Message from the Chair

 

From my heart to yours,
Do you ever pay attention to your daily routine in the morning? I mean really pay attention? Or do you just “do it” out of habit? Do you ever look around your room when you wake, and think “Wow… am I ever grateful for having a roof over my head, (that doesn’t leak), clean, fresh water to brush my teeth and wash my face and body,(that I
didn’t have to walk 10 miles to fetch and then carry home on my back), food in my cupboards and fridge to prepare my breakfast and lunch and feed my family? Do you ever actually notice when you are getting dressed, that your clothes are clean and smell fresh, that there are plenty more clean clothes filling your dresser and your closet? There
are so many wonderful “things” that we all have, that we don’t give it even a second thought.

How many times a day do you zip through Tim Horton’s for coffee/tea or a muffin? How many times a week do you go out for dinner? These are all actual privileges. But they are privileges that we have all had for so long that we have come to feel “entitled” to them. Can you imagine living without all of them? Can you imagine living without even one?

Every human being on this planet deserves to have those privileges. However, in Kenya, that is not the reality.

These are just a few of the reasons that Our Kenyan Kids is so important to me. I want you to know that no donations are too small when supporting the children and youth of Kenya. Our Kenyan Kids is structured in such a way that each donation is added together to support one child at a time. This starfish principle is the foundation of the organization and has continued to develop ripples in the lives of many.

It’s difficult at best, to truly understand the lives of those we help, until you, yourself have been there, have seen first-hand, how these people live. They are a very proud people, very humble, very giving and extraordinarily happy.

The people of Kenya are always singing and dancing, sharing their love and passing their smiles on to everyone around them. Not to say, they do not face challenges, but it seems that no matter how challenging life is, they always have time for one another; time to stop and chat, to show their concern for one another, to pass on peace, love and hope to
one another.

We travel to Kenya each year, each at our own expense, to bring hope, joy and love to our friends in each of the projects. Everyone is always welcome to join us, to venture to Nairobi, to visit each and everyone we help, to create joy and happiness not only for the children and youth facing poverty and the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in Kenyan but also for you, me and our peers. We all face challenges in our lives. We all need a little more happiness in our lives and the best way to achieve that inner happiness is to HELP OTHERS and even better HELP OTHERS HELP THEMSELVES.
Kindest Regards,

Jan Murray
Chair,
Our Kenyan Kids
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Yard Sale 2018

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The Wrap Up

When the team arrived back in Nairobi after visiting Amazing Grace, we all felt a small weight melt from our shoulders. The biggest, most emotional part of the trip had concluded; all of the projects had been visited. Some, we knew we would have to return to, even if just briefly, to wrap things up, but the bulk of our business had been concluded.  We had taken ample time to sit and visit with each project leader, discuss challenges as well as accomplishments, tour the facility, have an opportunity to see the changes that have been made (or envision those that are to come), visit/play with the children, and most importantly, just – talk.

Often we will share tea or a small meal while we are at their homes/businesses. They generously open up their world to us, they let us in – all the way in – to see exactly how they live, work and play. It is our privilege to experience this, to see it through their own eyes. It is a world beyond that which most of our fellow Canadians can even fathom.  The sights, sounds, smells, are all abundantly different from that to which we are accustomed. For better or for worse, it is the world they are accustomed to; what they have grown to believe is the norm and although we are there to help, it is imperative that we remember we are visiting – in THEIR world. Just because we have something they do not, does not make it better, it simply makes it different. Both worlds have many positives. Both worlds have good people and bad. Together, I believe we can bring change, good change, change that will benefit the children and ensure a healthy and happy tomorrow for everyone.

One of those changes comes with education. In Canada we have come to take for granted that education from nursery school through to the completion of high school is free. Unfortunately, that is not the case for our friends in Kenya. Only primary school is free, but even then, free still means that parents must have funds for school uniforms, supplies and sometimes even extra’s such as mattresses for children that must go away to school. That measly little amount (well under $100) is nothing – or at least that is how most of our (Canadian) friends would see it – but to our Kenyan families, one hundred dollars to them is often the same as one hundred thousand to us. It simply is NOT attainable. If you cannot pay for your child’s uniform and supplies, then they simply cannot go to school.  It’s not up for debate. Once the children reach high school, the stress becomes even more daunting as there are now school fees involved – tuition, exam fees, and more. How many of us could afford to send our children to primary school if there was an astronomical fee attached to it? What would you do if you had to choose between sending your child to school or feeding your family this week? These are decisions that we do not even consider, have never had to consider, and yet our Kenyan friends face them every day.

Another primary need is water. There simply isn’t any. Kenyans can go quite literally months and months without rain. The drought is unimaginable. The dust, the damaged and distraught crops, the food shortage – all things that we, here in Canada, do not even consider as it isn’t something we have had to deal with. If we want water, we simply turn on the tap. If we want fresh fruit or vegetables, we run to the store. These are not options for many of our Kenyan friends. Though thankfully we did not encounter an issue on this trip, we have in previous trips, listened to stories of great hardship, where women have walked for miles and miles to purchase water for their families, strapped it to their backs and walked 10, 15 or even 20 miles home with it, only for their families to become ill from (what they didn’t know was) contaminated water.

After two weeks of visiting all of our projects, and a couple meetings with individuals who have asked us to step in and help their organizations, the team needed a couple of days of rest and relaxation. The safari part of our trip, is not always a given, but when we do have the time, it is a brilliant way to unwind and an opportunity to see much of the hidden beauty of Africa.

All of this and much more will be shared with all who want to hear, at Wall Street United Church, on Monday evening, March 19th. Please come and hear the stories of our most recent trip to Kenya.

We look forward to seeing as many of our readers as can possibly make it!

One more blog to come… stay tuned.

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Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace was our last project to visit, on our list. We left our hotel at 9am and spent the day there, not returning back until almost 10pm at night. Unfortunately, a huge chunk of the day was spent stuck in traffic as the project was moved to a Saturday – when traffic is at its worst.  Lesson learned.

All (but one – who is new) of the children remembered us and greeted us gleefully upon our arrival. Margaret was tucked away in her office with her brand new baby girl, but soon appeared in the doorway, welcoming us in. Her little one is only one month old and she herself is not supposed to be back at work just yet, but would not allow her Canadian friends to drop by without being there to greet us.

After a brief “catch-up” session, Margaret walked us through the events of the last 9 months, since our last visit. She gave us a rundown on the good and the bad and unfortunately the biggest issue at Amazing Grace remains lack of water.

She was lucky enough to have received a generous donation from a company in California who not only drilled her a bore hole, but also erected a generous sized greenhouse. However, that said, the bore hole is no good with a  water pump and part of the deal was that they would do the bore hole and she was responsible for finding funding for the water pump to complete the well. The cost of this pump is astronomical.  ($9,768.00 – $12,210.00 CANADIAN dollars). I emphasize CANADIAN dollars in capital letters as that seems to be one of the most frustrating parts of our visit this year – making everyone understand that one U.S. dollar is NOT equivalent to one Canadian dollar.

Our organization is not big enough, strong enough or certainly not wealthy enough to fund this project. However we are hoping that with the help of some new donors, and possible one or two other organizations chipping in – together we can make this happen.

Once the well is in place, they have been given approval to open a water kiosk, enabling them to sell water and hence make some income off out of the surplus water.

The water issue is really just one end of a double edged sword. You see, with the severe lack of water, there is also a serious lack of food. If the pump could be installed, not only would it allow them enough water for their own consumption, but would allow them a way to earn income as well as solve their food shortage problem as they would be able to grow their own and not have to purchase it.

We won’t even touch on the fact that with the political upheaval of this past 6 months, food costs have tripled.

There is a new addition to the Amazing Grace family and I’m happy to report that this young lady has not come to the home out of an abusive relationship, but rather was in the care of an elderly grandfather who could not adequately care for her. She is not only now in the loving hands of Margaret and the others at Amazing Grace, but a relationship with her grandfather will remain as he has been granted visitation rights, allowing this young lady to grow up in a stable environment and still remain close to what family she has left.

All twenty-two children have successfully passed their exams and moved on to the next level. They are all happy and healthy and the one child who is HIV positive is under doctor’s care, and doing magnificently. Three of the children are moving forward after completing high school and Margaret is in search of sponsorships so that these children can remain in school and receive an even higher education, allowing them to excel.  Two would be going to Polytechnic school which runs approximately $400 USD for the first term, $250 USD for term two and $150 USD for term three (and this would be for a two year course).  The third child is looking at college, where the cost would be a wee bit lower.

One of her girls will be going into high school this year, and Margaret is also searching for sponsorship for her as well. Cost of high school is 4500kes ($55 Canadian dollars) as well as some funds for back to school shopping.

The top three needs at Amazing Grace Children’s Home remains:

1. Water pump – this is the most important issue.

2. School fees – three for secondary education and one for high school

3. She continues to search for a car, to enable her to get children back and forth to hospital, court and other errands.

Amazing Grace Children’s Home opened in 2009 and has been making great strides ever since. Thirty-six children have moved on, having benefited greatly from their experience there. It is because of her astounding efforts and donations from some very generous donors, that these children have had the opportunity to make better lives for themselves.

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Nairobi Children’s Rescue Centre

(In order to ensure the safety of the children, we do not post pictures of the children currently living at the facility.)

It was a quiet day at Nairobi Children’s Rescue Centre when we visited. Perhaps because they currently have only 23 children, or, more likely because when we arrived it was just past 1pm and a number of the younger children were sound asleep in their beds. Ahhhh… how peaceful (and deceiving) the sight of a sleeping child can be.

The down time allowed us to meet with the facility manager, Nancy, who gratefully welcomed us into her office where we shared a delicious lunch together.  NCRC is currently home to only 23 children ranging in age from 7 months to 8 years old. As a rule, children who are taken to NCRC are to be there only for a period of 6 months. NCRC is a government run facility that provides temporary care for lost, orphaned and vulnerable children during an assessment time and will then move on, either to another home, or, in a perfect scenario, back with their parents.

While housed at this facility, the children often go on day trips. Most recently they enjoyed a trip to Wilson’s Airfield and another day to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. Some of the children are there because their parents are currently incarcerated. In such cases, Nancy makes sure that the children are taken, from time to time, to the prisons to visit with their parents and maintain a parent/child bond.  They also take the children for home visits to help prepare them to eventually move back home, hence helping with the integration period for the child.

The home also employs two teachers who help to educate the children on a daily basis.  Their most important job however, is to ensure the children receive the most basic human needs, i.e. Food, shelter, medication, skin and health care and of course a sense of belonging and feeling loved.

The home is open and welcoming; clean and nurturing.

Currently Our Kenyan Kids provides the home with an ample supply of detol to ensure they can keep the facility clean. We also supply the salaries for 8 volunteers, and have for many years. The volunteer duties are as such: gatekeeper, groundskeeper, kitchen help, bathroom cleaner, dining room help – washing and cleaning the windows and floors as well as a couple that care for the babies during the night, taking care of their needs and sleeping in the same room with them throughout the night.

Despite a huge drop in the number of children over the past couple of years, Nancy assured us that all of the volunteers are still very much needed at the home to ensure that the children receive the utmost care and attention.  This has been a topic of discussion of late and it was evident that the volunteers feared for their jobs. When the home was caring for 100+ children, OKKids could justify the need for all the volunteers on top of the government paid workers. (At present there are 18 government paid workers at the facility.) However, with such a significant drop in the past few years, we have had to consider cutting back here. We have no doubt that each of these volunteers work diligently each and every day and that they care deeply for the children, and yet during financial crisis, such as we have experienced over the past couple years,  we must sometimes re-evaluate where our pennies go. This is just one of the many reasons we often seek donations from not only our regular supporters, but are always seeking new donors as well.

When you are placed in a room, staring into the distraught faces of 8, extremely poor individuals, who work harder on a day to day basis than most of us do – ever – its heart wrenching at best to try to explain to them that you are doing the best you can, but cannot make promises regarding their job security or give them the raise you know they all deeply deserve. Especially when you know that terminating that position would cause total devastation to them and their families.

This is just one of the gut wrenching moments that we have to endure when we, as an organization are feeling a pinch from lack of donors. There is no doubt that the workers are deserving, not only of the job but of a significant raise as well, or that the children are deserving for the level of care they are receiving to continue. Yet as our economy continues to spiral downward, it is a dilemma we must work harder, and work together at, to reach our goals.

We ventured outside to spend time with the children and Nancy showed us some upgrades they have recently made to their clothes drying facility. New poles, wires, outside as well as a new covered structure with clothes lines on a fresh new cement pad, used to dry clothes when the weather is not optimal for drying.

The upkeep of the playground equipment is something they are diligent in maintaining for the children and would like to see a second cement pad go in alongside the playground for the children to play basketball and such on. The pad that is currently in place is deplorable to say the least and not one you or I would even consider tossing hoops on.

We left them with all brand new toothbrushes and toothpaste thanks to a local dentist, to which they were absolutely thrilled.  We also provided them with colouring books, crayons, some “Brockville Railway Tunnel” t-shirts as well as a few red, “Canada 150” sun hats.

Going forward, they hope to begin raising rabbits. This will be therapeutic for the children, something for them to feed and feel responsibility for. They would also like to begin raising chickens and are well on their way with repairs to their current chicken house and fencing near completion. They hope to implement this as soon as possible, with help from donors, with approximately 40 chickens.

Another need, that is imperative it be repaired soon, is for lighting at the entrance gate. This needs to be repaired as soon as possible for safety reasons.

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Hope House

It was just after 9am when Rita and I headed out with John and Winnie for Hope House Babies Home.  We were unsure how many babies would be on site as they have had numerous problems with licensing due to the election upheaval and the tardiness of the governments restating of the board that is responsible for such licenses.

The license that they require lasts approximately 2 years. The one to which they were operating with in 2016, expired in June of that same year, and they were required to wait for a new board to be reinstated in order to be permitted to continue not only admitting new children, but also adopting out. It has unfortunately been a long drawn out battle, but thankfully, they were granted a letter of approval in December of 2017 which allows them to carry on as they had in the past, despite the government still not having a new board in place.

As we arrived, Rosalyn was gathering many of the toddlers to go for their weekly outing to a nearby park. She would unfortunately have a limited amount of time to spend with us, but the children so look forward to their weekly outing at the park.  Before she departed, she introduced us to a very nice young woman, visiting for 3 months from Australia, who is staying at their guest house and helping with the children. When Rosalyn left with the toddlers, we spent a few more moments with this young woman, who was caring for the 6 newborns before heading upstairs to discuss the business at hand with Jim, Managing Director.

Their numbers have fluctuated between between 20- 25 children for the past few months. IN 2017, they received 9 new babies, but adopted out 6. Children are normally only placed in Hope House Babies Home from birth to age 3, however due to unforeseen circumstances; there are occasionally children on site who are outside that range. Currently there is one just over 5, with special needs but he is awaiting a move that will take place shortly. It was imperative that they find him the perfect home that would be equipped to deal with his disability and place him with a healthy, happy, loving environment.

Our Kenyan Kids has focused our assistance solely in the adopt-a-cot program with this project for a number of years, though this does not in any way imply that this is their only need.

Upon speaking with Jim, he enlightened us to many areas to which they could use assistance, including but not limited to, assistance with salaries, diapers, baby bottles, blankets, curtains, cleaning supplies, and much more. He also spoke of a Street Kids Program, run by Hope House that he suggested could use a cow. We always encourage our projects to be completely transparent and feel that they can be open and honest with us about all of their hopes and their needs. Though we are not currently in a position to take on any new projects – or side projects, we are always interested in learning of the many areas to which they focus their attention.

For now, we encourage everyone who is able to “adopt-a-cot”. This program has been most beneficial for Hope House for some time. The more donors we have, the more care that can be provided to the children.

The home is currently run with 24 full-time staff and an additional 5 volunteers. Care must be provided for the children 24-hours a day, hence the need for so many staff.

When you adopt-a-cot with them, you are connected with a child for the entire time they are at Hope House. Hope House receives absolutely no financial support from the Kenyan Government and rely completely on the generosity of their donors.  There are three levels of sponsorship available.  The basic sponsorship can provide food for a child for one week. ($12.50/week or $150.00 Canadian per year). Adopt-a-cot plus is considered the intermediate level of support and will provide food for a child for two weeks and diapers for a week. ($30 Canadian per month /$360 Canadian per year). Adopt-a-cot premium is the highest level of sponsorship and provides food for a child for a month and diapers for three weeks as well as one caregiver’s salary for one week, costing $100 Canadian per month/$1200 Canadian for one year.

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St. John Ambulance & The Grandmother’s

We arrived in Embu quite late on Tuesday afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances, but none the less, alive and well and ready to visit St. John and the Grandmothers.  We checked into the infamous Panesic Hotel (Donna McMillan’s FAVOURITE hotel in Kenya) in Embu and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for a busy day ahead on Wednesday.

Up and out and at St. John Ambulance by 9am on Wednesday morning. Nelson greeted us with his unending smile, gave us a brief rundown on all that has happened since our last visit in April of 2017 and then proceeded with goals and suggestions for 2018.

Our Kenyan Kids began our partnership with St. John Ambulance in 2005. They have come to count on our support and thank us for the positive impact we have had on their community over the years.

Nelson would like to implement a new program, called the PMTC program – the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission.  Currently 75% of the population in Kenya is made up of those under the age of 35 due to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1970’s.   Nelson and his team has worked diligently to ensure that all they come in contact with are educated on the HIV crisis, prevention methods, acceptance of one’s diagnosis and a way to not only deal with ones diagnosis and live, but to actually thrive.  The PMTC program would focus on education, training mothers who are carrying children on the medications they need to take in order to not transmit the disease to their unborn child. He is asking all who are able to provide him with support to implement this program, do so as soon as possible. Currently, there are over two million people living in Kenya with HIV.

Nelson is currently working on a proposal which will outline not only his vision, but ways in which each of us can help. It is imperative we ensure that no child, from this day forward, is born, infected with HIV.

The centre itself is in need of equipment for training, such as a defibrillator, training materials, basic life support, new laptop, handbooks, AED trainer with pads, DVD training tapes, Infant , child and adult cpr manikins, an airway manikin, pocket masks, BVM, OPA’s / NPS’s – in different sizes, non-rebreather mask, face masks, nasal cannula, suction catheters, endotracheal tubes, LMA, a monitor capable defibrillator/ sync, pacing and electrodes.

We piled in the van and headed for market to pick up beans, grains and sorghum before making a quick stop at the local supermarket for bread and milk that we would deliver to each of the groups.

First up was Victory Kagamouri.  There are 15 members in this group, which includes 5 children who are all actively taking selenium. At the time of our visit today, 8 members were present and those absent were away at school or at their regular clinics and unable to get away. We discussed not only how things have been over the past 8 months since our last visit, but also how we can help them to improve on their basic quality of life going forward.

At present time, they make knitted sweaters and ponchos as well as doily type sets that they sell at market. They had previously tried to make and sell soap but found that they were unable to acquire the ingredients required. They have been investigating the possibility of learning beadwork that they could also sell at market, but would require a trainer.

After great discussion we concluded that their top three needs would be:

1- School fees! There are at this time, 9 students who are in need of sponsorship to attend high school. Without this sponsorship, their education will be impossible. School fees can vary. Well wishes could donate 18,000kes – 25, 000kes (- $217 – $301 Canadian Dollars) to send one child to school for a year (or 40,000kes – $482 Canadian Dollars, if you chose to send them to a boarding school.

2- Their second most important need would be for goats.  The goats could be purchased through a partnership with a veterinary office that would check the goats on a yearly basis to ensure their health. The goats themselves come at a cost of roughly $65 Canadian dollars, each. The veterinary program at a cost of 600kes/year ($7.23 Canadian a year) .Goats are easy for them to maintain, specifically because they ground feed.

3- The third item on their “wish list” was for a trainer, who would come in, and teach for a period of 6 days, how to successfully do a multitude of bead work. The cost of this trainer would be approximately 10,000kes ($120 Canadian dollars).

At this moment in time, Our Kenyan Kids unfortunately does not have the funds or personal donors, available to send these 9 children to school. The goats however, were a tad more manageable request. Though 15 are out of the question, we are pleased to report, that due to an anonymous donation just before we departed, we were able to arrange for 8 goats to be purchased. Perhaps not the amount requested, but certainly a grand start and one that we are hopeful, new donors will see and come forward to help as well.

The second group of grandmothers we visited today are known as the Rwika Group. This group consists of 13 members – 12 women and 1 man. Their passion is astonishing. When we arrived, only one member was absent, and this was due to a serious illness. Not long into our visit, low and behold, she arrived, under the care of her daughter, straight from hospital. She was weak and obviously in pain, but refused to stay away, without making an appearance at the meeting. Her thin and frail frame, unsteady and feeble did not deter from her determination which was unimaginable.

We are ecstatic to announce that there are no HIV positive children in this group. Nelson was thrilled!!   Each of the grandmothers actively takes their medication and takes great care to ensure that the children do not become infected.

To help sustain them, they do beadwork that they sell at market and they make soap and detergent that they sell to their neighbours. Their biggest challenges are food shortages and absolutely no water!  Perhaps you should read that sentence to yourselves again. They have food shortages and absolutely no water! Twenty-five hundred liter water tanks would cost approximately $332 Canadian dollars each. That figure includes the materials needed for set up and fills. The need is of course, not for just one, but for EACH of them to have their own water supply. It is unfathomable for me to be able to sleep at night, knowing that for such a reasonable amount of money, I (or anyone else in my circle) could prevent at least one of these individuals from continuing to live with such hardship. That said, those who know me, know there are many who could afford to fulfill this need for more than one.

It is not an option to run to the corner store to purchase – even if they had the funds…. There is NO corner store. Wells are far and few between. Water is a basic human need. Can you imagine, living without it? Or walking 15 – 20km to purchase it? And even then, in such minimal amounts? This was a heart-wrenching need and we felt compelled to find a way to fix this dilemma. By the end of our visit, we had decided that we would find a way, over the next 3 years, to ensure that each of these individuals WILL have a water tank. We are confident that new and existing donors will come forward. Having said that, and after a brief bit of brain storming in the van on our way to visit the third group, we decided to pool together the donations of three other anonymous donors and voila, our first water tank is ready to purchase.

This group was also in need of goats and chickens, but we felt the water tanks were the most important of items and a great place to start.

Our third and final visit of the day was to a group known as Itabua. This group consists of one man and thirteen women for a total of 14. However, if you include those who are considered “inactive” their total would be 21. The difference being that not all those with HIV will attend the regular weekly meetings due to the stigma attached to the disease. The shy away from help due to denial to an extent and require psycho-social managing. This group is headed up by Mother Margaret. Margaret was the first to receive selenium from Our Kenyan Kids many years ago and will attest to the spectacular changes in her health since that first dose.

They have seen great changes in the past 8 months. When we visited in April they were starving and this year they have a good harvest of maze, fruit and beans. Not to take away from their needs, which are many, but they are extremely happy and thankful for all that they have this year.  Though they do have a well, it produces very little and is not dependable. The well requires great strength, and the one man in the group, experiences great chest pain when he tries to retrieve the water. A new hand pump would most certainly alleviate some of this grief.

They are in need of a poultry shelter and would like 40 chickens. Other livestock they could benefit from would of course be goats. Goats are easy to keep and the few local goats that they currently have are poor milk producers.

During our visit, we discussed other needs that the group has. They requested sponsorship for three of their children so that they could receive education. One child would require fees for high school ($241 Canadian dollars for one year), another for college (3 years, for a total of $1205 Canadian dollars) and a third seeking a University education at roughly $500 Canadian dollars per year.

The needs at this group were many and all beyond our control. Perhaps you, or a group of friends might be able to join together to jointly help them achieve one or more of the needs that they currently have.

The difficulty in tonight’s blog being that we saw so many needs, so much poverty, and yet each group would gladly give us, or anyone else, the shirts right of their backs. Giving back, helping one another, supporting one another, today, tomorrow and always is the only thing that matters in life to them. None consider themselves poor, but yet feel that although they have needs, God will provide.

Each group presented us with gifts of fruit, bagfuls of fruit, to say thank you to us, for visiting, for listening and for promising to do what we could, no matter how much or how little that was.

Our visit brings them hope – new hope, that tomorrow will be a better day.

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