Jim Higginbotham, Earlham School of Religion

Jim Higginbotham, Earlham School of Religion
Jim with an Umoja family
     I was privileged to be a volunteer with the Umoja Project for the month of March 2014. As an Associate Professor of Pastoral Care at Earlham School of Religion, and on sabbatical, I approached Executive Director Ellen Daniels-Howell with an idea: I would do informal research on resilience and provide some professional support and education to the Kenyan staff and volunteers in exchange for the delightful chance to work alongside them. She generously allowed me to join the project.
     Needless to say, it was a remarkable experience. Immersion into the culture and people of southwest Kenya – through home and school visits; conversations with children, guardians, pastors, and community leaders; teaching staff and students; and the day-to-day encounters – gave me a new appreciation for the beauty and goodness of humanity as well as the importance the Global Interfaith Partnership.
     Hopefully you are familiar with the critical ministry that Umoja accomplishes: food, uniforms, kerosene, sanitary towels, school supplies, tuition, and an incredible support system for more than 3,000 of the most vulnerable children in the Maseno Division of Kenya. Through the partnership of faith communities here and there, you help to create the opportunity for individual, family and community transformation through greater education and human development.
     However, these practical and personal deeds also provide concrete hope in a way that was unfamiliar to me as a Westerner. Practical support is often seen by Kenyans as an embodiment of God’s presence, not just acts of compassion. The Divine breaks into life through tangible events like food: God becomes seen. In these ways, GIP enables agents of God to bring hope and resilience.
     These “agents of hope” include the incredible staff and volunteers who make this work possible. You might have had the chance to meet Project Director Joseph Okuya; his ability to bring together ecumenical partners is in a way almost unheard of in Kenya and to identify talented persons to work with him is invaluable. The other staff members are extraordinarily dedicated and capable at networking, supporting, and administrating the many people and activities that make up the Project. Numerous other volunteers are also essential to the ministry. The link teachers provide compassionate care to the children in their school, working above and beyond their teaching load. Former students serve as year-long interns; they have an ability to relate to the current students in a manner that makes the hope more real.
Jim with Umoja Project staff, teachers, and guardians
     I will long remember the guardians and students that I had the honor of meeting, hearing their inspiring stories of determination and faith in a God who will provide. The relationships I made have enriched me immensely. I am deeply grateful for this rare opportunity!