Salvation Army lay missionary reflects on her experiences after a year overseas.
Shanon Hawkesworth, from the Western Territory’s Del Oro Division, has served as a teacher in Kakamega, Kenya (Kenya West Territory), since Jan. 18, 2010. Shanon, who has a Master’s degree in education, previously taught 4th grade in Vallejo, Calif. and worked for the Del Oro Division youth department. Sacramento Citadel is her home corps. Currently, she attends the Kakamega Central Corps, participating in band, songsters, and youth programs. She also plays in the Kenya West Territorial Band.
She responds here to New Frontier’s question: “What’s your life like in Kenya?”
Since January, I’ve been working at The Salvation Army Kakamega Township primary school. It’s located on a piece of land that also houses the secondary school and the nursery school. The Salvation Army sponsors these schools, providing financial support; the education officer also makes a visit.
I taught Class No. 2. The school has two different classes totaling 112-117 students. I taught English, P.E. and sometimes math. The school year is now finished, though—it runs from January until the end of November. During December, I will be working in the Kenya West Territory’s youth department. I’m not exactly sure what my official title will be or what I’ll be doing.
On an average day, I wake up and head out to school. I walk about a mile to school—and back—each day, along a dirt road that has changed considerably throughout the year. In January, it was dry and dusty; then, when the rainy season started, the corn fields seemed to go on for miles—corn was all I could see. I had to wear gumboots to school so that I could walk through the mud without slipping. Now, it’s dry again, and a few more houses have been built.
At school, I would teach the academic classes and then combine the students for P.E. before returning home. I usually made it back to the territorial headquarters (THQ) compound—where I live—by 11 a.m. The rest of the day I would help out in the youth department as needed, walk to the market, or do my washing—this was tricky because in mid-afternoon, rain would start to pour, soaking all my clothes hanging out to dry. I return to my house/compound by 6 p.m. every night by official request, since I live bordering a prison and at night it’s not safe for me to be outside.
I spend time at the corps—Wednesday and Friday for band practice. On Saturday, we have band practice and gospel dance with the children, so most Saturdays and Sundays are spent at the corps.
Christmas in Kenya
I’m not sure what Christmas is like here. So far, I haven’t seen many decorations or heard any Christmas music. And of course there are no red kettles! It’s hot, too—it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. I have heard that on Christmas Day everyone will gather at the corps for a march pass (open air). Afterwards, they return to church to sing and dance the whole day into the evening. A meal of rice, beans and cabbage will be served.
Now that I know this, I wish I were staying here for Christmas. I’m going to Zambia, though, as I was previously told that people didn’t stay here for Christmas; instead they went to their rural homes.
Although the corps has no decorations yet, we have practiced a few Christmas carols—that made me happy! I’m not sure if advent is observed here—I don’t understand the services, but I will find out.
Relying on God
I can’t believe I’ve been here almost a year. It seems I waited so long to get/be here and not that I am, sometimes I feel as though I’ve been here all my life. The time seems to go by quickly. Some days I miss my friends and family so much and feel so far away; other days I’m completely OK with it. There is a huge language barrier. Although people do speak English, the understanding still gets lost. I am slowly picking up the language, and it’s getting a little easier.
I’ve learned so much this past year. More than anything, I’ve learned to fully rely on God—not on those around me. I know that many people are praying for me and supporting me in the U.S., but I don’t see them or communicate with them daily. I’ve had to rely on God. When I feel completely alone, I know he’s there.
I’ve seen and experienced some things that break my heart. The closer I got to my students, the harder it was—seeing where they live and knowing that sometimes they hadn’t eaten for two or three days. Some suffer from HIV/AIDS and I worry for them—when I don’t see them in school, I fear. These children have shown me joy—true joy. They have shown me what it means to have joy in all situations. They have nothing, yet they’re joyful and happy. So, there have been some difficult, trying times, and there have been some amazing times. I look forward to the next five months—I’m eager to see what God has in store!