Special tribute by Abduba Mollu Ido (Pictured below)
Wednesday November 29, 2O18 will remain a sad day for many of us who have known and interacted with Bro Andre Hotchkiss, SVD. For me, Andre’s demise is a loss for the whole of humanity. At 81 years, one would say his death was not a sudden one, but for those of us who remained closely associated with him even after he left Garba Tulla, Kenya, it still comes as a shock. While I accept the will of God and the inevitability of death, this is also a time for reflection and celebration of Andy’s rich life; a life that touched and left a positive impact on many. A life well lived, I must say.
Andy would always introduce me as a skinny, 13 year-old, Grade 6 boy when we first met in Garba Tulla in 1985. 33 years later, I feel blessed to have had him in my life, a life he helped mould and shape in many ways.
When Andy visited Kenya in the second half of 2016 to fulfil a goal a number of us had encouraged him to pursue, i.e. to write a book about his experiences – I could not help notice his frail body, his difficulty in walking and deteriorating hearing. However, I also noted that his usual glow, passion, and the missionary convictions about the many possibilities and opportunities to improve the situation of the poor were still intact. Bro Andre’s mind was still as razor sharp as when he first arrived in Garba Tulla in 1985. His was a thirty-year old brain in an 80-year old body. He was always a man full of ideas, beautiful, progressive ideas.
It is not difficult to notice that Andy touched many lives in many different ways, in many different places – from US, Philippines to Kenya. A few minutes’ chat with him would introduce you to the universe of people in his life. From a street kid to a Cabinet minister, his networks of friends were just amazing. He was easy with people. Every chance to chat with Andy was an opportunity for introduction to a new person or idea. Just recently, he linked me up with someone in Eldoret who was doing very well with Cryptocurrency (Bit coin), his recent passion. A few months ago, he would encourage me to grow Bamboo on my farm in Garba Tulla.
A cursory scan through the social media following Andy’s death shows just how many people his life has touched. Jilo Bila, a young man from Merti posted this on Facebook:
“Many spoke about you. History echo from the yonder that you are such amazing soul. Though I never met you in person, you have continually inspired and left a mark in my heart, I know I will meet you one day at bosom of heavenly King. Thanks for all graciously encouraging advice you shared with me. You will be dear and remembered by many in Garba Tulla; far and wide, your service to Christ is never in vain. Fare thee well, soldier of Christ bro Andre Hotchkiss.”
Ivan Lascano had this to say about Andy:
“Good bye loyal friend and co-worker! You have been so kind to me and always willing to ease my workload. Your support and sacrifices will be certainly missed but I will forever treasure and remember you. Thank you so much for all you did for me! Rest In Peace Brother Andre Hotchkiss SVD! Two continents cry tonight.”
Yet another had this to say:
“You had such a big heart Andy… May you find happiness in God’s kingdom….”
Bro Andre was blessed with unmatched kindness and generosity. When one presented a need, he would hardly anyone away empty. One such act of kindness that will forever be engrained in my mind is when he took three street kids to the SVD residence in Gigiri, Nairobi so that they can have a proper shower and a decent meal. He met these street kids in a police cell where he and other social justice crusaders were arrested for demonstrating for ‘Debt Relief for highly indebted poor countries, mostly in Africa.’
Before Bro Andre and the SVD came to Garba Tulla, Kenya, the catholic mission was a place for feeding, clothing and schooling poor kids and their families. The Catholic Mission ran a massive food relief and welfare support programme covering more than 500 families. In just 2 years, Bro Andre changed that, first by establishing a livestock-restocking programme for affected families and later on, establishing a community development organisation, Garba Tulla Development Office. He was a strong believer and crusader of self-reliance and sustainable development. GTDO will grow to cover one-half of the expansive Isiolo County; reviving a sense of hope for a people hitherto crushed by war, drought and famine. This organisation continued to provide training, girlchild education, healthcare, food security, livestock health, enterprise development, women empowerment and environmental protection. I joined this organisation as an intern after my high school, volunteering my time during my college holidays. Everything I learnt in community development, I learnt under Bro Andre. Many of my colleagues who served under Bro Andre at GTDO are today serving society in different capacities and organisations. GTDO also opened doors to many other organisations who continue to provide service to our people.
Bro Andre’s connection with people was genuine and mutual. Among the locals here, he was fondly referred to by names such as ‘aba gumato’ a Boran name meaning ‘the one who gifts with livestock, a provider’). In Kayole/Soweto, they would christen him ‘mbolea’ a Swahili name for ‘fertilizer’. He would use these names to introduce himself, striking a positive bond with the local community. He would use words like, ‘our people’, ‘my colleagues’, and ‘our area’, creating a special bond of friendship and collegiality. This connection was quite significant considering his Christian missionary background and having to work in a predominantly Muslim community. Andre had special skills for building natural bridges between people, religions and cultures.
Among the many passions I picked from Bro Andre, two stand out. One is the love for planting trees while the second is the love for performed art. Garba Tulla is green today, largely because of the work of Bro Andre. He introduced us to the wonder Neem tree and taught us the value of caring for the environment. Bro Andre’s love for theatre bordered on obsession. Whenever he was in Nairobi, he would not miss an opportunity to watch a play at the Phoenix Theatre. Once, while serving at the Kayole Parish – in the suburbs of Nairobi, he bought an entire evening’s show (approximately 150 tickets) at the Phoenix Theatre in Nairobi, to give children from the Soweto slums a lifetime opportunity to watch one of his favourite musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat.” Two weeks ago, as my daughter, Najma and I were watching the story of Joseph, it rekindled fond memories of watch the Joseph Musical with Bro Andre.
If Bro Andre was famous for generosity and kindness, it was his capacity to forgive that stood out. In one incident, a young man the Catholic Mission had supported through school broke into Bro Andre’s room and the GTDO office thrice, stealing large amount of project cash. The community caught this young man and brought him to Bro Andre for retribution. Instead of sending him to jail, Bro Andre forgave the young man and even supported him financially to settle down and start some business. Bro Andre and this young man would remain close friends even after Bro Andre left Garba Tulla.
His story telling capabilities are unmatched. He would turn any incident into a great storyline. Once, there was a banditry attack in an outpost village approximately fifty kilometres from Garba Tulla in which around 800 hundred cows were raided by Somali bandits. At time, GTDO, the organisation Bro Andre founded had just installed VHF radio communication in 9 of these villages. Through the support of this radio network, the bandits were intercepted and the stolen cattle retrieved. Telling this story much later, Bro Andre would often say: ‘on that one day, and in that single incident, the total amount of money we invested in installing the radio network was repaid ten-fold.’
This special ability to put into proper context real life incidents, his superior writing skills, exceptional networking and connection with people endearing him to many funders who willingly supported his projects. Because of this, he became a very successful fundraiser.
Evenings were his best time of his time of the day. Clad in kikio, local men’s clothing worn as wrap, sitting around a bonfire, often surrounded by boys and his staff and enjoying his favourite whiskey or beer, he would churn out inspiring stories. He would use words like empowerment, community, social justice, values, environmental protection and sustainability. Going into great detail, he would turn a mundane topic such as how to plant a tree seedling or how to make a stabilised soil block into a great story.
He had a gift with words. He often praised his staff abundantly, referring to them as colleagues or co-workers. Among his favourite staff were a young man called Hussein, whom he nicknamed ‘mother-mould,’ who was responsible for making ferro-cement roofing tiles and the late Abduba Mamo who was in charge of tree planting. In Bro Andre’s world, no one was too small or unimportant. He wouldn’t skip an opportunity to shower all of them with praises.
Like all humans, Bro Andre had his fair share of flaws. Many considered him too trusting, too gullible. There were instances where his generosity and kindness were abused. His freely accepting spirit did not sit very well with some of his workmates and confreres who had a problem with him inviting too many commoners into their private spaces. But, Bro Andre, in his characteristic philosophical demeanour would explain that those who abused his trust or generosity are to blame and not him. Bro Andre had great reservoir of humour and would generously share jokes, especially those concerning senior citizens and nuns. There was not a topic to sensitive or orthodox for him. He would comfortably engage traditional elders in a debate on women’s rights or local Muslim clerics on what they thought about his chances of going to heaven after all the good things he has done.
Our jolly, gentle giant had a great appetite for nyama Choma, a Kenyan delicacy of roast meat and a ritualistic shot of tonic water and whiskey. He was not great with Ugali, which is a famous accompaniment of nyama choma, but whenever he had it, he would insist on a lot of sauce to go with it. He was also an authority on popcorn making, often joking that ‘heaven without popcorn will be a boring place to be,’
Bro Andre had two wishes I know of: The one which he often joked about was a desire to be buried in Garba Tulla where a large mango tree can be planted so that he can fertilize it. Just as in life, Bro Andre saw his purpose in death to be that of a catalyst, mbolea and giver of endless value.
The second wish, which he tried to pursue in late 2016, was to write a book about ‘our experiences.’ In mid-2016, he returned to Kenya for six months to embark on this assignment. In December 2016 when he was about to leave Kenya, not having completed this wish, he wrote this to me on his way out of Garba Tulla:
“My time in GT was wonderful. Research did NOT take the initially expected approach, but none-the-less we will proceed. If my Superiors do not deny me….. I expect to return to Kenya by June. . . .in time for my 80th birthday. Hehe”
Obviously, we will not be able to accord him his first wish. However, completing the book project he began would be a befitting tribute to a man who endlessly gave his life to all of us. That would be one way of keeping his legacy alive.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote in the, “The True Joy in Life”
This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
If life’s purpose is to live, to love, to learn and leave a legacy, then Bro Andre has achieved it. May his life be a guiding example for us.
Fare Thee Well, Brother Andre. May the Almighty have mercy on you and grant you eternal peace.
Abduba Mollu Ido, a student, mentee and a great admirer of Bro Andre. firstname.lastname@example.org