Zuri Watoto Wote

Singing, Dancing, and Making It Snow with the Mommas of Kenya

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2013
School children at the Kibera Paper location

School children at the Kibera Paper location

Wow, we have been incredibly BUSY over the past two days!! I wish that I could blog every day because it seems that each day is so full of moments that are so moving,  so profound, so joyful……and there are so many stories to tell. It is in many ways like being in a different world here because the poverty and hardship are so beyond imagination, the impact of AIDS touches everyone here, yet people remain resilient, joyful, and tell their stories with such authenticity from their hearts. We have continued our intensive focus on Tuko Pamoja as that is a very important goal of this trip. Supporting the caregivers of children with HIV or AIDS or the mothers of children living in extreme poverty is the most effective way to support families and communities and is at the heart of the mission of supporting the women artisans of Tuko Pamoja. Before telling you about our recent visits with Tuka Pamoja groups I just want to tell you who the group of travelers is this time. Sarah and Jill are the new travelers–Sarah is a nurse from North Carolina and Jill is an artist and preschool teacher from Arizona. Lloydie is our fearless leader and head honcho of KEST (Kenya Educational and Service Trips) and Jen is the junior head honcho at KEST (sorry I can’t remember your official titles.)  Lloydie Jen, Deb, Karen and I are the U.S.  Board members of Tuko Pamoja and have all made multiple trips to Kenya with Lloydie leading the pack at 13! Justus is our amazing driver who is always happy (I hear it’s a Kamba tribe trait 🙂  extremely helpful and has nerves of steel to be able to drive in Nairobi where the entire large city seems to have only one traffic light. So you have met the group–on with the experience.

The KEST Group--Deb, Sarah, Jen, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

The KEST Group–Deb, Sarah, Jen, LLoydie, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

Yesterday we went to the final Lea Toto site (Nyumbani outreach clinic for children with HIV living in the slums of Nairobi) supported by Tuka Pamoja in Dandora, called the Vision Self Help Group. This group of women has been together for many years and was the first self-help group that I met. They make jewelry, beaded items and sewn items, all wonderful! Many of them are volunteer community health workers helping other families who have children with HIV and some are themselves HIV+. In fact Sarah, in the elegant peach colored garb above has been living with HIV for over 20 years and nearly died before she knew her HIV status. But now she is a community activitist, AIDS educator, is raising AIDS orphans, and is an empowered woman living positively with HIV. I had the opportunity to interview her and its amazing that she survived. HIV and AIDS are still very much stigmatized here despite the fact that so many people’s lives are touched by them. In Dandora, we also interviewed the women about their lives and had a business meeting about Tuka Pamoja. One of the things we always do is bring fruit and biscuits (cookies) when we come, but this year we also brought scarves for all the women so you may notice them in the pictures, We also presented them their official TP certificate.

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group

 

Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

One thing that we did a little differently here was to spend more time talking a circle as a larger group and by the time that was done, with the women expressing such gratitude and such heart-felt sentiments, there was not a dry eye, virtually everyone was in tears. Although we don’t see these women often the incredible warmth of the welcome, the sharing of the connection, the way we are brought into their lives and they into ours, the emotional exchange, it all leads to a profound connection. we did life story interviews, shopped from their wares, and it was all too soon time to leave with very hard to say goodbyes.

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Following the time spent in Dandora, we had plans to do some “socially conscious shopping” in two sites where we have developed relationships with the staff and workers over time. The first stop was Amani (meaning peace in Swahili) which is a cooperative of African women refugees who have a very successful business selling many  hand sewn items featuring hand died and batiked cloth. In fact, their business is so successful that we asked their marketing director, Maggie, to be a member of the TP Kenyan Board.

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

We also made a stop at Kazuri Beads, another favorite place. This is another special place that now employs almost 350 people, predominantly women, many of whom are bused in from the slums. They receive excellent pay, have on site medical and day care and are treated very well. They make gorgeous pottery and ceramic beads from clay mined in Kenya. Learning about the process of mining and harvesting the clay, preparing it for shaping, hand shaping it,  firing, then glazing and refiring it makes you appreciate the beauty of the beads even more. When we stopped at Kazuri Beads yesterday we were too late to see the workers because our day had gone too long so we could only do some shopping. So had to decide to leave early this morning to make sure that we could go back for the tour and especially to see the workers because we have a tradition of visiting them, getting welcomed in song and dance and handing out a little candy treat–lollipops this time, you may notice the sticks in the photos….

Making Kazuri Beads

Making Kazuri Beads

Kazuri Bead factory workers

Kazuri Bead factory workers enjoying the sweets

Kazuri Beads!!

Kazuri Beads!!

We had to get an early start today to fit in the trip back to Kazuri Beads because we knew we had another full itinerary. In fact last night I had most of the group in my room helping me prepare for today’s project at Kibera Paper.

Late night project preparation

Late night project preparation

Today we headed to Kibera paper, the final Tuko Pamoja group from the slum area of Nairobi. This is the group of women who make l hand-made paper from recycled paper obtained from businesses into absolutely beautiful handmade cards which are each a piece of art. When we go to Kibera paper, anyone who hasn’t been there before has the opportunity for hands on instruction in paper making and making the cards. Deb and I have also established a tradition of sharing an art project with the women. So in addition to the Tuko Pamoja business meeting and presentation of the certificate, receiving our order and paying for it, doing the personal interviews, drinking chai and eating homemade mandazis (Kenyan like doughnuts)  that one of the women had made for us, sharing in a circle, singing and dancing, we also did paper making and art projects which made for quite a busy time. Kibera paper was the fourth group that was so prepared  and had 100% of their order ready for us even though we only expected 50 %. So all the groups are doing so well with getting their orders completed early, introducing new products and being professional in ways that will really make them successful!

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper

 

Both Deb and I make handmade cards and decided to make a different kind of card with them. She made very fancy valentines and I decided to teach them a bit about snow by making snowflake cards. Since none of them had ever experienced snow, that was quite a lot of fun! I brought plenty of photos I had taken in the winter in Maine with various quantities of snow, but the big hit was one of my children when they were younger posing with a snowman they had made. The women really got into it once they once they got the technique for cutting a six pointed snowflake and the snowflakes and glitter were flying everywhere because there was a bit of a breeze and the paper was very light. At one point I looked down and there were about a dozen snowflakes on the ground by the table and it made me laugh to think we had made it snow in Kenya today! I love working with these women–they have a lot of spirit! So once again it was a hard goodbye with singing and dancing…..lots of hugs and tears.

Making snowflake cards

Making snowflake cards

Following spending most of the day at Kibera Paper we drove further into Kibera to pay a visit of support the Power Women’s Self Help Group.

Glimpses of Kibera

Glimpses of Kibera

They are also a Lea Toto founded self-help group, but through some extra support, really hard work and exceptionally good financial decisions they have become self-sustaining and own and operate their own shop to sell their goods. They have also recently expanded to having a hair salon attached to their shop. Their president, Everline, is on the TP Kenyan Board. We sat and talked with them about the history of their group, how they run the business, and let them know that the other self-help groups have similar aspirations and see them as an inspiration.

Everline of the Power Women"s Self Help Group

Everline of the Power Women”s Self Help Group

 

Power Women's Hair Salon

Power Women’s Hair Salon

It’s very late here in Kenya and its time to get a few hours of sleep before we head out in the morning on a little bit different path. It has been an intense, but very rewarding past few days. We will be headed to the Maasai community of PCDA to do more Tuko Pamoja business,  but also to spend some time supporting other projects in that community. You may recall some of the time we spent with the Mommas and the children last year. If not, I will tell you ahead of time, the children are absolutely adorable, enthusiastic, engaging, beautiful little ones! Can’t wait……

 

 

3 Responses

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  1. Dave said, on 01/23/2013 at 7:58 pm

    It is really awesome to read about this trip. I was so scared but excited that Sarah decided to do this with the KEST group but now I am so proud and enthusiastic. thanks for all you guys are doing and congratulations to these wonderful people overcoming such adversity.

    Like

    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 01/23/2013 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks for commenting! Sarah is a delightful and enthusiastic addition to the trip. We love her and so do the Kenyans! She is already talking about coming back….

      Like

  2. Jane said, on 01/24/2013 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for the incredible glimpse about your journey. The pictures help so much in creating images that speak volumes. Take care, janie

    Like


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