Zuri Watoto Wote

Special request…….or amazing opportunity

Posted in 1 by Lynn Ouellette on 01/27/2010

I received an e-mail yesterday from Lloydie, our trip leader asking me for a “special request”. Lloydie is a former school teacher and guidance counselor who has made her second career out of organizing and leading educational and volunteer trips to Kenya (www.K-E-S-T.com ), specifically to the Nyumbani programs: the Nyumbani Children’s Home, the orphanage; Lea Toto, the outreach program in the Kibera slum; and Nyumbani village, the program which houses and cares for the “grandmothers’ and HIV+ “grandchildren”.  Her special request went like this:
“In the village, there is an amazing lady named Lillian. She is the village counselor and one of the four social workers. Lillian is pursuing an advanced degree in counseling but has no peer anywhere nearby to work with…..She was hoping you could help her… maybe some role-playing, some counseling tips, etc.  She is struggling because she is so far removed geographically from any peers in the counseling field, she has no mentor or professional to help her grow her counseling skills….You will be privy to all of the working of the village as a social community, a family unit, and an individual case study….. Will you be willing to help Lillian?  She is one of the most blessed people at the village and she has given her life to serve the community.”

My response was a resounding yes, actually it was something like “Are you kidding, I would LOVE to do that! Tell Lillian it would be an honor to work with her.” My immediate thought was that it sounded more like an incredible opportunity for me and that it was really a situation in which we would both equally learn from each other.  Then I began to think about the circumstances where she works. She is the counselor to many grandmothers who have lost all their children to AIDS and had to bear that grief as well as the stigma of having AIDS in the family.  They had also counted on their children to able to care for them as they aged and instead they are caring for their grandchildren who are infected with the same virus that killed their children. She is also the counselor to children who have lost their parents, their siblings and to whom death has become an all too commonplace occurrence. In some instances, the grandmothers are related to grandchildren, but in many cases they and the children are in the village because neither have any family. All of the children have the common experience of being orphans infected with the HIV virus. Then my thoughts went to how much loss and sorrow she must have to deal with in her counseling and that I have never been in a situation quite like this and I have never been in this culture……and how much can I help her. So even though I have been practicing psychiatry and doing psychotherapy for 25 years, for a moment I too felt the enormity of the task and how overwhelming it must be. So I had to stop and remind myself  that the fundamental human experience of loss, sorrow, fear, tragedy is the same in any culture, in any language and that I have had much experience with that in over 25 years and maybe I do have something to offer to Lillian. Still I think that Lillian and I will be teaching each other and like much of my experience to come in Kenya at Nyumbani, this one will give me as much or more than I give to it, and this “special request” really is much more of an amazing opportunity for me.

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