American Idol's Kris Allen, host of this year's True Spirit of Christmas tour, writes about his experiences on his first day in Nairobi, Kenya, as he travels with World Vision to see how gifts donated through our Gift Catalog help change the lives of children and families in need.
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When I go on a trip like this, I never know what to expect.
Yes, there are schedules (which usually get thrown out the window once I get there), and yes, I can always expect to be out of my comfort zone. But there are always things that will happen and people whom I will encounter who will completely blow my mind.
This trip has been no different.
Yesterday, we went to the slums of Nairobi. It was exactly what you think of when you think of a “slum.” Sandy streets. Small houses made of old tin roofing. Kids playing soccer in a sandy field with a deflated soccer ball caked in mud.
But right in the middle of all of this was a place that seemed different -- not different in its appearance, but different in the life that was emanating from the people and children there.
Zakale is the Swahili word for making new again what has been discarded. An inspiring man in the community named John wanted to use this idea to change the way teens sought purpose in their lives. He has given them options other than just being on the streets of Nairobi, including dance, art, and soccer.
We spent most of our time at the place where they make different pieces of art and jewelry from recycled materials that they have found on the street: Beautiful necklaces made of glass beads, ornaments in the shape of animals made from copper wire, earrings made of magazine covers.
They tried to teach me how to make some of the stuff, and I completely failed. The boy who was showing me kept saying that it was easy. No, it wasn’t.
Milton, 28, was the manager of this particular place, and I asked him to tell me his story.
He was a thug. His friends were thugs. They did things that were really hard for him to recount: things that brought tears to his eyes and would have to mine as well, but I was trying to keep it together.
Immediately, the tears subsided when Milton spoke of John and how he rescued him from the streets of Nairobi -- how he took him in and gave him a purpose. He has been with Zakale now for 10 years, managing and making this jewelry that people all over the world can buy.
The best part of the whole day was at the end. I wanted to get some of the jewelry as Christmas presents for my family. I picked out a particular necklace that caught my eye. I went up to Milton and asked him how much. He answered with a huge smile that I hadn’t seen from him all day.
I was wondering why he was so happy that I picked this particular one. He humbly told me that this was one that he had made himself. Out of the hundreds of necklaces that were on display, I happened to pick one that Milton had made. It seemed to make his day -- but what he probably doesn’t know is that hearing his story and getting to know him the little that I did in the couple hours we spent together made my whole trip.
And this was just the first day.
This Christmas, make a donation to World Vision's Maximum Impact Fund to help where needed most -- and receive a beautiful set of handmade Zakale wire and bead ornaments from Nairobi. It's the perfect gift for a loved one -- or you!