Zuri Watoto Wote

Returning to Kenya and Nyumbani!!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 12/11/2011

Children of Nyumbani Village

My last post was in June 2010–in some ways it seems like a long time ago and in some ways like yesterday. I am excited beyond words and extremely grateful to have the opportunity to return to Kenya again. I knew when I last left in February 2010 that I had been forever changed by the experience  there and that my heart would bring me back again. Since leaving Kenya I have kept in contact with Lloydie, our fabulous trip leader, who has brought many other groups of volunteers to Kenya and who has the biggest heart of anyone I know. In fact in the fall of 2010, all five of the travelers in our group reunited in Washington DC at the annual Nyumbani gala and auction. We had the pleasure of escorting Joseph, the sustainability director of Nyumbani Village, who had never before been out of Kenya around Washington DC and,  in particular, pointing President Obama’s “house” to him.

Joseph taking in Washington DC

In addition, I have kept in touch with Lilian, the counselor at Nyumbai Village both to get follow up about the young men I evaluated there but also to be a source of support as she has such a huge job being the sole counselor to so many people. There have been the newsletters from Nyumbani, letters from the student we sponsor at Nyumbani Village, many heartfelt email updates and even a visit from Lloydie, and oh so many things beckoning me back. The most powerful, however, are my memories of those moments that moved me to tears, that showed me that although the problems with AIDs, orphans, and profound poverty are so overwhelmingly huge, one person can really make a difference, one deed can really have  a powerful impact on someone else’s life.

And so we depart on January 19th. The group that is traveling this time will be four women–Lloydie, Deb, Kristen and me. Although I have not yet met Deb or Kristen, I know by the e-mails and past experience that we will be incredibly bonded by the end of the trip. The itinerary is similar to our last travel to Nyumbani, but with some extras this time. We will be spending much of our time on the weekends at Nyumbani Children’s Home just outside of Nairobi. You may recall that this is where the children are both AIDS orphans and are also HIV+. They are however thriving children who are staying healthy with good medical support and ARV medication.

Nyumbani Children’s Home

Innocent and me after facepainting at the St Paul Miki Preschool, Photo by Karen Orrick

For a week we will be at Nyumbani Village, in rural Kenya about an hour away from Nairobi. The Village is where there are about 700 AIDs orphans living in “families” of 10 being raised by a grandmother or “shosho”. The Village has its own school, medical clinic, counseling center, amazing sustainability program, etc. I will have a chance to work with Lilian again and will get to see Caroline, the student whom we sponsor. The Village is a truly magical place that is ripe with culture and alive with song and dance, smiling and laughter,  despite the enormous trauma and losses that brought people there. For  a nice up to date glimpse of life at the Children’s Home and the Village you can watch this video A Place Called Home by Shamus Fatzinger. I am very excited to see all those lively little children’s faces again!

Children at Nyumbani Village

We will be spending some time in the outreach clinics of the Lea Toto Programs in the slums around Nairobi. These programs provide services to families with children who are HIV+. We will however have more than one goal in mind in visiting these programs. At a number of sites, the women have developed groups who have learned a craft such as jewelry making. We met one of these groups during our last trip–the Vision Self Help Group in Dandora. I was very touched by having the opportunity to sit with them and hear their personal stories that were so compelling and filled with loss and heartache, yet incredible resilience, devotion to their children and compassion for each other. We will meet with them and other such groups to help them focus on establishing  fair trade practices and business plans for selling their wares in the U.S. Another group is the women of Kibera Paper who make  beautiful handmade cards, each a work of art, from recycled paper from the slums.

Examples of my favorite Kibera Cards designs

 Lloydie has actually set up some time for us to have a workshop with them so that I can bring over some art supplies and work with them on some new ideas. I am very excited about this aspect of the trip which Lloydie has referred to as Women4Women.  I was so deeply affected by the women whom we met in Kenya during our last trip and the ways in which they seemed to have such capacity to overcome such hardship that I wrote this poem about them and only recently, when thinking about the possibility of going back, did I revisit it:

These are only some of the highlights of the plans as the itinerary is very full. We are now in the stage of busily gathering donations of all different sorts–from medical supplies, to children socks and underwear, to office supplies, to Pampers and onesies with feet! Each of us needs to fill at least one fifty pound duffel with donations (and given that mattresses are on the list of needs and we’ll shop for more once we get there!) I better get gathering as I have a long way to go………

The one thing that I have a tinge of sadness about is that I will not be traveling with the same group of five this time. We had  a very special bond by the end of the trip last time and Kenya just won’t be quite the same without them there. So I’m hoping that Mary, Karen and Tom will follow along with us and get inspired for a reunion trip in Kenya some year soon……

The “Five Travelers” at Lake Nukuru in 2010

5 Responses

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  1. convergethis said, on 12/12/2011 at 1:22 am

    Reblogged this on ConvergeThis!.

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  2. Karen said, on 01/07/2012 at 1:11 pm

    We’ll all be with you in spirit!!! ENJOY!!!! We all send our love through you!!!

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    • Lynn said, on 01/07/2012 at 2:10 pm

      We will miss you, and Mary and Tom and so wish you could be with us! But yes, you will be there in spirit. I will be sure to take in a deep breath of that Kenyan air while looking at that magical starry sky in the village with thoughts of you in mind and send you good energy. We’ll spread the word of your greetings and love to all…..and maybe even sing a round of “Jambo Bwana” in your honor!

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  3. Mary Hellmich said, on 01/25/2012 at 9:47 am

    Lynn,
    I am in tears after reading your wonderful blog, especially, the poem which truly depicts the women of Kenya. I sometimes reach for those memories of these strong women when I am facing struggles of my own and suddenly, everything is put into perspective. As one of the “Five Travelers”, I am overcome with thoughts of our trip and seeing the links of our shadows together at Lake Nukuru truly embodies the connections that we developed. The country of Kenya is fabulous and as you sink further into its glories you are attached forever. I know you giving and receiving as you travel to the various Nyumbani destinations. Love, Mary

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    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 01/25/2012 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you, thank you Mary! So wonderful to hear from you! We miss you and so wish you could be here! I know that you do truly understand what I struggle to put into words but never feel that I can truly capture about this amazing experience and how these people so touch your heart. The children are srong and healthy at Nyumbani Children’s Home and the women are speaking with more powerful voices about themselves and their lives. Everyday is touched with magic, inspiration, and tears…but, you know. Love, Lynn

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