Watoto Wote Wazuri

We are in Kenya!

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/17/2016


Nyumbani Children’s Home

We brought the rains to Africa when we arrived, something that has never happened before.


We arrived in Kenya after so many hours of travel very late Friday night, having left home midday on Thursday. The flights were long and the travel was very tiresome, but the reunion with fellow volunteers and the excitement of what was to come carried us along until we touched down in Kenya at the airport. we arrived later than expected because of a delayed flight in London and then needed to go through immigration, gather our many duffles and move through customs. Despite the stellar efforts of the administration at Nyumbani to address the new requirements at customs (about which no one is clear), to provide us with detailed documentation and our own efforts to carefully inventory all of our donations, we were stopped at Customs to question why we had so many bags. It was a frustrating and time consuming snafu that hinged on having a government document that supposedly exists, but no one has yet been able to actually procure. After attempts to get through this process, we left customs very weary having had to pay to bring our donations into the country. All of this disappeared as soon as we met Justus with his huge smile and exuberance waiting to transport us and all of our baggage to our first lodging.

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Karen sitting at the far end of the caravan of duffles in Customs


We are a small, but dedicated group of four this year. Our combined total of visits to Nyumbani is 36, with Lloydie being responsible for more than half this visits.

We arrived at Dimessee Sisters retreat at about 2:30 AM and were up and running the next morning to Nyumbani Children’s Home to meet with the Executive Director, Sr. Mary, at 9:30. This is always the first stop of any volunteer trip as Sr. Mary briefs us with the latest update on the Nyumbani programs.

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Meeting with Sr. Mary

She filled us in on the happenings of each of the programs. One of the themes is that the children are getting bigger and older. When you reflect on the fact that Nyumbani began over 20 years ago with the focus of providing hospice care for children who were orphaned and also expected to eventually die of HIV, the idea that the children are getting older, graduating from high school, and some going on to college is phenomenal progress. While there are still young children entering the Nyumbani programs at all the sites, the needs of an older population have brought a different set of challenges. One of the recent major efforts has been to prepare the children for living independently, with jobs and secure income. Much of the new program development has focused on this group with life skills training, further education, business skills development and the beginning of Microfinance resources. Currently at Nyumbani Children’s home there are 100 children, at one end some are being admitted as toddlers and at the other, there are graduates who are exiting to become self sufficient. One of the biggest challenges is for these young adults to find employment in a country where the unemployment rate is 40 percent.

In the slum areas surrounding Nairobi, the Lea Toto outreach programs provide services to children with HIV. Currently there are over 3000 children and their families receiving services from Nyumbani. Although the  central need of all of these children is a access to antiretroviral medications, like at Nyumbani Children’s Home, the children are staying healthy, getting older and their needs are changing to include preparation for being set sufficient adults. The ARVs are supported by USAID and there has been a recent concentrated effort to reach children who need this treatment. Currently the Nyumbani programs have secure support from USAID until 2017.

In Nyumbani Village there has also been an increasing group of children who are finishing high school and moving towards independence. Here there is a population of 1000 AIDS orphans being raised by 100 grandparents. while there are children reaching adulthood and exiting the village, there are always younger children awaiting admission. There were 42 new children admitted in December. All of the children are rescued from dire circumstances, living in extreme poverty, often in child headed households. There is a great deal of progress to celebrate, yet still so much need remains. While the need can seem overwhelming at times, there is also powerful, often magical, joy in watching these children, who otherwise would not have survived, growing, thriving and moving ahead to living full lives.

Our first stop of every trip is Nyumbani Children’s where we meet with Sr. Mary and get the update, but also talk with her about the projects which we are working on at all of the different sites. There will be much more to say about that as this trip progresses. The children at NCH now know us and part of the satisfaction of being there is seeing children who arrived for respite care, severely ill, malnourished, with life threatening illness now running around the playground, singing and dancing in church, and growing older each year. I first came to NCH six years ago and some of the babies who sat in my lap are now grabbing me by the hand to escort me off to their cottage or to church or simply to play.



The playground at NCH

These are some of the children at NCH.

We went to Sunday mass with them and that is always a jubilant experience with singing, dancing, drumming and the older children tending to younger ones with real tenderness that is wonderful to observe. This year instead of the usual group of girl dancers in church, there was group of boys, one of whom sat on my lap as a  baby a few years ago.

We have had a relatively low key weekend, getting acclimated after long travel and adjusting to jet lag, reconnecting with people, getting updated from others on the happenings at Nyumbani and preparing ourselves for meetings and projects to come in the next few days.Tomorrow the real work begins as we start meeting with all the artisan groups of Tuko Pamoja,  those Kenyan women who come from areas of poverty and with whom we collaborate to sell their crafts. They are the women we have come to know and love as our “Kenyan sisters”,  hard working, courageous women who maintain such grace and generosity of spirit amidst tremendous adversity. Some are HIV positive, many are raising orphans with HIV, all live in poverty, all are dedicated and incredibly hard working mothers. They are the people of Kenya I most admire; they are the true heroes.








Returning to Kenya……heavy hearted

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/10/2014





In front of the Great Rift Valley

We are returning to Kenya in just five days in what I know will turn out to be another amazing trip filled with beautiful country, welcoming and gracious people, poignant moments, and abundant opportunities to give…and to receive. But I have struggled with how to write this post since my entries have always been devoted to being an authentic representation of the experience and I have poured my heart into them. I therefore cannot write this or any post about the trip without acknowledging the death of my son Brendan just three weeks ago. My heart is so heavy with sadness and missing him, with the tragedy of his sudden departure, that I cannot be genuine about any other experience without acknowledging this. I recall last year at this time him telling me that he did not want me to worry about him while Iwas away in Kenya and that he was making decisions with that in mind. He knew my passion for the work and the people there and wanted to me to continue that. And so I will go In spite of this tragedy in my life. Many people have helped out to ease the burden of my grief and the tasks of work and my practice that needed to be attended to before I could even consider departing. I am blessed with wonderful family, colleagues, and friends who have pitched in to make this possible for me. And many people have, as in years past, donated generously to help our friends in Kenya.

So as I depart in just a few days, I know that my fellow volunteers, all my dear friends, will share my sorrow, will hold me up, make me laugh, cry with me and carry me along when I need to be carried. And the many friends whom I have in Kenya, some of whom have reached out to me already will share my grief as we work together. With the hardships of living in Kenya and the AIDS pandemic, many there know grief like mine of losing children and I now know theirs far better than I ever imagined. So I will still depart knowing that every kindness I extend, every tear I cry, every song I sing or dance , and every hug I give will be with my son in my heart because I carry him with me to Kenya and everywhere…..

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart) i am never without it(anywhere i go you go…..”   e.e. cummings


My son Brendan

My three children, Ryan, Katie and Brendan



Update….and early countdown to Kenya!

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 07/21/2013
Aaah, Kenya!

Aaah, Kenya!

It has been oh so, very too long since I have posted, but that doesn’t mean that Kenya hasn’t been on my mind and in my heart. Life here gets so busy and I am often buried in the endless administrative tasks of practicing medicine, which I so dislike, such that I can’t find time to do these things that I so like, such as blogging about Kenya, the Children of Nyumbani, the wonderful Kenyan people who we have come to know and love, and the work of the KEST volunteers. As has been true for a number of years now, this summer was marked by a migration of KEST volunteers to Kenya led by our extraordinarily energetic, big-hearted, extremely friendly and loquacious leader Lloydie Zaiser (really, I think everyone in Kenya knows her and probably most of the staff on British Airways…) Lloydie kept me well supplied with updates of the trip from the volunteers keeping me envious of all those who were there, sad to be missing out, but lucky to live the trip vicariously. And she recently posted photos, taken by all travelers, so I just had to blog about some of the summer trip experience and include their photos. I know that it won’t be until Lloydie and I sit down together that I will hear all the stories, the ones that will move me to tears; she has told me that there are many. Of course, there always are…..

Making projects at Nyumbani Children's Home

Making projects at Nyumbani Children’s Home

More projects

More projects

Smiles at Nyumbani Children's Home

Smiles at Nyumbani Children’s Home

This time the volunteer group included Lloydie’s daughter Meagan, who some of the Nyumbani children were always asking about every time we arrived, and her co-teacher Nancy, as well as Stephanie, Bailey, Sarah, Ashton and Adriana. I wish I could have been there to see the children’s excitement when Meagan arrived! The group spent the first weekend at Nyumbani Children’s Home doing crafts with the younger children and teaching yoga and mindfulness to the older children. Since most of the volunteers were new to the Children’s Home and to Nyumbani, the trip began with a meeting with the Executive Director, Sister Mary, who is quite an amazing person, and who who can always give a very thoughtful overview of the whole organization and the current issues and problems which they are facing in caring for AIDs orphans and HIV+ children. After a busy and, what I am sure was an eye-opening and touching weekend at the Children’s Home, the group was off to Nyumbani Village, quite a change from being outside of Nairobi, but not hot like it is there in January. I was even more envious of the group as I thought of them heading to the Village and knowing that Justus was driving them. He is our most wonderful driver and dear friend, who keeps us safe, has a wonderful broad smile and is aways in a good mood–I don’t know how you can spend all those hours driving in Kenya, in Nairobi traffic, on roads with potholes half the size of your car and always be so happy, I would be scared to death! But he never stops smiling!

Justus and his family--can't wait to have dinner with all of you in January!

Justus and his family–can’t wait to have dinner with all of you in January!

Sho sho gets a new lasso

Sho sho gets a new lasso


Village girls and KEST volunteers

Village girls and KEST volunteers

The group was quite busy in the Village–but that goes without saying as all KEST trips have a very packed agenda. They worked hard at many of the usual activities such as sorting the 450 lbs of donations which they brought, working in the sustainability program sorting seeds, mulching,etc., interviewing the grandparents for the memory book, facilitating the Young Ambassadors Club and more. An extra special item on the agenda this time, however, was working on the formation of a sister school program between the Hot Courses Primary School in Kenya and the Woods Academy in Bethesda where Megan and Nancy are teachers. In addition, KEST delivered 435 packages to the adolescent girls that were on the top of the priority list. Girls had been missing school due to lack of feminine supplies and they delivered undergarments and a year’s supply of sanitary napkins to each girl in need.

Hot Courses Primary School

Hot Courses Primary School

Delivering supplies to adolescent girls at Nyumbani Village

Delivering supplies to adolescent girls at Nyumbani Village

In addition to the volunteer activities, they were treated to all of the magic of the Village–the sho sho’s dancing, the children singing and dancing including a special private performance in one of the clusters, Joseph playing his homemade instruments, and the simple beauty of the Kamba culture.

Joseph and his homemade guitar

Joseph and his homemade guitar

People are always sad to leave the village; Stephanie and Bailey wrote about it this way: “Today we woke up to the usual crowing of the roosters outside of our windows, but awoke with a bit more hop in our step. Though sad to leave the people in the village, everyone was eager to return to the comforts of showers, toilet seats, and normal beds that awaited us in Karen. By 9 o’clock Justus pulled into the village, on time as always, and we packed the van to the brim with our bags and newly acquired baskets that we purchased from the village grandmothers.

Always hard to say goodbye...

Always hard to say goodbye…

Lots of baskets!

Lots of baskets!

Lloydie sweet talking john, the Village cook and best mandazi maker

Lloydie saying goodbye to John, the Village cook and best mandazi maker

Never know what you'll see on the Village road..

Never know what you’ll see leaving on the Village road..

Following the week at Nyumbani Village, the group spent the weekend at The Children’s Home and then the subsequent week at the Lea Toto sites, Kibera paper and at PCDA. They learned about the programs offered at Lea Toto providing outreach support to the families with children with HIV who live in the impoverished communities surrounding Nairobi. This also gave them the opportunity to meet the women crafters of the self-help groups involved with Tuko Pamoja while Lloydie worked on going over and eventually picking up all of the orders for the fall events coming up (November 9th for those of you who live in my area.)

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

Lloydie "modeling"

Lloydie “modeling” the ware

Tuko Pamoja--We are together!

Tuko Pamoja–We are together!

They also went to the Maasai Community, PCDA, where they did some enrichment projects with the children and met with that self-help group and met the women of Kibera paper. Between visiting all these sites, the volunteers were able to participate in all the Nyumbani programs as well as PCDA and Kibera Paper, and the preparation for the ongoing work of selling the crafts of the women in the U.S. and sustaining their market was accomplished.

PCDA children

PCDA children

Summer 2013 KEST volunteers

Summer 2013 KEST volunteers

A tough group...

A tough group…

I will have much more to update about Tuko Pamoja as we move forward with a lot of planning. The U.S. Board is meeting in September…and I’m sure we will end up with even bigger plans once we all start brainstorming together. The summer 2013 KEST group ended their travel with a Safari although Lloydie stayed on in Kenya to finish up Tuko Pamoja business. So I will share a few of their safari photos in closing. Lloydie is promising that the Adults Only trip in January this year will have a little leisure time built-in because we were all so exhausted last year with all that we packed in for Tuko Pamoja and so much more. So we have a two-day safari planned and I’m really excited about that. I did tease her and say that she couldn’t take it out of my sleep allotment because I already use that for blogging! So we have lots to do before we leave:

  • Tuko Pamoja U.S. Board meeting/Retreat in September
  • Many Tuko Pamoja Fall events
  • Planning the Women’s Workshop in Kenya
  • Gathering Donations

and exponentially more when we get there….and I can’t wait! We depart in 186 days!

Mother and baby...

Mother and baby…

So cute!

So cute!

She's a beauty!

She’s a beauty!

Because you can't see too many elephants!

……because you can’t ever see too many elephants!

Tall beauties

Mother and youngster–tall beauties

Beautiful Kenya!

Beautiful Kenya!

Singing, Dancing, and Making It Snow with the Mommas of Kenya

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2013
School children at the Kibera Paper location

School children at the Kibera Paper location

Wow, we have been incredibly BUSY over the past two days!! I wish that I could blog every day because it seems that each day is so full of moments that are so moving,  so profound, so joyful……and there are so many stories to tell. It is in many ways like being in a different world here because the poverty and hardship are so beyond imagination, the impact of AIDS touches everyone here, yet people remain resilient, joyful, and tell their stories with such authenticity from their hearts. We have continued our intensive focus on Tuko Pamoja as that is a very important goal of this trip. Supporting the caregivers of children with HIV or AIDS or the mothers of children living in extreme poverty is the most effective way to support families and communities and is at the heart of the mission of supporting the women artisans of Tuko Pamoja. Before telling you about our recent visits with Tuka Pamoja groups I just want to tell you who the group of travelers is this time. Sarah and Jill are the new travelers–Sarah is a nurse from North Carolina and Jill is an artist and preschool teacher from Arizona. Lloydie is our fearless leader and head honcho of KEST (Kenya Educational and Service Trips) and Jen is the junior head honcho at KEST (sorry I can’t remember your official titles.)  Lloydie Jen, Deb, Karen and I are the U.S.  Board members of Tuko Pamoja and have all made multiple trips to Kenya with Lloydie leading the pack at 13! Justus is our amazing driver who is always happy (I hear it’s a Kamba tribe trait 🙂  extremely helpful and has nerves of steel to be able to drive in Nairobi where the entire large city seems to have only one traffic light. So you have met the group–on with the experience.

The KEST Group--Deb, Sarah, Jen, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

The KEST Group–Deb, Sarah, Jen, LLoydie, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

Yesterday we went to the final Lea Toto site (Nyumbani outreach clinic for children with HIV living in the slums of Nairobi) supported by Tuka Pamoja in Dandora, called the Vision Self Help Group. This group of women has been together for many years and was the first self-help group that I met. They make jewelry, beaded items and sewn items, all wonderful! Many of them are volunteer community health workers helping other families who have children with HIV and some are themselves HIV+. In fact Sarah, in the elegant peach colored garb above has been living with HIV for over 20 years and nearly died before she knew her HIV status. But now she is a community activitist, AIDS educator, is raising AIDS orphans, and is an empowered woman living positively with HIV. I had the opportunity to interview her and its amazing that she survived. HIV and AIDS are still very much stigmatized here despite the fact that so many people’s lives are touched by them. In Dandora, we also interviewed the women about their lives and had a business meeting about Tuka Pamoja. One of the things we always do is bring fruit and biscuits (cookies) when we come, but this year we also brought scarves for all the women so you may notice them in the pictures, We also presented them their official TP certificate.

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group


Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

One thing that we did a little differently here was to spend more time talking a circle as a larger group and by the time that was done, with the women expressing such gratitude and such heart-felt sentiments, there was not a dry eye, virtually everyone was in tears. Although we don’t see these women often the incredible warmth of the welcome, the sharing of the connection, the way we are brought into their lives and they into ours, the emotional exchange, it all leads to a profound connection. we did life story interviews, shopped from their wares, and it was all too soon time to leave with very hard to say goodbyes.

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Following the time spent in Dandora, we had plans to do some “socially conscious shopping” in two sites where we have developed relationships with the staff and workers over time. The first stop was Amani (meaning peace in Swahili) which is a cooperative of African women refugees who have a very successful business selling many  hand sewn items featuring hand died and batiked cloth. In fact, their business is so successful that we asked their marketing director, Maggie, to be a member of the TP Kenyan Board.

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

We also made a stop at Kazuri Beads, another favorite place. This is another special place that now employs almost 350 people, predominantly women, many of whom are bused in from the slums. They receive excellent pay, have on site medical and day care and are treated very well. They make gorgeous pottery and ceramic beads from clay mined in Kenya. Learning about the process of mining and harvesting the clay, preparing it for shaping, hand shaping it,  firing, then glazing and refiring it makes you appreciate the beauty of the beads even more. When we stopped at Kazuri Beads yesterday we were too late to see the workers because our day had gone too long so we could only do some shopping. So had to decide to leave early this morning to make sure that we could go back for the tour and especially to see the workers because we have a tradition of visiting them, getting welcomed in song and dance and handing out a little candy treat–lollipops this time, you may notice the sticks in the photos….

Making Kazuri Beads

Making Kazuri Beads

Kazuri Bead factory workers

Kazuri Bead factory workers enjoying the sweets

Kazuri Beads!!

Kazuri Beads!!

We had to get an early start today to fit in the trip back to Kazuri Beads because we knew we had another full itinerary. In fact last night I had most of the group in my room helping me prepare for today’s project at Kibera Paper.

Late night project preparation

Late night project preparation

Today we headed to Kibera paper, the final Tuko Pamoja group from the slum area of Nairobi. This is the group of women who make l hand-made paper from recycled paper obtained from businesses into absolutely beautiful handmade cards which are each a piece of art. When we go to Kibera paper, anyone who hasn’t been there before has the opportunity for hands on instruction in paper making and making the cards. Deb and I have also established a tradition of sharing an art project with the women. So in addition to the Tuko Pamoja business meeting and presentation of the certificate, receiving our order and paying for it, doing the personal interviews, drinking chai and eating homemade mandazis (Kenyan like doughnuts)  that one of the women had made for us, sharing in a circle, singing and dancing, we also did paper making and art projects which made for quite a busy time. Kibera paper was the fourth group that was so prepared  and had 100% of their order ready for us even though we only expected 50 %. So all the groups are doing so well with getting their orders completed early, introducing new products and being professional in ways that will really make them successful!

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper


Both Deb and I make handmade cards and decided to make a different kind of card with them. She made very fancy valentines and I decided to teach them a bit about snow by making snowflake cards. Since none of them had ever experienced snow, that was quite a lot of fun! I brought plenty of photos I had taken in the winter in Maine with various quantities of snow, but the big hit was one of my children when they were younger posing with a snowman they had made. The women really got into it once they once they got the technique for cutting a six pointed snowflake and the snowflakes and glitter were flying everywhere because there was a bit of a breeze and the paper was very light. At one point I looked down and there were about a dozen snowflakes on the ground by the table and it made me laugh to think we had made it snow in Kenya today! I love working with these women–they have a lot of spirit! So once again it was a hard goodbye with singing and dancing…..lots of hugs and tears.

Making snowflake cards

Making snowflake cards

Following spending most of the day at Kibera Paper we drove further into Kibera to pay a visit of support the Power Women’s Self Help Group.

Glimpses of Kibera

Glimpses of Kibera

They are also a Lea Toto founded self-help group, but through some extra support, really hard work and exceptionally good financial decisions they have become self-sustaining and own and operate their own shop to sell their goods. They have also recently expanded to having a hair salon attached to their shop. Their president, Everline, is on the TP Kenyan Board. We sat and talked with them about the history of their group, how they run the business, and let them know that the other self-help groups have similar aspirations and see them as an inspiration.

Everline of the Power Women"s Self Help Group

Everline of the Power Women”s Self Help Group


Power Women's Hair Salon

Power Women’s Hair Salon

It’s very late here in Kenya and its time to get a few hours of sleep before we head out in the morning on a little bit different path. It has been an intense, but very rewarding past few days. We will be headed to the Maasai community of PCDA to do more Tuko Pamoja business,  but also to spend some time supporting other projects in that community. You may recall some of the time we spent with the Mommas and the children last year. If not, I will tell you ahead of time, the children are absolutely adorable, enthusiastic, engaging, beautiful little ones! Can’t wait……



Joyful Children’s Faces and Women Who Will Touch Your Heart

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/21/2013


One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

We have had two busy and incredible days for the second and third days of our journey and an inability to recharge my electronics (mishap with the adapter we ultimately learned tripped the circuit breaker) left me wondering how I could possibly blog about these two days which were both so full of moments that had filled us with ideas and questions, left us speechless at moments, brought us to tears and touched our hearts.

We began yesterday at Nyumbani Children’s Home where the children are AIDS orphans and are HIV+ but get extremely good medical support and are doing very well.  We arrived in the morning to many joyful greetings as the older children came out to greet us. There were plenty of hugs and remarks about how much they have grown especially from those of us who only see them once a year. All the children are really polite and respectful, but all have unique personalities and some have quite the enjoyable senses of humor. We were headed off the church , Kenyan style, which is a wonderful experience and tried to describe it to the new travelers, Sarah and Jillian, knowing that you can’t quite fully describe it—it is something you just have to experience. Everyone heads up to mass, even the really young children, dressed in Sunday clothes, and its a joyful migration to behold.

Lloydie with a child from Nyumbani Children's Home headed to church

Lloydie with a child from Nyumbani Children’s Home headed to church

Once inside there are MANY children participating in the service–they are the choir, the musicians and drummers, the speakers, the servers, and my personal favorites, the dancers. And they are amazingly good at what they do! The youngest dancer who is getting taught the dances is 3 years old and has tremendous natural rhythm–and I am talking about African dancing and drumming, etc. And any children who aren’t in the front of the choir are singing and dancing–or drumming–at their seats. So this is a joyful, kid-friendly service in which priest talks to thee children, engages them, uses his sense of humor and they listen and participate. And if you are there as a visitor–you better clap, and sing and dance too!! They bless everyone who has a birthday that month and by doing it once a month practically all the children’s cottages have a birthday once a month–which brings a large cake and tub of ice cream. So we had our lunch and were invited to several birthday parties. The younger children are raised in cottages of families of 12 -14 children of mixed sexes with “Moms” who care for them. When they get older they move to the youth hostels which are divided by gender and are a little removed from the younger children.


In afternoon, we delivered bags of sidewalk chalk, temporary tattoos, and bottles of bubbles to each of the cottages. We also added 7 new scooters to the scooter supply. Sunday afternoon is the only concentrated time of free play that the children have so it is a caucophany  of scooters going around the circular playground with the older children very lovingly teaching the younger ones the ropes of scootering


Scooters are very important at NCH and build strong legs


Faces of Nyumbani Children's Home

Faces of Nyumbani Children’s Home

As has been the tradition in the past when I have  been at the Children’s Home, I planned to do face painting once again. I recruited some help from Sarah and Jill who asked me how I would let the children know when and where we would be with the face paint. I reassured them that all we had to do was set up outside somewhere and we would soon have children flocking to us. And so we did, and in no time we were surrounded by faces, and arm and hands…. And so we face painted for what was at least thee hours beside the playground with scootering, squealing children in the background and smiling children right there in front of us. I don’t know how many faces or arms we ended up painting but I know had a ball with all of them!


Just a few of the faces we painted!

We stayed around a little longer after that so that we could go cheer the boys at a football (here it would be soccer) game. Our wonderful driver Justus joined some others in creating a match team for the boys and we had a fun time cheering everyone on. By the time we actually left the Children’s Home it was about an hour and half later than we had planned and everyone was having a hard time saying goodbye even though we are going back next Sunday. We had plans to go out to dinner, one of two times which we will eat out during this trip, and after quickly cleaning up headed out to the restaurant Karen Blixen’s Estate (of Out of Africa fame).

Boys football game

Boys football game

While yesterday was a lot of fun –and definitely some work with painting a lot squirmy children and sorting the locations for numerous of those many duffels, today was definitely more work and business oriented but so very touching in so many ways. Today was purely focused on Tuko Pamoja and going to two sites where we work with women artisans groups in very compromised communities. We spent the morning in Kangami and Dagoretti, both slums of Nairobi, where Nyumbani runs the Lea Toto Programs  (Swahili for to “care for a child”)  offering outreach care to children who are HIV+.

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

Both of the groups we work with there are self-help groups — groups composed of caregivers for children with HIV–some are mothers or other relatives who may be actually raising the children, some are volunteer community caregivers—all have come together to support each other and to make crafts to earn a living or supplement insufficient income for survival. We met in the morning with the Good Hope self-help group of Kangemi and in the afternoon with the Miracle Caregivers self-help group of Dagoretti. In both cases, the agenda was the same. We wanted to share with them that Tuko Pamoja had a successful year having sold 85% of its inventory, that we had increased  our order by 30 % and talked with them about the upcoming workshop. We gave them a lot of positive feedback about how their products were so well received.

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

We read to them the poem that I had written back in 2010 which was a tribute to Kenyan women and the way that has become tradition to open all Tuka Pamoja sales events and we gave them a certificate for being charter members of the Tuko Pamoja LLC which brought lots of cheering and clapping!

Tribute to the Women of Kenya

Oh women of Kenya,
do you know how beautiful you are?
With your dark eyes holding your
stories of such sorrow and despair
your shining faces still able to smile so lovely
despite hardship beyond imagination

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how strong you are?
To carry your sick children on your backs
for miles through the alleys of Kibera
to raise the children of a nation through
sickness and poverty with such love

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how powerful you are?
You are the true backbone of your country
the bricks and the mortar of your people,
the keepers of the culture and traditions
the past and the future

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how glorious you are?
you dance and sing with a lively spirit
that could fill the heavens
that suspends all time and lifts all hearts
with infectious joy

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how truly amazing you are?
You moved me in a way I could not have imagined
found places in my heart I never knew existed
A piece of me is there in Kenya with you
I am but a deep breath away and in my mind’s eye
I am remembering just how beautiful you are!

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate


Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

We also told the women  that we thought a major key to the success that people felt a connection to their personal stories because we told about the group and at least the story of one woman at each of the sales events. In that regard we talked with them about developing a book with a photo and story of each woman and asked if we could interview all of them  so that we could say more about each of them. We also asked to do a video interview of the two women who could speak English most fluently explaining that  although we could tell their stories we felt it would be best if people could hear them in their own voices and from their hearts. So I had the honor of doing the video interviews and they were heart wrenching, touching,  honest stories of hardship and resiliency that in some cases made me cry with the women,  but they were phenomenal and I will never forget them. These women live on the edge all the time. They have to pay rent, school fees, and put food on the table and often there is not enough money to buy food. They are loving mothers who often raising other people’s  (i.e. sibling’s who have died of AIDS) children. They have endured their own hardship through many losses to AIDS and other diseases,  but are very committed to educating the children and creating better lives for them.  They are truly quite amazing. Once you meet them you cannot avoid being touched by them and wanting to help in some way.

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi


The Vision Self Help Group Of Dandora

Posted in AIDS in Africa, Kenya, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/15/2012

I have introduced you to one of the women’s artisan’s groups with whom we will be working in Kenya in the Women 4 Women Initiative. I thought I would take a break from my packing frenzy having accomplished the mission of having one duffel packed at a weight of 48 lbs  (just under the 50 lb limit) and no longer sitting in a sea of medical and art supplies, children’s socks and underwear, etc. I want to introduce another group, the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora. Dandora is another of the impoverished slum areas around Nairobi similar to Kibera. This group began almost ten years ago with the inspiration of Sister Little from Nyumbani Children’s Home. Sister Little who I had the pleasure of spending some time with during our last trip, including going to the slum with her, is like her name, little, but she is otherwise, despite not at all being a youngster, quite big on spunk and determination.Though she is supposed to be retired now, I hear she still shows up in Kibera to check out the Lea Toto Programs since they are her biggest devotion.

Sister Little with The 2010 KEST Adult Group and Nyumbani Children (anyone who makes me look tall has to be little!)

It was her idea to help this group of women, many of whom are HIV+,  all of whom have HIV+ children getting care from the Lea Toto Clinic of Dandora by assisting them in developing a skill which would lead them to be self sufficient and able to earn enough income to support thier families. She brought them together to support each other and helped them to learn the art of jewelry making, particularly beading. They work together, create together, have developed a tremendous sense of comraderie and share the income that they produce.  When we met with them last time I was struck by the support that they give to each other and how much they value creating together and felt a powerful connection because that process of creating together reminded me of my own women’s art group. As they each individually told us their own stories I was incredibly moved by their strenth, resiliency, devotion to their families and how they have taken their own hardship and used it to help others by doing such things as becoming AIDS advocates and community leaders. They were clearly a part of the inspiration for my poem about Kenyan women. They make lovely jewely and have increased the breadth of their ware by expanding into other items as well–I’ll be sure to take photos when we see them this time. And they, like many groups whom we met welcomed us with lovely song and dance which Im so looking forward to experiencing again.

Vision Self Help Project Women in their Stop AIDS, Malaria and TB.......and Obama Tees!

WE leave in JUST 4 more days!!



Kibera, Lea Toto, and Kibera Paper

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/08/2012

Somewhere between a half and a million people live in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. No one knows for sure what the population is there, but it is estimated that 20% of Nairobi’s inhabitants live there at a population density of about 750, 000 people per square mile. It is one of the most crowded places on earth. It is hard to describe in words but photos and video give a better sense.

Kibera is the site of great poverty, overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions, and a high crime rate. It is also a location with a very high incidence of HIV/AIDs. This is the reason that The Lea Toto program of Nyumbani began—to provide outreach services and home based care to families with children who have HIV/AIDS. In addition to having a clinic in Kibera Lea Toto now has 8 other satellite clinics in the slum areas surrounding Nairobi. We visited these clinics in Kibera, Kariobongi and Dandora during our last trip to Kenya and will be visiting them again.

This time we will also be paying some special attention to a couple of women’s artisans groups which have developed out of the need for these women of poverty to to have an income to support their families. One of these groups is Kibera paper. We have been working on a plan for our visit to Kibera paper to work with the women there who make the cards from recycled paper. In addition to talking with them about ideas to market and sell more of their cards in the US, since 2 of us make our own cards, we are planning an interactive card making workshop with a sharing of ideas and new media.

Here is an article from CNNWorld about Kibera Paper:

Greeting card project helps slum women



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// // December 22, 2010|From David McKenzie, CNN

In the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, some of the community’s poorest women are taking part in project that is spreading the true meaning of the holiday season. In 2001, an Anglican missionary from Australia started the Kibera Paper Card Project to help disadvantaged women in the sprawling Kibera slum.

The initiative began with a group of six women making greeting cards from recycled paper. Nine years later and it has expanded to employ 26 local women.

“It’s for women who are widowed, some of them are orphaned, some of them are abandoned by their husbands, so they make cards to meet their needs,” said Kibera Paper Card Project coordinator Emma Wathura.

Wathura said the project focuses on helping women because “women are the ones who care for the family.”

Agnes Awour is one of those benefiting from the project. She used to struggle to put food on the table, but joining the group has helped, she said.

“It enables me to buy food and clothes and pay school fees,” she said. “Even my children are happy about it.”

The women involved in the project see the card making process through from beginning to end. They collect scrap paper from Nairobi businesses and soak and dye the paper, turning the waste into pulp and then the pulp into new paper.

The paper is then dried before the women’s creativity transforms what was once rubbish into beautiful greeting cards.

“Yeah there is money,” said Wathura. “For one thing, we don’t spend a lot. Because the recycled paper we are given is free.”

At the Nairobi Christmas Fair, where thousands descend every holiday season, the cards are proving popular.

In a business where message is key, the Kibera Paper Card project offers its customers much more than just a greeting: Shoppers know that by buying these cards, they’re changing lives.

This is a great video that focuses on Kibera and the Kibera Paper Project

The slogan for Kibera Paper has become “Buy a card, change a life.” If you watched the video you know how that is literally true. You can learn more about Kibera paper at www.kiberapaper.com and I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say when I am actually there sharing the experience with these women. This is just one example of a truly hopeful project that has arisen from the slums; there are more, including of course the Lea Toto clinics.  Despite the enormity of the horrendous conditions and poverty, there is hope too.

Other Needs: The Masai women,children, AIDS prevention and beyond

Posted in AIDS in Africa, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 01/15/2010

I just received a flurry of e-mails form LLoydie Zaiser, our Kenya Trip leader in response to my e-mails which had questions and updates about what has been happening with our trip preparations and projects. One of her e-mails was in response to my comments about donations and was the following:

“Lynn, this is the email I sent out to plead for clothing donations for the Masai children.  Check out the attached photos and see if you could resist giving.  Lloydie”

I have posted one of  the  photos below, it IS absolutely irresistable! The children are are Maasai preschool children (whose growth has been dramatically stunted by malnutrition).

Masai children

In further following the links of this e-mail, I learned that the plea was from ED Colina whose face was familier to me from the DVD about the Nyumbani programs where he has been a longtime volunteer (26 years), but that now he has founded a group of non-profit volunteer organizations including one called  “The Masai Women’s Empowerment Project (MWEP)” which is dedicated to improving the lives of the impoverished Merimbeti Masai women and children living in Athi River, Kenya. http://www.edcolinafoundation.org/foundation-projects.   He describes their mission as  providing meaningful interventions that respect cultural belief and historical experience, but still help to combat the incidence of hygiene-related disease, HIV/AIDS, child prostitution, pregnancy complications, hunger, poverty, and lack of education. I was struck by the how meaningful the mission is but also by the fact  that this yet another inspiring  example of the kind of  generosity and giving that one individual can generate,  so I wanted to post something about it along with that adorable picture. Since AIDs in Africa has become a female dominated disease, this foundation and its focus on women, AIDS awareness and prevention is crucial.

For The Students: World AIDs Day

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, world AIDS day by Lynn Ouellette on 12/01/2009

Today (December 1st)  is World AIDS day which is a day to stop and think about people who have the AIDS disease here and all over the world. AIDS is a disease that is caused by a virus called HIV, like chicken pox or the flu,  but there is no vaccination and it is much more serious and eventually deadly if it is not treated. AIDs is passed from person to person by only very special close contact or by a mother who is infected passing it to her baby when she is pregnant or nursing. It can’t be passed by hugging or sneezing or coughing, so it can’t be prevented by good handwashing or the things you think about for not passing illnesses.  We do know a lot about how to prevent and treat AIDS with medicines, but the ways of doing this are not available in the poorer parts of the world where most people who get AIDS end up dying. That is why there are so many orphans in Africa that need our help. The symbol for World AIDS day is the red ribbon so you may see them worn today and President Obama will have a huge one hanging on the front of the White House.

World AIDS Day

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, world AIDS day by Lynn Ouellette on 12/01/2009

World AIDS Day was first established by the World Health Organization in 1988 and takes place annually on December 1st. I decided at some point that I would post an entry that would be educational about AIDS, especially the impact on children in Sub Saharan Africa and decided posting it today would be particularly fitting. The symbol for World AIDS day is the red ribbon, a large one of which hangs on the White House in Washington today. This day is a time for governments, organizations, and communities to come together and reevaluate and recommit to the needs of people with AIDs worldwide. The United States has a program, PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief launched in 2003, the largest commitment ever by a single nation toward an international health initiative — a comprehensive approach to combating HIV/AIDS around the world. UNAIDS is a joint United Nations program to address the AIDS epidemic. Despite this and many other programs, the AIDS epidemic has continued to grow and millions have died.

Since the AIDS epidemic first began in 1981, over 25 million people have died of AIDS. Today over 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 2/3 of those people live in Sub Saharan Africa.  AIDS, a disease that weakens the body’s immune system,   is caused by HIV, a virus that can be transmitted sexually,  through blood products, in utero and through breast milk. Although there are certain high risk groups,  the overwhelming majority of transmission of the virus is through heterosexual contact. There is no cure for AIDS and unlike many other viruses, there is no vaccine for HIV. There is much known about how to prevent and treat AIDS. Averting sexual transmission involves encouraging safer sexual behavior including delayed first sex, partner reduction and condom use. The spread of HIV through drug injections can be slowed by outreach work, needle exchange and drug substitution treatment. Mother-to-child transmission can be almost eliminated through use of medication and avoidance of breastfeeding through the substitution of formula.  Treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARVS) for people who have the HIV virus can help them to stay healthy and live productively for many years. However, only a very small minority of people have access to the necessary education, prevention tools and the necessary treatment.

In 2007, 1 in 7 of the 2.9 million people who died of AIDS was a child. About 95% of the 13 million children who have been orphaned because of AIDS live in Africa. By 2010 it is expected that one third of all African children will be orphaned. As you can see,  this set of facts of figures is staggering. But the numbers only begin to convey the magnitude of the problem by identifying who has died or is orphaned, without really conveying the scale of the individual suffering of child who has been orphaned because of AIDs.

Prior to becoming orphaned a child has been living with an increasingly ill parent and often has been caring for that parent. They have begun to suffer neglect and had to take over adult responsibilities like caring for siblings and contributing financially to the household. Many have had to drop out of school.  They may continue to live with the surviving parent, but often that parent eventually becomes ill and dies as well. At the time of dealing with their grief over losing their parents they are also left without anyone to care for their basic needs and are burdened with the shame of the stigma that comes with having AIDS in the family.

You can see the video update on AIDS by  Keven DeCock, The CDC Director for AIDS in Kenya on CNN News here: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2009/11/25/impact.kevin.decock.cnn

Or learn more about HIV and AIDS in Africa here: http://www.avert.org/aids-hiv-africa.htm

Why the Art Exchange Project?

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Maine schools by Lynn Ouellette on 11/30/2009

When we first talked with Lloydie, our trip leader, about volunteering in Kenya, Tom and I both talked with her about what kind of volunteer activities we could do. There were outlined volunteer activities of different kinds on the itinerary, but somehow that didn’t seem personal enough or enough at all (as if anything ever could be enough.) It wasn’t until we had our 1 hour turned into 5 hour magnificent meeting at our home with her that I really “got it” that a big part of the “volunteering” was just being there and giving the children love in all the possible ways that one can do that.

Being and artist and psychiatrist, I thought of doing art with the children because I know that being freely creative is not something that they have the opportunity to do in school and also bcause I  know that these children have all been tremendously traumatized. They have witnessed their parents die of AIDS; many have  participated in caring for them. Having AIDS in Africa also has a tremendous stigma so many have had that burden to carry as well. They are in the orphanage because they have no adult family members to care for them. Some may have lost siblings. Before coming to the orphanage, some were rescued from horrendous impoverished conditions.  Death and loss have been an integral part of their young lives.  So as I thought about this trauma, I thought that art could be a free, uninhibited expression for them, without boundaries and which required no words. In that way, I thought it might be good for them.

Pictures drawn by children caring for parents with AIDS, photo used with permission from the Young Carers Project of South Africa http://www.youngcarers.netau.net/

Then  I thought more about it, and looked to the example of the other kinds of art exchanges that had been done by the artists  in my women’s art group, I thought that this might create an opportunity to fulfill another goal that I have for this trip—educating people here about AIDs orphans and the situation in Africa. We all live such privileged lives by comparison and my hope in sharing this work, the reason for writing this blog,  is that others will become more aware of these circumstances. In particular, my hope is that children here might have a heightened awareness of a world that is much less fortunate than their own and an exposure to the concept of being “global citizens.” I began to think about the “art exchange” as a way to accomplish this in the  broader sense as well as a way to simply  foster a connection between two really different groups of kids who could communicate through art and really appreciate each other in that way. That’s how the art exchange project was conceived. I’m lucky that the two art teachers working with me had only enthusiasm about getting involved, offered to do more than I was asking for with participation, and that they were like minded in seeing this as an opportunity for their students to learn and grow.

Finally, I also feel that whenever I undertake any artistic endeavor that there is a connection to the support, inspiration, and something that is magically indescribable that has grown from my women’s art group. They will know what I mean and I will carry that with me to Kenya for this project. Thank you Jill, Laurie, Jen, Anita, Cheryle, Annie, Katrina, Cynthia, Blair and Bec.

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The Maine Kenyan Children’s Art Exchange

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Maine schools by Lynn Ouellette on 11/29/2009

I am very grateful to 2 Maine art teachers and their students who will be helping me with a special project while I will be in Kenya. They are Mrs. Sharon McCormack and her students at Jordan Acres Elementary School in Brunswick, Maine http://www.brunswick.k12.me.us/jas/Index.html and Ms. Bec Pool and her 7th and 8th grade students and the Brookesville Elementary School http://www.brooksville.u93.k12.me.us/  in Brooksville, Maine. They will be working on art projects and gathering donations for me to bring to Kenya to share with the children at the Nyumbani Childrens Home, where I will in turn work on art projects with the Nyumbani orphans to bring back to Maine to share with the students here. I want the students in Maine to know that the children at the orphange will be extremely grateful and excited know that this artwork has been made especially for them and has come all the way from the other side of the world. They will also be really happy to have a chance to work on art projects because thay do not have any art or music as part of what they do in school. In addition, they do not have any art supplies and art really isn’t a part of their lives in any regular way so this will be a wonderful opportunity for them. For this reason I will bringing all the supplies for the art projects and hopefully stocking their closet with supplies that they will continue to be able to use. Since I am also a photographer, I will have the pleasure of photographing the project as it’s happening in Kenya and will be able to share that with the students here in Maine when I return and as part of this blog. So thank you, thank you Maine teachers and student artists!

 I hope that I will be able to blog other things about the trip especially for the Maine students and will begin those blog entries with “FOR THE STUDENTS….” so that you will know that those entries are written especially and appropriately for you. I think that this will be a wonderful learning and sharing experience for everyone involved and that you should feel proud that you are making a difference in the lives of children who are much less fortunate.

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Something personal about why I am taking this trip…….

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 11/26/2009

I am writing this entry on Thanksgiving day because, though I had planned to write this, it seems most appropriate to do so today. I have so far assumed that most people reading this blog will know us, but that’s not true since I will have some generous teachers and students from Maine helping me with with the art project that I will explain more about later, and other people have expressed an interest in making donations, so I should make introductions. “We” are Lynn and Tom, both physicians in Maine in entirely different fields of medicine. Tom is in oncology and hospice and palliative medicine and I (Lynn) am a psychiatrist and am also an artist. I feel that I have been waiting to do this kind of volunteer work for a decade, but not until the time was right for our family. We are extremely lucky to have three healthy children and although I had breast cancer almost 2 years ago, I am in remission now (and expected to remain that way), so Tom and I are both healthy too. I have always been aware that we live an extremely fortunate life. For all of the things that we make take issue with about our country, and if you work in health care that often begins a litany of concerns, we are lucky to have been born here in a safe place where for most of us its not a challenge to eat, stay safe and survive every day. This is the reason why I can never get through a single rendition of the Star Spangled Banner without getting choked up, it’s not patriotism, it’s gratitude. Also, the experience of having breast cancer had the impact of further heightening my awareness of just how fortunate I am and reminded me to try not to take for granted the things for which I am grateful. I realize it doesn’t work this way for everyone, but for me, what comes with that sense of gratitude is also a sense of responsibility for giving back. And although I do that here at home in various ways, that hasn’t felt like enough. I have a tremendously soft spot in my heart for children who can not make sense out of a world that doesn’t provide for them, care for them, or mistreats them. Though it isn’t any fairer for adults, they have more capacity to attempt to make sense of misfortune, tragic circumstances or an unfair world; children, like the orphans of AIDS, have no such capacity and that seems even more profoundly sad to me. For the huge number of a whole generation of adults in Africa who have lost their lives to AIDS, the only way to help them now is to care for their children. Because of my own experience with cancer, I can’t imagine that the worry about what their children would experience wasn’t a huge, maybe the worst, part of their suffering. There are so many children, so many AIDS orphans who need help that it is overwhelming. So it’s from this position of feeling very incredibly fortunate for all that I have, that I feel responsible for giving back in a place where the need is the greatest and the giving may be the most challenging. It doesn’t even really feel like a choice…..it feels more like something I need to do. And to volunteer with AIDS orphans feels right for me.

And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood

and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity another possibility.

And I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s all over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

From “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver

About Nyumbani

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/22/2009

Children at the Nyumbani Children's Home with its founder

The Nyumbani Children’s Home was founded in 1992 by Father D’Agostino, a Jesuit priest and physician, in response to the need of the increasing numbers of abandoned and orphaned HIV+ children. Today the orphanage at Nyumbani, located outside of Nairobi, is home to 110 HIV+ orphans who receive medical care, psychological services, and attend public school until they can become independent adults.

The Kibera slum

Nyumbani launched the Lea Toto Program (Swahili for “to raise a child”) in 1998. It is an outreach progam to HIV+ children providing home based care to them so that they could access medical care,  psychological support and even basic needs such as food and safe drinking water.  This program provides services to children and their families in the most impoverished areas of Kenya including the Kibera slum outside of Nairobi where over  one million people live in an area smaller than the size of New York City. It is the largest slum in Africa and the second largest slum in the world.

Satellite view of Kibera slum

There are many videos like this one posted on u.tube about Kibera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9crGUNUP22I.  It’s hard to imagine without seeing some video footage and I imagine it will be overwhelming to be there in person.

Nyumbani Village in Katui

Nyumbani Village was built on 1000 acres of property given to the program by the government. The village was established to address the needs not only of orphans but also of the elderly who in the past have relied on thier children to be available as part of their extended family but have been left without them as the middle generation has succombed to AIDS. At the village, grandmothers, or shoshos, live in cottages with 10 children and create new blended families that foster healing, hope and opportunity while the HIV+ children receive ongoing medical care,  psychological support and attend school. The grandmothers also receive support and care in this extended family environment and community setting. In addition the village operates a sustainability program with solar energy, farming, and other resources.

During our trip we will be volunteering at each of the Nyumbani sites.

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Planning the trip

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/16/2009
Nyumbani Poem

Lloydie and the children from the Nyumbani orphanage

 We leave for our trip to Kenya on January 28th and have much to do to get ready. We have been deeply inspired by Lloydie Zaiser who is incredibly devoted and energetic in her dedication to the children of Nyumbani. We are also grateful for all her work in organizing our trip and creating a meaningful itinerary (www.k-e-s-t.com ).  Please click on  “Nyumbani poem” above to hear the voice of one nyumbani orphan.

We have also been inspired by Stanley Waringo,  our Bowdoin college host family student from Kenyan, whom we enjoyed having as part of our family for four years and beyond.   Stanley rode the bike treks across the country in support of Nyumbani and first introduced us to the organization.

Lloydie has done an amazing job creating an itinerary which has integrated us into the Nyumbani programs and winds down the emotional intensity (if one could even say use the phrase wind down about any part of this trip) by setting up a safari and a visit to a Massai village on the last few  days. Although the volunteer activities are built in and we will travel with a large load of doanted items, my husband and I wanted to each do a special project that would give something to the children that would reflect sharing something personal. Since my husband is a runner he will do a running clinic with the adolscent boys and hand over some of the hundreds of running T shirts that he has collected over the years. Since I am an artist and photographer, I will share an art project and record it photographically with the help of some special and generous participants from Maine……more about that later. Though we are both physicians and will be learning about the medical facilities and I, as a psychiatrist, will spend time with the social worker, our special projects, by design, will not involve medicine…… this time.

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All the Beautiful Children

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/15/2009
One of millions

Our reason for making this trip

Watoto Wote wazuri is how you say “all the beautiful children” in Swahili. This photo is from the Nyumbani website, www.nyumbani.org , where you can go to see the programs that Nyumbani has for HIV+ children in Kenya and the sites where we will be volunteering.

There are over 15 million children who live in sub Saharan Africa who have been orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS and over 2 million children have HIV/AIDs. Over one and a half million AIDS orphans live in Kenya. It is estimated that by 2010 one third of all  the children in Africa will be orphaned due to  the AIDS epidemic.

“You must be the change that you want to see in the world.”  Mahatma Ghandi


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