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Moses, the Man
Part II, Kilimanjaro Journey
After a long, cramped 20 hours in planes, I finally arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, where I was promptly greeted by the fact that my bags with my gear for the mountain climb had been lost someplace between JFK, Boston, and Doha. I fretted and worried and did a fair bit of cursing. Qatar Airways had no idea where my luggage was, and I easily spiraled from there.
It’s easy to lose perspective. A lost Patagonia bag seemed like a pretty big deal to me at the time. How even easier it is to be a fool.
The day after my arrival, our band of climbers from the non-profit foundation Project Possible, was herded onto a bus for a four-hour ride across the Kenyan border to a small town called Kajaido. At a local market, we assembled some cash and bought four 100lb bags of rice and beans, a load of watermelons, and several yellow jugs of cooking oil to bring to the AIC Kajaido Child Care Centre. It was to be a greeting gift.
AIC Kajaido is one of the care facilities for disabled children that Project Possible partners with in Africa. In 1979 AIC was launched by a pair of missionaries as a place to feed malnourished children during the terrible famine of that decade. Since then, it has evolved into a multifaceted treatment center for the physically challenged. On its grounds, set off a two-lane highway south of town, they provide everything from assessments of need, a school, boarding, rehabilitative treatment, and the provision of assistive mobility devices. As its director Duncan explained, they are providing care for over eighty children at any given time. Project Possible funded the creation of its rehabilitation center.
The moment we stepped off our bus, we were greeted by young children, some who could not walk, others with disfigurements, and several who staggered toward us with braces. Some were shy. Others rushed toward us. But once engaged, every single one seemed to burst alive with joy, smiles like suns, laughs like gifts. Fortunately, perspective and foolishness are easily realigned.
I’ll write more later about the experience, but since tomorrow we are bustling off to the mountain to begin our climb, there are bags to pack, and preparations to be made, so I’ll focus on one individual to tell you about today.
His name is Moses Onyango, 62 years young in a threadbare blue smock. Midway through the tour of the center, we were led into his domain, a single-story structure no larger than a garage. At first glance, the place looked to be filled with twisted junk metal that spilled out from shelves on every wall. Think the paradise of a hoarder of scrap metal, and you’ll have a pretty good idea. With a generous smile and very good English, Moses humbly introduced himself as the maintenance workshop technician. In this role, he explained, he is responsible for fashioning from scratch everything from prosthetic arms and legs, to wheelchairs, to calipers, to braces, to shoes.
Only after this explanation did I begin to make sense of these tangles of metal. They were the ingredients, the parts, the source material for his incredible creations. Each device was handcrafted and fashioned for each child and their specific abilities (he never said the word “disability”). He did all this with what looked like little more than a blow torch, pliers, a hammer, anvil, and a sewing machine. Thomas Edison, nor any of the multi-billion dollar medical device companies, have anything on Moses.
After a tour, I sat down with Moses for a short talk. He was born near Lake Victoria and trained as a building engineer. But he found his calling at AIC Kajaido. Here is how he explained why he join the center decades ago:
“When I saw how these children were walking, and how difficult it is for them to stand on their feet, even with a big stick, I said to myself: what can I do, what can I do right now? I went to the director here and asked him how I could help. He showed me calipers (an orthotic device to help with leg movement and stability), so I started learning how to make these at the center, then in Nairobi. As a building engineer, I could draw a plan and build a house, but this was different. It is all about distributing body weight and coordinating the balance between the right and left feet. I made my first caliper for a young girl with polio. After that, this became my workshop.
I wanted these children to stand on their own. Because God loves us. And God created us in his own image. That's the motivation, my life. In the Bible, there is a place where God says: I came to visit you, and you didn't open the door. I came when I was hungry, and you didn't give me the food. God sent us to go all over the world to spread the news. So I say I want to do something, which will let these children know that God loves them. Because if someone needs a wheelchair or a caliper or a brace, if someone cannot walk, and you give this person a device to stand on their own feet or move on their own power, this is God. And it's wonderful. I love this. And I will never do anything else, only work with these children to give them the strength to walk. Because God gave me this gift to work with my hands and build, so this is my gift to others.”
I will leave things there. Tomorrow we are off to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m hoping to send updates from the mountain—or I’ll stagger them once I return in a week.
If you were inspired by Moses, please consider donating to Project Possible to support his work and AIC Kajaido as well as centers like it around the world. I have a GoFundMe campaign now, hoping to raise $19,431 (the height of Kili), as part of a much larger campaign for the foundation.
As they say in Swahili: Asante (Thank You!)
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