maybe read a storybook with a gentle and patient older child.
It's a fairytale.
Except it's not.
It is easy, even for us, to forget where the children we serve come from, what they have endured. We work with children who have been homeless or starving; we work with children who are on the brink of developing full-blown AIDS; children who were brutally beaten over a period of years, and others who had everything taken from them in one afternoon. Physical abuse. Sexual abuse. Institutional abuse. We don't talk about it much, because it's private and it feels uncomfortable or exploitative.
Do I have to tell stories of rape and despair to fundraise effectively? What if they aren't my stories to tell?
Over the past few months, our staff has been worrying overtime, as a large wave of our kids turn 12, 13, 14 and 15 years old. What are moments of normal teenage melancholy versus times when a teenager could be dealing with symptoms of PTSD? How can we help our scholarship students, living in elite boarding schools, negotiate what it means to not have parents in the midst of their peers packing for Christmas break?
If there is one thing we pride ourselves on at Flying Kites, it's our ability to ask (sometimes yell) for help. We seek guidance when we need it, you might say it’s our thing :) It has made FK a community-driven organization, shaped by a handful of invested leaders who wanted to challenge the status quo for orphan-care.
And a few weeks ago, it led us to Pip Best.
Pip is a social worker who specializes in children suffering from trauma and she will be joining us to kick-off a new wellness segment to our work. Over the next few months, we will be fundraising to engage several key mental health experts from Nairobi to develop individualized support plans for each child in our home and outreach program, as well as offer staff training year-round. Pip will be launching and coordinating these efforts.
We are excited for Pip to join our team for many reasons, and mainly the kids are just thrilled they have someone named, "Pip Best" in their lives.
So, please join us in welcoming Pip to the magic that is this force of ours. She has a big job ahead, helping us help the kids who rely on us, in all their complexity.
To all of our sponsors and donors who have stepped up in the past few months when we needed you most -- thank you for trusting us with your support. Isabel B., Peter K., Kate L., Mary L., Susan T., ... thank you for allowing us to share stories of impact and success, but also those of difficulties and even sadness. As our kids say to each other, "we love you more than a juicy mango" and we could not do this awesome and hard work without your leap of faith!
Stay tuned for updates from Pip Best in real time.
Yours in gratitude,