‘Impact the world’
Thu, 07/27/2017 - 11:54am admin
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
If you ask Jordan Eidem, she doesn’t struggle with “culture shock” when traveling more than 8,000 miles from the United States to Kenya, then back again. Her biggest challenge, rather, is visiting her Kenyan students in East Africa for the summer, then leaving her heart on that side of the Atlantic.
The former Hardin High School student has discovered a passion for helping people with special needs. Her journey started the summer of 2015 at Camp Paha in Lakewood, Colo.
Eidem, a recent graduate of Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., arrived at Camp Paha in June 2015 as part of a summer discipleship program called Project Impact. A website describing Project Impact states their goal, as a Christian organization, “is to train students to impact the world through the love of Jesus Christ.”
Eidem entered Camp Paha surrounded by mountains and with no experience as a counselor for those with disabilities. Soon, however, she found the work easier than expected.
According to Eidem, the kids “teach you, in their own way, what they need and what to do.”
Activities included swimming twice a week, taking the campers on outings, crafts, sports and more.
“I just put my trust in God that he was going to give me the wisdom and strength that I needed do that, and he did,” she said. “I fell completely in love with that population.”
Through Camp Paha, Eidem found her calling and was connected with QJoy International, an organization that allowed her to travel to Kenya during the summers of 2016 and 2017.
Kenya, a largely rural country that Eidem said also contains pockets of modern buildings, has among the highest prospects for long-term growth in East Africa. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index as of 2014, the country is also ranked among the bottom 25 percent in the world for life expectancy, education and standard of living.
For 2016, Eidem and five other women from QJoy spent seven weeks at the Tuleane boarding house to help students with special needs. This assignment proved to be a challenge.
“We were in a rough place,” she said. “They didn’t have teachers or the help they needed at this school, so we became those things. None of us were qualified for that.
“We became math teachers and English teachers and cooks and playmates and everything that they needed.”
They taught 11 students, one of whom had a physical disability – the child was in a wheelchair – and a few with autism. In Kenya, Eidem said, there’s a high stigma put on “everything” that might be a disability, such as dyslexia or a burn on one’s arm, which can cause issues.
“We had some kids in the school who in America would be given a tutor,” Eidem said. “These kids, who shouldn’t be there, sometimes used their leadership in not-a-good way, [so we] tried to teach that you could use your leadership in a good way.”
It was difficult to leave the students at the boarding house, Eidem said, because they were being left in the same situation as when she arrived.
“That shattered my heart knowing they were going to be left in that way,” she said. “I was preparing myself – going back this summer – to see those kind of things, putting myself in a negative heart place.”
When she returned in 2017 with a team of eight – both men and women – the situation had improved dramatically. QJoy only had four weeks to work, this time at a school called Kabete Vet, but they were more organized.
“All the kids were doing great, they have a great teacher, they have all these people who love them from the school we were at last summer,” she said. “I learned that God is a lot bigger than I am and he loves the kids more than I do.”
Altogether, 69 students from four schools participated in the QJoy personnel’s week-long camps. According to Eidem, the camps were organized like a vacation Bible school, or VBS for short.
About five of the original Kenyan students returned, and now had teachers.
Sports, crafts and Bible readings ensued. Eidem believes the students’ favorite story was the Book of Jonah, where a prophet flees from God and ends up spending three days and nights in the belly of a large fish.
They also surprised two children struggling through difficult situations, one who was seriously ill and one whose wheelchair was collapsing on him as he grew. They bought the second child a new wheelchair and paid the $500 in medical bills for the first – without this money, she was expected to die.
“Our partners James and Irene found her in a village in a very desperate state, and they took it upon themselves to take her back to Nairobi (Kenya’s capital) and do everything in their power to take her to the hospital,” Eidem said. “They didn’t have the money to [pay for her bills] so the hospital took the title to their car.”
After many months of treatment, Eidem said, “she’s this smiling, flourishing girl with dimples who’s the most beautiful girl you’ll ever see.” The QJoy partners also got their title back.
With all the “hustle and bustle” in the United States, Eidem said, people often miss out on personal relationships that can enrich one’s life, something more easily sought out in Kenya.
“In Kenya, it will take you four hours to get an onion from the market, because you don’t pass someone without greeting them and asking them how their day is,” Eidem said. “I think that’s fantastic because we’re all people and we want to have personal relationships. It’s really cool to get to know random people from all over.”
When not in Kenya, Eidem also teaches Sunday school at Grace Point church in Powell.