NAIROBI, Kenya, (ABC 4 Utah) – On a Sunday afternoon, Dr. Richard Nielsen, co-founder of World of Difference, led his team to the gates of the Shangalia orphanage.
Through those metal gates they found about 60 children of varying ages in a cement courtyard surround by dorms. And for the next couple hours, they became the best of friends.
“I’m a little freaked out by all the kids,” admitted team member Melanie Yakemovic as she recalled entering the orphanage. For the first 20 minutes, she stood back and just took pictures. She said, “I finally put the camera away … someone handed me some nail polish and said ‘go paint some kids’ nails.’ So I went out there. I had a plan. I found a kid and painted their nails and that was it. I was in there for the rest of the day.”
Even with no family, these orphans are actually the lucky the ones. Many more are still on the streets and must fend for themselves. However, these children have a place to sleep and a chance at a new, albeit much larger family.
Shangalia is also their school. Beyond the basics, they’re encouraged to explore their talents in the arts.
For their guests from Utah, they quickly cobbled together an impromptu performance to show off what they’ve learned.
But mostly, the visit to Shangalia was a time for the team members and children to play. Little girls got their nails painted. Others used markers to create a flag that was brought back to Utah. Still others kicked around new soccer balls brought by the team.
Fellow team member Brian Thornock pulled out wooden cars and trucks from a green duffle bag to give to the kids. When he was a student attending Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Brian made these toys at a charity called “The Happy Factory.” He had made them, now he also got to deliver them.
“As we handed them out, I was just overcome with happiness … with joy,” Brian remembered. “To see each child admiring the toy … I want all of my family to come here and see what it’s like. I’m sure we’ll come back because this is a life-changing experience.”
And there were other gifts – blankets, balls and books – for Sister Ann’s orphans at Shangalia. Dr. Nielsen said, “Before she passed away, she said, ‘You know, we’re not poor here in Kenya, we just don’t have a lot of money.”
In one afternoon at Shangalia, the children showed the World of Difference team that happiness, not money, is real wealth.
“I think there are special things that happen when our team members have the opportunity to connect with children,” said Jodi Nielsen, co-founder of World of Difference. “It’s something about the children that really touches our lives.”