Watoto Wote Wazuri

Nyumbani Village and the Day of Remembrance

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 02/03/2020

The gate to Nyumbani Village

Of anywhere in Kenya, Nyumbani Village is my favorite place to spend time. The ride through the country side to get to the Village is stunningly beautiful. With all of the unseasonably heavy  rain, everything was lush and green along the way with beautiful mountains and terraced gardens. The ride close to the Village itself was so muddy and wet that the usual road was blocked off. We ended up driving behind various herds of cows and goats which is not an unusual Kenyan experience. Nyumbani Village,  itself,  was quite beautiful and green.


I always find it overwhelming to enter through the front gate because that is the point at which I am reminded that all of the children here, all 1000 of them orphaned and rescued from dire circumstances, would likely not have survived if not for this Village. And here they are, not only surviving but thriving, lively, singing, and dancing, spirited and beautiful children

Once we had made our way through the serious mud slides, mud baths, mud holes, and treachery of the road, thanks to Justus’s trusty driving skills and all terrain Jeep, we arrived at the nearer to the heart of the Village only to be greeted by many of those lively, excited children, welcoming us back. They were also asking for “Kasyoka, Kasyoka?!” We have all been given names in Kamba, the tribe of the people living in the Village and the surrounding area, and that is Lloydie’s names. All the children were looking for her and sad to find that she wasn’t with us. There were many responses of “Pole, pole. (sorry) We will pray for her.” That was after Justus, the relentless joker tried to tell them that Valerie, one of the volunteers, who they already know and who is Afro-American was Lloydie.


There is so much I could say about Nyumbani Village, it’s richness with the culture of the Kamba tribe, the simplicity of life, the advanced sustainability model, and more… I cannot say that there is just a single characteristic that is so compelling for me. The land is beautiful, there is wonderful fresh air and lovely evenings with the most star-filled skies you will ever see, and  in the evening, after the sun goes down you can often hear the voices of children singing. In fact singing and dancing is part of everyday life for some of the youngest children to the eldest grandparents. I happen to catch a cute video of these two who spontaneously broke into dance as the sound system was being tested for the Day of Remembrance….more about that soon.

The plans for our time in the Village included a number of different projects with everyone often working different projects each day. Valerie continued her combined art and teaching with several grade levels at the Village. Karen worked on finance, savings, and business skills with the students at the Polytechnic School and with the Grandmothers (shushu’s). Deb and Justus worked on sorting and selecting from the handwoven baskets made by the grandmothers for sales through Tuko Pamoja. Because of the generosity of my donors we were able to order sanitary pads for the girls of Nyumbani Village, the Maasai Community and the Lea Toto sites. These were purchased through Freedom for Girls, an organization formed to provide them to girls from impoverished areas of Kenya.  to provide education as well as to enable not to miss school during menstruation. Each package contains a years worth of pads, an educational pamphlet and underwear. One of Megan’s projects was to work with the students in Polytechnic to introduce the process of making reusable cloth sanitary pads to trial as a possibility for the future.

              Teaching and giving out sanitary pads

Megan explains about reusable cloth sanitary pads
It’s a mystery to me why these photos keep showing up rotated. I can’t seem to solve so for the moment I’m moving on…..

My big project in the Village was to prepare the community for and organize the Day of Remembrance. This is the day that we have developed as a way to honor and remember, as a community, the departed loved ones of everyone. Over the years of doing mental health work in the Village I realized that the despite the overwhelming amount of loss their community has experienced, there is so much unresolved grief and so little spoken about the ubiquity and the enormity of the losses. Since it seemed more in keeping with the culture to deal with this through religious ceremony, ritual and song, the Day of Remembrance was developed with that in mind. So I began by speaking with the Village counselor and the priest, both of whom were new since we last held this event. I also spoke with all the children by talking to the grade school, polytechnic and high school students. Many of the older children had clear memories for attending th event in the past and seemed enthusiastic about doing so again. I also met with the shushus as a group. Then began the process of collecting all the names of lost loved ones, most importantly all of the children’s parents,  so that they could be written on luminary bags to be lit on the evening of the ceremony.

At the same time as this we held a workshop for the grandmothers, enpcouraging then to train each other on new skills, with Karen working with them on long term savings plans, and providing a special lunch. I was too busy with the Day of Remembrance to do more than stop by for lunch, but know that this was a very successful event.


The time of preparing for the Day of Remembrance is always a little anxiety provoking in trying to be sure that we have gotten all the names, will have time to get them all written on the bags and will manage to get the process and timing of lighting the candles to all come together at the right time to be lit at the end of the church service. This year was even more complicated because it had rained multiple times, unpredictably and suddenly, day and night,  since we arrived  at the Village and the luminary ceremony is usually held outside. It is incredibly beautiful to have the big circle of luminaries lighting the darkness under the starry Kenyan sky. I so wanted to have it be that way again, but given that rain was predicted and that would ruin the luminaries, I reluctantly decided to hold it inside the new church.

Preparing the luminary bags

Somehow, as it has in the past, with the help of many hands, it all came together. In addition to all of the KEST volunteers, there were visiting members from the Nyumbani Spanish and U.S. Boards and a Princeton fellow who all shared in the process of preparing  and lighting the luminaries. The timing of this event is always very special for me since it occurs on the birthday of my son who died; it was even more so this year because Isabella, who I had known but never met in person and who too has lost a son, was also there for the ceremony.  Despite the disappointment of holding the ceremony inside, it was still very beautiful. The luminaries lined all the walls of the church and were arranged in an order to allow all the children and grandparents to find those which had the names of their lost loved ones. The volunteers also chose people to honor and had their own luminaries. The ceremony opened with beautiful singing and then the reading of all the names began. Between groups of names, there was more beautiful singing. People were gathered around the luminaries with the names of those who were meaningful to them. The amount of loss in the room was profound, yet also was the sense of sharing something so powerful. With the beautiful music it was almost like being transported to a different place. It never did rain, we could have been outside,  but in the end, it was what was in the room that really mattered, and it was truly was beautiful. 

Play the video to hear the beautiful singing and see more photos below




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