Korogocho is the kind of place where you want to close your eyes and run the other way if you can. It’s a place where the outward desperation of 150,000-200,000 people living in about one square mile is only the tip of complex social evils spiraling relentlessly from one generation to the next.
Korogocho is the kind of place where a young girl chooses whether to sell her body to feed her family, or watch them sleep hungry and miserable. The girl’s mother knows what her daughter is doing; but she quietly looks the other way, because her children will eat that night. And most likely, it was the fate she herself accepted. Alternatives are few and far between: the occasional domestic job; washing plastic bags in a river running through the community – rank with sewage and even corpses – to re-sell; or finding a man to take her in until she becomes pregnant and infected with HIV, and then the man moves on. Most choices available to a young girl in Korogocho lead to the same outcome: becoming a mother when she is still a child herself. And then there is another hungry belly, another round of generational poverty.
Elicah and her husband, Alfred, moved into and founded a church in the heart of Korogocho in 1993. One of those extraordinarily humble people who speaks very little about her activities, she is too busy actually carrying them out to “toot her own horn.”
Hannah Crouse observed Elicah up close in 2008 during a three-week ministry placement while serving with the InterVarsity Global Project. Hannah recalls bouncing down rough dirt roads between cement block structures to the gated building where the church meets and where Elicah and her family live. Upon their arrival Hannah and her teammate, Holly Leonard, were directed to bolt themselves inside their living quarters, behind no less than three doors, every night by 5 pm. The next day, they learned more about what why they were so advised. As part of their tour at a nearby clinic founded by Elicah and Alfred, the administrator showed them a room behind bullet-proof glass, casually remarking that it provided protection against invaders with machine guns the prior week . Afterwards, two Kenyan girls guided them through Korogocho and debated whether or not to walk the long route or pass a shorter way, where it was possible they might be mugged at gunpoint. Holly and Hannah started a “near death experience” journal, and laughed instead of leaving.
Hannah remembers they were constantly amazed at discovering yet another undertaking of Elicah’s, who always left the house before breakfast. One of her many pursuits was training at a refugee co-op facility, where she learned skills to then turn around and teach the women of Korogocho.
Eventually, Elicah founded an artisan group called Kumbatia (Swahili for “hug” or “embrace”). She teaches women like Esther, a 38-year old AIDS widow. Esther adopted her four nieces and nephews when her sister also passed away from AIDS. Another member, Dorcas, 42 years old, remains married; but she raises five daughters, ages 12-27, on her own. Her husband disappears for long periods of time and does not financially support his family. Joyce, 27 years old, is married to a man who is not employed. Their daughter is pregnant at age 13. Without a reliable source of income, misery hounded these women and their families.
Now, under Elicah’s leadership, they create stunning handicrafts, sold through Pamba Toto in the US. The women earn income to support their struggling families and encounter the God who loves them; and their self-esteem grows. Elicah dreams of expanding Kumbatia to other slums where she and her husband oversee churches.
Describing Elicah, Hannah notes, “Her eyes express so much joy. They really do have a twinkle in them.” Not only does Elicah refuse to look away from the degradation of Korogocho, but she transforms it with inner passion and outer radiance.
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