Rotary Trio In Mississippi Sees Poverty In Kenya Firsthand

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — In a small village about an hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya, a mother pretends to begin preparations for dinner and prays for her children to fall asleep early before noticing they had no food.

This is the scene Lucy Walker set for the Columbus Rotary Club at Lion Hills recently as she recounted a summer mission trip to Kenya.

“There was a mom, and she had three small children,” Walker said. “They had no food, and they were starving. She said she’d put rocks in boiling water at night hoping they would fall asleep before they realized they were not getting any food. That’s the impact this club made at that time. … Through the gift that this club made, they fed hundreds of starving people during COVID.”

Walker was accompanied by her husband, Bill, and former superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District Cherie Labat to Kenya through Global Connections, an organization which seeks to help those in poverty around the world.

Walker said the Rotary Club’s donation this year helped a children’s center in Limuru, Kenya, receive necessary supplies such as vitamins for the children for a year.

Labat said she got involved with Global Connections about a year ago when she and her husband adopted a family in Africa. She said one of the most eye-opening experiences to her this summer was visiting the slums in Kenya.

“I’m very intrigued by poverty issues, and it’s my heart’s work outside of student education,” Labat said. “My first visit to the slums when I arrived in Kenya, I think my mouth was open the whole time because you think you understand poverty to this degree, but I think actually seeing it and seeing children and people without shoes (makes) a different impact on you.”

In Labat’s time there, she saw many of the people lean on their Christian faith to help get through the tough times. She said the people embraced loving their neighbor as they love themselves and sharing what little resources they did have.

“Even when they have a little, they give a lot,” Labat said. “It’s a very special community within a community to be a part of and to see. Even in our giving in the slums, they would always give to someone else or find the opportunity to give to someone else.”

In their travels across the east African nation, Labat said there were three foundational needs of every community they visited: clean water, school and the church. She said she learned more about the importance of water quality and the science behind how it works in rural villages.

“You think about here (in Mississippi) and what makes a great community,” Labat said. “It is a school, a church, and we’ve learned now that it’s clean water in the state.”

She said she was intrigued by the national curriculum, which focuses on love and character then the core subjects like math, reading and science.

With the great sense of community and the impact the team made together, Labat said the trip changed her definition of family.

“We often define family in the scope of our perspective,” Labat said. “I think there was a family among us from Global Connections, and I watched families from grandmothers and aunts raising kids to mothers raising kids to mothers and fathers trying to do the best for their children in a very dire situation. It was a beautiful experience.”