Zuri Watoto Wote

Nyumbani Village and the Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2015

We arrived at Nyumbani Village Sunday following a lovely drive there. There is much beautiful countryside on the way with layers of mountains on the horizon, beautiful terraced gardens gracing the mountain’s sides, fields of zebras, lush mango trees heavy with ripening fruit and beautiful blooming trees full of yellow and red flowers. I always appreciate the travel here because it’s an opportunity to take in some of Kenya’s most beautiful landscape. We arrived just as the sun was golden and setting over the Village landscape.

Travel to Nyumbani Village

Travel to Nyumbani Village

The Village on a foggy morning

The Village on a foggy morning

Starting out in the Village is always beautiful in the morning. The week began with a meeting with the administrative staff of the two departments at the Village–Home Care, everything involving the people of Nyumbani Village and Sustainability, everything involving the environment including food, farming, and many creative projects which serve to make the Village more self sustainable. We got a brief synopsis of the major projects happening in the Village such as biomethane, tilapia aquaculture, beehives and honey, extensive vegetable gardening and fruit-growing for feeding the Village as well as for sale. The crops including vegetable and fruits are irrigated from bore hole and sand dammed water pumped by a solar pump and there is a new solar greenhouse. All of the furniture used by the Village is made there in the Polytechnic School and production is plentiful enough to allow for sales. There is also a program called Trees4Kids, which includes planting many acres of Milia trees each year. This variety matures in 10 years and can be harvested for timber with the first harvest due in 2017. I won’t go through all of the sustainability projects, but only say that they are quite ingenious and amazing and that the Village serves as a model for sustainability. We also heard about the status of the Village residents which currently includes just under 1000 AIDS orphans all raised by biological or adopted grandparents, most of whom are grandmothers. Each of the grand mothers raise 10 or more children in blended families which in a model which was the first of its kind in Kenya. There are many beautiful faces in Nyumbani Village and always fun-loving children who are very engaging with their smiles and antics.

NV children

NV children

NV children

NV children

There were many projects that the volunteers worked on during our week at the Village. Lloydie and Irma taught in the classrooms; Jon, Irma, Kristen and others planted the sisal garden and worked in sustainability, Kristen worked in the medical clinic, Deb and Meagan worked on the memory book that includes histories of all of the individual grandparents, Judy, Valerie and I worked in the counseling clinic and I worked with Lillian to prepare the Village for the Day of Remembrance. The days were very hot, but also very productive.

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Given how hot it was, I was relieved that I wasn’t working in the sisal garden, but Irma and especially Jon were very enthusiastic about the planting and were able to work side by side with some of the grandmothers.

Planting the sisal garden

Planting the sisal garden

We also held a meeting with the grandmothers to go over the success of their basket sales through Tuko Pamoja over the last year. The Village Memory Book which includes interviews and photos of all the grandparents and recounts their personal histories is a project that has been in the works for several years and is almost complete. The grandmothers or Shoshos are very interesting characters with a lot of personality and a penchant for singing and dancing and greeting the visitors with a lot of fanfare, teaching them Kamba at the same time. We always truly enjoy them and most especially enjoy the children. There were also a few other volunteers in the Village who we got to know during the week, all of whom turned out to be of tremendous help with the luminary ceremony on the Day of Remembrance.

I am writing a whole week after we first began our work in the Village so it is hard to now describe all the work AND most of all, every touching moment. The times that most stood out for me personally were talking with all of the Village to prepare for the Day of Remembrance and being invited to one of the homes in the evening by one of the high school students. At the time I thought that there was an issue in the home and that Lilian and I were invited to try to help with that. However, after I arrived it became clear that the real agenda was to ask me many questions about the U.S.–about farming, schools, food, religion, climate and so much more. The keen curiosity and the hospitality of the grandmothers and children in the home I was visiting was really delightful.

By far my most important and meaningful work was talking to the children, grandparents and staff about grief and loss and preparing for the Day of Remembrance. As soon as I arrived Lilian and I mapped out a schedule that enabled me to spend time in every class at all grade levels to talk with the children about loss and their most profound grief, the loss of their own parents. I was also able to speak with the grandparents and the staff and there was whole-hearted enthusiastic support on the part of the administration (Raphael, the home program manager, the school principals, counsellors, especially Lilian and more)  for moving ahead with the Day of Remembrance. As I spoke with all the groups, having Lilian as a translator for the younger children, I talked about grief and loss as universal experiences, ways to cope and ways to honor and remember loved ones and carry them in our hearts. Depending on the age of the children, my talks were simple to more complex, but the enthusiasm for having a special ceremony to honor and remember those lost loved ones was universal. At the end of each talk, I had the lovely experience of hearing the children sing and even had Lilian write down the words to my favorite Kenyan Swahili song so that I would be able to sing with them.

Lilian and Judy visting the classrooms with me

Lilian and Judy visiting the classrooms with me

Lilian and I scurried around from classroom to classroom and school to school, the Polytechnic School, the primary school also know as HotCourses and Lawson High School. As I talked to the children it was very interesting to see their reactions and watch their faces as grief was as times very palpable even though it has rarely been acknowledged in the Village.

Talking about grief and loss

Talking about grief and loss

And grief was ever more present than I even expected because just prior to our arrival at the Village, the principal of the Polytechnic School, a very beloved teacher, had died at only 42 years old. Everyone knew “Mr. Mike” as the person who really “fathered” the school so there was a great deal of sorrow about this very big loss.

As we worked toward the Day of Remembrance, there was a great deal of planning and coordinating with school staff and the home care staff and Lilian and I worked very closely as a team. Judy also joined us on some of our visits to the classroom and in preparing the luminary bags. One of the biggest tasks was getting the names of the children’s parents who had died as we wanted to be sure that everyone was included in the ceremony so no child’s parents and no grandparent’s children would be left unacknowledged. Lilian and I often looked at each other saying, “I can’t believe it, but I think this is really going to happen.” Although there was much support all around, I wasn’t really sure how many people would actually attend until the evening ceremony began. And then I was absolutely beyond words when the entire Village poured into the Social Hall until there was standing room only and people were not even able to fit in through all the doors. That’s when I knew that we were doing something that was profoundly important and special to address their issue of unacknowledged loss in the Village. The evening began with a special mass also devoted to talking to the community about loss, remembrance and honoring our lost loved ones. As the mass began, the choir trained by Lilian and having practiced for weeks was unbelievable beautiful with rising harmonious voices.

All of the volunteers and I were outside during the mass setting up the luminaries which had by then been prepared with the names of lost loved ones of the children, grandparents, staff and volunteers. I am so grateful that all of my fellow volunteers worked so hard together to accomplish the lighting of the luminaries. There were two lines of luminaries leading the way into a very large circle. The two lines of luminaries were led by all the names representing staff and volunteers with a luminary for Mr. Mike on one side and for my son Brendan, who would have turned 24 on this day, at the other. Then the luminaries were arranged by house and cluster so that every child would be able to find the names of their parents in the circle. We arranged nearly 500 luminary bags  and lit all of the candles in them as the sun was setting and the choir was singing beautifully. And as darkness fell, they were all shining like stars.

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

The luminaries as night falls

The luminaries as night falls

Luminaries shining like stars

Luminaries shining like stars

When the Mass ended, everyone came out of the Social Hall (used as a church) and the crowd was in awe of what they saw–a beautiful circle of nearly 500 shining luminaries with names on each one. One staff member remarked “It is like you have brought heaven down here to us.”  There was glorious singing as people gathered round the circle of luminaries and then there was a prayer and a moment of silence led by the priest. Then Lilian and I read every one of the names. We periodically stopped for singing and other silent moments as we worked toward and finished the names of all the parents from cluster one to twenty-six. Even with almost 1200 people there, most of whom were children,  every moment of silence was completely quiet and every song was in beautiful harmony. After I had read the names of the loved ones of the volunteers and Lilian was reading the children’s parents names, I walked into the circle to hear everyone singing around the shining luminaries and under a beautiful starry sky. This became my most magical moment ever spent in Kenya. It was overwhelming to think of the enormity of the losses, but also extraordinarily moving to feel the coming together of this community and support that they shared. A few of the children knelt and prayed in front of their parents luminaries, but it was not somber, it was a time that was truly of honor and remembrance and especially of acknowledging the commonality of that experience which had previously been unspoken in the Village before. I was thinking of all those children, but also of my son Brendan as I felt that he was in some way there with me too.

Here are some video clips which will give you much more of a sense of being at the Day of Remembrance

REMARKS ON  THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

LIGHTING OF THE LUMINARIES

3 Responses

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  1. Patti Arata said, on 02/02/2015 at 7:41 am

    Just beautiful…..what a meaningful and spiritual experience! Safe travels home to you and your fellow humanitarians. God Bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Sutton said, on 02/02/2015 at 11:50 pm

    Reading about your time at Nyumbani Village was inspiring in many ways. What a great idea that a village like this was created to provide homes and care for 1000 AIDS orphans, being raised by the grandmothers. The list of self-sustaining projects is impressive. Thanks for including photos of some of these beautiful children. I can’t help wondering how the shoshos have time to make baskets while raising 10 children… wow. Thanks for all you and the other volunteers do to help out in the village. As soon as I saw the photos of the circle of luminaries for the Day of Remembrance I started to cry. How profound to acknowledge the losses these children have experienced in such a simple and beautiful way… all the more poignant given Mr. Mike’s recent passing and also the loss of your dear son, Brendan. It feels like a sacred space was created in which the veil between this world and the next is very thin, with love flowing back and forth. May the memory of these loved ones be a blessing to all who were part of this event.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lynn Ouellette said, on 02/03/2015 at 4:23 am

      Thank you so much Barbara. Your comments, particularly at the end, made me cry because you really captured the experience with YOUR words. How lucky Deb is that you have had many years of friendship!

      It really is amazing that the grandmothers raise 10 children. I think what makes possible is that many tasks are shared and the children, devoid of any toys, electronics or other distractions really participate in the responsibility of the family and they have very long school hours that enable the Shoshos to have time to tend to the younger children. Life in the village is so much better than life was before the children arrived that they have a keen appreciation for all they they have and cling to having a tight family life in their new families. Plus every in one pulls together in the true spirit of “tuko pamoja” and it does “take a village” to raise these children and Nyumbani Village has risen to the task.

      Like


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