When you first meet a man like Elly Chengo, smart in every sense of the word and full of life and wisdom, you don’t even question how his life began. There’s nothing about him that hints at anything other than a life well lived. But as you get to know him better, you begin to realise that the wisdom tells a story; it’s gained through experience. There is a deep passion in this man to reach the least in the world to give them a chance of a better future. A passion that reflects a life released from poverty.
I met Elly on a recent trip to Kenya with UCB and Compassion, and took some time to find out what has made him the man is.
Can you explain what life was like for you ten years ago?
Ten years ago, my life was totally different; my family was very poor. I felt hopeless and had no determination. I had no belief in myself because of the kind of life we were living as a family. It was not an environment you would desire for a child to grow up in. It was filled with people who were negative and didn’t see much in you. I was surrounded by people who had lost hope and dropped out of school. They hadn’t made much progress so they had lost the bigger picture.
How would you describe that kind of poverty to someone who has never experienced it?
For people out there who think someone can never go hungry, it’s real. For people out there who can’t imagine that some people can’t pay school fees, it’s real. For people out there who don’t believe that some people have no clothes to wear or shoes to put on, it’s real. When you put these things together, that is, in my own view, poverty. That was my life and the life of the people I grew up with.
Poverty is a lack of better choices in life. You are just trying to survive, so you don’t have options. It is through poverty that someone can really give up in life. It is through poverty that someone can give up their God-given talent and skills because they feel they are not worth something.
But something happened to give you hope?
Yes, I was registered into a Compassion project. Since then I have been able to build my self-esteem, determination and the belief that I could be somebody in life. As I look back, I can see the hand of God in that. But the most important person who has really influenced my development was one of the Compassion project workers. I first met her ten years ago. She taught me that through education and by believing the Word of God, I could get out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that I found myself in. I have so much gratitude towards her.
Can you share more about your project director and what it was like to be part of Compassion’s sponsorship programme?
I wasn’t doing well, I was only going because I had to. But Elizabeth was firm with me, asking, “What is so good about finishing school without working hard and doing your best?” By the time I finished Form Four I was one of the best students in my class.
She also taught me to believe in myself. She gave me opportunities to grow and lead others and participate in events at the projects. At one point I was the praise and worship leader. She gave me responsibility to take care of people at camps or outings. She shared her life and how she had overcome things.
What have been some of the happiest times of your life?
One of the best times was when I graduated from college with a degree Science in Agricultural Biotechnology. Graduating from my Compassion project aged 22 was amazing too. I looked back at how God had transformed my life.
How has reflecting back on your own transformation affected how you work with other people?
It has made me want to help other people break out of the cycle of poverty. During my internship at college, we were working with communities in the Rift Valley in Kenya. I met a woman who was a widow with six children. Her husband died without leaving her anything and she lived in a mud hut with a leaking roof. Poverty constantly showed her she was not worth something in life. When we came to meet her, she decided to sit 100 metres away from where people were. Because of poverty she felt she could not even mingle with other people.
We empowered that woman economically. Now she has built her own home, has animals and runs a business in the village. When we met her she never had any choice, but now she can go to a market and select what she wants. She can choose clothes and shoes and food. Her children can go to school without worrying about fees. Her choices have come through empowerment; we didn’t give her those things, we just helped her to be able to do it for herself.
So, tell us a bit about your current job and what life is like for you now.
Today I work as a Partnership Facilitator for Compassion which means that I work with a cluster of Compassion projects in the Trans Mara region of Kenya, helping them to reach vulnerable children in their communities.
What I’m looking to do right now is to impact a child’s life. My job is to reach out to children and reach out to church partners and work with them to transform the lives of children.
As a family we are also doing well. We’ve changed in the last ten years. I’m looking to influence more change in my family. I couldn’t have imagined we would be where we are today.
You have come through huge challenges in your life. What would you say to someone else who is struggling at the moment?
I tell this to people whether they have lived in poverty or not. I tell them, tap into what you yourself do best. Do not do things because other people do them. Do the things that God has given you the opportunity to do. Poverty and other challenges in life can hinder people and cause them to overlook opportunities. So I’d say, try to keep your eyes on the bigger picture and be all that you were created to be.
My project director’s name was Elizabeth Mudegu. She made me believe that there is hope in the Word of God. “Put your hope in God,” she told me. “Let God work himself in you. He will work in you and you see he has a big plan for you.”
She taught me to understand the value of education. She taught me that my determination and hard work would get me somewhere; it is not only your teachers but mostly your hard work that will help you. She met me when I was in Secondary School Form Two.
To find out more about the work of Compassion and how you can support other children like Elly, visit compassionuk.org.
From Issue 49 – October 2015