We all have our safe places, don’t we? A bench in your favourite park, a cup of coffee with your best friend, an old worn-out armchair in the corner of your grandparent’s house. These areas become beacons to us – we run to them when we are overwhelmed or feeling burdened. These spaces restore us and motivate us to pick ourselves up and carry on. They become sanctuaries of comfort where life begins to make sense.
I was a witness to other people’s safe places in another context altogether during a recent trip to East Africa. I travelled to Kenya as part of a growing fund-raising and awareness initiative – a Muskathlon. Run by 4M, a Dutch organisation, in partnership with Compassion UK, Open Doors and A21, Muskathlons are extreme physical challenges set in extreme locations. This particular Muskathlon was set in the dramatically beautiful Masai Mara in Western Kenya. I ran the half-marathon: 22 kilometres at an altitude of over 5,000 feet and in 25°C. It was tough, one of the toughest physical challenges of my life. But for me, completing the Muskathlon was just a small part of the trip as a whole.
Throughout the week, I was welcomed into local Compassion projects – carefully kept compounds where children living in poverty are known, loved and protected.
On the second day of the trip, a Sunday, we attended a small church in Mathare slum in Nairobi. Mathare Valley is a collection of slums with a population of around 500,000 living in 3 square miles. That’s the population of Sheffield squeezed into the space of Richmond Park in London.
It was a rainy day. In the slums of Nairobi, rain can mean overflowing sewage systems, overburdened tin rooves and a lot of mud. We were ushered into a small building with small windows. It was one of the smallest church buildings I have been in Kenya. It had space for 200 people at a push. But there was something about this space, the rain outside, the peace and stillness inside, which was refreshing to experience.
to read how Ella’s story unfolds, pick up a copy of our latest issue of Liberti…..