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Triple the Fun at Kuda Vana Children's Home »
When you’re a triplet and your mother suggests going to Africa for six months to live at an orphanage called Kuda Vana and care for the children, what do you do? If you’re Gabi, Elli and Tori Hernandez, 13, daughters of Pastor Dany and Lori Hernandez of LifeSource Fellowship, you jump at the opportunity.
Even their mother’s warnings about the dirt and bugs they would encounter in Zimbabwe didn’t dissuade them. When they had to downgrade their living situation by moving to a smaller home and cutting out extra spending to save money for the trip, the girls never lost their enthusiasm. They were gung-ho all the way!
After long, tiresome hours on the plane from Denver to Zimbabwe with stops in Washington, D.C. and Ethiopia, Gabi, Elli, Tori and Lori arrived in the middle of the night in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. It was “dark and confusing” as they made their way from the airport to the orphanage, but someone had left a light on in the volunteer flat and as soon as they figured out where they would be sleeping, they fell into bed and slept an exhausted sleep.
Kuda Vana was founded in 2006 by retired church secretary Paula Leen. Known as Kuda Vana Partnership (formerly Murwira Children’s Home), the home came into being after Paula saw the hopelessness of some of the 1.3 million orphaned children in Zimbabwe. Many others have stepping in to help since its beginning.
When it became evident that the water supply at the Murwira Children’s Home wouldn’t be able to support its operations, nor the agriculture that kept it self-sustaining, the campus was moved to a new site next to a permanent water source. Generous donors made building individual group homes possible for as many as 50 infants and children to live in family units with mamas and aunties rather than the dormitory-style rooms they were used to.
The individual homes that now house the “families” of children at Kuda Vana form a circle. It was at the center of this circle that the community gathered the next morning to meet and welcome these new people. The youngest children were still sleeping, but the Hernandez girls went out to meet the older kids who sang songs in greeting.
It wasn’t long before the triplets had settled into a routine. Each day, they would study the Bible with their mother and two of the older boys and then spend two hours completing their own schooling while the older kids were away at school.
Toward the beginning of their stay, they visited the old Murwira Children’s Home site which, according to Tori, was “very dirty and more dorm style,” but made Gabi wish she “could [have seen] it when all the kids were there.”
Like children everywhere, the Kuda Vana kids created their own games and their own toys, fashioning cars out of whatever materials were at hand. They often played soccer on the playground near their homes, where the girls would join them.
During their stay, Gabi formed a special bond with Trish, an extremely shy 2 ½ year-old; Tori, with Joy Lee, an also shy 3 ½ year-old; and Elli, with Kyle, a 2 ½ year-old who was “all over the place.” All three youngsters “opened up [as they grew accustomed to being there] and were a lot more crazy, and acted more like kids,” the girls said, laughing.
Gabi, Tori, and Ellie didn’t come through this unusual experience unscathed. Each changed in her own way. Gabi watched as scared children arrived at Kuda Vana and gradually grew into children secure enough to play and to be children. She began to “understand what other people are going through.” Ellie hadn’t realized that “people live a whole lot differently than she and have a whole lot less.” Tori said it “made her look at life in a new way.” These kids have “no parents, no anything, and the home completely changes them.” She realized “what she has compared to others.”
As the girls move toward maturity and ponder their futures, their experiences at Kuda Vana will, most likely, play heavily on decisions they make. To the question, "Do you think your experience at Kuda Vana might influence your career decisions?, Tori responded, “Definitely.” Elli, who wants to be an “author or musician of some sort” believes it’s possible that her time spent in Zimbabwe will affect her career choice. Gabi thinks about doing interior design or “something that would involve helping the kids at Kuda Vana.”
Their advice to other teenagers considering a mission trip:
Elli: “Do it! You won’t regret it. It’s amazing and completely life changing.”
Tori: “Just try it! It’s really fun and it’s so worth it!”
Gabi: “Don’t be scared. It’s much more fun than you think.”