Watoto Wote Wazuri

Our first few days back in our Kenyan home

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja, Women helping women by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2014

We arrived in Kenya late Friday night taking the airport by storm as 5 people descended upon Kenyatta airport toting carry-ons, personal suitcases, and nearly 30 duffels each weighing 50 lbs! With carts piles higher than we could see over, but smiles on our faces we were greeted with great warmth and true Kenyan hospitality by Justus, our friend and trusted driver. We ultimately settled into our first Kenyan home, Dimesse Sisters Retreat Center around midnight after a long journey, which began at 5:00 Thursday morning for me. Between excitement and jet lag it was no challenge to be up early the next day to meet with Sister Mary Owens, the Executive Director of all the Nyumbani Programs. From her we learned the latest news about Nyumbani including the fact that with the cutback of PEPFAR funding, the programs of Lea Toto (outreach programs in the impoverished communities around Nairobi) are working harder than ever to increase development of and participation in Programs that foster economic empowerment. This is a perfect union with the goals we have in collaborating with the Kenyan women artisan groups of Tuko Pamoja.

Though the week ahead was to be filled with visiting the Tuko  Pamoja groups, we spent some time over the weekend visiting Nyumbani Children’s Home. Having been there before in now four different years passed it was easy to see how much the children are growing, especially with babies now grown into toddlers or children who had been severely compromised and cared for in the respite program now appearing healthy and strong. We had a whole range of activities planned to participate in with the children including yoga classes, face painting, delivering every child a new back pack, joining them for this month’s birthday celebration, joining in a lively singing, dancing, drumming version of a church service followed by an outstanding dance performance of a local youth group. 

Karen and a child from Nyumbani Children’s Home


Yoga class at NCH

Deb and Antony in yoga class

A face panted “zebra”

Valerie takes on face painting

Let’s get the birthday party started.



Justus, our trusted driver and friend

On Saturday, after spending some fun time at the Children’s Home, we returned to Dimesse Sisters to meet with the Tuko Pamojq Kenyan Board members. We talked about the success of Tuko Pamoja over the past year, how to collaborate with the Kenyan Board and our revised mission statement: to collaborate with marginalized Kenyan women artisan groups toward the the goal of sustainable income and independence.  We also discussed the running of the Second Annual Workshop for Women  which we will hold next Saturday for members of the artisan groups. This, as in our first workshop, will focus on quality control and product development, improving business and financial skills, marketing and building resiliency and self esteem.

Meeting with the Kenyan Board

The U.S. And Kenyan Board for Tuko Pamoja 

The next day we would be off to our fist site visit for Tuko Pamoja,to see the wonderful mommas of Kangame. As is always the case we were welcomed with great heart and warmth, hoots and hollers, and many hugs and kisses and  “we have missed you!” Which is indelibly  heard in my head with a Kenyan accent which I wish I could convey in writing. At each site we at having a business meeting with of course time for catching up, socializing, seeing and bringing a snack for the women. We start the meetings with a prayer and a poem and then go around the circle reintroducing ourselves with what has happened over the last year, the health of our families, etc. The women expressed great gratitude to is for collaborating with the and shared how much of a blessing it is to them. Still we heard some struggles about the health of children and the women the sleeves and some struggles to stay afloat financially particularly with paying school fees. The women have have as many as 7 children and multiple grandchildren and are often raising orphans of their own children and sibling who have succumbed to AIDs. For most Tuko Pamoja is their only income. The women all know that I have lost my son so I have heard so many times “I wish to say pole sana (very sorry) to our sister who has lost her son and often more eloquent words than that. When it comes my turn I talk about how my heart is very sad but that when I come to Kenya my heart becomes very full being with the Kenyan people so I wanted to come to be with them despite my heartache. We presented them with site book which is a compilation of a group photo and a page for each woman in the group that tells her personal story and includes her photo. We explained that this site book is something that we use at all the Tuko Pamoja events in America so that women there can learn about them and that they are touched and inspired by their stories. Lloydie reads comments from our event guest books that say this women’s own words conveying greetings, praise, inspiration, blessings and more back to the women in Kenya.  In our business meeting we share the Tuko Pamoja mantra that the U.S. Board  created in the fall: 

Tuko Pamoja

We are strong and beautiful

We are learning and growing 

We are together always

Tuko Pamoja

The women were very enthusiastic in response to this with lots of cheering and clapping and determination to set it to music and dancing by the time we next return! We handed out business cards to all of them which included this. We then went on to discuss the success of Tuko Pamoja showing the dramatic growth over four orders of both the number of  items ordered and of Kenyan shillings paid to the group. The best part, and the biggest surprise is that the success was so great that we were able to give each woman a bonus of 3000 ksh and the group a bonus of  5000 ksh. To see the joy, excitement and infusion of hope on these women’s faces was truly priceless and brought us all to tears and, as Karen Geiling  put it, “THIS is why we do this!”  I have much more to say about the first few days, but the internet access is oh so slow and the time I have access is oh so limited that the post so far will be a challenge to upload (I hope it won’t take more than 90 minutes!)  SO STAY TUNED for much more about meeting with our Tuko Pamoja women this week as it has been AMAZING!!

The sign outside the Lea Toto Clinic

Showing the growth of the sales

Kangame women and their wares

Group photo at Kangame


7 Responses

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  1. Susan Strout said, on 01/23/2014 at 8:44 am

    Thanks so much for the update. I am so inspired by you and your work in Kenya. There is nothing quite like filling your heart when there is a gaping hole. I’m sure there is still a bit of a hole but none so large as before you boarded that plane. Good work Lynn. We are all so very proud of you and what you do in all phases of your life. Onward and upward. ❤


  2. Frances Chamberlin said, on 01/23/2014 at 6:09 pm



  3. Rebecca Brewster-Taylor said, on 01/25/2014 at 10:38 am

    So great to read about your trip and the accomplishments of the group. I look forward to more!!


    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 01/27/2014 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks Rebecca! More is coming. I dropped off donations Athe village for the farm kits today! They were so thrilled!


    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 01/27/2014 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks! I dropped off donations for the farm kits at the Village today. They were so thrilled!


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