Watoto Wote Wazuri

What we give, how much more we get in return….

Posted in Uncategorized by Lynn Ouellette on 03/08/2020
The lovely sight and sound of the Weaver birds
Those Kenyan skies….

I have been home now since February 3rd, but still have Kenya very much in my mind and always in my heart. There have been many communications back and forth between Kenya and within the U.S. sharing more stories, exchanging photos and even letters, and most of all expressing longings and missing: of other travelers and volunteers, of the Kenyan people in general and our favorite Kenyans, in specific, of the beautiful singing of birds in Samburu, the gorgeous Kenyan skies, the ambient laughter and singing of children in Nyumbani Village, the lush green countryside, the way that people speak from their hearts, and on and on, even the sukumawiki, well maybe not the sukumawiki (sautéed greens served EVERY day in Kenya) all that much. But everything else, I am missing Kenya so much.

Justus talking with some children in Nyumbani Village

I wanted to write a dedicated blog post to the use of my donations and how much of a difference they made even though I have sprinkled a bit of writing about that through my previous posts for this year. I am so very grateful that I was able to raise almost $8000 from so many generous donors and that through them I was able to contribute to making a difference in so many lives.

Pouring porridge at PCDA

In the Maasai community (PCDA) using the donations to sponsor the school lunch program has made a huge difference not only for the children there, but for the whole community. The children are healthy, thriving, learning, and growing and the worries about feeding the children have dissipated. When we first met that community they were really struggling with having access to water, establishing their school and having resources for teaching the children, having school uniforms which are required to become a government recognized, funding the school and more. They have really come a long way. A non-tangible and hard to quantify difference is the relationships which have been developed, especially with the women of PCDA who are part of Tuko Pamoja, the company which was developed to buy the goods of the women’s self help groups to help them to a develop a sustainable market and and more (www.tuko-Pamoja.com). At first we were unknown, unfamiliar white faces with no language in common and whose agenda was undoubtedly suspicious. Now we are a sisterhood, with ties that go so deep that it takes no language to communicate. I digress from the donations here, but they have been a part of the development of this over the years and it’s hard to convey how all of our hearts and souls have been affected by all of this. It is a remarkable privilege that I feel I have been given in being able to be an “ambassador” of kind and caring Americans and to experience the gratitude and love that is given in return.

Because I had such a generous outpouring of donations, I was able to dedicate the largest portion to providing sanitary pads to adolescent girls across the sites where we volunteer. This included the girls at PCDA, Nyumbani Village, and the Nyumbani Lea Toto clinics, a total of 565 girls. When I realized that we were going to be able yo do this I was thrilled because the impact of doing so is huge for these girls. These was an Academy Award winning film a couple of years ago, “End of Sentence. Period.” which took place in India, but really provided good insight into what the impact is for girls when they do not have any products for when they have their periods. Often this is also in a context of no good reproductive education, a lack of conversation about the issue, a sense of shame and missing school one week a month because of no way to deal with the physical products of menstruation. Providing those opens up a kind of freedom for those girls to not miss school, but also conversation, education and normalizing the experience. Because we purchased the pads from Freedom for Girls which packages pads with educational materials and they were given to the girls in groups, it created a social educational context. I hope that it, too, created more conversation among them and that will continue.

Educating about menstration

Finally, we were able to buy sports equipment and uniforms for the children of Nyumbani Village. The children there are excellent athletes, dancers, and musicians and they compete with other schools in all those arenas, including schools which have many more resources. Although they can be very competitive in those skills and have won competitions, having good equipment and uniforms is important for their self esteem and pride. There are no children who appreciate new sports uniforms and equipment more then the children of Nyumbani Village. They represent more than just equipment and clothing.

On the field for practice at Nyumbani Village

I also had donors who gave me donations of yarn for the baskets that Nyumbani grandmothers weave. I had the largest LL Bean duffle FULL with beautiful yarn of many colors. I could barely manage to move it with other bags it was so full, in fact, there were moments when I was tripping over that enormous, too wide, impossible to stand up duffle, that I was muttering words that didn’t sound so grateful. But I truly was and can’t wait to see the beautiful baskets that it all becomes

The largest basket ever made would hold me but not even close for all the yarn I brought.
Sorting yarn

These are the major projects that I was able to support with my donations. Others had donations to support other projects; and we have been been able to support so many others this year and over the years through the generosity of many donors: building individual household chicken coops buying supplies for household gardens, and planting a sisal garden at Nyumbani Village, replacing the roof at the school, providing access to water, providing school supplies and supporting teacher salaries until they became government funded at PCDA, supporting the school food program at the Mutungu School are just a few.

Children at the Mutungu School getting their food
(video courtesy of Deb)

However, what you don’t always hear about are the things that we are able to do on a smaller scale that touch individual lives, that actually can change lives in profound ways. These are the stories and human interactions which touch our hearts most deeply and are most memorable. There are so many of them, too many to share, and now over many years I can’t even remember all of the details of all of them because they are more etched in my heart and in my emotions than in my memory. However, I would like to tell a couple of them because they are so meaningful. One is from the very first trip and one from the most recent.

Kibera

In our first trip, one of the things that we did was to accompany the social workers or community outreach worker on home visits to check in on families who had children who were being provided care in the Lea Toto outreach clinics in the compromised communities (aka slums) outside of Nairobi. This was my first introduction to one of these communities, specifically Kibera, the largest one, an overwhelming maze of bumpy dirt roads and tiny dirty, muddy alleys strewn with garbage, dirty water and raw sewerage streaming between the alleys where the houses are attached to each other. People live in tiny, dark, windowless, dirt houses with tin Sides and roofs and no ventilation. The roads run down hill on all sides to a central bowl, so coming from the the center of the community is always an uphill walk. Houses are tin shacks with at most 2 rooms as large as an average bathroom in the USA and despite the outside conditions they are extremely clean side. We did one home visit in Kibera with the community outreach worker and met a woman who was taking care of  multiple children including her 9 year old daughter with cerebral palsy who needed total care. We learned that to get her to her clinic visits at Lea Toto she had to carry her on her back uphill through the alleys through Kibera. She used to make a very small income through being a hairdresser from home; she could only work from home because she had to be there to take care of her daughter and feared that if she left her for any time at all she might be raped Or harmed in some way. However, all of her hairdressing equipment was now broken, she couldn’t afford to replace it and she no longer had a way to earn an income. We took inventory of what she needed, went to the local Nakuamat store and purchased it for about $35 and brought it to her. She was overwhelmed and beyond grateful and we were so powerfully moved that for the price of a very modest dinner out we could restore this woman’s ability to make an income and provide for her family. There ware a lot of tears that day, tears of being profoundly moved, tears of realizing how so little could so make such a big difference in someone’s life…. I did not realize that first year how many times I was to experience that over and over again.

Posing along the Rift Valley in a past trip.

This year we had the privilege of being able to make a change in the life of Jane, “the soap lady.” Every year when we drove to the Maasai community, a drive that always takes us along the same route past the beautiful Rift Valley, we passed by a woman on the side of the road. Every year she was there at a small table in a wheelchair selling soap. Every year we waved to her and she waved back with a huge smile. Since we were a van full of mostly “Mzungu’s”, white people in Swahili, passing by at the same time of the year I’m sure it was easy to spot us. Every year we waved; every year she waved back enthusiastically with a big smile. After a few years, we stopped and met her in person and Deb, in true Deb spirit, gave her a little bag of goodies, something she often creates to give to women. Sometimes the bag has lotion or sweets or other little treats, sometimes soap, but not in this case. And thus began stopping every year to see Jane on the way to or from, or both, the Maasai Community. This year, before I arrived so I was not a part of this exchange, there was stop once again with a glorious happy greeting with affection and hugging. This time Deb said to her, “So we are friends now, is there anything else we can do to help you?” After some prodding, Jane explained that her wheelchair was both in terrible shape and was too wide to get into certain parts of the place where she lived and she had needed a new wheelchair for years. It was in fact held together by a loot of wire repairs. It turns out that wheelchairs in Kenya only cost about $300. Though I arrived the next day and we went to the Maasai community one more time, there hadn’t been time to talk about this before we were on to new communities and new work. However, before most of us left, we sat and talked about Jane, who we still refer to as Jane, the soap lady. There are a lot of Janes in Kenya. Deb usually stays on a week beyond the rest of us and she and Justus could go into Nairobi and pick out a wheel chair if we all wanted to pitch in….and so we did. Often those of us who travel to Kenya carry our own personal “slush funds” for just this kind of situation and have our own students we sponsor in addition to the causes for which we gather donations. It’s very heart warming to have this kind of situation arise and to know that with a small contribution from everyone you can change a life.


Once home I was thrilled and still easily tearful from anything that moved me emotionally related to Kenya when I received an email from Deb. She and Justus had delivered the wheel chair to Jane. I opened the email in my office, was moved to tears, and thought about what a wonderful way it was to start my day. There are many ways to make a difference in the world, but in Kenya, often it doesn’t take a lot to do that.

Jane is thrilled to get her new wheelchair.

There are countless stories we have gathered over the years, requiring anything from connecting the right people to what would be considered minimal to quite modest financial resources. They are stories of changing peoples lives in Kenya, but I am certain everyone would agree that they have changed our lives as well. They have helped to build deep connections with people in Kenya and with each other, to feel grateful for what we have, to realize that having been born in the U.S. is a lucky thing with many privileges, not entitlement, and that we feel responsible for sharing.
But most of all, we have grown more open, compassionate hearts, and have come to realize that people everywhere are much more the same than they are different. If you open your heart, especially to women and children, there is so much love that you will given, so much that will move and change you, and there’s no going back. We are the ones who have truly been given so much.

Volunteers are holding hands casting long shadows at Lake Nukuru

One Response

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  1. mrwimbles said, on 03/08/2020 at 5:08 pm

    Hi. Thanks for sharing your trip. I wish I could understand sometimes how really blessed I am with what I have and not what I don’t. I guess that’s human nature or maybe not. It’s not about me here, it’s about the world. A very big world and then again not so big. I have trouble getting how I feel or putting what I feel in words about the women and children who live this day to day. And Lynn you look adorable in that giant basket. A little kid. You have the biggest heart and you are loved by many people. I’m so sorry. Sincerely

    Like


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