I had the privilege of staying at Yei Children’s Village for a week. What a great experience!
Michele Perry, a 31 yr-old single, American gal, who was born with one leg and walks with arm braces, founded the Home in 2006, shortly after Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. She radiates the love and joy of the Lord, which she freely shares with 87 kids, six or eight “mama”s and five or six men (security, maintenance, mechanic, compound manager) who now comprise her staff. All but one person on staff are Sudanese.
Michele insists that the kids are not called orphans, because they do have a Heavenly Father who loves them deeply – and they are now in a large, extended family that will not abandon them. The reasons kids have come to the Home run the gamut – parents have died from sickness, committed suicide, been killed in the war – or the child was left with relatives who could no longer take care of them. Michele endeavors to exhaust every option to keep the child within a natural family setting before accepting them into the Home. For example, if the child is malnourished due to the caregiver’s inability to afford adequate food, they are placed on a monitored food stipend and kept in their native environment.
The Home now provides schooling for about 200 1st – 3rd graders, because it has opened its classes to the local community. The goal is to add one grade to the school program each year, up through 7th grade. There is a government school nearby that offers 8th – 12th grades. The ages of the kids in the Home range from six months to 24 yrs (the eldest is a boy who is finishing high school – since most school was halted during the war, some of the older kids are still trying to catch up).
The Home currently sits on roughly half an acre on the outskirts of the town of Yei. At the end of the year, they plan to move to a 40-acre leased property that is currently under development.
It was amazing to observe the harmony there, and the productivity that can take place with so many kids in such a compressed space. Laundry is done by hand (you can imagine the quantity), meals are prepared over an open fire, water is pumped from a well about a block away, dishes are washed in large plastic tubs, clothes are pressed, small kids are bathed – all the while a soccer game is in full swing, a group of kids are sitting around an ancient chalkboard doing homework, behind one of the buildings a handful of young boys are building a dirt fort in the mud, a cluster of techy-types have dissembled a flashlight and used the parts to design a light on a very long stick, and some future engineers have taken discarded tin cans and plastic water bottle lids and created a toy truck complete with moveable wheels.
The Home has fairly reliable electricity until around midnight – (when the power is cut until around 7:30a). However, as soon as the sun goes down (around 8:00p) the kids start to gather in the front courtyard for the evening praise and prayer session. Several of those yellow plastic five-gallon “jerry cans” (containers used to carry water) become rhythm instruments, and the children start singing and dancing in a wide circle around the two drummers. Around 30 minutes later, shortly after the energetic praising turns into slower, contemplative worship, most of the kids squat or kneel on the bare ground and everyone prays simultaneously for a period of time. Several may then lead out in prayer followed by one of the older boys initiating The Lord’s Prayer, which signals the close of the session and time for all except the older teens and adults to turn in for the day.
What gripped me most while at the Home were the stories of life as a child during the war. One boy from a northern region told of having to run with other kids and mothers to caves that harbored large venomous snakes in a nearby mountain every time the enemy ambushed their area (which was constantly during the war). Their water sources were poisoned and large areas were gassed (according to these kids). These memories are still very fresh for some, and my just sitting and listening to them seemed to be therapeutic to them.
Well, you can tell that the week at Yei Children’s Village really made an impact on me! (There are some great photos on the Home’s website – www.iris-sudan.org.)