Moses Mwaura considers himself the luckiest kid in the world.
The Kenyan boy was only 5 years old in 2010 when he first flew to Minnesota from the slums of Nairobi’s Mathare Valley, where row upon row of makeshift shanties dull the landscape. He came to the Twin Cities for life-changing surgery that straightened his crossed eyes and corrected his vision.
Seven years later Moses and his family are back, visiting the friends they made on that first trip and enduring Minnesota’s frosty winter wonderland.
The Edina Rotary Club hosted Moses and his guardians, David and Subira Waithaka, at a luncheon Thursday at the Edina Country Club. After he turns 13 on Tuesday, the club’s members plan to host a birthday bash for him.
“I’ll get to eat a lot of cake,” he said, bouncing a soccer ball given to him by a Rotarian.
Much has changed since Moses first came to Minnesota, when he captured a lot of eyes and hearts. (“I really feel like I’m the king of the United States,” he said Thursday, reflecting on his fame.)
He is no longer the small boy with crooked eyes from the slums. He is now tall and skinny, with shiny cheeks and a toothy smile.
Moses is in sixth grade at the Green Garden School outside Nairobi, his private education paid for by the Edina Rotary. He has developed several talents, like playing soccer, hockey (an unintentional nod to Minnesota) and several musical instruments, including the keyboard and drums.
Energetic, polite and affectionate, Moses was the hit of the luncheon. He jumped from table to table, shaking hands with older Rotarians and even holding a short Q&A about his life back in Kenya. He will be here until Dec. 18, and he doesn’t want to leave.
“I want to come back, but this time I want to stay forever,” he said.
The story of Moses
It was a photo that Rotarian Sandy Schley took of Moses during a trip to Kenya that started it all. A few years later, after her ophthalmologist asked if Moses could benefit from eye surgery, Rotary Club members and others donated their time and money to bring him to Minnesota.
Moses, who remembers little of that first trip, recalled the pain he felt after the surgery. “I actually cried,” he said, when his eyes became inflamed from the procedure.
The difference it made was remarkable, said David Waithaka, who is Moses’ uncle.
“His self-esteem has really gone up because the consciousness of having crossed eyes was a little bit of a hindrance,” he said. “Now he can be in the company of the other kids and just be a normal kid.”
When Moses returned to Kenya, the Edina Rotary decided to pay for his schooling and took him out of the Mathare Valley to a boarding school in the nearby town of Kikuyu.
“We moved him out of the slum, and he’s in a better surrounding,” Waithaka said.
Waithaka said they had been trying for months to return to Minnesota. Moses could use a checkup, and besides there were new Rotary members who had never met him. People had been hearing his story, Waithaka said, and asking, “Can we now see the story itself?”
The Rotary Club paid for their flight, and Moses has been splitting his time among Rotary members’ homes in the Twin Cities.
He has already been to the eye doctor, where he received a new pair of prescription glasses. He had a dental appointment and expects to go back again before he leaves.
Schley said seeing Moses again years later has been “tearjerking.” She said she believes he is on track to accomplish his dreams of becoming an “actor-musician-businessman.”
“And he will,” she said. “He now has goals that he couldn’t have had before because he has an education.”
Paul Mooty, a Rotarian and chief financial officer of Faribault Woolen Mill Co., called Moses’ story “one of the most, if not the most significant and touching Edina Rotary efforts.”
Mooty spent some time Wednesday with Moses, taking him on a tour of the Faribault plant and shepherding him around the Mall of America.
Moses ate some fried chicken and fries at the mall — two of his favorite American foods, Mooty said — and later hopped on the rides, where he got soaked from multiple go-rounds on the water log ride.
The rest of the time, he has been doing what many 12-year-old Minnesotans do: playing video games, eating pizza and riding in utility vehicles on the snow.
How does he feel about the freezing weather?
“Bad,” he said, gritting his teeth. “I almost fell on the ice.”
Moses will have to brace against the cold for a little longer, though, as he plans to take skiing lessons before he returns home.