THERE IS A miracle happening in Kenya. Just outside
of Nairobi, in an orphanage known as Nyumbani (“home”), some
92 HIV-positive children are living, growing, playing and
feeling good about themselves and where they live.
Every child was literally rescued from a life of
abandonment in the slums of Nairobi, and none was expected to
live much longer than a few months. Now, with excellent
medical care and a loving and nurturing environment, their
life expectancies are increasing, and the death rate at
Nyumbani has decreased from two or three children per month to
just a few each year.
I recently had the privilege of being invited to Nyumbani
to spend a week with the children, writing songs and making
music together. In my career as a children’s musician in the
United States, I have had countless positive experiences, but
none to compare with what I learned spending time with these
The songs they wrote are powerful representations of their
lives and their feelings, and when heard, I hope, will go a
long way to breaking the stigma of HIV-positive children and
adults all over the world.
Of course, it is hard to spend a week with Nyumbani’s
children and not fall in love with them. During one of my last
evenings there, I sat on the stoop of one of the cottages that
house the children (10 or more children per cottage, with a
house “mum” or “uncle”) and held an 11-year-old girl in my
arms. She said that someday, when she grows up, she wants to
be a singer like me. I told her I would send her music to sing
along with and I would write to her and keep up with her
progress. Then she asked the inevitable, would I take her to
the United States?
Even I was shocked at my answer. “No, dear, I will miss you
with all my heart, but I believe you are better off growing up
Better off in an orphanage in Kenya? How can that be?
Granted, they do not have fashionable clothes (they’re wearing
your old cast-offs) they lack money or malls and they
certainly don’t have Nintendo, but they have everything they
need. They are so loved and well cared for by the staff and
volunteers at Nyumbani, they are in a hermetically sealed
environment of constant love and support; sheltered from the
outside world of harsh criticism, prejudice, breast-baring pop
singers and violent and sexual music, television and movies.
In a word, they are innocent. And they are beautiful, and all
I could see was that beauty and innocence being spoiled by
life in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Here in the United States our children are daily exposed to
a barrage of cultural influences that are slowly but surely
stripping away that sense of childhood innocence. When their
entertainment choices go immediately from Barney to Britney,
when “The Cat in The Hat” is adapted into an obscene feature
film, when 6-year-old girls are wearing belly shirts and
imitating MTV, I have to say stop! In my search for suitable
music to send back to that child, I had to go all the way back
to Aretha Franklin’s “Greatest Hits” before I found a CD by a
female pop singer that didn’t feature questionable lyrics or
So while I would love to bring every child home with me and
love them to pieces, I believe in my heart that their
childhood is better protected right where they are than in the
land of the free, where our cultural freedom seems to mean the
end of freedom for children to be children.
Judy Pancoast lives in Goffstown and composes and
performs songs for pre-teen children.
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