Hope of the world in the face of a child.

He has a cherubic face and looks all of 11, but he is probably 13 or 14. He is dressed in ragged clothes, probably handed down more than once.  Like his friends around him, he has a biblical name, Daniel, to go along with Gideon and Ezekiel. If you saw him on a playground, you would know he was from a poor family.
        But Daniel is from an extremely poor family and is homeless on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, a city visited in the past year by both Pope Francis and President Obama.  He lives in a slum called Mathare, containing almost 800,000 people, where many live on $1.25 per day.  He almost certainly does not have two parents and more likely has none.  
        I approached him, and we began to talk, though he knows very little English because he does not go to school.  His speech was somewhat slurred.  It was clear why when I saw him attempting to hide a plastic Coke bottle behind his back. It was partially filled with industrial glue, and he was clearly snorting it before I saw him. By itself this was not alarming because several boys and almost all the men who were at a feeding station in Mathare were glue addicts. Still, Daniel was so young and, in appearance, so innocent.
        After failing to communicate well, I decided to try fewer words—glue no, school yes. I doubt he understood me. He repeated the words back to me a couple of times, but probably almost as memorized nonsense syllables. I was profoundly sad and came back to him several times in the hour or so I was there. I could not communicate with words but only with gestures. I hugged him on each occasion, but I am not sure he even understood that. 
        I was surrounded by perhaps 200 people, the majority being young adult to middle aged men.  Many were severely disabled and could barely speak if at all. I thought they were speaking Swahili, but I might have confused the babble for a language I do not know.
        There are a few women, several with small children. One pregnant woman was snorting glue. The food of the day was chickpeas, probably the only meal they would have on that Sunday.
        There were no old people waiting for food, because very few survive this life into old age. Most barely acknowledged my presence as I brought them their plastic plate of food. Few looked up. There were a couple of moments when there was too much jostling for food for me to feel safe.
        I fear the adults are beyond conventional help. They are being maintained, and with dignity, but it is hard to imagine any of these men living anywhere but the streets of Mathare. But what about the children? The deck is stacked against them. Many of them will probably predecease me.
        There is some good news. Father David, a Franciscan friar, supervises the distribution of food but has recently opened some upstairs rooms for the street children. He has hired teachers, and the kids can go to school. The rooms are somewhat shabby and ill equipped for elementary education. But they do offer hope; an investment in a life.
        The next day I met Father David in a very rural area outside Kenya.  He has started Momma Africa School there for the kids of Mathare. I did not see the dormitory for girls, but there were 19 boys in one room. They are happy there because they can learn and dream. They want to be engineers and doctors. Most will not achieve those goals, though the same is true for teens everywhere who dream of being astronauts and CEOs of big companies. But being able to dream is a large step above sniffing glue to ease pain because they felt warmer at night than on the streets.
        I was asked to give an inspirational speech to the 100 students there. It was easy because they inspire me. I congratulated them for their enormous courage. They left parents and their familiar neighborhoods to head into the countryside. Now, they study French and chemistry and math for many hours per day.
        In the security of Mamma Africa, these children appeared normal.  They laugh and sing and play soccer. Their spiritual beauty shows through the scars on their faces and limbs. I told them that if they did not believe in miracles, all they needed to do was to look to their right and left. and in a mirror.
        Some some will achieve their goals, but all are better off because there is a realistic possibility of a better life. Right now, the Bill Cook Foundation is committed to building a library for Mamma Africa school.  Another Foundation has pledged 1,000 books.  Now we need a facility to hold the books and provide study space.  Will you help?