Zuri Watoto Wote

All the Beautiful Children

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/15/2009
One of millions

Our reason for making this trip

Zuri watoto wote is how you say “all the beautiful children” in Swahili. This photo is from the Nyumbani website, www.nyumbani.org , where you can go to see the programs that Nyumbani has for HIV+ children in Kenya and the sites where we will be volunteering.

There are over 15 million children who live in sub Saharan Africa who have been orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS and over 2 million children have HIV/AIDs. Over one and a half million AIDS orphans live in Kenya. It is estimated that by 2010 one third of all  the children in Africa will be orphaned due to  the AIDS epidemic.

“You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”  Mahatma Ghandi

 

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Much more after I left….

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, Our Kenyan Family, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 02/14/2016

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This year in Kenya I was the first of the volunteers to leave, ambivalently, reluctantly, but headed home to my own life and responsibilities that beckoned me there. I left knowing that some of the work would continue, donation money would be well spent, and more good would come after my departure.

Because of very generous donors we were able to address many needs in the communities we visit and for the Kenyan people we love. Although I was leaving, I knew that my remaining donation money was in good hands and that it would reach its fullest possible potential with Justus at the helm of seeking out bargains that could only be accessed by someone local, someone Kenyan, our favorite Kenyan. Before I departed we pooled the rest of our donation money and divvied it up to go towards various projects. Our last night at the Nyumbani Village guest house, we gathered in the open sitting area, fatigued though happily satisfied with our time there. Drinking wine out of water bottles (the only possible glasses) and eating a dinner of our remaining healthy and not so healthy snacks, we counted money and packed it into envelopes designated for different causes. We had already been able to purchase 200 sets of sheets and blankets for Nyumbani Village, but in doing so learned that the need for mattresses was even greater. So mattresses, with plastic covers for the younger children became the object of one of the envelopes of money. Though we had purchased sports equipment, uniforms were still to be purchased, uniforms that would instill pride and identity by including the Nyumbani name written on them. And we had been communicating with Philip of PCDA, despite our various technological problems with phones, computers and internet, regarding shoes for the Maasai school children. This was another envelope of donation funds dedicated to a real need. This was my final night in the Village and I had one more day in Kenya, the wonderful day we spent with Justus’s family.

After I departed, and while I was settling into life back at home, recovering from travel and jet lag, those volunteers still left in Kenya, along with Justus were busy at work doing other things. Deb and Karen headed to Talitha Kum, another orphanage, but before that,  Deb purchased baby clothes to be donated to the maternity unit mothers and babies at St. Joseph’s. Since Lloydie stayed in the Nairobi area, she got to deliver those in a final visit there.

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Sisters  at St. Joseph’s delighted to receive newborn clothes from KEST traveler Deb DeArmon!

She also got to visit with the spirited nuns, Sisters Rhoda and Ida. I wonder if there were any more stories of the Pope’s visit?! While at St. Joseph’s, she also met with a women’s self help group there, one that is just getting started, and could benefit from some Tuko Pamoja wisdom.

Wonderful, inspiring women, love 'em all!

Wonderful, inspiring women, love them all!

She and Justus did some major shopping and arranged for mattresses to be delivered to Nyumbani Village. I wish I could have been there when they arrived since it looks like it was a major event!

Thanks to Raphael, the Village Director for sending photos along with a huge and heartfelt thank you that I am passing on to my donors.Thanks to Justus for scouting out the best prices and doing the leg work! The sports uniforms had to be printed with the Nyumbani name so had not yet been brought to Nyumbani Village before everyone departed. But Lloydie enlisted the help of the children at the Children’s Home to model some of them for photos!

I really wish I had been around when the Maasai children of PCDA got their new shoes, but Lloydie has sent me very many great pictures so that I could share the process and the delight.

James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks.  They received a very nice tip!

James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks. They received a very nice tip!

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I think Justus had a good time!

Out with the old, in with the new!

How happy are they to have new shoes!

 

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Happy Kids!

I had to restrain myself to keep from posting all 248 photos of smiling children with shiny new shoes! But I think you can get the feeling of how happy they were and how much  of a difference this made for them. Next year….they really need new school uniforms!!

Lloydie wrote to me about all the things that she continued to do after I departed,  while Deb and Karen were at Tabitha Kum and after they departed. She had not slowed down one bit (no surprise to all who know her!) She went with Charles, Lucy’s brother, both of whom grew up in Nyumbani Village and visited Charles’s school for which she is sponsoring him. He is training in the hospitality business which should afford him a job in the future. They also got to celebrate his birthday.

She also met with Nicholas Syano, former Director at Nyumbani Village, and Joseph Lentunyio, former Sustainability Director at Nyumbani Village, who have teamed together to help teach communities permaculture farming techniques. A future plan is being made for them to come to PCDA to teach the women and children how to farm crops that are hearty in their environment. And stage 2 of the PCDA water program funded by Woods Academy in Bethesda will include water accessible for farming!

There is so much more work that was done, but yet still so much more that could be done. You can already see some of the goals for next year taking shape and including replacing all the mattresses in Nyumbani Village over time, getting new school uniforms for the PCDA kids who clothes don’t hold a shine to their new shoes. We would like to support the Maternity Unit at St. Joseph’s more–more baby clothes and I am researching an incubator update. Karen is working to have a micro finance program to help the people that Nyumbani serves through the Lea Toto Program.  We always end up with more new ideas, projects to pursue, work to be done our next time in Kenya.  Never do we leave with our hearts not feeling full for the work we have done, the people with whom we have connected, the relationships with our Kenyan family and a profound love of Kenya and all that she holds.

AFRICA SMILED

– A poem by Bridget Dore, dedicated to Madiba (Nelson Mandela)

Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We know you,” Africa said,

“We have seen and watched you,

We can learn to live without you,

But We know

We needn’t yet.”

And Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said.

“It is always with you,

There inside your head.

Our rivers run in currents

In the swirl of your thumbprints;

Our drumbeats

Counting out your pulse,

Our coastline,

The silhouette of your soul.”

So Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We are in you,” Africa said.

“You have not left us, yet.”

© Bridget Dore

We all get teary each time we read this as its sentiments  apply to how we feel about Kenya and the roots we have grown there.

 

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A Special Day with Justus’s Family

Posted in Kenya, Our Kenyan Family by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2016

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If you have read any of my posts before, you know that we have a special relationship with Justus who began as our driver in Kenya, but who has become  part of the KEST family, part of Tuko Pamoja, and simply put, part of what makes Kenya for all of us. Because I usually depart before the other volunteers, I had never had the chance to meet his family and neither had Karen. But we spent my last full day in Kenya with Justus and his family driving to Lake Navaisha where we went on a ‘”hippo safari”

When they first arrived, Denzel and Wycliff presented all of us with a letter from each which also had earrings and a magnet in the envelope, and each of us a beautiful bouquet of roses. I was so moved by their presentation and simply meeting all of them that it brought me to tears.

We visited for just a bit before we set off to buy lunch and to get on the road to Lake Navaisha. In celebration of the occasion, we had ice cream before we ate our lunch.DSC_1842

The ride was quite beautiful along the Rift Valley.

And arriving at Lake Navaisha was equally as beautiful!

We then boarded the boats for the hippo safari, a tour through the beautiful lake teaming with birds and other wild life, including, of course, hippos.

The boaters

The hippos

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the hippos as I was with boat ride itself since the water was full of vegetation and so many birds. It felt like we were going through the bayou for part of the ride.

The entrance to the water

A sampling of the birds we saw.

As we got out further from the shore, the guides pointed out the African Fish Eagle and threw a fish up into the air so it would take flight.

African Fish Eagle

Following our foray with the birds, the boats picked up pace and brought us over to Crescent Island. The island is actually the site where “Out of Africa” was filmed and originally did not have any wildlife. All of the animals that are there were initially brought over  and remained,  but the lion was brought and then removed.

We ate our lunch on the island which was very beautiful and then began a walking safari that was so incredible because we were so close to and amongst the animals.

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We first encountered encountered many zebras. Although we weren’t quite close enough to pat them, we got within 30 yards of them. You may notice that there are some young ones in the group. They were born 3 and 4 months earlier and we had the opportunity to see them playing, frolicking, and even nursing.

The zebras, including the cute young ones.

Many other animals were sited, including a giraffe that was just 4 days old!

We saw many other animals while on the walking tour of the island, but the best part of all was spending time with Justus and his family.

We were there all afternoon, managed to avoid the thunderstorm that was happening in the distance and enjoyed a cool breeze which made it much more comfortable to be there. We headed back on the boats in the midst of different scenery now that it was later in the day.

We did not get into the van to head home until appropriate group pictures had been taken!

The ride home along the Rift Valley was a whole new vista, just as beautiful as earlier, but different as the sun was going down.

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The Rift Valley at Sunset 

When we arrived back at Dimesse Sisters Retreat, that rascal Justus had something up his sleeve. His sister and her family were there to meet us!

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The cousins

We had a really wonderful day together. I was so happy to finally meet Justus’s family. By the end of the day it felt like we were all part of a family. And then, of course, came the hard goodbyes. But we will be in touch by email and as always the goodbyes were really “See you next year!”

I am finishing this blog as I countdown to my flight to go back to the US so please pardon any typos. I depart with such mixed feelings; its so hard to say goodbye to Lloydie, Karen and Deb, too, and to this beautiful country that has filled my heart.

The Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Nyumbani Village Day of Remembrance by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2016

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The Day of Remembrance was our on our last evening in the Village. Although it was a very hot afternoon when we were setting up the  luminaries,  we were blessed with a beautiful evening. This was the second year for the Day of Remembrance in the Village, a cermonial evening dedicated to honoring lost loved ones. The majority of them are the parents of the children living there and the children of the grandparents, most of whom have died of AIDS. But as you recall from an earlier post, we encountered many people who had had recent losses during our stay this time including a  number of the Tuko Pamoja women, some of the Nyumbani staff, as well as our dear friend Justus who lost his brother during the previous week. There has been so much joy and laughter, but also profound sadness.

Simon, the Nyumbani Village counselor, and I worked very hard during the week to get the Village logistically and psychologically prepared for the day.

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Simon, the Nyumbani Village counselor

We had many people and groups of people with whom to meet, but not as intense a schedule as Lilian and I had had in the Village last year, since most people had previous experience of the Day. However, there was a  new princiupal at Lawson High School and a new priest, so I had the opportunity to meet with both of them to explain the purpose and flow of the ceremony. Both were very enthusiastic about the event and Father Michael talked about how he would focus the mass that was to precede the luminary ceremony. Simon, the current counselor, had already had some meetings with the primary school children, but we needed to meet with the high school  students and the grandparents. Part of the purpose was to prepare them for the day, but we also needed to undertake the task of gathering all of the names of lost loved ones to be written on the luminary bags.  With 100 grandparents and 1000 children, this was, as it was last year, not an easy task. However, when we met with the high school students we were able to engage the help of the cluster leaders. There are 26 clusters in the village, most with four houses in which reside one grandparent and 10 children!

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Meeting with the high school students, including the first year students who still had their primary school uniforms.

We also met with the Susus who were  very interested in participating in the event and they too provided us with the names of lost loved ones. We asked them not to include the names of the parents of their own grandchildren that they are raising, but still the lists were sadly so long.

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Meeting with Susus

We were gathering names up until the day before which turned out to also be a whole marathon day of writing the names on the  luminary bags. I handled the names collected from the children and fortunately Simon wrote the names obtained from the grandparents. We also had names gathered from the volunteers and staff.

Working on the luminaries

When Friday came, despite the frantic pace of the day before, we felt prepared, though in need of many extra hands to help set up the luminary bags. The first bag that I put down was the luminary for my son Brendan who would have turned 25 on the Day of Remembrance,  making the day even more emotionally powerful for me. Fortunately all of the KEST volunteers and the other volunteers  from the Village were enthusiastic about helping with the process which involved putting sand in the luminary bags and arranging them in an enormous circle. DSC_1722

Deb captured a very special video of one of the children adding sand to Brendan’s luminary bag which was so poignant for me and evoked a lot of emotion.

It was a very hot afternoon and we were all over heated, sweaty, thirsty and dirty by the end of the process, but fortunately had an hour to run back to guest house and take a cold shower before returning for the evening. We were all feeling good about how amazing the luminaries looked, how expansive the circle was, even before they were lit. When we returned to the field in front of the social hall, people were gathering and entering the church. Once the service began in the social hall, we waited about 15 minutes then began the huge task of lighting all the luminaries so that we would have them all lit as people were exiting from the mass and after the sun had set. Despite some initial challenges with the wonderful breeze that was cooling us, but blowing out the candles as soon as they were lit, we managed to get all of the luninaries, over 400, lit as the sun had set and people were exiting. The timing turned out to be just perfect.  It was beautiful and moving in a way that words are hard to describe. People all moved around the circle which was arranged by cluster and found the names of their loved ones. Some kneeled, some sat or stood quietly and we began some glorious singing. Between songs we read every name. I read the names of the volunteers and visitors loved ones, some of whom we especially wanted to honor, such as my son Brendan, the sons who have died of a number mothers whom I know and Justus’s brother. Simon read all the names of the loved ones of the Village community. I cannot really describe the profound feeling of being there.

A clip of the ceremony; you can hear the singinng in the background.

It was so beautiful with all the luminaries lit under a magnificent starry sky and the singing was so moving and harmonious. At one point I walked into the center of the luminary circle and just stood there taking it all in, the lights, the singing, the powerful sense of community which had come together, and I felt like I was transported to a different place with a powerful connection to Brendan. The community encircled the luminaries with song and with each other and the evening went perfectly.

This was our last night in Nyumbani Village and we went back to Guest House, opened a bottle of wine, and toasted the accomplishment of the day and the satisfaction of the week spent in Nyumbani Village.

Nyumbani Village, “Wow!”

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/31/2016

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The drive to and from Nyumbani Village was a beautiful one. Soon after the outskirts of Nairobi, the countryside emerged with that rich red soil and lush green of the Kenyan landscape and mountains terraced with gardens.

It is always a wonderful feeling to get away from the traffic around Nairobi into the fresh air with so much beautiful scenery. It was a long drive to the Village, but made much easier by the views and the excitement of knowing that we would soon arrive at Nyumbani Village.

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Everything is growing well in the Village

We arrived late afternoon on Monday, in time to have a dinner of rice and githeri, a traditional Kenyan stew of beans and maize. We then began getting settled into our living quarters, but not without stopping  along the way to visit Susu Janet who is always excited to see us. We were surprised to see a very welcoming sign on the door to the guest house when we arrived. This was made by one of the volunteers who were already there, three post college grads doing short and long term placements in the Village. Kara, the Princeton in Africa fellow will be there for an entire year.

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Susu Janet

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We  really enjoyed working with these other volunteers.

It was the next morning when we really got a better view of what we had already realized was the greenest we have ever seen the Village. This is not usually the rainy season; that is in the summer months. However, since there had already been a significant rainfall in January, the Village was really lush with vegetation, all the shambas (gardens) were thriving and I momentarily thought I was lost on my way to the clinic becuase it was hidden from the usual view by all of the vegetation.

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The Village is very beautiful

Since there were no new travelers in our group and we all had specific projects to work on, no tours or orientation were needed, and we all got right to work. Deb has been working on a memory book for all the grandparents in the Village, interviewing them and recording their life histories to be preserved for their grandchildren and other generations to come. She and the other KEST volunteers have done over 100 interviews and the book is ripe with fascinating stories, culture and history.

Karen’s goal was to further explore the issue of training and micro finance loans for students after graduating from secondary school. She did that by learning more about the polytechnic school and meeting with the staff. There is already a program sponsored by the Spanish Board in collaboration with Kiva to offer microfinance loans to Nyumbani Village alumni. Fortunately, while we were at the Village there was someone from the Spanish Board who was there to celebrate the success of bringing electicity into the homes to provide lighting, and she was also involved with the micro finance program. Karen wishes to specifically focus on the young adults of the Lea Tota programs and has been gathering a detailed overview of what services already exist at other sites in Nyumbani and, based on learning a great deal and networking with others, she is formulating a plan to address the needs of the Lea Toto community (clinics servicing families with children who are HIV+ and living in the impoverished communities around Nairobi.)

Lloydie had a number of projects to work on in the village, but major among them was teaching in the sister school program. One of the lessons was focused on a book with the theme of one person can make a difference, a philosopy she truly lives. She also delivered countless new backpacks.

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Lloydie off to teach!

All of us together sat down and went over our donation funds and the request lists to determine how our donations could be best used. We were able to purchase 200 blankets and 200 sets of sheets, three first aid kits, all the needed sports equipment and will also be purchasing 100 mattresses. Thank you to our many generous donors! This is in addition to the planned purchase of shoes and socks for the 85 children of PCDA! And the many skeins of yarn, beads and other items that were donated.

Blankets, sports equipment and  first aid kits

Doaling out the yarn for basket making

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Karen, Deb and I escaping the heat with a “not warm” soda from the canteen

 My work was  focused on working in collaboration with the Village counselor, Simon. My role has always been to be a consultant regarding mental health care of the village residents and some of the surrounding community. And last year my role grew to include the preparation and organization for the Day of Remembrance. I will blog about that event in a separate post. Being in the role of a consultant has allowed me to hear many of the personal stories of the children who now live at Nyumbani Village. They are powerful stories of grief, loss and struggle for even survival before they were brought to Nyumbani Village. As I have said before, part of the magic of the Village is knowing that the children who are thriving there would not have lived without  coming to the Village.

My  morning walk to the clinic

We all work while we are at the Village, we are often quite busy, but not so busy that we cannot enjoy the children or the grandparents we encounter throughout the day and especially on the walk home at the end of the day. Since the children love to have their pictures taken and I love to take pictures, I often have  fun with them by doing that. This year I brought an instant film camera and I was like the Pied Piper after the first child got of a polaroid of herself and shared it with the others.

Enjoying her polaroid!

Even the Susus joined in the fun, and the fascination, of having their own instant photos.

You can never pass a SuSu without a Kamba handshake and a Kamba greeting and they all seem to delight in quizzing us on the various greetings and responses in the Kamba language.

The Susus

But for me, I most enjoy a chance just to engage with the kids, get a random unexpected hug or my hand held, and, of course to take pictures of their beautiful faces.

I enjoy it when I get to see the kids playing  and feel especially lucky when I am able to catch the children rehearsing a dance performance.

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The  girls practicing a dance performance.

And the little girls wanting to join in!

Whether it is chirping weaver birds, clucking chickens, dancing and singing children or spirited grandparents, the Village is always bustling with the simple things of life.

And in the evening, night falls often with the sound of children singing and a most beautiful starry sky. The finale for our week was the Day of Remembrance and I will write about that in my next post.

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Star trails photographed at Nyumbani Village


About the title, it is very common in Kenya, when you say something that pleases someone for them to reply “Wow!” or “Imagine!”

Mukuru… and the Village is Green

Posted in HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/27/2016

DSC_1370.JPGThere is always a sense of excitement when we are getting ready to head to Nyumbani Village. It is a place that is steeped in the richness of the Kamba culture and holds a little magic for everyone who visits there. The magic comes in the starriest sky you could ever imagine, the spunk and spirit of the dancing and basket weaving grandmothers, but most of all from the singing and laughter of 1000 children who would have died without it. But we had another stop along the way in Mukuru, the sight of the self help group which was the most recent addition to Tuko Pamoja.

We drove through the streets of Mukuru which seem somewhat more crowded and closed in than the streets of the other slum areas. The streets were very vibrant with vendors and loudly broadcasted upbeat Kenyan music. However, the poverty, crowded living conditions and lack of services like trash pick-up were very apparent.

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We arrived at Mukuru to meet at the Lea Toto site that is based there. On the way in, there were some interesting signs, one again about cholera and another about sexual and gender based violence.IMG_4051

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This prompted me to ask Simon, the director who oversees all of the self help groups of Lea Toto, how much of a problem there has been with cholera. He let me know that he actually had cholera back in 2011 and was quite ill as would be expected for anyone  infected with cholera. I thought that cholera was primarily a disease of the past, but not so in Kenya. The sign about sexual and gender based violence, which was really the side of a small building, gave me great satisfaction since that is such an issue in Kenya. There is a school right beside the Lea Toto clinic so we enjoyed seeing the mass of children in green school uniforms, all lively, very cute and interested in interacting with us.

The Mukuru self help group makes products from banana leaves, anything from baskets to detailed animals. Part of the order was for Christmas things and there were some rather cute Santas in cars, boats and even in a zebra drawn sleigh,  as well as other detailed people.

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Crafts of the women at Mukuru

The women were very excited to have us arrive. I had not met any of these women before, except for those who attended the Women’s Workshop, because this group was added to Tuko Pamoja in June when Lloydie was here. The women were lovely and gracious and, of course thrilled to hear that a bonus was to be given.

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The women of the Mukuru self help group

The women were given financial training by Karen and also were delighted to hear the cooments from the guest book which Deb has read at each Tuko Pamoja meeting.

The TP Guest Book

After we finished up at Mukuru, we were back in the van packed full of donation duffles and on our way to the Village. The drive there is about four hours total and after you get past the city area, it becomes very beautiful.

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The very packed van

On the drive, there was alot of green, sometimes zebra or giraffe sightings in a distance, terraced gardens, and wonderful fresh air.

The ride to the Village

When we arrived at the Village we found it to be lush and green like we have never seen it before. There was so much vegetation I almost got lost on my way to the counseing office. But we are here and it is  beautiful! The internet connection is SO V E R Y  S–L–O–W and connection, technical, and charging problems abound so it may be a bit before the next post!

  

The Women’s Workshop, Micro Finance, and Team Lucy

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/26/2016

 

DSC00244Saturday was the Fourth Annual Women’s, a day of learning, collaborating and bonding for the women of Tuko Pamoja. Every year we think it can’t go any better and somehow it does. We came together in the morning at Dimesse Sister’s Retreat Center where the sisters had prepared chai and mandazis (yummy Kenyan “doughnuts”) to start the morning. The women started arriving and signing in, looking lovely in their best clothes. They had an opportunity to socialize a bit and then we had opening remarks about the goals and the agenda  for the day.

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We then all headed  off to Kazuri Beads where they were to get some training from the staff there. Kazuri Beads is a place we visit every year and is a model example of a socially responsible business. From their website:

OUR MISSION: “THE MISSON OF KAZURI IS TO PROVIDE AND SUSTAIN EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR DISADVANTAGED MEMBERS OF KENYAN SOCIETY”
KAZURI, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting on making ceramic beads made by hand.

At Kazuri Beads they are also committed to opening their factory for tours and sharing some of their training, marketing and other tips. Not only are disadvantaged women from the slums bussed there, but they also have on site daycare and a medical clinic. The owner is very dedicated to  his workers and keeps all of them employed during lulls in the business. The goal of bringing the Tuko Pamoja women there was to have them meet with the production team and with the marketing staff in the on site retail shop. The staff  were VERY generous with their time and teaching, and the women were enraptured with the business and very inquisitive with their questions. One woman remarked at the end of the day “I never knew something so beautiful could come from the ground I walk on!” The production team emphasized the dire importance of several levels of quality control and the ongoing need for new product design—both concepts which we had been working on in the individual groups all week.

Touring the factory and learning about quality control

Learning about marketing customer service form the store staff and the owner, himself

Discussion at Kazuri Beads

Following a very successful visit to Kazuri Beads, we all headed back to Dimesse retreat where the staff had prepared a very plentiful traditional Kenyan meal and the women all ate very heartily. Then we headed to Kibera.DSC00343

Places and people in Kibera

After lunch we left for Kibera to visit the Power Women’s Self Help Grou. We selected this location because this is an example of a self help group who have made a lot progress in establishing themselves. We drove into Kibera so were able to see more of life within the area. Children always flock to greet us with waves and choruses of “How are you? I am fine!” Once inside the Power Women’s workshop the women were given a presentation of the history of the group which began as a simple self help group doing crafts. The women were able to save enough money to rent a shop and then went on to develop a beauty parlor (“saloon”  :))with the help of generous benefactor  and finally a daycare. They were able to provide the women of TP tips about further success emphasizing the concepts of saving and working towards a goal. And the women had an opportunity to see the daycare and beauty parlor.

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At The Power Women’s shop

We then went to a meeting area in the Lea Toto site of Kibera to carry on the program. Karen presented to the women how to keep a ledger of income and expenses and to save a little money on a regular basis. The concept of keeping a record was entirely new to the women and they were glued to the presentation and each followed along filling in the ledger beginning with the 3000 KS there had been given as a bonus.

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Karen, Susan and Simon doing the financial skills presentation

Then Lilian and I took the lead and talked with the women about the effects of stress, stress management and techniques for dealing with it. We led an exercise on deep breathing and the women were quite enthralled with the idea that they could actually do something to decrease their own stress levels. Sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference in Kenya. After the program was finished, we asked the women to give their feedback on what they had learned during the day and we were thrilled with their comments as we felt that we had succeeded in really helping them to learn some crucial skills. They remarked about each site visit, the financial skills presentation, managing stress and more. One women from PCDA spoke eloquently to thank us for traveling so far, leaving our work and our families at home to come to Kenya to create this workshop for them and for working with them to help them become more successful.

Maggie, our Board member from Amani led the closing remarks which were truly inspired and focused on working together, sharing and supporting each other, the real concept of “Tuko Pamoja” (we are together in Swahili).

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Maggie addressing the group

We thanked all of the site administrators for each group and the Kenyan Board and all of the Board Members joined together to thank the women for all of the hard work they do and to reinforce that we are all bonded and working together.

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The Board of Tuko Pamoja

Then each of the members were given a formal certificate of attendance, congratulated and presented with a gift bag of basic necessities: maize flour, sugar, oil and salt.

Gift Bags

We ended our day in a large circle holding hands and singing a beautiful song taught and led by Lilian who always does a laudable job in the capacity of celebration with song. Then she instructed us that we could not leave the group without hugging at least five other people. That wasn’t at all a challenge, and some of us likely hugged over 30 other people. It was a heartwarming ending to a day that felt like it had gone perfectly.

Lucy joined us for the day and her brother Charles came later as he was in a Red Cross training all day. You may recall that both Lucy and Charles grew up in Nyumbani Village. Currently Lloydie is sponsoring Charles in his education as a hotelier. Lucy is attending Kenyatta University, sponsored by Team Lucy, which includes Deb, Karen, and me along with two other women from the states, Carla and Marguerite. Lucy and Charles returned to Dimesse Retreat to have dinner with us and to spend the night. We had a wonderful time catching up during dinner. Lucy is a very bright responsible and sweet young women, who despite being on a tight budget, always brings a gift for each member of the team. This year she brought us each an envelope with a picture and a bracelet beaded with each of our names.DSC00490

Team Lucy

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Lucy came bearing gifts

The following day was Sunday, and if we are in Karen, we always head over to Nyumbani Children’s Home to go to church with the children and this time Lucy and Charles went with us. We met Protus, the Director of the Children’s Home who returned from being away because of a death in the family.  We talked with him, as we had talked with Sister Mary, about the difficulties which we had encountered in Customs and tried to brainstorm some solutions. Following the always jubilant, singing, drumming, dancing mass which is very  much directed towards speaking to and interacting with the children, we went off to tea with Sister Mary. That gave us an opportunity to discuss some other issues about the Nyumbani programs. We had a really delicious lunch at Spurwing travel which is next door to the Children’s Home and is where Justus is employed. We all savored having some delicious home cooked food, especially being able to eat a salad, all of which we really miss while we are here in Kenya.

Right after lunch we had the pleasure of meeting with Michael who is the son of the Spurwing owners and is a very successful attorney and business owner at only 23. He was extremely helpful and very generous with his time in offering the history of developing his businesses and some information about micro finance loans as that is one of his businesses. All week Karen has been meeting with various people within the Numbani  Programs toward the goal of creating micro finance opportunities for the young people served in the Lea Toto programs. Becoming self sustaining with a reliable income is an extreme challenge for them and beginning small businesses is a much greater possibility than a actually finding a job. Michael offered some excellent insights. Meeting with him as well as people art Nyumbani has helped Karen to come up with a preliminary plan to help with a program in this area. This would could make a difference in many people lives if it can move forward. Michael was also helpful to Lucy since she will graduate with a business degree and he offered to  facilitate the process of her finding a suitable attachment (i.e. internship).

Our other tasks for this welcomed low-key day were to purchase the necessary items for students who are going into high school.  This is always a boarding school in Kenya and requires school fees as well as supplies to live in a dormitory. We  brought one of the new Form I students ( a freshman) with us as we went off the the local Nakumatt (the Kenyan equivalent of Walmart) to get the supplies. The list included many things,  among them was a pillow and mattress, bedding and other daily necessities. All of us remember this student as a little girl so its hard to believe that she is now moving on to high school. The school year begins in January in Kenya.

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Once finished we went back to Kazuri beads, this time to do a little shopping, but not until after we had to say goodbye to Lucy and Charles who, for most of us, it will be a year before we see them again. It is ALWAYS so hard to say goodbye in Kenya, even when it is “See you next year.” At the end of the day we were reorganizing and repacking to head to Numbani Village the next day after a planned meeting with the self help group in Mukuru in the morning. These low key days are always relative; they are easier than the days with events like the Women’s Workshop, but still packed with more things than I can put into this blog. We always go to bed tired, most often too late, but with a true feeling of satisfaction. I will explain more later, but it has also been a day of much intense laughter as well as sorrow and tears as we encountered  more loss among our Kenyan Family, loss that resonated very much with my own experience.

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And the sun finally came out so we could enjoy much outside in the backyard at Spurwing!

Joy, laughter, and sorrow

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/22/2016

It has, of course, been a busy couple of days like all our days here in Kenya as we have continued on with agenda of meeting with the Tuko Pamoja women’s groups. Yesterday was an adventure before we even got to our first destination because there was a huge long traffic jam and muddy terrain in Nairobi that turned the usual half hour drive into two.  You can get held up by traffic, bad roads, really bad drivers, chaotic rotaries, and sometimes even herds of goats. We always say that Justus has nerves of steel to be so relaxed driving in the city, especially on double lane rotaries where there seem to be no rules about the order of entering and exiting!

The route to Dandora

 Yesterday we were in Dandora (another of the Nairobi slums) meeting with the women of the Vision Self Help Group. I have great affection for all the women’s groups, but I have a special place in my heart for this  group because they were the first self group who I met back in 2010 when I made my first trip to Kenya. Back then, before Tuko Pamoja was conceived, they amazed and inspired me with their courage, grace, and warmth. It was at that time that I realized that I was not only going to fall in love with the children, but also to have a powerful bond with the women. All of these women are raising at least one child with HIV and most are HIV+ themselves. Many are powerful examples of the concept of “living positively with HIV”, some are outspoken advocates and some are community health workers, volunteers who reach out to other families with HIV+ children.

When we arrived in Dandora, it was a tremendously joyous welcome, “You have come home to your family in Kenya!” There given hearty hugs, kisses on both cheeks, and many wishes of “Happy New Year!”

We settled into a meeting together to do the work of Tuko Pamoja and Jacqueline shared that the group has been going through some “troubled times.” She listed the family members who the women had recently lost: one husband, many siblings, a teenage daughter and more. There are only twelve members in the group so as the list went on I felt overwhelmed with the sorrow of the group that touched my own experience of loss. This was a sad reminder of how loss is such a frequent experience of everyday life in Kenya where HIV is widespread and other diseases that would be treatable in the states are commonly fatal there.  When I noticed the sign below on the wall of the clinic, I realized that I hadn’t thought about cholera since medical school,  and even then it was a lesson of what had happened in the past. The teenage daughter of one of the group members died of pneumonia. Its a reminder of what we take for granted in the states despite the problems in our health care system.DSC_1132

After acknowledging the multiple losses we moved on to spend an uplifting time together. A part of each of the meetings has included Justus telling about his experience of coming to the states and what it was like for him to be present at two Tuko Pamoja events. He is the best person to describe what the events are like and how we represent the women and their work. He was very enthusiastic, animated, and charming in his detailed descriptions, but we, of course,  didn’t understand more than a couple of words since he spoke in Swahili. When Lloydie announced that Justus is now the Tuko Pamoja director in Kenya, all the women were thrilled and offered up applause and that distinctive Kenyan trill that we have come to know so well. Like all of the other groups these women were exuberant to hear our experience of hosting events and most especially of the success of sales, feedback of customers, and finally most exciting of all was to hear that they would be getting bonuses!

There is a lot of affection in this group; something that is evident in the photos and in the insistence of some of the women that they give us gifts from the inventory of their own crafts.

It is always so hard too say goodby ands the goodbyes are long with song and another round of hugs, more song, more hugs….photos of the group, photos of all the women who are grandmothers…….

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The Grandmothers (plus one)


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Vision  Self Help Group of Dandora

We were late to depart form Dandora and caught in traffic on our way to our next destination, Amani, a women refugee cooperative where we visited with Maggie, one of our Kenyan Tuko Pamoja Board members,  and did some “socially responsible” shopping from all of the hand sewn and crafted items there. Maggie is one of the sweetest women in Kenya who is a huge asset to the Board and she kept the store open an extra 2 hours just to accommodate us.We fortunately did not have to say any long term goodbyes since Maggie will be at the women’s workshop tomorrow.

Today we went to Kibera paper, another group whom I met early on in my Kenya travels and who also holds a special place in my heart. However before departing, we ran into two nuns from St. Joseph’s who were at Dimesse sisters for a conference. And one of them happened to be none other than Sister Ida who managed to top her first story about the coming of Pope Francis. She told the story of how she was personally in charge of the Pope’s vestments and had to keep the safe in her room and then get them to him. It was difficult getting through all the security, was raining and the roads were muddy such that when she opened the garment bag, she was mortified to find that the garments were mud stained. She then demonstrated with great animation how she washed and blotted the stains away (phew!) but then the Pope had to wear a wet garment. She also entertained us with the the story of the six cakes that were prepared for the celebration with the pope and how, when they were left unattended , a couple of dogs got into their frosting. Once again she had a very funny demonstration of how she “fixed” those cakes and they were still served. She had us all in stitches and was the comic relief for the day. We laughed until we cried and  continued to joke about it through the rest of the day and again when we spied her in the dining room in the evening.

It turns out that she was the saving comic relief for the day as when we arrived at Kibera paper there was not so much merriment. Kibera paper is where the women who live in Kibera, the largest slum of Nairobi,  come together and make beautiful hand crafted cards from recycled business paper.

 The sight of Kibera viewed from the highway  never stops being a shock as you see the masses of rusty corrugated metal roofs. The exact population of Kibera is elusive through it is unquestionably one of the most crowded places on the planet.

Kibera (Nairobi skyline in the background)

When we first arrived at Kibera paper we were puzzled as the entrance was closed and no one seemed to be around. But we were greeted by a couple of the women who filled us in on what had happened in the last month. The women’s work space has been in a building on the grounds of a church. This was an arrangement between the church and the Australian founding board. There is also a Kenyan Board, all men with no representation form the women. There is a school on the grounds of the church as well and the the school has needed to be expanded. The Kenyan Board had been informed in 2014 that Kibera paper would need to find a different location since the school expansion would require building in the area in which they worked. The Board never acted on this and never informed the women. The story has some more complexities, but the result was that the women lost their work space. It was literally demolished. All of their benches and tables were placed in a container which became  locked from the inside when it was moved. Fortunately their inventory of cards remained in storage, but they had not been able to work without space, were not able to fill the Tuko Pamoja order,  and had not had any income for over a month.

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Former Kibera Paper work space

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However, since the women had so many beautiful cards in their huge inventory, we were able to fill the order with other cards without a problem and to fill other orders we had each brought from other customers. So we carried on with the day as planned. Deb and I have a tradition of doing an art project with the women and this year had planned something really different. We brought beads and supplies for them to make bracelets which turned out to be a perfect project under the circumstances.

Making Bracelets

While that activity was going on we looked through the inventory for all of the cards to be purchased, about 500 in total. Being paid for so many cards was a huge lift to the women’s spirits. We all worked together to package them with envelopes and complete the orders. Since there is also a school on the grounds and the children were outside playing we attracted a lot of attention and curiosity from many adorable faces there in our temporary meeting space.

Filling the orders

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Those adorable school children in there red uniforms

When we met with the women all together,  we shared our concern with the current space situation and a commitment to try to help them, as well as the success of the year, feedback about how people really love their cards, and announced the bonuses.When we announced the bonuses, the looks on their faces were filled with relief and emotion. The woman beside me, Celine, just buried her face in her hands. We gathered together for chai and the women had made samosas for us, the best ones we have ever eaten.

We finished  our meeting with mutual expressions of gratitude and affection, a prayer and wonderful singing of a song in Swahili that I love and for which I have learned the chorus. One of the women with a lovely voice led the verses, the women sang in beautiful harmony and we sang along with them. This led us to the long and somewhat tearful goodbyes. Its remarkable how most of us only see these women once a year, Lloydie sees them twice a year, and we have such a powerful bond.  They call us their sisters and never fail to say something so touching in the departure that I am moved to tears. We carry each other in our hearts.

We finished off the day with preparation for the Fourth Annual Women’s workshop to be held tomorrow. This is always one of the highlights of each year’s trip and every year it seems to get better. Lloydie and I were talking earlier about how each day here is amazing and always brings something unpredictable that leaves us in awe. Tomorrow will bring the same.

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Bougainvillea from the Dimesse Retreat grounds

Three busy days for Tuko Pamoja

We have had exciting full few days since I last blogged. There are so many stories that I would love to tell that I could write a book, but I can’t possibly include everything. The major focus of this whole week is to visit the sites of the women’s self help groups with whom we collaborate in Tuko Pamoja (swahili for “we are together”). We began on Monday by visiting 2 groups located in the different compromised communities (i.e. slums) surrounding Nairobi. Our first stop was in Kawangware where we received a warm and affectionate greeting at all the women with lots of hugging and wishing of “Happy New Year!” The agenda for each site visit is the same: to remind people of the mission and philosophy of Tuko Pamoja, to update the women on the progress of the year and give out bonuses, to share the feedback which we receive about the women and their crafts, to pick up the order for the next round of events in the states and to see what new crafts they have made and which we might promote in the future.

 

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The women of the Kawangware Self Help Group

One issue that we have particularly emphasized this year is making sure that all the women within each group teach each other how to make all the crafts and that the work, and therefore the income earned, is equally distributed. The philosophy of TP is that everyone works together, shares,  and by doing so strengthens the group. We want to discourage competition within and between the groups and promote working together.

Looking for new product designs

In addition, Karen has also been working with the women on their finances: opening a bank account, showing them how to balance their account, how to budget, and how to save. It is a requirement to have a group bank account to be part of Tuko Pamoja, but we also encourage the women to have individual bank accounts. Karen has been working with each group of women and she has had a captive audience as they listened to everything she said and practiced keeping a financial ledger.

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Karen teaching about finances

In the afternoon we at Dagoretti meeting with the Self Help Group based there.

One of the highlights of the meeting, in addition to bonuses of course, is when we share with the women the wonderful feedback which we receive from people attending Tuko Pamoja events and writing comments in the guest book.

Bonuses always bring a round of applause

Comments from the guest book are well received

I always tell the women that at my event one of my favorite parts is to have a presentation in which I explain the history of Tuko Pamoja, talk about the women’s lives, and talk about the rich and meaningful bond which develops between us. I cannot help getting choked up every time I say that I am very proud and honored to represent them. We also tell them that hearing about them, their stories, their lives, impresses people so much that they want to buy more of their goods. At the end of every meeting is a prayer and a round of joyful singing.

Singing with the group at Dagoretti

While at Dagoretti we got a chance to catch up with Bernard, a young man who grew up at Nyumbani Children’s home and is now employed by Nyumbani as the IT expert in the Lea Toto clinic at Dagoretti. Bernard is an exceptionally nice young man who provides a powerful example to the younger people of Nyumbani with his success and work ethic and his desire to give back to the community in forming a Nyumbani graduates self help group. However, the best part of catching up with Bernard was learning that he has become engaged to marry Grace. They both brought us to their home right near the Lea Toto Clinic and showed us their rabbits. Bernard received a microfinance loan to get the training and loan to begin raising rabbits which he can sell to others. It’s a little difficult to think to think of those sweet bunnies entering the food chain, but this is Kenya and sources of protein are not plentiful.

Bernard, Grace and the youngest member of the bunny family 

We had a very full day on Monday and felt good about the work and our connections with the women. We went to bed tired and early knowing  that the next day would also be a very busy one.

On Tuesday we headed to Kiserian to visit the Maasai community of PCDA. The ride was on a road with the largest, deepest and most incredibly plentiful potholes that it was beyond anything we have experienced in Kenya before…..and Kenya has such a reputation for potholes that “potholes” is one of the words in my rather limited Swahili vocabulary. It was also along some of the most beautiful scenery as we drove past the Great Rift Valley.

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Before arriving at the community we picked up Philip, the director,  along the way so that we could go shopping for the supplies for the school lunch program: maize meal, beans, powdered milk, oil and sugar. We had even more of an adventure because it has rained for part of every day since we have been here and there is an enormous amount of mud everywhere, especially on the streets of Kisersian. During this time we also had an opportunity to get an update from Philip. The structure of the school was holding up well since the roof had been replaced and there is a project in motion to get water into Maasai homes. This would be huge as water is such a commodity and during the dry season is in really scarce supply. The mud was to become an even greater issue when we arrived at PCDA and got very stuck in it! However, the determination of Justus, our driver, and Phillip along with a helpful passerby eventually got us out of the mud, but not without some some serious strategy,  a lot of muscle and nearly swallowing up some shoes.

The mud! Our van was in deeper than this car!

All of that was soon forgotten when we arrived at the school to be greeted by all of the Maasai children who were very excited to see us. The first order of business was to unload all of the food supplies and then we got to spend some time with the children.

Unloading the school food supplies

Our greeters!

We often do enrichment projects with the children, but this visit more time was taken in getting there, buying the food and getting extracted from the mud, that we didn’t have as much time as usual. However there was time for visiting the different classrooms, rounds of singing and the older children showing off their progress in learning English.We sang with the children and the children sang for us.We could tell simply by observation that the children needed new uniforms and especially shoes.

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Time for new uniforms and shoes

“Eensy Weensy Spider”

And the children sang for us!

Following our fun with the children, we left the school to meet with their Mommas, the PCDA self Help Group of Tuko Pamoja. Last year when we were there we helped them to paint their workshop which donation funds help to build. They were extremely proud of the now finished and furnished workshop and excited too share it with us.

Meeting in the work shop

We had a Tuka Pamoja meeting in the workshop and were very impressed by the space and how organized the women were with their orders. We were very surprised at the end of the time to learn that the women had cooked a full meal for us as large pots and pans of stew and chapatis came trailing down from the houses. It was a time to enjoy a meal together, to  see some of the children who were now out of school and to visit with the women. We finished the day feeling very gratified as the relationship with this community has come a long way from the first year when the women seemed unsure about trusting us to now being very warm, grateful and seeing us a part of their family.

Enjoying the Maasai women and children

We drove home along the Great Rift Valley once again and another round of rain held off until after we did our traditional photo of “flying over the Rift Valley.” We also stopped to see “Jane the soap lady” who used to wave to us and say “Happy New Year!” as we drove past her each year. Last year we actually stopped to see her as she sat in her wheelchair by the side of the road selling soap. Now that is a tradition too and and she is always overwhelmed and touched when we stop. DSC_0897

Flying over the Rift Valley

Stopping to see Jane the soap lady

Today we visited two different places in Kangemi; one stop was to meet with the women’s self help grump and the other was to catch up with an old friend, a nun who was formerly stationed at Dimesse Sister’s Retreat and to see the work that she is doing in a new facility bordering Kangemi. We were also to meet with her about the possibility of adding another women’s group to Tuko Pamoja. We weren’t sure what to expect from the facility in which she now works, but were sure that any time spent with Sister Rhoda would be quite spirited!

We toured the facility of St.  Joseph and learned about the programs that they offer and some possible ways that there could be some sharing of experience and knowledge between the polytechnic school there and at Nyumbani Village. One of the parts that impressed me the most is that they have a program especially focused on women from the Kangemi slum which included a maternity unit that offers both prenatal and postpartum care. This is much better care than what most pregnant women get in poor ares of Kenya. They also offer HIV testing and HIV preventative medication during pregnancy for HIV+ women to prevent mother to child transmission. What impressed me even more than all of this however, was that they have a good understanding of and intervention for postpartum depression and pregnancy loss. They could use a much better infant incubator and we had a discussion  about that, but even if we could find one to be donated, getting it there and paying taxes and tariffs would be very challenging. Its something I would like to pursue trying though…

The Maternity Unit

In addition to maternity care they have another medical clinic, primary and secondary school and a polytechnic school. Their biggest claim to fame, however, is that the vestments worn by Pope Francis were made there and he came to see who made them and to visit Kangemi. In fact he drove into the slum and did a church service there and Sister Rhoda was very proud to share the details with us. She described him as saying that he was “not there for the Catholics, but there for humanity, ” and that he stopped and touched and blessed each disabled person when he came into the church. I wish I could convey Sister Rhoda’s sparky personality. The best way I can think of giving you a glimpse is by quoting her when she wanted some of us who will go unnamed who were holding up the group by still talking: “People of God! Lets move it!”

A visit from Pope Francis

The streets of Kangemi

Sister Rhoda and meeting people in Kangemi

We also met Sister Ida, an older nun, originally from Italy, while we were there. She told us that she wrote a long letter to the Pope before he came to Kenya and she only just wanted to see him. She made a connection with the security people who were in Kangemi to provide protection for him. They kept her informed about how she might get close enough to see him and eventually relayed the message that she was the nun who had written the very long letter. She ultimately got to meet him and described herself as shaking as they had a warm embrace. And she “didn’t know how I got up the courage but I asked him if I could give a kiss.” And he replied that she could as long she didn’t bite him” and so she did. I could never convey in my words how wonderfully she relayed the story with her spirited animation and Italian accent, but it was quite entertaining!

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Sister Ida who kissed the Pope!

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The St Joseph’s sisters and the KEST volunteers

We made two other stops in Kangemi, one to visit a self help group under Sister Rhoda’s wing who she thought could be an addition to Tuko Pamoja and the other with the women’s self help group of Lea Toto in Kangemi who have been a part of Tuko Pamoja since the beginning over four years ago.  We carried on the same agenda as at the prior meetings, but this group had some challenges which needed attention and which we were able to eventually work through.

The Lea Toto Kangemi Self Help Group

We ended the work of the day on a very good note and headed home from Kangemi as it started to rain once again. It has been a gratifying few days with the women of Tuko Pamoja and an opportunity to meet some interesting people, dare I say characters,  doing very good work in the slums of Nairobi. I have countless other pictures that I could post and many more stories than I could possibly tell, but I am finishing this post in the wee hours of the morning, hoping I didn’t miss too many typos and in serious need of some sleep before we start another busy day.

 

We are in Kenya!

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/17/2016

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Nyumbani Children’s Home

We brought the rains to Africa when we arrived, something that has never happened before.

 

We arrived in Kenya after so many hours of travel very late Friday night, having left home midday on Thursday. The flights were long and the travel was very tiresome, but the reunion with fellow volunteers and the excitement of what was to come carried us along until we touched down in Kenya at the airport. we arrived later than expected because of a delayed flight in London and then needed to go through immigration, gather our many duffles and move through customs. Despite the stellar efforts of the administration at Nyumbani to address the new requirements at customs (about which no one is clear), to provide us with detailed documentation and our own efforts to carefully inventory all of our donations, we were stopped at Customs to question why we had so many bags. It was a frustrating and time consuming snafu that hinged on having a government document that supposedly exists, but no one has yet been able to actually procure. After attempts to get through this process, we left customs very weary having had to pay to bring our donations into the country. All of this disappeared as soon as we met Justus with his huge smile and exuberance waiting to transport us and all of our baggage to our first lodging.

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Karen sitting at the far end of the caravan of duffles in Customs

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We are a small, but dedicated group of four this year. Our combined total of visits to Nyumbani is 36, with Lloydie being responsible for more than half this visits.

We arrived at Dimessee Sisters retreat at about 2:30 AM and were up and running the next morning to Nyumbani Children’s Home to meet with the Executive Director, Sr. Mary, at 9:30. This is always the first stop of any volunteer trip as Sr. Mary briefs us with the latest update on the Nyumbani programs.

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Meeting with Sr. Mary

She filled us in on the happenings of each of the programs. One of the themes is that the children are getting bigger and older. When you reflect on the fact that Nyumbani began over 20 years ago with the focus of providing hospice care for children who were orphaned and also expected to eventually die of HIV, the idea that the children are getting older, graduating from high school, and some going on to college is phenomenal progress. While there are still young children entering the Nyumbani programs at all the sites, the needs of an older population have brought a different set of challenges. One of the recent major efforts has been to prepare the children for living independently, with jobs and secure income. Much of the new program development has focused on this group with life skills training, further education, business skills development and the beginning of Microfinance resources. Currently at Nyumbani Children’s home there are 100 children, at one end some are being admitted as toddlers and at the other, there are graduates who are exiting to become self sufficient. One of the biggest challenges is for these young adults to find employment in a country where the unemployment rate is 40 percent.

In the slum areas surrounding Nairobi, the Lea Toto outreach programs provide services to children with HIV. Currently there are over 3000 children and their families receiving services from Nyumbani. Although the  central need of all of these children is a access to antiretroviral medications, like at Nyumbani Children’s Home, the children are staying healthy, getting older and their needs are changing to include preparation for being set sufficient adults. The ARVs are supported by USAID and there has been a recent concentrated effort to reach children who need this treatment. Currently the Nyumbani programs have secure support from USAID until 2017.

In Nyumbani Village there has also been an increasing group of children who are finishing high school and moving towards independence. Here there is a population of 1000 AIDS orphans being raised by 100 grandparents. while there are children reaching adulthood and exiting the village, there are always younger children awaiting admission. There were 42 new children admitted in December. All of the children are rescued from dire circumstances, living in extreme poverty, often in child headed households. There is a great deal of progress to celebrate, yet still so much need remains. While the need can seem overwhelming at times, there is also powerful, often magical, joy in watching these children, who otherwise would not have survived, growing, thriving and moving ahead to living full lives.

Our first stop of every trip is Nyumbani Children’s where we meet with Sr. Mary and get the update, but also talk with her about the projects which we are working on at all of the different sites. There will be much more to say about that as this trip progresses. The children at NCH now know us and part of the satisfaction of being there is seeing children who arrived for respite care, severely ill, malnourished, with life threatening illness now running around the playground, singing and dancing in church, and growing older each year. I first came to NCH six years ago and some of the babies who sat in my lap are now grabbing me by the hand to escort me off to their cottage or to church or simply to play.

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The playground at NCH

These are some of the children at NCH.

We went to Sunday mass with them and that is always a jubilant experience with singing, dancing, drumming and the older children tending to younger ones with real tenderness that is wonderful to observe. This year instead of the usual group of girl dancers in church, there was group of boys, one of whom sat on my lap as a  baby a few years ago.

We have had a relatively low key weekend, getting acclimated after long travel and adjusting to jet lag, reconnecting with people, getting updated from others on the happenings at Nyumbani and preparing ourselves for meetings and projects to come in the next few days.Tomorrow the real work begins as we start meeting with all the artisan groups of Tuko Pamoja,  those Kenyan women who come from areas of poverty and with whom we collaborate to sell their crafts. They are the women we have come to know and love as our “Kenyan sisters”,  hard working, courageous women who maintain such grace and generosity of spirit amidst tremendous adversity. Some are HIV positive, many are raising orphans with HIV, all live in poverty, all are dedicated and incredibly hard working mothers. They are the people of Kenya I most admire; they are the true heroes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Treat on the day of departure!

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 01/14/2016

A wonderful rendidtion of Africa posted so timely on my FB stream today! Thought everyone should enjoy! The next post will really be from Africa ….

Returning to Kenya…again.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/11/2016

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I cannot believe its been nearly a year since my last post. Despite the lack of writing, Kenya has been very much on my mind, our Kenyan friends have been very much in my heart, and the bond with  my fellow volunteers has been as strong as ever. Although I haven’t traveled to Kenya since last year, the work of Tuko Pamoja has been quite active and it has been a very successful year with many events to sell the women’s  crafts. We also had the joyous and truly fun-loving experience of welcoming Justus to the U.S. this fall.

The opportunity to come to the states was something Justus as well as his family never imagined happening. However, those of us who live here were not any less excited to welcome him as warmly as he has welcomed us in Kenya. Lloydie planned a very full itinerary for Justus  (imagine!) and kept him busy with teaching at the sister school to Nyumbani, taking in the sights in Washington D.C., and best of all, a reunion for KEST volunteers at the Little Squam Lake  in New Hampshire. There were many hugs, happy reunion tears,  much laughter, and a poignantly difficult time saying goodbye to him at the end. I was lucky to avoid the goodbyes in knowing that I would see him in Kenya in January.

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Justus adding a pin for Kenya on the world map at Castle in the Clouds

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Justus had an opportunity to experience real New England: lobster rolls, local history and charm, the mountains and lake, a full Thanksgiving Turkey dinner, s’mores (yes, that are really sweet, Justus!) and a lot of teasing about our New England version of Safari and whether or not we would have a real moose sighting.

Justus will welcome us in Kenya in just a few days; we will be excited as always since he is one of the people there who is like family on the other side of the world.

I was fortunate to co-host with Judy Marblestone the final Tuko Pamoja event of the season at the Frontier Cafe for the forth year. The staff there is very supportive of what we do, the set up is perfect and we have the opportunity to do a presentation in the theatre which is part of the cafe.

 

It was an extremely successful event, not only selling many of the Kenyan women’s crafts but also getting to tell their stories, which is equally important. It was also another great reunion opportunity for some of the other New England KEST volunteers to gather.

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After event gathering at Judy’s

However, we are nearing the close of the great preparation, the efforts which go into the planning of events in Kenya and transporting donations.IMG_6711

This is our itinerary for this year; the infamous color-coded schedule prepared by Lloydie, masterful organizer, fearless leader, sometimes task master, and now dear friend to all of us, and well known to half of Kenya! it will as always be a packed trip with visiting the Nyumbani Children’s Home, the Tuko Pamoja sites, the PCDA Maasai community, Nyumbani Village and more. There are only four of us traveling this year, but each is working on a special project and all will be participating in the Fourth Annual Women’s Workshop. We will all be welcomed in the warmest possible way as we are have all made numerous trips to Kenya before and are looking forward to being with our family across the globe once again.

I just received the Nyumbani Newsletter and in it was an article written by friend and fellow volunteer Kristen. Her words so resonated with my feelings that reading it brought tears to my eyes. She said it so well that I will share it.

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We begin our travel on Thursday, Lloydie,  Deb, Karen and I, and all have a lot to do before take off. But each year, the excitement mounts as we count down the days to being once again at our home and with our family in Kenya.

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My next blog post will be from Kenya, that beautiful country that runs through our blood.

Words Left Unsaid about the Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/02/2015

Having departed from the Village and trying to squeeze in a blog post in the wee hours of the morning showed me the next day that my haste and weariness had caused me to upload the wrong, long unedited video clip talking about the event. I also neglected to upload the video about lighting the luminaries. Since this was one of those “you just had to be there” experiences, I really wanted people to experience a little bit of what it was like through the video clips. I am grateful to other people, particularly Justus, for providing me with photos and videos. I was so busy making sure that everything was going properly that I didn’t have an opportunity to use my cameras. It was a bit of a challenge to get all the luminaries lit and then we were all anxiously worried that some would go out before the mass was finished so filming wasn’t on my mind. Amazingly enough, everything went perfectly–all of the luminaries were lit despite lighters that were either not working or searing our fingers, a hefty wind that blew out matches as soon as they were lit, and luminary bags which required a lot of sand in the bottom to keep them from blowing over. It felt like a bit of divine intervention that it was perfect in the end.  So I am including here the correct video clips and wanted to add a couple of meaningful things that I neglected to mention.  In addition to lighting a luminary for my son Brendan, I also lit luminaries for several other mothers who have lost their sons and a close family friend who had lost his brother all under tragic circumstances. So I want to let those mothers know that I lit luminaries for Orlando H, Benjamin B, Jake H, Greg M. and George W. and that all of you were in my thoughts during those moments of silence as well. I also wanted to be sure to say that this first Day of Remembrance was held on Brendan’s birthday, the day that he would have turned twenty-four. This was the first of what will be annual Days of Remembrance which will hopefully over time play a role in the healing of the grief of the Nyumbani Village children and many others of us who have been impacted by grief and loss.

If you get this post by email, you should be able to click on the videos and be taken to the website to view them, but if you have trouble go directly to the my blog site and you can view them there.

REMARKS ON THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

LIGHTING OF THE LUMINARIES

We have been winding down the trip and spent the weekend going on safari in Ambocelli and Lake Nakuru and visiting the Kiambethu Tea Farm. I will have MANY wonderful photos to post from those adventures since we had very successful and exciting animal sightings.  I am now sitting in the airport in Nairobi typing after many tearful goodbyes that seem to get harder every year even though I can definitively say, “See you next year.”  So I will keep blogging some more of this trip to stretch it out and keep it actively in my heart as I return to life back at home which seems so much still like a distant time and world away.

Nyumbani Village and the Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2015

We arrived at Nyumbani Village Sunday following a lovely drive there. There is much beautiful countryside on the way with layers of mountains on the horizon, beautiful terraced gardens gracing the mountain’s sides, fields of zebras, lush mango trees heavy with ripening fruit and beautiful blooming trees full of yellow and red flowers. I always appreciate the travel here because it’s an opportunity to take in some of Kenya’s most beautiful landscape. We arrived just as the sun was golden and setting over the Village landscape.

Travel to Nyumbani Village

Travel to Nyumbani Village

The Village on a foggy morning

The Village on a foggy morning

Starting out in the Village is always beautiful in the morning. The week began with a meeting with the administrative staff of the two departments at the Village–Home Care, everything involving the people of Nyumbani Village and Sustainability, everything involving the environment including food, farming, and many creative projects which serve to make the Village more self sustainable. We got a brief synopsis of the major projects happening in the Village such as biomethane, tilapia aquaculture, beehives and honey, extensive vegetable gardening and fruit-growing for feeding the Village as well as for sale. The crops including vegetable and fruits are irrigated from bore hole and sand dammed water pumped by a solar pump and there is a new solar greenhouse. All of the furniture used by the Village is made there in the Polytechnic School and production is plentiful enough to allow for sales. There is also a program called Trees4Kids, which includes planting many acres of Milia trees each year. This variety matures in 10 years and can be harvested for timber with the first harvest due in 2017. I won’t go through all of the sustainability projects, but only say that they are quite ingenious and amazing and that the Village serves as a model for sustainability. We also heard about the status of the Village residents which currently includes just under 1000 AIDS orphans all raised by biological or adopted grandparents, most of whom are grandmothers. Each of the grand mothers raise 10 or more children in blended families which in a model which was the first of its kind in Kenya. There are many beautiful faces in Nyumbani Village and always fun-loving children who are very engaging with their smiles and antics.

NV children

NV children

NV children

NV children

There were many projects that the volunteers worked on during our week at the Village. Lloydie and Irma taught in the classrooms; Jon, Irma, Kristen and others planted the sisal garden and worked in sustainability, Kristen worked in the medical clinic, Deb and Meagan worked on the memory book that includes histories of all of the individual grandparents, Judy, Valerie and I worked in the counseling clinic and I worked with Lillian to prepare the Village for the Day of Remembrance. The days were very hot, but also very productive.

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Given how hot it was, I was relieved that I wasn’t working in the sisal garden, but Irma and especially Jon were very enthusiastic about the planting and were able to work side by side with some of the grandmothers.

Planting the sisal garden

Planting the sisal garden

We also held a meeting with the grandmothers to go over the success of their basket sales through Tuko Pamoja over the last year. The Village Memory Book which includes interviews and photos of all the grandparents and recounts their personal histories is a project that has been in the works for several years and is almost complete. The grandmothers or Shoshos are very interesting characters with a lot of personality and a penchant for singing and dancing and greeting the visitors with a lot of fanfare, teaching them Kamba at the same time. We always truly enjoy them and most especially enjoy the children. There were also a few other volunteers in the Village who we got to know during the week, all of whom turned out to be of tremendous help with the luminary ceremony on the Day of Remembrance.

I am writing a whole week after we first began our work in the Village so it is hard to now describe all the work AND most of all, every touching moment. The times that most stood out for me personally were talking with all of the Village to prepare for the Day of Remembrance and being invited to one of the homes in the evening by one of the high school students. At the time I thought that there was an issue in the home and that Lilian and I were invited to try to help with that. However, after I arrived it became clear that the real agenda was to ask me many questions about the U.S.–about farming, schools, food, religion, climate and so much more. The keen curiosity and the hospitality of the grandmothers and children in the home I was visiting was really delightful.

By far my most important and meaningful work was talking to the children, grandparents and staff about grief and loss and preparing for the Day of Remembrance. As soon as I arrived Lilian and I mapped out a schedule that enabled me to spend time in every class at all grade levels to talk with the children about loss and their most profound grief, the loss of their own parents. I was also able to speak with the grandparents and the staff and there was whole-hearted enthusiastic support on the part of the administration (Raphael, the home program manager, the school principals, counsellors, especially Lilian and more)  for moving ahead with the Day of Remembrance. As I spoke with all the groups, having Lilian as a translator for the younger children, I talked about grief and loss as universal experiences, ways to cope and ways to honor and remember loved ones and carry them in our hearts. Depending on the age of the children, my talks were simple to more complex, but the enthusiasm for having a special ceremony to honor and remember those lost loved ones was universal. At the end of each talk, I had the lovely experience of hearing the children sing and even had Lilian write down the words to my favorite Kenyan Swahili song so that I would be able to sing with them.

Lilian and Judy visting the classrooms with me

Lilian and Judy visiting the classrooms with me

Lilian and I scurried around from classroom to classroom and school to school, the Polytechnic School, the primary school also know as HotCourses and Lawson High School. As I talked to the children it was very interesting to see their reactions and watch their faces as grief was as times very palpable even though it has rarely been acknowledged in the Village.

Talking about grief and loss

Talking about grief and loss

And grief was ever more present than I even expected because just prior to our arrival at the Village, the principal of the Polytechnic School, a very beloved teacher, had died at only 42 years old. Everyone knew “Mr. Mike” as the person who really “fathered” the school so there was a great deal of sorrow about this very big loss.

As we worked toward the Day of Remembrance, there was a great deal of planning and coordinating with school staff and the home care staff and Lilian and I worked very closely as a team. Judy also joined us on some of our visits to the classroom and in preparing the luminary bags. One of the biggest tasks was getting the names of the children’s parents who had died as we wanted to be sure that everyone was included in the ceremony so no child’s parents and no grandparent’s children would be left unacknowledged. Lilian and I often looked at each other saying, “I can’t believe it, but I think this is really going to happen.” Although there was much support all around, I wasn’t really sure how many people would actually attend until the evening ceremony began. And then I was absolutely beyond words when the entire Village poured into the Social Hall until there was standing room only and people were not even able to fit in through all the doors. That’s when I knew that we were doing something that was profoundly important and special to address their issue of unacknowledged loss in the Village. The evening began with a special mass also devoted to talking to the community about loss, remembrance and honoring our lost loved ones. As the mass began, the choir trained by Lilian and having practiced for weeks was unbelievable beautiful with rising harmonious voices.

All of the volunteers and I were outside during the mass setting up the luminaries which had by then been prepared with the names of lost loved ones of the children, grandparents, staff and volunteers. I am so grateful that all of my fellow volunteers worked so hard together to accomplish the lighting of the luminaries. There were two lines of luminaries leading the way into a very large circle. The two lines of luminaries were led by all the names representing staff and volunteers with a luminary for Mr. Mike on one side and for my son Brendan, who would have turned 24 on this day, at the other. Then the luminaries were arranged by house and cluster so that every child would be able to find the names of their parents in the circle. We arranged nearly 500 luminary bags  and lit all of the candles in them as the sun was setting and the choir was singing beautifully. And as darkness fell, they were all shining like stars.

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

The luminaries as night falls

The luminaries as night falls

Luminaries shining like stars

Luminaries shining like stars

When the Mass ended, everyone came out of the Social Hall (used as a church) and the crowd was in awe of what they saw–a beautiful circle of nearly 500 shining luminaries with names on each one. One staff member remarked “It is like you have brought heaven down here to us.”  There was glorious singing as people gathered round the circle of luminaries and then there was a prayer and a moment of silence led by the priest. Then Lilian and I read every one of the names. We periodically stopped for singing and other silent moments as we worked toward and finished the names of all the parents from cluster one to twenty-six. Even with almost 1200 people there, most of whom were children,  every moment of silence was completely quiet and every song was in beautiful harmony. After I had read the names of the loved ones of the volunteers and Lilian was reading the children’s parents names, I walked into the circle to hear everyone singing around the shining luminaries and under a beautiful starry sky. This became my most magical moment ever spent in Kenya. It was overwhelming to think of the enormity of the losses, but also extraordinarily moving to feel the coming together of this community and support that they shared. A few of the children knelt and prayed in front of their parents luminaries, but it was not somber, it was a time that was truly of honor and remembrance and especially of acknowledging the commonality of that experience which had previously been unspoken in the Village before. I was thinking of all those children, but also of my son Brendan as I felt that he was in some way there with me too.

Here are some video clips which will give you much more of a sense of being at the Day of Remembrance

REMARKS ON  THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

LIGHTING OF THE LUMINARIES

Just checking in……

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 01/28/2015
I have so much to write after the beautiful drive to Nyumbani Village but lack of internet connectivity has made it impossible to blog. I am snatching this small opportunity to check in, even though I am chomping at the bit to write more. I am fine and recovered from having been so sick and have been very busy here in the Village. EVERYONE has been very busy working planting the sisal garden, teaching in the schools, counseling many clients and more. Lilian and I have been to every classroom  to talk about grief and loss and to prepare the whole Village for the Day of Remembrance, the event to be held tonight. We have been getting all the luminaries together with children’s parents names and organizing all the details, rehearsing the songs and more. I hope that everything comes together as planned. It should be beautiful! Today is Brendan and Ryan’s birthday so I want to say Happy Birthday to Ryan and (I miss you) and Brendan, I miss you terribly, and this event is dedicated to you.
I will write more and post many photos when I am back in touch with a regular internet connection. STAY posted, here’s a lot more to come!

The Women’s Workshop and so much more…..

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/25/2015
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Group photo from the Women’s Workshop

So much has happened since I last posted! I have had to rely on photos and stories from the others for much of this post and was so disappointed to have missed out on so much. I was really sick for three days  (high fever, headache and GI disturbance) so had to stay back completely for 2 days and one day when I tried to make the trip I spent most of the time like this:

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No fun to be sick and miss everything!

I want to say however that I have never in all my prior trips to Kenya been sick before and I think I did my own self in by temporary stupidity with how I processed a grapefruit for eating, so don’t be discouraged by coming to Kenya by my experience.

On Friday we went to Kazuri Beads, stopped at lunchtime at the Elephant Orphanage, and then moved on to Kibera Paper for another  Tuko Pamoja Event. The trip to Kazuri Beads had a threefold purpose: to confirm the plans for participating the Women’s Workshop; to learn about and tour an example of a very socially responsible,  community and family focused business;  and to do some “socially responsible” and delightful shopping from their beautiful collection of bead items. Kazuri beads has been in existence for decades, employs and busses to the location 100’s of women from the Kibera slums, and provides on site child care and medical care. The women get higher wages than at most businesses and are treated extremely well. The newbies got a full tour and the retreads spent time in the two largest workshop areas handing out sweets and enjoying the joyous experience of an extremely warm welcome with song and dance.

Workers at Kazuri Beads

Workers at Kazuri Beads

The "monkey feeder" at Kazuri Beads

The “monkey feeder” at Kazuri Beads

The longest employed woman at Kazuri Beads has worked there for FORTY years!  And in case you are wondering, Kazuri means “small and beautiful” a perfect description of all their beads.

From  11AM to noon each day, visitors are welcome at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where the rescued baby elephants cared for there are brought out for feeding. Most of the elephants have lost their mothers to death by poachers in pursuit of ivory. The young elephants are rescued, nursed (really, with giant baby bottles and formula!) and fed, and then later released back to the wild. For all of us it is an opportunity to see prime wildlife conservation in action as well as to have the heart melting experience of truly being up close and personal with these adorable babies.

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Following “lunch with the elephants” we set off to Kibera Paper to have the Tuko Pamoja meeting and to see this business on the edge of the Kibera slums which employs over 20 women and a couple of men from Kibera and who make beautiful cards, each a handmade work of art, on homemade paper recycled from paper discarded by businesses. As in each of the prior sites we had the TP meeting reporting the year’s success and giving out scarves and bonuses. Last year, not only were the women given individual bonuses, but each TP group was also given a 5000 ksh bonus to start a bank account. We learned that the group made a commitment to growing their bank accounts by each women contributing 100 ksh ( about $1.10) per month such that their account is now over 2900 ksh! As n all the other sites I filmed a demonstration of products made– the beginning to end process of making the paper and creating a card which involves so much work! And, all the volunteers were able to learn how to make paper and help in making cards. This is a wonderful group of warm women to be amongst, they welcome us heartily and it is always so hard to leave! Kibera paper is located at a church where they rent space and beside a school so we always get to enjoy the children when they come out for recess.

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Some little Kibera school "monkeys"

Some little Kibera school “monkeys”

The following day was a packed one,  which I sadly missed completely, but was dazzled by reports and stories later. New volunteers spent the day at the Children’s Home in various activities with the children in their cottages and outside, and Judy and Valerie also returned to their much-needed counseling roles. Visiting the children in their cottages and playing with them outside serves several purposes: providing enrichment lessons, some one on one attention, a lot of physical affection, a much-needed break for the cottage Mommas…..and, of course, good fun all around.

Kristen and th hildren at NCH

Kristen and th children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

At dinner we all were treated to some very heartwarming and FUNNY stories by Jon about his time with the children; Jon is the quintessential story-teller, complete with animated voices, humor and endless anecdotes so you can just imagine how much fun the children had with him. Irma and Megan also had fun in their cottages and Judy and Valerie had some intense counseling experiences. Also while at NCH, Kristen continued the process of giving out the scrubs to all the medical and respite workers who were thrilled to receive them.

Giving out the scrubs

Giving out the scrubs

While the others were at the Children’s Home, Lloydie and Deb were at the Third Annual Women’s Workshop. When they returned at the end of the day and told me the story of how amazing the day was, I was teary for being sad to have missed it, for being touched by how much the women were engaged and learned,  and laughing in tears for a near food mishap (a midday report that all the food was “spoiled” and we still don’t know what that meant since it was fine.) The workshop was different this year. Two people from all of the Tuko Pamoja groups attended and went to three successful business sites to learn from their success. First in the morning they met at Dimesse Sisters for mandazis and chai and then headed off to Kazuri Beads. There they toured, but also learned valuable lessons from the manager about the importance of quality control and from the staff in the retail shop about displaying items and customer service. They ALL asked lots of questions. When Lloydie was reporting about this she said very excitedly, “It was as if I had scripted it to emphasize everything we have been trying to teach!”

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Following the time at Kazuri Beads, the group travelled to the Power Women’s workshop in Kibera and were very inquisitive and mesmerized by seeing this successful business which grew from another self-help group that began in  very similar way to all the other Tuko Pamoja groups. Evelyne, who is the president,  and also a TP board member, described the history of the group, challenges and successes, and also gave a tour of their shop, beauty salon, and day care center. The women enthusiastically asked many questions and were very inspired.

At the Power Women's Shop

At the Power Women’s Shop

The final destination was Amani Ya Jou, where Maggie, also one of the Tuko Pamoja board members, is employed. She also gave the story of the group, a cooperative of women refugees, all with horrendous hardships, who were “rescued” by their experiences of being trained there and of being together. One of the messages that she emphasized was that if you have “something inside of you” (difficult or good) you should never hold back, you should always share; that can only help others and help you. Talk about a message that was perfectly delivered! Following the tour and talk at Amani everyone sat down for lunch there. It was an “American lunch” of tomato soup, grilled cheeses and more, typically on the menu at the Amani Cafe and enjoyed by all.

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Following lunch it was time for the women to give feedback, get certificates, and get goody bags. I am told by Lloydie and Deb that they were “blown away” by the women’s feedback and cried, even sobbed through some of this. Jacqueline from Dandora stood up with both hands to her forehead and exclaimed, “From this day forward, I am changed!” She went on to talk about how she learned she could be a much better leader for her group, could be much more vigilant about quality control and how she felt that the group needed to display their products differently. One after one, the women gave feedback which echoed that and more, and went FAR beyond the expectations of the day!

The workshop wound down with the giving of certificates and goody bags ( basic food items like flour, sugar, lard, etc) and the women oohed and aahed at each item pulled from the bags.

Giving goody bags and certificates

Giving goody bags and certificates

The day ended with a group photo and, as all events end in Kenya, with a prayer and a song, actually several of both.  Most especially however, it ended with the powerful sense of the smallness of the world, the way in which we are all connected as human beings, and the true spirit of Tuko Pamoja, “We are together!”

Group photo of Women's Workshop

Group photo of Women’s Workshop

Many more adventures

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2015
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A very handsome boy at the Maasai school

The days have been very busy as we have continued to meet with the self help groups involved in Tuko Pamoja in Dagoretti, Kawangare, and in the Maasai community. Our involvement and deepening connection to the Maasai community has evolved over time; not only do we meet with the women’s self-help group there, but we are also more and more integrated in the community. We were there on Tuesday and Thursday and  although I sadly had to stay behind on Thursday because  I was sick, I got an excellent good report about how the day went and people took pictures for me.

Always when we arrive at the Maasai school, the children are so excited to see us. They stand outside the classroom, having to be held back by their teachers because of their excitement. I can recall that our first year there, some of the children were a little frightened of us, being a whole group of white people, but that has changed and they are enthusiastically welcoming all around. We always have a division of labor with some volunteers teaching in the lower grades and this time others delivering backpacks to the upper grades to the children who didn’t get them last year. My job is always being the official photographer, a very lucky assignment since I just love to take pictures of their faces.

Children listening to stories

Children listening to stories

In the classroom

In the classroom

Lots of sweet faces

Lots of sweet faces

Among the activities done with the children are enrichment lessons focusing on telling stories or making crafts. This time the story was one that created a lot of opportunity for reading with drama and singing so a fun time was had by all. The older children were very excited to get new backpacks since they had never had them before. In each backpack was a letter from a child in the states so the children were writing letters in return.

Teaching in the classroom

Teaching in the classroom

Getting backpacks and writing letters

Getting backpacks and writing letters

When we first began coming to the Maasai community they had just built their school and it was a pretty primitive structure. Now they have a much better building, and their teachers have done the required training allowing the school to become government certified. You may recall that last year we helped to fund the certification courses for the teachers. Now having completed this training,  their teaching salaries are paid by the government rather than having to be paid by the community which was a huge struggle.  We were surprised when we arrived this time to find government workers in the beginning phase of installing electricity in the school. So in just the few years that we have been going to that community a lot of progress has been made.

After the teaching in the classrooms and distributing new backpacks, we had the opportunity for just good fun with the children. This included distributing bubbles and a very spirited game of red light green light which they absolutely loved.

Giving out bubbles

Giving out bubbles

Everyone including the teachers took part in blowing bubbles

Everyone including the teachers took part in blowing bubbles

Red light, green light!

Red light, green light!

It was then lunchtime for them and time for us to meet with their Mommas–the women of Tuko Pamoja. However,  new volunteers got to spend time in their homes helping them to do chores, talking together and holding babies of many varieties.

Judy holding a baby goat

Judy holding a baby goat

Traditional Maasai home

Traditional Maasai home-made of sticks and cow dung

Lloydie, Deb and I sat down with Philip, the Director of PCDA, to go over the donations that we had brought. We were once again able to fund the school lunch program, to fund filling the water cisterns (thank you Marie!) and much more such as painting the women’s workshop. We then held the meeting with the Tuko Pamoja women to go over the sales of the past year. A few years ago, when we first began going to the Maasai community of PCDA, the women were very stand-offish, perhaps not trusting our intentions, but that has completely changed. Now we are so warmly greeted with hugs all around. Because the sales through Tuko Pamoja have gone well over the last year, we were able to give each woman a bonus which met with much enthusiasm. And then we all shopped from their current items, providing them with additional sales and I filmed the process of making a beaded bracelet. We closed down the day at PCDA with a plan to return on Thursday to paint their workshop and as Philip described it, “the women want to make you a party.”

Samples of the MAasai women's work including Kristen modeling traditional wedding garb

Samples of the Maasai women’s work including Kristen modeling traditional wedding garb

On Wednesday, we traveled to two different sites where women’s self-help group participate in Tuko Pamoja and based at the Lea Toto clinics in the slums of Nairobi. At both of these sites the new volunteers were involved with the work of the clinic and meeting with community health workers to learn more about what the programs offer to families of HIV+ children living in the slums, and learning more about the medical and social aspects of living with HIV. Judy and Valerie provided some additional counseling to several of the clinic clients.

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Sister Little who originally founded the first self-help group.

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Samples of the crafts

Learning from the community health workers

Learning from the community health workers

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Faces and places of Tuko Pamoja

We held the annual Tuko Pamoja meeting with each of the self-groups, in both Kawangare and Dagoretti with the Dagoretti group being new to Tuko Pamoja in the past year. Since we launched Tuko Pamoja in 2012, because it has been such a success that has become known to all of the self-help groups in Lea Toto, other groups want to become a part of it and we have added two new groups to make a total of eight. What I mean by success is that we are able to purchase the women’s crafts upfront at fair market value to sell in the US thus remarkably increasing their sales and allowing them to feed their families and to keep their children in school. Any extra profit comes back to the women in bonuses which they are overjoyed to receive. All of the women have incredible stories, many are themselves HIV+, and many are raising foster children in addition to their own children—all in extremely small and tight living quarters. In addition to giving the women bonuses, we collect scarves through the year and are able to give each woman a scarf and this time I was able to give each group that works with beads, a sizable donation of beads which elicited a lot of cheering and gratitude.(Thank you Jean and Rick!) As Tuko Pamoja has grown,  Nyumbani has hired a director for the self-help groups and created two additional jobs for working with the self-help groups. We were remaking on our return drive home that not only has this been a great help to the women in so many ways, but the sparking of three new jobs has been a side benefit which we not have imagined when we initially set out to start this project. I have to give Lloydie so much credit for having the vision to create Tuko Pamoja. At both Dagoretti and Kawangare, like the other sites, I filmed demonstration videos, one of making a beaded bowl and one of paper beads.

Along the Rift Valley

Along the Rift Valley

The return to PCDA on Thursday was both hard work and a lot of fun. The drive to and from is through beautiful countryside along the Rift Valley and an annual stop for a group photo. I was very sad to miss it because I was too sick, but got a great report and lots of photos provided by the other volunteers. The biggest goal of the day was to paint the women’s workshop. Both of our visits to PCDA surprisingly have been blessed this year with a moderate heat and a very good breeze. This made painting with oil based paint  in the sun much more tolerable. My job was to paint a sign for the shop which included the Tuko Pamoja logo, and because I wasn’t able to be there, the sign was returned here with just the background painted so I can hopefully work on it this weekend.

Painting the workshop

Painting the workshop

More painting

More painting

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The workshop painted beautifully!

Most of the volunteers painted side by side with the Maasai women, but Deb and Valerie worked with them to help prepare a festive meal. It is a tradition in Kenya when you really want to honor your guests that you sacrifice a goat and cook it  for them. I wasn’t exactly disappointed to miss the goat, but I enjoyed hearing about the festivities and how much the women wanted to do something for us. They also gave all of the women volunteers a new leso.

Preparing the food

Preparing the food

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I will close this blog post with a very sweet story. Every year when we drive out to the Maasai community we travel the same roads. Every year we also see the same woman sitting in a wheelchair by the side of the road selling soap. Every year we wave to her and blow her kisses and she exuberantly waves back clearly recognizing us. We call her “the soap lady” since we’ve never know her name. This year we decided that we would stop and meet her and give her a little gift of a scarf and a goodie bag. I’m so sorry that I missed this, but was very touched to hear the story. Deb and Lloydie got out of the car gave her the gift and she was, as you can see in the picture, completely overwhelmed to tears with this small act of kindness. We now know her name is Jane and are once again reminded how little it takes to make a difference in someone’s day.

The "soap lady"

The “soap lady”

Overwhelmed by this small act of kindness

Overwhelmed by this small act of kindness

We Are All One Family

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Gratitude, HIV in Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/19/2015
Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen's Home

Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen’s Home

It has been an incredibly full two days since my last post. It often very difficult to find words that truly convey the experience of being here in Kenya. Every day, many times day, there are so many things that touch our hearts so deeply that we are moved to tears again and again. The last two days have certainly been no exception.

I want to give people a glimpse at the Dimesse Sister’s Retreat Center where we stay for a week as well as to introduce the volunteers. The interior lodging at Dimesse is very simple, but the exterior grounds are extremely beautiful, like being in the middle of our own private botanical garden when much of the world nearby is som ugh different. If there is time in the morning before we depart I like to take a brief walk and take it all in.

Dimesse Retreat grounds

Dimesse Retreat grounds

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We all meet together in the morning before we depart which is a time for reuniting with Justus, talking about plans for the day, and often sharing some fun moments or stories from the day before. We also meet up with Charles, a former child of Nyumbani Village who is in college and doing an internship with KEST.

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

We returned to Nyumbani Children’s Home on Sunday and began the day by going to church with the children and staff. The mass  is a jubilant, joyous, singing, dancing and clapping experience when the volunteers, staff, cottage parents and most especially the children come together. The children were dressed in their “Sunday best” with the girls in skirts and dresses and fancy shoes, often with something sparkling in quite unique combinations, and the boys in ties, vests, and dress up clothes. All except the babies came, with the younger ones sitting in the front and the littlest on people’s laps, perhaps yours if you are a lucky volunteer. It’s always very interactive with priest speaking to the children, drawing them in with questions, and teaching them a valuable lesson. The children form a beautiful choir accompanied by drums and instruments and there are young dancers for every song. You will get a sense of the adorable young girls with the gift of rhythm from this video clip.