Jambo everybody!

I hope you are all doing well! Here in Kenya, we are as busy as ever! The rains have come, which has given us relief from the dust, but now we are stuck (pun intended) dealing with mud! I know I’ve said it before, but it just seems like it’s always either dusty or muddy!

A few weeks ago, a new baby joined the In Step family! Her name is Blessing and she is about seven months old. She is quite malnourished, but has a good appetite, so I’m sure she’ll pick up quickly! Her mother has been incarcerated for neglect, which is pretty unusual here! I’m not sure how long mom will be in jail or what will happen when she is released. But for now, Blessing is safe with us and getting lots of food and love! (This is our third child named Blessing and all of them came with their name! To lessen the confusion we have “Blessing”, “Stepping Stones Blessings”, and now “Baby Blessing”!)

Speaking of blessings! I had a birthday this month and received so many blessings at my party! I mean literal blessings! Kids and staff alike stood one by one and spoke birthday blessings over me! It was so special! There was lots of dancing, balloons, soda, popcorn and even delicious gluten free cake baked by Nurse Abigail!

It was supposed to be a surprise, but that’s not easy to pull off at our place… especially when that morning James came up to me wearing his ever-present smile and said, “Mama Carla, is today the day we are going to surprise you?” LOL!

Our eighth graders finished their exams and I’m proud to say that, as a whole, they did well! Some of them will repeat eighth grade, which is very common here, so as to try to get a better score next year. Here in Kenya, your score on the eighth grade exam determines where you go to high school. The better the score, the better the school!

So, starting in July, we will have thirteen kids in high school! Five will be in Form Two (10th grade) and eight will join Form One (9th grade). We are still waiting to hear what boarding schools the eight will be invited to. It’s going to be quite a challenge for our social work department! It’s actually possible that there will be thirteen different schools for thirteen students! The logistics of it all is going to get crazy… crazier still next year and even more crazy the following year!

Each school has its own requirements as far as school uniforms, school supplies, what color of bed sheets, etc.! Every student will receive a shopping list, which they must fill exactly as written. You dare not show up to school with anything more or anything less than what is on the list!

Besides the shopping list and transportation fees, there is also tuition. Here in Kenya, high school is not free! It costs about $1,200.00 per year per student! But what a great way to invest in our kids! Besides leading them to Jesus, education is the best thing we can do for them! These kids, having no family beyond the children’s home, have got to be able to make it in the real world! They won’t have the option of living with a grandparent or other extended family, like many young people do! A good education can give them the boost they need to become independent, successful adults!

If you would like to partially or fully sponsor one of these kids for a year of high school, we would be forever grateful! Tori at Rehema for Kids can let you know what you can do to help!

Many of you have followed little Joanie’s story closely! For those who don’t know, Joanie was born two months prematurely. She came to us at five weeks old, weighing 2.6 pounds. Despite her rough start, she has mostly developed normally and is just such a joy! The only area that she wasn’t keeping up with the other kids her age (she’ll be two in August), was learning to talk. We could see her becoming frustrated as she tried to communicate, only managing loud grunts and lots of pointing. Because she was so hyperaware of everything going on around her, it took us a while to realize that she was having trouble hearing! When we finally put it together, it seemed so obvious… hindsight is always 20/20! We did all the normal “tests”; clap loudly behind her head, call her name while hiding around the corner, watch her face light up when feeling the vibration of the speaker when the girls were listening to music in my kitchen. We were absolutely flabbergasted as to how we never noticed this before!

We took her to an Ear, Nose and Throat “specialist” in Kitale. His hearing test consisted of banging on a metal desk with a metal pipe. When Joanie didn’t react, he said, “This child is totally deaf! Let’s give her time to see if she grows out of it… if, at the age of 12 she still doesn’t hear, we will see what we can do!”

Obviously, that was the most absurd advice ever! We found a hospital in Eldoret through an internet search and we called to confirm that they have the equipment to administer a Brainstem Evoked Response Audiometry (BERA) test. We made an appointment and took her there. We paid the consultation fee and were told that, despite what we had read online and had confirmed over the phone, the BERA test was only available in Nairobi! Uggghhh! We were advised to teach her sign language and when she turns four years old, send her to a boarding school for the deaf. (Ummm… I don’t think so!)

At the time, Nairobi was on lockdown due to COVID, so we decided to just try to move forward with a bit of sign language, which she has been catching on to amazingly well! She is noticeably less frustrated and loves to “talk” to everyone around! We have hired a young lady named Sharon, who is fluent in Kenyan Sign Language. She spends much of the day shadowing Joanie, teaching her, as well as the aunties, signs of whatever comes up throughout the day. On Saturdays, she teaches a class for the older kids who are interested in learning KSL!

A few weeks ago, Nairobi opened back up so last week, Nurse Abby, Joanie and I busted a move to finally do the BERA test! Although I had hoped otherwise, my suspicions were confirmed. Joanie is totally deaf in both ears. When Abigail explained the results to me, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I still do.

The next day, we took the BERA results to a reputable audiology clinic to discuss our options. Hearing aids are out of the question, as they are simply amplifiers and with Joanie, there is nothing to amplify. The clinician discussed with us the possibility of a cochlear implant. Step one was for Joanie to have an MRI and a CT scan, to confirm whether or not she is a candidate for this surgery.

So here we are, back in Nairobi, for the scans! Beth Ann had a scheduled dentist appointment, so she accompanied me and Joanie, which has been a huge help!

So by 6:30 this morning, we had traveled 45 minutes across town and were at the medical imaging clinic, ready for the tests. (For those of you who know me well, you know that wasn’t an easy task for me! LOL!) The doctor and the anesthesiologist arrived a few minutes after us, and by 7:30, Joanie was out for the count and getting scanned.

Although I don’t yet have the official report in my hands, the doctor assured me that everything looked good and he felt that a cochlear implant could be a life-changing surgery for our Joanie! The official report will be sent to the audiology clinic as we try to find a way forward.

It’s very difficult for me to put into words how I’m feeling! When I think about the possibility of Joanie having to be sent away at such a young age in order to go to school, tears come to my eyes every time! (Even now!) But when I tell people who are part of, or work with, the deaf community, that I want us to all learn sign language so that Joanie can stay at home and attend school at In Step Academy, they sort of roll their eyes and gently suggest that my plan is not what’s best for Joanie. But why? Just because it’s not what has traditionally been done in Kenya? I don’t know! It’s not that I think I know better than them… after all, they are the experts… I just cannot fathom sending a four year old to boarding school!

But now there’s a glimmer of hope that Joanie could have this surgery and live a normal life! But for that to happen, there is a long road ahead! The surgery is VERY expensive! There would be many, many trips to Nairobi both before the surgery and for about a year afterwards, which would also be VERY expensive! But I just want it so badly for her! I want her to hear! I want her to speak! I want her to go to regular school! I want her to have a normal childhood! If it can’t happen, we will do whatever we can to give her a bright future… but oh, if it COULD happen…

So, it’s time for me to start doing my homework to find out if there are any organizations or ministries out there that might help Joanie to get this surgery in Kenya! (The Kenyan law says that a Kenyan child cannot receive a medical visa to leave Kenya for treatment, unless he/she cannot be treated in Kenya, which in this case she can be.) If any of you have any ideas about how we can get this ball rolling, please message me! We are in unchartered waters here and can use all the help we can get!

Thanks for listening to my mama’s heart! I would appreciate prayers! Nothing is impossible with God!

GIGATT (God is Good All the Time)!

Mama Carla

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