Published in the Current and the American Journal
“Hujambo Esther,” said the sign welcoming Esther Ndungwa Musau to the house in Cape Elizabeth where 10 of her pen pals were gathering for a meeting and a meal.
Inside, Musau was the center of a pod of girls moving from room to room throughout the house. “These girls are good,” said the soft-spoken, 19-year-old from Mbooli, near Machakos, southeast of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
The girls had spent a lot of time with Musau, who is living with a number of families during her three-week stay.
Troop member Bridget Carver said the group had begun writing to Musau after starting a sponsorship through Save the Children. The troop sends roughly $300 a year to fund Musau’s education.
Over the course of the correspondence, which has lasted four years now, Musau wrote to the girls about problems with her eyes.
The girls, who originally wanted to go to Kenya to meet their pen pal, decided it would be cheaper and easier to bring her to the U.S. Another benefit, they thought, would be the opportunity for Musau to get medical care for her eyes and also visit a dentist.
“We used all our cookie money and magazine money,” said Paige St. Germaine.
They raised about $2,000, including a donation from the Rotary Club of
South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. The flight cost $1,700, the girls said.
They remembered sitting in the cold outside Sam’s Club selling cookies to raise money, and taking notes of various excuses people gave for not buying any cookies. The troop will host a spaghetti dinner Nov. 1 to replenish the troop’s supply of funds.
Musau hadn’t heard from the girls in a while, because she graduated from school several months ago. But when her former teachers told her the girls wanted to pay her way to the U.S., she was surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” she said. But she learned that the Scouts were serious, and decided to put her faith in her pen friends. It was her first time in an airplane, and she was very excited about seeing the U.S.
“At the same time I was nervous,” she said. She had never actually met any of the girls and didn’t know what they or their families would be like in person.
“I said, ‘God is there,’” she said, and took the leap of faith. She knew that they were good people, and she figured that if they were willing to bring her to their homes, they would treat her well when she arrived.
She had known the girls for a while in their letters, starting when they were in first grade. “They were just teaching themselves how to write,” Musau said, remembering with a smile the letters she got on large-rule paper, in little-kid handwriting.
The Scouts also got Dr. Jeff Berman, a Cape resident who works at the Maine Eye Center in Portland, to donate eye care. Musau had chronic conjunctivitis that caused some scraping of her cornea.
Berman gave her some eye drops that should take care of the problem. Her dental care was donated by Dr. Leonard Brennan of Portland.
All of the girls said they would like to visit Musau in Kenya at some point down the road. Scout Meredith Sills was proud of the group’s achievement.
“We brought our pen pal here,” she said.