Zuri Watoto Wote

Nyumbani Village–always a unique experience

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 02/02/2013
Nyumbani Village Child

Nyumbani Village Child

We have just returned from Nyumbani Village! The internet connection was so slow there that I didn’t have the opportunity to blog, but as always time spent in the Village was an experience unlike any other. The week was so packed with activity and the group did so many diverse things that I can’t begin to recount all the projects in which everyone was involved.

Let me begin by saying that the ride to and from the Village was mostly through beautiful rural Kenyan countryside  marked by a few communities.

Drive to Nyumbani Village

Drive to Nyumbani Village

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Along the way to Nyumbani Village

Along the way to Nyumbani Village

It is about a four-hour drive from Nairobi, but much of it is very scenic. The arrival at Nyumbani Village is marked by a unique entrance made out of bricks from the Kenyan soil as is the entire Village.

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

The Village itself is also quite beautiful. It was  built on 1000 acres of what was originally arid land and is now the site of 25 clusters–a cluster being four brick houses arranged around a common watering hole with each house being home to one grandparent and 10 AIDS orphans. The Village is designed to preserve the Kamba culture so there are no modern conveniences in the homes–no electricity, no running water; food is prepared over flames outside, water is gathered outside, etc.

Inside Nyumbani Village

Inside Nyumbani Village

Another view of the Village

Another view of the Village

View trhough to the Administrative Offices

View through to the Administrative Offices

It’s always exciting to arrive in Nyumbani Village since as soon as we arrive the greetings begin! There are always brightly dressed grandmothers waiting to offer exuberant greetings in Kikambe with the special extra exuberant handshake or to break into spontaneous dance upon first sight. They are an extremely friendly group of women who do not hold back and are extremely agile when it comes to dancing. And once school is out there is a sea of children in mint green uniforms who quickly change into play clothes and snatch you up for playing and photos. these are a few of our neighbors from cluster 8 where we stayed and found out we were there within moments of our arrival.

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Deb with the neighbor children

Deb with the neighbor children

Once we had all barely settled in, basically dropped our things in our lodging (this year living in an actual cluster house as the Village residents do with no inside plumbing, water, or electricity) we were quickly off do other things starting with meeting with the various administrators talking about placements and activities to be done. some of the main activities were time spent in polytechnic doing carpentry, doing ongoing interviews with the grandparents for the memory book project, doing artwork with students for the memory books, working in sustainability and agriculture projects, building chicken coops, carrying on the business of Tuko Pamoja with the Shushus (grandmothers) and for me,  doing psychiatric consultations that had been scheduled for me by the Village Counselor Lilian who was actually away during that week in Nairobi. We also interacted and enjoyed spending time with three interns doing long-term projects there and the Princeton fellow who is there for an entire year. In fact,  Jill had come to Kenya partly to visit her friend who was at Nyumbani Village doing an internship.

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

Lloydie is also working on developing a sister school program with a school in Maryland at which her daughter is a teacher and brought donations of school supplies and soccer balls from there in addition to all the other clothing donations that we brought. Sorting of these and presenting them at a school assembly is always a fun thing to do. It is a great opportunity to see all the children together in the school yard and enjoy them.

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Great toothless grins!

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

 

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Love her beautiful big eyes!

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Clapping for the sister school

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At the assembly

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Buddies

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I love pictures of feet…or hands

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Lloydie and the sports teacher

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This child made we wonder what he was thinking….

I spent a lot of time in Lilian’s office during week and have to say that I was much busier than in years past. It seems the word got out o the surrounding community that I was there and expectations were high that I would have answers or solutions for problems in which many cases there were none. on the first day in the clinic I saw 7 new patients all from the community who came in with children from 4 to adulthood who had never acquired any language skills. their difficulties ranged from anoxic brain damage acquired at birth to possible severe hearing impairment to severe autism and a number of them had a history of never having been evaluated before. It was quite incredible and profoundly sad because these parents did not really have an ideas of the problems with which they were dealing, has false information and in some cases false hopes because they had never been told the reality of the situation. Even on the second day that I was there another crowd of community people showed up when I had appoints scheduled for others from within Nyumbani Village and had to turn many away. The bright spot in all of this was the follow-up visit of the young man I had seen last year who had been acutely psychotic and through the round about of many different steps manage do get on medication. He came in with his father who told me his son was a new man and he was right. He had stayed on the medication until just recently and was profoundly different. He had not been back to school because they could not pay the school fees, but so wanted to be there and needed to go back on the medicine because of the return of some subtle symptoms . So we discussed both and I have to say it absolutely warmed my heart to see him doing so incredibly well. I saw him twice more before the week was up and arranged to pay for his school fees and am finishing the arrangements to get his medication. He starts back to school on Monday and is so grateful and so is his Dad. It’s a wonderful feel good story and its hard to say who amongst all of us is happiest! there were many stories that I heard in Lilian’s office and Sarah joined me for several days of that work. they were not all feel good stories, in fact, many were profoundly sad. There were times we just had to finish up with someone and close the door and shed a few tears because people have suffered such hardship; they have just endured so much. There was another young man who had spent 2 years caring for a sibling  who was three years younger (when he was 12 and she was 9) before he came to the Village and now he was worried that if he left the Village after only 2 years at the Polytechnic School (the alternative to four years of high school) that he would not be able to support himself. All he wanted was to stay for the  2nd two years of the Polytechnic program so that he could feel secure about his future, but he had no one to sponsor him (pay his school fees). So Sarah, moved by his story, is now his sponsor, and going to tell him she had made these arrangements was another amazing bright moment. I remember being told by one of the administrators at the Lea Toto programs the first time I went to Kenya that you can get overwhelmed if you look at the whole picture and feel like you are not doing enough,  but you have to remember that you can help the person that is right there in front of you and that makes a difference. I never forgot that. It was a very busy, sometimes profoundly sad, always moving, but also very rewarding time there in Lilian’s. Sometimes it was acknowledging the all too sad truth, sometimes only words of comfort and solace, sometimes  just listening, sometimes trying to make something happen where things seem slow to impossible,  and once in a while it was actually changing someone’s life.

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In Lilian's Coulseling office at Nyumbani Village

In Lilian’s counseling office at Nyumbani Village

One of the other fun things I got to work on, partnered with Deb, with a group of Nyumbani Village students in the art group gathered to make art for the Memory Book. We asked them to focus their art on pictures of life in the Village and they did a great job. The Memory book, when it is finished , will be an amazing piece of history as well as a tribute to all of the grandparents raising AIDS orphans at Nyumbani Village. I haven’t participated in the interviewing since I have been always been busy consulting to Lilian at Nyumbani Village but I have had the pleasure of hearing about many of the interviews. The grandparents at the village are primarily grandmothers, but there are currently 3 grandfathers. they all have incredibly rich and unique histories full of the local culture. AS far as we know, since all (more than 100)  haven’t yet been interviewed,  the oldest is 104 (and still raising children). One of the most recently interviewed grandfathers participated n the Mau Mau Revolution which is a rich part of Kenyan’s quest for freedom from British rule. One of the eldest grandmothers at 97 once remarked to Deb, in an effort to market her baskets, “How do you expect a 97-year-old blind woman to make a living if you don’t buy her baskets?!” Many of them have rich histories and are rich characters passing down wonderful culture and traditions to the grandchildren.

Working on art for the Memory Books

Working on art for the Memory Books

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

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Caroline, the student my family sponsors

Caroline, the student my family sponsors

As I mentioned previously, there were so many projects and activities in which the group was involved while we were in the Village. Jill did a lot of work with Polytechnic and sustainability. Jen worked with the Young Ambassadors–this is a group of Junior high students learning social responsibility and citizenship. Deb and Karen did a lot of grandparents interviews. We got to cheer at one of the Lawson High School (Nyumbani Village High School) basketball games which was the first place I caught up with Caroline the student I sponsor. We also had a little time to visit the next day before she had to leave to get her birth certificate and other items needed in preparation to take the national exam. The group  also spent the better part of the day with the shu shus having a Tuko Pamoja meeting but this was a special one in which they demonstrated to us the technique of making their beautiful baskets. They too were delighted to hear the success of Tuko Pamoja, the fact that we are purchasing way more baskets this year, and that they will receive payment for a purchase twice a year. We also spent time carefully going over the features of the baskets that make them most likely to sell including quality, characteristic and colors and had a very attentive and receptive audience for that.

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Rolling the sisel on her knee

Rolling the sisal on her knee

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A row of basket weavers

A row of basket weavers

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out....

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out….

Thanks to my generous donors, the KEST group was able to participate in  building and in significantly contributing funding towards the chicken coop project for Nyumbani Village. The Village has always had some chickens but they fall prey to Mongoose and other animals and have not been plentiful enough or  efficiently tended to enough to be a source of eggs. the goal is to have a chicken coop for all one hundred houses so that all the families will have a regular source of eggs to add a regular and nutritious source of protein to their diets. The KEST group helped to build one of the chicken coops. I was too busy in the clinic to take part, but I heard the stories–very hard work in Nyumbani Village, especially in the heat with everything being done and carried by hand. A nice looking product in the end however! I have to say that over all we truly lucked out with the weather this year! it must have been around 105 degrees the first day and we were all melting, but in a very unusual turn of events for this time of year, we have afternoon showers three days in a row that brought some cooler (relatively) air and we were all very grateful!

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

Our last night in the village was a special treat. Instead of the usual food–ugali (maize porridge) or rice and sukumawiki (stewed kale with a few onions and tomatoes)  or  kitheri (beans and maize) we had a tasty coconut vegetable curry made by the interns. that was followed by a performance extrodinaire in one of the clusters to watch the children later joined by the grandparents dance traditional dances. that left us awe-struck!! Truly an amazing performance of human endurance flexibility and fast movement that always make me think that the Kamba people must have some extra joints in there somewhere to be able to dance like that, And biggest surprises were the grandfather of 84 years old and the tiny peanut of a six-year-old, his grandson who could dance unbelievably well! It was the perfect ending to our time in the Village!

Waiting for the dancing to start

Waiting for the dancing to start

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The cutest little dancing machine!

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The Shu shu joins in!

The Shu shu joins in!

Grandfather and grandson

Grandfather and grandson

AND… we all to join in more than once being taken by the hand onto the dance floor by the young dancers, BUT fortunately none of the locals have cameras!

Stay tuned for adventures on the way home from Nyumbani Village–the Wumunu Carvers and the Giraffe park! And thank the heavens we have all had a real bath and oohed and aahed at the feeling of actually being clean from head to toe again– the Nyumbani experience is truly a road to appreciate the small things in life we take for granted like running water and a shower! And we have  delighted in being served a delicious meal by Susan and Raphael Maina at the Spurwing House!  We have a trip to the tea farm scheduled tomorrow then sadly some of start the journey home tomorrow night……

Resting on a log......being silly!

Resting on a log……being silly!

2 Responses

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  1. lhadlockart said, on 02/03/2013 at 4:24 am

    magical Lynn, what a range of emotions each day, each hour. the visual beauty alone–all that color and pattern with earth tones as their backdrop — STRIKING and I think it’s purposeful because it speaks of joy, like their dancing and hugs…the joy of the color/pattern… it must all attribute to their mental (mostly) well being and coping. great photographs of their personalities.
    x,L

    Like

  2. Rebecca Brewster-Taylor said, on 02/03/2013 at 5:49 pm

    Great work! So inspiring!

    Like


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