Watoto Wote Wazuri

Returning….at long last

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani, Nyumbani Village Day of Remembrance, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 10/26/2019

I have not been to Kenya since 2016. Every year since, when others have made the return trip my heart has ached to not be with them and to miss seeing that beautiful country and those beautiful people who I have grown to love. I have looked on Facebook or in my email to hear the news of what was happening there and could smile at the photos of the children, laugh at the videos of them dancing, have my heart warmed by seeing the women of Tuko Pamoja gathered for the Women’s Workshop and more. Still, I had to steal away a piece of my heart that was also very sad to be missing the experience, most especially the deep connection that we have developed with the people that has filled and changed my heart in deep and profound ways. Until now, because I know I am returning in January, I haven’t really  allowed myself to actually think about that. Now, knowing I am going back, I feel the excitement and know the moment the plane lands and I see the broad smile of Justus greeting me in the airport with a warm “Karibu!” I will be bursting with joy and tears.  And that will only be the beginning. Since I am joining the rest of the group one week into the trip, the same thing will happen greeting each of them, and they aren’t even Kenyan! They are the people, Lloydie, Deb, Karen, Megan, Valerie with whom I have shared this experience on my prior 6 trips to Kenya, the tears, the laughter, the being moved beyond what I ever thought possible; we have done it together. I have missed them too, not going for the last 3 years. There will so many tears in Kenya.


Much more after I left….

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, Our Kenyan Family, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 02/14/2016

This year in Kenya I was the first of the volunteers to leave, ambivalently, reluctantly, but headed home to my own life and responsibilities that beckoned me there. I left knowing that some of the work would continue, donation money would be well spent, and more good would come after my departure.

Because of very generous donors we were able to address many needs in the communities we visit and for the Kenyan people we love. Although I was leaving, I knew that my remaining donation money was in good hands and that it would reach its fullest possible potential with Justus at the helm of seeking out bargains that could only be accessed by someone local, someone Kenyan, our favorite Kenyan. Before I departed we pooled the rest of our donation money and divvied it up to go towards various projects. Our last night at the Nyumbani Village guest house, we gathered in the open sitting area, fatigued though happily satisfied with our time there. Drinking wine out of water bottles (the only possible glasses) and eating a dinner of our remaining healthy and not so healthy snacks, we counted money and packed it into envelopes designated for different causes. We had already been able to purchase 200 sets of sheets and blankets for Nyumbani Village, but in doing so learned that the need for mattresses was even greater. So mattresses, with plastic covers for the younger children became the object of one of the envelopes of money. Though we had purchased sports equipment, uniforms were still to be purchased, uniforms that would instill pride and identity by including the Nyumbani name written on them. And we had been communicating with Philip of PCDA, despite our various technological problems with phones, computers and internet, regarding shoes for the Maasai school children. This was another envelope of donation funds dedicated to a real need. This was my final night in the Village and I had one more day in Kenya, the wonderful day we spent with Justus’s family.

After I departed, and while I was settling into life back at home, recovering from travel and jet lag, those volunteers still left in Kenya, along with Justus were busy at work doing other things. Deb and Karen headed to Talitha Kum, another orphanage, but before that,  Deb purchased baby clothes to be donated to the maternity unit mothers and babies at St. Joseph’s. Since Lloydie stayed in the Nairobi area, she got to deliver those in a final visit there.

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Sisters  at St. Joseph’s delighted to receive newborn clothes from KEST traveler Deb DeArmon!

She also got to visit with the spirited nuns, Sisters Rhoda and Ida. I wonder if there were any more stories of the Pope’s visit?! While at St. Joseph’s, she also met with a women’s self help group there, one that is just getting started, and could benefit from some Tuko Pamoja wisdom.

Wonderful, inspiring women, love 'em all!
Wonderful, inspiring women, love them all!

She and Justus did some major shopping and arranged for mattresses to be delivered to Nyumbani Village. I wish I could have been there when they arrived since it looks like it was a major event!

Thanks to Raphael, the Village Director for sending photos along with a huge and heartfelt thank you that I am passing on to my donors.Thanks to Justus for scouting out the best prices and doing the leg work! The sports uniforms had to be printed with the Nyumbani name so had not yet been brought to Nyumbani Village before everyone departed. But Lloydie enlisted the help of the children at the Children’s Home to model some of them for photos!

I really wish I had been around when the Maasai children of PCDA got their new shoes, but Lloydie has sent me very many great pictures so that I could share the process and the delight.

James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks.  They received a very nice tip!
James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks. They received a very nice tip!

I think Justus had a good time!

Out with the old, in with the new!

How happy are they to have new shoes!

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Happy Kids!

I had to restrain myself to keep from posting all 248 photos of smiling children with shiny new shoes! But I think you can get the feeling of how happy they were and how much  of a difference this made for them. Next year….they really need new school uniforms!!

Lloydie wrote to me about all the things that she continued to do after I departed,  while Deb and Karen were at Tabitha Kum and after they departed. She had not slowed down one bit (no surprise to all who know her!) She went with Charles, Lucy’s brother, both of whom grew up in Nyumbani Village and visited Charles’s school for which she is sponsoring him. He is training in the hospitality business which should afford him a job in the future. They also got to celebrate his birthday.

She also met with Nicholas Syano, former Director at Nyumbani Village, and Joseph Lentunyio, former Sustainability Director at Nyumbani Village, who have teamed together to help teach communities permaculture farming techniques. A future plan is being made for them to come to PCDA to teach the women and children how to farm crops that are hearty in their environment. And stage 2 of the PCDA water program funded by Woods Academy in Bethesda will include water accessible for farming!

There is so much more work that was done, but yet still so much more that could be done. You can already see some of the goals for next year taking shape and including replacing all the mattresses in Nyumbani Village over time, getting new school uniforms for the PCDA kids who clothes don’t hold a shine to their new shoes. We would like to support the Maternity Unit at St. Joseph’s more–more baby clothes and I am researching an incubator update. Karen is working to have a micro finance program to help the people that Nyumbani serves through the Lea Toto Program.  We always end up with more new ideas, projects to pursue, work to be done our next time in Kenya.  Never do we leave with our hearts not feeling full for the work we have done, the people with whom we have connected, the relationships with our Kenyan family and a profound love of Kenya and all that she holds.


– A poem by Bridget Dore, dedicated to Madiba (Nelson Mandela)

Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We know you,” Africa said,

“We have seen and watched you,

We can learn to live without you,

But We know

We needn’t yet.”

And Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said.

“It is always with you,

There inside your head.

Our rivers run in currents

In the swirl of your thumbprints;

Our drumbeats

Counting out your pulse,

Our coastline,

The silhouette of your soul.”

So Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We are in you,” Africa said.

“You have not left us, yet.”

© Bridget Dore

We all get teary each time we read this as its sentiments  apply to how we feel about Kenya and the roots we have grown there.


The Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Nyumbani Village Day of Remembrance by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2016

The Day of Remembrance was our on our last evening in the Village. Although it was a very hot afternoon when we were setting up the  luminaries,  we were blessed with a beautiful evening. This was the second year for the Day of Remembrance in the Village, a cermonial evening dedicated to honoring lost loved ones. The majority of them are the parents of the children living there and the children of the grandparents, most of whom have died of AIDS. But as you recall from an earlier post, we encountered many people who had had recent losses during our stay this time including a  number of the Tuko Pamoja women, some of the Nyumbani staff, as well as our dear friend Justus who lost his brother during the previous week. There has been so much joy and laughter, but also profound sadness.

Simon, the Nyumbani Village counselor, and I worked very hard during the week to get the Village logistically and psychologically prepared for the day.

Simon, the Village counsellor, preparing the luminary bags

We had many people and groups of people with whom to meet, but not as intense a schedule as Lilian and I had had in the Village last year, since most people had previous experience of the Day. However, there was a  new princiupal at Lawson High School and a new priest, so I had the opportunity to meet with both of them to explain the purpose and flow of the ceremony. Both were very enthusiastic about the event and Father Michael talked about how he would focus the mass that was to precede the luminary ceremony. Simon, the current counselor, had already had some meetings with the primary school children, but we needed to meet with the high school  students and the grandparents. Part of the purpose was to prepare them for the day, but we also needed to undertake the task of gathering all of the names of lost loved ones to be written on the luminary bags.  With 100 grandparents and 1000 children, this was, as it was last year, not an easy task. However, when we met with the high school students we were able to engage the help of the cluster leaders. There are 26 clusters in the village, most with four houses in which reside one grandparent and 10 children!

Meeting with the high school students, including the first year students who still had their primary school uniforms.

We also met with the Susus who were  very interested in participating in the event and they too provided us with the names of lost loved ones. We asked them not to include the names of the parents of their own grandchildren that they are raising, but still the lists were sadly so long.

Meeting with Susus

We were gathering names up until the day before which turned out to also be a whole marathon day of writing the names on the  luminary bags. I handled the names collected from the children and fortunately Simon wrote the names obtained from the grandparents. We also had names gathered from the volunteers and staff.

Working on the luminaries


When Friday came, despite the frantic pace of the day before, we felt prepared, though in need of many extra hands to help set up the luminary bags. The first bag that I put down was the luminary for my son Brendan who would have turned 25 on the Day of Remembrance,  making the day even more emotionally powerful for me. Fortunately all of the KEST volunteers and the other volunteers  from the Village were enthusiastic about helping with the process which involved putting sand in the luminary bags and arranging them in an enormous circle. 

Deb captured a very special video of one of the children adding sand to Brendan’s luminary bag which was so poignant for me and evoked a lot of emotion.

It was a very hot afternoon and we were all over heated, sweaty, thirsty and dirty by the end of the process, but fortunately had an hour to run back to guest house and take a cold shower before returning for the evening. We were all feeling good about how amazing the luminaries looked, how expansive the circle was, even before they were lit. When we returned to the field in front of the social hall, people were gathering and entering the church. Once the service began in the social hall, we waited about 15 minutes then began the huge task of lighting all the luminaries so that we would have them all lit as people were exiting from the mass and after the sun had set. Despite some initial challenges with the wonderful breeze that was cooling us, but blowing out the candles as soon as they were lit, we managed to get all of the luninaries, over 400, lit as the sun had set and people were exiting. The timing turned out to be just perfect.  It was beautiful and moving in a way that words are hard to describe. People all moved around the circle which was arranged by cluster and found the names of their loved ones. Some kneeled, some sat or stood quietly and we began some glorious singing. Between songs we read every name. I read the names of the volunteers and visitors loved ones, some of whom we especially wanted to honor, such as my son Brendan, the sons who have died of a number mothers whom I know and Justus’s brother. Simon read all the names of the loved ones of the Village community. I cannot really describe the profound feeling of being there.

A clip of the ceremony; you can hear the singinng in the background.

It was so beautiful with all the luminaries lit under a magnificent starry sky and the singing was so moving and harmonious. At one point I walked into the center of the luminary circle and just stood there taking it all in, the lights, the singing, the powerful sense of community which had come together, and I felt like I was transported to a different place with a powerful connection to Brendan. The community encircled the luminaries with song and with each other and the evening went perfectly.

This was our last night in Nyumbani Village and we went back to Guest House, opened a bottle of wine, and toasted the accomplishment of the day and the satisfaction of the week spent in Nyumbani Village.

Nyumbani Village, “Wow!”

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/31/2016

The drive to and from Nyumbani Village was a beautiful one. Soon after the outskirts of Nairobi, the countryside emerged with that rich red soil and lush green of the Kenyan landscape and mountains terraced with gardens.

It is always a wonderful feeling to get away from the traffic around Nairobi into the fresh air with so much beautiful scenery. It was a long drive to the Village, but made much easier by the views and the excitement of knowing that we would soon arrive at Nyumbani Village.


Entrance to Nyumbani Village

Everything is growing well in the Village

We arrived late afternoon on Monday, in time to have a dinner of rice and githeri, a traditional Kenyan stew of beans and maize. We then began getting settled into our living quarters, but not without stopping  along the way to visit Susu Janet who is always excited to see us. We were surprised to see a very welcoming sign on the door to the guest house when we arrived. This was made by one of the volunteers who were already there, three post college grads doing short and long term placements in the Village. Kara, the Princeton in Africa fellow will be there for an entire year.

Susu Janet

We  really enjoyed working with these other volunteers.

It was the next morning when we really got a better view of what we had already realized was the greenest we have ever seen the Village. This is not usually the rainy season; that is in the summer months. However, since there had already been a significant rainfall in January, the Village was really lush with vegetation, all the shambas (gardens) were thriving and I momentarily thought I was lost on my way to the clinic becuase it was hidden from the usual view by all of the vegetation.

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Panoramas of Nyumbani Village

The Village is very beautiful

Since there were no new travelers in our group and we all had specific projects to work on, no tours or orientation were needed, and we all got right to work. Deb has been working on a memory book for all the grandparents in the Village, interviewing them and recording their life histories to be preserved for their grandchildren and other generations to come. She and the other KEST volunteers have done over 100 interviews and the book is ripe with fascinating stories, culture and history.

Karen’s goal was to further explore the issue of training and micro finance loans for students after graduating from secondary school. She did that by learning more about the polytechnic school and meeting with the staff. There is already a program sponsored by the Spanish Board in collaboration with Kiva to offer microfinance loans to Nyumbani Village alumni. Fortunately, while we were at the Village there was someone from the Spanish Board who was there to celebrate the success of bringing electicity into the homes to provide lighting, and she was also involved with the micro finance program. Karen wishes to specifically focus on the young adults of the Lea Tota programs and has been gathering a detailed overview of what services already exist at other sites in Nyumbani and, based on learning a great deal and networking with others, she is formulating a plan to address the needs of the Lea Toto community (clinics servicing families with children who are HIV+ and living in the impoverished communities around Nairobi.)

Lloydie had a number of projects to work on in the village, but major among them was teaching in the sister school program. One of the lessons was focused on a book with the theme of one person can make a difference, a philosopy she truly lives. She also delivered countless new backpacks.

Lloydie off to teach!

All of us together sat down and went over our donation funds and the request lists to determine how our donations could be best used. We were able to purchase 200 blankets and 200 sets of sheets, three first aid kits, all the needed sports equipment and will also be purchasing 100 mattresses. Thank you to our many generous donors! This is in addition to the planned purchase of shoes and socks for the 85 children of PCDA! And the many skeins of yarn, beads and other items that were donated.

Blankets, sports equipment and  first aid kits

Doaling out the yarn for basket making

3 of usphoto

Karen, Deb and I escaping the heat with a “not warm” soda from the canteen

 My work was  focused on working in collaboration with the Village counselor, Simon. My role has always been to be a consultant regarding mental health care of the village residents and some of the surrounding community. And last year my role grew to include the preparation and organization for the Day of Remembrance. I will blog about that event in a separate post. Being in the role of a consultant has allowed me to hear many of the personal stories of the children who now live at Nyumbani Village. They are powerful stories of grief, loss and struggle for even survival before they were brought to Nyumbani Village. As I have said before, part of the magic of the Village is knowing that the children who are thriving there would not have lived without  coming to the Village.

My  morning walk to the clinic

We all work while we are at the Village, we are often quite busy, but not so busy that we cannot enjoy the children or the grandparents we encounter throughout the day and especially on the walk home at the end of the day. Since the children love to have their pictures taken and I love to take pictures, I often have  fun with them by doing that. This year I brought an instant film camera and I was like the Pied Piper after the first child got of a polaroid of herself and shared it with the others.

Enjoying her polaroid!

Even the Susus joined in the fun, and the fascination, of having their own instant photos.

You can never pass a SuSu without a Kamba handshake and a Kamba greeting and they all seem to delight in quizzing us on the various greetings and responses in the Kamba language.

The Susus

But for me, I most enjoy a chance just to engage with the kids, get a random unexpected hug or my hand held, and, of course to take pictures of their beautiful faces.

I enjoy it when I get to see the kids playing  and feel especially lucky when I am able to catch the children rehearsing a dance performance.


The  girls practicing a dance performance.

And the little girls wanting to join in!

Whether it is chirping weaver birds, clucking chickens, dancing and singing children or spirited grandparents, the Village is always bustling with the simple things of life.

And in the evening, night falls often with the sound of children singing and a most beautiful starry sky. The finale for our week was the Day of Remembrance and I will write about that in my next post.


Star trails photographed at Nyumbani Village

About the title, it is very common in Kenya, when you say something that pleases someone for them to reply “Wow!” or “Imagine!”

The Women’s Workshop, Micro Finance, and Team Lucy

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/26/2016


DSC00244Saturday was the Fourth Annual Women’s, a day of learning, collaborating and bonding for the women of Tuko Pamoja. Every year we think it can’t go any better and somehow it does. We came together in the morning at Dimesse Sister’s Retreat Center where the sisters had prepared chai and mandazis (yummy Kenyan “doughnuts”) to start the morning. The women started arriving and signing in, looking lovely in their best clothes. They had an opportunity to socialize a bit and then we had opening remarks about the goals and the agenda  for the day.


We then all headed  off to Kazuri Beads where they were to get some training from the staff there. Kazuri Beads is a place we visit every year and is a model example of a socially responsible business. From their website:

KAZURI, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began in 1975 as a tiny workshop experimenting on making ceramic beads made by hand.

At Kazuri Beads they are also committed to opening their factory for tours and sharing some of their training, marketing and other tips. Not only are disadvantaged women from the slums bussed there, but they also have on site daycare and a medical clinic. The owner is very dedicated to  his workers and keeps all of them employed during lulls in the business. The goal of bringing the Tuko Pamoja women there was to have them meet with the production team and with the marketing staff in the on site retail shop. The staff  were VERY generous with their time and teaching, and the women were enraptured with the business and very inquisitive with their questions. One woman remarked at the end of the day “I never knew something so beautiful could come from the ground I walk on!” The production team emphasized the dire importance of several levels of quality control and the ongoing need for new product design—both concepts which we had been working on in the individual groups all week.

Touring the factory and learning about quality control

Learning about marketing customer service form the store staff and the owner, himself

Discussion at Kazuri Beads

Following a very successful visit to Kazuri Beads, we all headed back to Dimesse retreat where the staff had prepared a very plentiful traditional Kenyan meal and the women all ate very heartily. Then we headed to Kibera.DSC00343

Places and people in Kibera

After lunch we left for Kibera to visit the Power Women’s Self Help Grou. We selected this location because this is an example of a self help group who have made a lot progress in establishing themselves. We drove into Kibera so were able to see more of life within the area. Children always flock to greet us with waves and choruses of “How are you? I am fine!” Once inside the Power Women’s workshop the women were given a presentation of the history of the group which began as a simple self help group doing crafts. The women were able to save enough money to rent a shop and then went on to develop a beauty parlor (“saloon”  :))with the help of generous benefactor  and finally a daycare. They were able to provide the women of TP tips about further success emphasizing the concepts of saving and working towards a goal. And the women had an opportunity to see the daycare and beauty parlor.


At The Power Women’s shop

We then went to a meeting area in the Lea Toto site of Kibera to carry on the program. Karen presented to the women how to keep a ledger of income and expenses and to save a little money on a regular basis. The concept of keeping a record was entirely new to the women and they were glued to the presentation and each followed along filling in the ledger beginning with the 3000 KS there had been given as a bonus.


Karen, Susan and Simon doing the financial skills presentation

Then Lilian and I took the lead and talked with the women about the effects of stress, stress management and techniques for dealing with it. We led an exercise on deep breathing and the women were quite enthralled with the idea that they could actually do something to decrease their own stress levels. Sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference in Kenya. After the program was finished, we asked the women to give their feedback on what they had learned during the day and we were thrilled with their comments as we felt that we had succeeded in really helping them to learn some crucial skills. They remarked about each site visit, the financial skills presentation, managing stress and more. One women from PCDA spoke eloquently to thank us for traveling so far, leaving our work and our families at home to come to Kenya to create this workshop for them and for working with them to help them become more successful.

Maggie, our Board member from Amani led the closing remarks which were truly inspired and focused on working together, sharing and supporting each other, the real concept of “Tuko Pamoja” (we are together in Swahili).


Maggie addressing the group

We thanked all of the site administrators for each group and the Kenyan Board and all of the Board Members joined together to thank the women for all of the hard work they do and to reinforce that we are all bonded and working together.


The Board of Tuko Pamoja

Then each of the members were given a formal certificate of attendance, congratulated and presented with a gift bag of basic necessities: maize flour, sugar, oil and salt.

Gift Bags

We ended our day in a large circle holding hands and singing a beautiful song taught and led by Lilian who always does a laudable job in the capacity of celebration with song. Then she instructed us that we could not leave the group without hugging at least five other people. That wasn’t at all a challenge, and some of us likely hugged over 30 other people. It was a heartwarming ending to a day that felt like it had gone perfectly.

Lucy joined us for the day and her brother Charles came later as he was in a Red Cross training all day. You may recall that both Lucy and Charles grew up in Nyumbani Village. Currently Lloydie is sponsoring Charles in his education as a hotelier. Lucy is attending Kenyatta University, sponsored by Team Lucy, which includes Deb, Karen, and me along with two other women from the states, Carla and Marguerite. Lucy and Charles returned to Dimesse Retreat to have dinner with us and to spend the night. We had a wonderful time catching up during dinner. Lucy is a very bright responsible and sweet young women, who despite being on a tight budget, always brings a gift for each member of the team. This year she brought us each an envelope with a picture and a bracelet beaded with each of our names.DSC00490

Team Lucy


Lucy came bearing gifts

The following day was Sunday, and if we are in Karen, we always head over to Nyumbani Children’s Home to go to church with the children and this time Lucy and Charles went with us. We met Protus, the Director of the Children’s Home who returned from being away because of a death in the family.  We talked with him, as we had talked with Sister Mary, about the difficulties which we had encountered in Customs and tried to brainstorm some solutions. Following the always jubilant, singing, drumming, dancing mass which is very  much directed towards speaking to and interacting with the children, we went off to tea with Sister Mary. That gave us an opportunity to discuss some other issues about the Nyumbani programs. We had a really delicious lunch at Spurwing travel which is next door to the Children’s Home and is where Justus is employed. We all savored having some delicious home cooked food, especially being able to eat a salad, all of which we really miss while we are here in Kenya.

Right after lunch we had the pleasure of meeting with Michael who is the son of the Spurwing owners and is a very successful attorney and business owner at only 23. He was extremely helpful and very generous with his time in offering the history of developing his businesses and some information about micro finance loans as that is one of his businesses. All week Karen has been meeting with various people within the Numbani  Programs toward the goal of creating micro finance opportunities for the young people served in the Lea Toto programs. Becoming self sustaining with a reliable income is an extreme challenge for them and beginning small businesses is a much greater possibility than a actually finding a job. Michael offered some excellent insights. Meeting with him as well as people art Nyumbani has helped Karen to come up with a preliminary plan to help with a program in this area. This would could make a difference in many people lives if it can move forward. Michael was also helpful to Lucy since she will graduate with a business degree and he offered to  facilitate the process of her finding a suitable attachment (i.e. internship).

Our other tasks for this welcomed low-key day were to purchase the necessary items for students who are going into high school.  This is always a boarding school in Kenya and requires school fees as well as supplies to live in a dormitory. We  brought one of the new Form I students ( a freshman) with us as we went off the the local Nakumatt (the Kenyan equivalent of Walmart) to get the supplies. The list included many things,  among them was a pillow and mattress, bedding and other daily necessities. All of us remember this student as a little girl so its hard to believe that she is now moving on to high school. The school year begins in January in Kenya.


Once finished we went back to Kazuri beads, this time to do a little shopping, but not until after we had to say goodbye to Lucy and Charles who, for most of us, it will be a year before we see them again. It is ALWAYS so hard to say goodbye in Kenya, even when it is “See you next year.” At the end of the day we were reorganizing and repacking to head to Numbani Village the next day after a planned meeting with the self help group in Mukuru in the morning. These low key days are always relative; they are easier than the days with events like the Women’s Workshop, but still packed with more things than I can put into this blog. We always go to bed tired, most often too late, but with a true feeling of satisfaction. I will explain more later, but it has also been a day of much intense laughter as well as sorrow and tears as we encountered  more loss among our Kenyan Family, loss that resonated very much with my own experience.


And the sun finally came out so we could enjoy much outside in the backyard at Spurwing!

Joy, laughter, and sorrow

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/22/2016

It has, of course, been a busy couple of days like all our days here in Kenya as we have continued on with agenda of meeting with the Tuko Pamoja women’s groups. Yesterday was an adventure before we even got to our first destination because there was a huge long traffic jam and muddy terrain in Nairobi that turned the usual half hour drive into two.  You can get held up by traffic, bad roads, really bad drivers, chaotic rotaries, and sometimes even herds of goats. We always say that Justus has nerves of steel to be so relaxed driving in the city, especially on double lane rotaries where there seem to be no rules about the order of entering and exiting!

The route to Dandora

 Yesterday we were in Dandora (another of the Nairobi slums) meeting with the women of the Vision Self Help Group. I have great affection for all the women’s groups, but I have a special place in my heart for this  group because they were the first self group who I met back in 2010 when I made my first trip to Kenya. Back then, before Tuko Pamoja was conceived, they amazed and inspired me with their courage, grace, and warmth. It was at that time that I realized that I was not only going to fall in love with the children, but also to have a powerful bond with the women. All of these women are raising at least one child with HIV and most are HIV+ themselves. Many are powerful examples of the concept of “living positively with HIV”, some are outspoken advocates and some are community health workers, volunteers who reach out to other families with HIV+ children.

When we arrived in Dandora, it was a tremendously joyous welcome, “You have come home to your family in Kenya!” There given hearty hugs, kisses on both cheeks, and many wishes of “Happy New Year!”

We settled into a meeting together to do the work of Tuko Pamoja and Jacqueline shared that the group has been going through some “troubled times.” She listed the family members who the women had recently lost: one husband, many siblings, a teenage daughter and more. There are only twelve members in the group so as the list went on I felt overwhelmed with the sorrow of the group that touched my own experience of loss. This was a sad reminder of how loss is such a frequent experience of everyday life in Kenya where HIV is widespread and other diseases that would be treatable in the states are commonly fatal there.  When I noticed the sign below on the wall of the clinic, I realized that I hadn’t thought about cholera since medical school,  and even then it was a lesson of what had happened in the past. The teenage daughter of one of the group members died of pneumonia. Its a reminder of what we take for granted in the states despite the problems in our health care system.DSC_1132

After acknowledging the multiple losses we moved on to spend an uplifting time together. A part of each of the meetings has included Justus telling about his experience of coming to the states and what it was like for him to be present at two Tuko Pamoja events. He is the best person to describe what the events are like and how we represent the women and their work. He was very enthusiastic, animated, and charming in his detailed descriptions, but we, of course,  didn’t understand more than a couple of words since he spoke in Swahili. When Lloydie announced that Justus is now the Tuko Pamoja director in Kenya, all the women were thrilled and offered up applause and that distinctive Kenyan trill that we have come to know so well. Like all of the other groups these women were exuberant to hear our experience of hosting events and most especially of the success of sales, feedback of customers, and finally most exciting of all was to hear that they would be getting bonuses!

There is a lot of affection in this group; something that is evident in the photos and in the insistence of some of the women that they give us gifts from the inventory of their own crafts.

It is always so hard too say goodby ands the goodbyes are long with song and another round of hugs, more song, more hugs….photos of the group, photos of all the women who are grandmothers…….


The Grandmothers (plus one)


Vision  Self Help Group of Dandora

We were late to depart form Dandora and caught in traffic on our way to our next destination, Amani, a women refugee cooperative where we visited with Maggie, one of our Kenyan Tuko Pamoja Board members,  and did some “socially responsible” shopping from all of the hand sewn and crafted items there. Maggie is one of the sweetest women in Kenya who is a huge asset to the Board and she kept the store open an extra 2 hours just to accommodate us.We fortunately did not have to say any long term goodbyes since Maggie will be at the women’s workshop tomorrow.

Today we went to Kibera paper, another group whom I met early on in my Kenya travels and who also holds a special place in my heart. However before departing, we ran into two nuns from St. Joseph’s who were at Dimesse sisters for a conference. And one of them happened to be none other than Sister Ida who managed to top her first story about the coming of Pope Francis. She told the story of how she was personally in charge of the Pope’s vestments and had to keep the safe in her room and then get them to him. It was difficult getting through all the security, was raining and the roads were muddy such that when she opened the garment bag, she was mortified to find that the garments were mud stained. She then demonstrated with great animation how she washed and blotted the stains away (phew!) but then the Pope had to wear a wet garment. She also entertained us with the the story of the six cakes that were prepared for the celebration with the pope and how, when they were left unattended , a couple of dogs got into their frosting. Once again she had a very funny demonstration of how she “fixed” those cakes and they were still served. She had us all in stitches and was the comic relief for the day. We laughed until we cried and  continued to joke about it through the rest of the day and again when we spied her in the dining room in the evening.

It turns out that she was the saving comic relief for the day as when we arrived at Kibera paper there was not so much merriment. Kibera paper is where the women who live in Kibera, the largest slum of Nairobi,  come together and make beautiful hand crafted cards from recycled business paper.

 The sight of Kibera viewed from the highway  never stops being a shock as you see the masses of rusty corrugated metal roofs. The exact population of Kibera is elusive through it is unquestionably one of the most crowded places on the planet.

Kibera (Nairobi skyline in the background)

When we first arrived at Kibera paper we were puzzled as the entrance was closed and no one seemed to be around. But we were greeted by a couple of the women who filled us in on what had happened in the last month. The women’s work space has been in a building on the grounds of a church. This was an arrangement between the church and the Australian founding board. There is also a Kenyan Board, all men with no representation form the women. There is a school on the grounds of the church as well and the the school has needed to be expanded. The Kenyan Board had been informed in 2014 that Kibera paper would need to find a different location since the school expansion would require building in the area in which they worked. The Board never acted on this and never informed the women. The story has some more complexities, but the result was that the women lost their work space. It was literally demolished. All of their benches and tables were placed in a container which became  locked from the inside when it was moved. Fortunately their inventory of cards remained in storage, but they had not been able to work without space, were not able to fill the Tuko Pamoja order,  and had not had any income for over a month.


Former Kibera Paper work space


However, since the women had so many beautiful cards in their huge inventory, we were able to fill the order with other cards without a problem and to fill other orders we had each brought from other customers. So we carried on with the day as planned. Deb and I have a tradition of doing an art project with the women and this year had planned something really different. We brought beads and supplies for them to make bracelets which turned out to be a perfect project under the circumstances.

Making Bracelets

While that activity was going on we looked through the inventory for all of the cards to be purchased, about 500 in total. Being paid for so many cards was a huge lift to the women’s spirits. We all worked together to package them with envelopes and complete the orders. Since there is also a school on the grounds and the children were outside playing we attracted a lot of attention and curiosity from many adorable faces there in our temporary meeting space.

Filling the orders


Those adorable school children in there red uniforms

When we met with the women all together,  we shared our concern with the current space situation and a commitment to try to help them, as well as the success of the year, feedback about how people really love their cards, and announced the bonuses.When we announced the bonuses, the looks on their faces were filled with relief and emotion. The woman beside me, Celine, just buried her face in her hands. We gathered together for chai and the women had made samosas for us, the best ones we have ever eaten.

We finished  our meeting with mutual expressions of gratitude and affection, a prayer and wonderful singing of a song in Swahili that I love and for which I have learned the chorus. One of the women with a lovely voice led the verses, the women sang in beautiful harmony and we sang along with them. This led us to the long and somewhat tearful goodbyes. Its remarkable how most of us only see these women once a year, Lloydie sees them twice a year, and we have such a powerful bond.  They call us their sisters and never fail to say something so touching in the departure that I am moved to tears. We carry each other in our hearts.

We finished off the day with preparation for the Fourth Annual Women’s workshop to be held tomorrow. This is always one of the highlights of each year’s trip and every year it seems to get better. Lloydie and I were talking earlier about how each day here is amazing and always brings something unpredictable that leaves us in awe. Tomorrow will bring the same.


Bougainvillea from the Dimesse Retreat grounds

Three busy days for Tuko Pamoja

We have had exciting full few days since I last blogged. There are so many stories that I would love to tell that I could write a book, but I can’t possibly include everything. The major focus of this whole week is to visit the sites of the women’s self help groups with whom we collaborate in Tuko Pamoja (swahili for “we are together”). We began on Monday by visiting 2 groups located in the different compromised communities (i.e. slums) surrounding Nairobi. Our first stop was in Kawangware where we received a warm and affectionate greeting at all the women with lots of hugging and wishing of “Happy New Year!” The agenda for each site visit is the same: to remind people of the mission and philosophy of Tuko Pamoja, to update the women on the progress of the year and give out bonuses, to share the feedback which we receive about the women and their crafts, to pick up the order for the next round of events in the states and to see what new crafts they have made and which we might promote in the future.



The women of the Kawangware Self Help Group

One issue that we have particularly emphasized this year is making sure that all the women within each group teach each other how to make all the crafts and that the work, and therefore the income earned, is equally distributed. The philosophy of TP is that everyone works together, shares,  and by doing so strengthens the group. We want to discourage competition within and between the groups and promote working together.

Looking for new product designs

In addition, Karen has also been working with the women on their finances: opening a bank account, showing them how to balance their account, how to budget, and how to save. It is a requirement to have a group bank account to be part of Tuko Pamoja, but we also encourage the women to have individual bank accounts. Karen has been working with each group of women and she has had a captive audience as they listened to everything she said and practiced keeping a financial ledger.


Karen teaching about finances

In the afternoon we at Dagoretti meeting with the Self Help Group based there.

One of the highlights of the meeting, in addition to bonuses of course, is when we share with the women the wonderful feedback which we receive from people attending Tuko Pamoja events and writing comments in the guest book.

Bonuses always bring a round of applause

Comments from the guest book are well received

I always tell the women that at my event one of my favorite parts is to have a presentation in which I explain the history of Tuko Pamoja, talk about the women’s lives, and talk about the rich and meaningful bond which develops between us. I cannot help getting choked up every time I say that I am very proud and honored to represent them. We also tell them that hearing about them, their stories, their lives, impresses people so much that they want to buy more of their goods. At the end of every meeting is a prayer and a round of joyful singing.

Singing with the group at Dagoretti

While at Dagoretti we got a chance to catch up with Bernard, a young man who grew up at Nyumbani Children’s home and is now employed by Nyumbani as the IT expert in the Lea Toto clinic at Dagoretti. Bernard is an exceptionally nice young man who provides a powerful example to the younger people of Nyumbani with his success and work ethic and his desire to give back to the community in forming a Nyumbani graduates self help group. However, the best part of catching up with Bernard was learning that he has become engaged to marry Grace. They both brought us to their home right near the Lea Toto Clinic and showed us their rabbits. Bernard received a microfinance loan to get the training and loan to begin raising rabbits which he can sell to others. It’s a little difficult to think to think of those sweet bunnies entering the food chain, but this is Kenya and sources of protein are not plentiful.

Bernard, Grace and the youngest member of the bunny family 

We had a very full day on Monday and felt good about the work and our connections with the women. We went to bed tired and early knowing  that the next day would also be a very busy one.

On Tuesday we headed to Kiserian to visit the Maasai community of PCDA. The ride was on a road with the largest, deepest and most incredibly plentiful potholes that it was beyond anything we have experienced in Kenya before…..and Kenya has such a reputation for potholes that “potholes” is one of the words in my rather limited Swahili vocabulary. It was also along some of the most beautiful scenery as we drove past the Great Rift Valley.


Before arriving at the community we picked up Philip, the director,  along the way so that we could go shopping for the supplies for the school lunch program: maize meal, beans, powdered milk, oil and sugar. We had even more of an adventure because it has rained for part of every day since we have been here and there is an enormous amount of mud everywhere, especially on the streets of Kisersian. During this time we also had an opportunity to get an update from Philip. The structure of the school was holding up well since the roof had been replaced and there is a project in motion to get water into Maasai homes. This would be huge as water is such a commodity and during the dry season is in really scarce supply. The mud was to become an even greater issue when we arrived at PCDA and got very stuck in it! However, the determination of Justus, our driver, and Phillip along with a helpful passerby eventually got us out of the mud, but not without some some serious strategy,  a lot of muscle and nearly swallowing up some shoes.

The mud! Our van was in deeper than this car!

All of that was soon forgotten when we arrived at the school to be greeted by all of the Maasai children who were very excited to see us. The first order of business was to unload all of the food supplies and then we got to spend some time with the children.

Unloading the school food supplies

Our greeters!

We often do enrichment projects with the children, but this visit more time was taken in getting there, buying the food and getting extracted from the mud, that we didn’t have as much time as usual. However there was time for visiting the different classrooms, rounds of singing and the older children showing off their progress in learning English.We sang with the children and the children sang for us.We could tell simply by observation that the children needed new uniforms and especially shoes.


Time for new uniforms and shoes

“Eensy Weensy Spider”

And the children sang for us!

Following our fun with the children, we left the school to meet with their Mommas, the PCDA self Help Group of Tuko Pamoja. Last year when we were there we helped them to paint their workshop which donation funds help to build. They were extremely proud of the now finished and furnished workshop and excited too share it with us.

Meeting in the work shop

We had a Tuka Pamoja meeting in the workshop and were very impressed by the space and how organized the women were with their orders. We were very surprised at the end of the time to learn that the women had cooked a full meal for us as large pots and pans of stew and chapatis came trailing down from the houses. It was a time to enjoy a meal together, to  see some of the children who were now out of school and to visit with the women. We finished the day feeling very gratified as the relationship with this community has come a long way from the first year when the women seemed unsure about trusting us to now being very warm, grateful and seeing us a part of their family.

Enjoying the Maasai women and children

We drove home along the Great Rift Valley once again and another round of rain held off until after we did our traditional photo of “flying over the Rift Valley.” We also stopped to see “Jane the soap lady” who used to wave to us and say “Happy New Year!” as we drove past her each year. Last year we actually stopped to see her as she sat in her wheelchair by the side of the road selling soap. Now that is a tradition too and and she is always overwhelmed and touched when we stop. DSC_0897

Flying over the Rift Valley

Stopping to see Jane the soap lady

Today we visited two different places in Kangemi; one stop was to meet with the women’s self help grump and the other was to catch up with an old friend, a nun who was formerly stationed at Dimesse Sister’s Retreat and to see the work that she is doing in a new facility bordering Kangemi. We were also to meet with her about the possibility of adding another women’s group to Tuko Pamoja. We weren’t sure what to expect from the facility in which she now works, but were sure that any time spent with Sister Rhoda would be quite spirited!

We toured the facility of St.  Joseph and learned about the programs that they offer and some possible ways that there could be some sharing of experience and knowledge between the polytechnic school there and at Nyumbani Village. One of the parts that impressed me the most is that they have a program especially focused on women from the Kangemi slum which included a maternity unit that offers both prenatal and postpartum care. This is much better care than what most pregnant women get in poor ares of Kenya. They also offer HIV testing and HIV preventative medication during pregnancy for HIV+ women to prevent mother to child transmission. What impressed me even more than all of this however, was that they have a good understanding of and intervention for postpartum depression and pregnancy loss. They could use a much better infant incubator and we had a discussion  about that, but even if we could find one to be donated, getting it there and paying taxes and tariffs would be very challenging. Its something I would like to pursue trying though…

The Maternity Unit

In addition to maternity care they have another medical clinic, primary and secondary school and a polytechnic school. Their biggest claim to fame, however, is that the vestments worn by Pope Francis were made there and he came to see who made them and to visit Kangemi. In fact he drove into the slum and did a church service there and Sister Rhoda was very proud to share the details with us. She described him as saying that he was “not there for the Catholics, but there for humanity, ” and that he stopped and touched and blessed each disabled person when he came into the church. I wish I could convey Sister Rhoda’s sparky personality. The best way I can think of giving you a glimpse is by quoting her when she wanted some of us who will go unnamed who were holding up the group by still talking: “People of God! Lets move it!”

A visit from Pope Francis

The streets of Kangemi

Sister Rhoda and meeting people in Kangemi

We also met Sister Ida, an older nun, originally from Italy, while we were there. She told us that she wrote a long letter to the Pope before he came to Kenya and she only just wanted to see him. She made a connection with the security people who were in Kangemi to provide protection for him. They kept her informed about how she might get close enough to see him and eventually relayed the message that she was the nun who had written the very long letter. She ultimately got to meet him and described herself as shaking as they had a warm embrace. And she “didn’t know how I got up the courage but I asked him if I could give a kiss.” And he replied that she could as long she didn’t bite him” and so she did. I could never convey in my words how wonderfully she relayed the story with her spirited animation and Italian accent, but it was quite entertaining!


Sister Ida who kissed the Pope!


The St Joseph’s sisters and the KEST volunteers

We made two other stops in Kangemi, one to visit a self help group under Sister Rhoda’s wing who she thought could be an addition to Tuko Pamoja and the other with the women’s self help group of Lea Toto in Kangemi who have been a part of Tuko Pamoja since the beginning over four years ago.  We carried on the same agenda as at the prior meetings, but this group had some challenges which needed attention and which we were able to eventually work through.

The Lea Toto Kangemi Self Help Group

We ended the work of the day on a very good note and headed home from Kangemi as it started to rain once again. It has been a gratifying few days with the women of Tuko Pamoja and an opportunity to meet some interesting people, dare I say characters,  doing very good work in the slums of Nairobi. I have countless other pictures that I could post and many more stories than I could possibly tell, but I am finishing this post in the wee hours of the morning, hoping I didn’t miss too many typos and in serious need of some sleep before we start another busy day.


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…again.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/11/2016


I cannot believe its been nearly a year since my last post. Despite the lack of writing, Kenya has been very much on my mind, our Kenyan friends have been very much in my heart, and the bond with  my fellow volunteers has been as strong as ever. Although I haven’t traveled to Kenya since last year, the work of Tuko Pamoja has been quite active and it has been a very successful year with many events to sell the women’s  crafts. We also had the joyous and truly fun-loving experience of welcoming Justus to the U.S. this fall.

The opportunity to come to the states was something Justus as well as his family never imagined happening. However, those of us who live here were not any less excited to welcome him as warmly as he has welcomed us in Kenya. Lloydie planned a very full itinerary for Justus  (imagine!) and kept him busy with teaching at the sister school to Nyumbani, taking in the sights in Washington D.C., and best of all, a reunion for KEST volunteers at the Little Squam Lake  in New Hampshire. There were many hugs, happy reunion tears,  much laughter, and a poignantly difficult time saying goodbye to him at the end. I was lucky to avoid the goodbyes in knowing that I would see him in Kenya in January.


Justus adding a pin for Kenya on the world map at Castle in the Clouds


Justus had an opportunity to experience real New England: lobster rolls, local history and charm, the mountains and lake, a full Thanksgiving Turkey dinner, s’mores (yes, that are really sweet, Justus!) and a lot of teasing about our New England version of Safari and whether or not we would have a real moose sighting.

Justus will welcome us in Kenya in just a few days; we will be excited as always since he is one of the people there who is like family on the other side of the world.

I was fortunate to co-host with Judy Marblestone the final Tuko Pamoja event of the season at the Frontier Cafe for the forth year. The staff there is very supportive of what we do, the set up is perfect and we have the opportunity to do a presentation in the theatre which is part of the cafe.


It was an extremely successful event, not only selling many of the Kenyan women’s crafts but also getting to tell their stories, which is equally important. It was also another great reunion opportunity for some of the other New England KEST volunteers to gather.


After event gathering at Judy’s

However, we are nearing the close of the great preparation, the efforts which go into the planning of events in Kenya and transporting donations.IMG_6711

This is our itinerary for this year; the infamous color-coded schedule prepared by Lloydie, masterful organizer, fearless leader, sometimes task master, and now dear friend to all of us, and well known to half of Kenya! it will as always be a packed trip with visiting the Nyumbani Children’s Home, the Tuko Pamoja sites, the PCDA Maasai community, Nyumbani Village and more. There are only four of us traveling this year, but each is working on a special project and all will be participating in the Fourth Annual Women’s Workshop. We will all be welcomed in the warmest possible way as we are have all made numerous trips to Kenya before and are looking forward to being with our family across the globe once again.

I just received the Nyumbani Newsletter and in it was an article written by friend and fellow volunteer Kristen. Her words so resonated with my feelings that reading it brought tears to my eyes. She said it so well that I will share it.

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We begin our travel on Thursday, Lloydie,  Deb, Karen and I, and all have a lot to do before take off. But each year, the excitement mounts as we count down the days to being once again at our home and with our family in Kenya.


My next blog post will be from Kenya, that beautiful country that runs through our blood.

Words Left Unsaid about the Day of Remembrance

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

Having departed from the Village and trying to squeeze in a blog post in the wee hours of the morning showed me the next day that my haste and weariness had caused me to upload the wrong, long unedited video clip talking about the event. I also neglected to upload the video about lighting the luminaries. Since this was one of those “you just had to be there” experiences, I really wanted people to experience a little bit of what it was like through the video clips. I am grateful to other people, particularly Justus, for providing me with photos and videos. I was so busy making sure that everything was going properly that I didn’t have an opportunity to use my cameras. It was a bit of a challenge to get all the luminaries lit and then we were all anxiously worried that some would go out before the mass was finished so filming wasn’t on my mind. Amazingly enough, everything went perfectly–all of the luminaries were lit despite lighters that were either not working or searing our fingers, a hefty wind that blew out matches as soon as they were lit, and luminary bags which required a lot of sand in the bottom to keep them from blowing over. It felt like a bit of divine intervention that it was perfect in the end.  So I am including here the correct video clips and wanted to add a couple of meaningful things that I neglected to mention.  In addition to lighting a luminary for my son Brendan, I also lit luminaries for several other mothers who have lost their sons and a close family friend who had lost his brother all under tragic circumstances. So I want to let those mothers know that I lit luminaries for Orlando H, Benjamin B, Jake H, Greg M. and George W. and that all of you were in my thoughts during those moments of silence as well. I also wanted to be sure to say that this first Day of Remembrance was held on Brendan’s birthday, the day that he would have turned twenty-four. This was the first of what will be annual Days of Remembrance which will hopefully over time play a role in the healing of the grief of the Nyumbani Village children and many others of us who have been impacted by grief and loss.

If you get this post by email, you should be able to click on the videos and be taken to the website to view them, but if you have trouble go directly to the my blog site and you can view them there.



We have been winding down the trip and spent the weekend going on safari in Ambocelli and Lake Nakuru and visiting the Kiambethu Tea Farm. I will have MANY wonderful photos to post from those adventures since we had very successful and exciting animal sightings.  I am now sitting in the airport in Nairobi typing after many tearful goodbyes that seem to get harder every year even though I can definitively say, “See you next year.”  So I will keep blogging some more of this trip to stretch it out and keep it actively in my heart as I return to life back at home which seems so much still like a distant time and world away.

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



The Women’s Workshop and so much more…..

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/25/2015


Group photo from the Women’s Workshop

So much has happened since I last posted! I have had to rely on photos and stories from the others for much of this post and was so disappointed to have missed out on so much. I was really sick for three days  (high fever, headache and GI disturbance) so had to stay back completely for 2 days and one day when I tried to make the trip I spent most of the time like this:


No fun to be sick and miss everything!

I want to say however that I have never in all my prior trips to Kenya been sick before and I think I did my own self in by temporary stupidity with how I processed a grapefruit for eating, so don’t be discouraged by coming to Kenya by my experience.

On Friday we went to Kazuri Beads, stopped at lunchtime at the Elephant Orphanage, and then moved on to Kibera Paper for another  Tuko Pamoja Event. The trip to Kazuri Beads had a threefold purpose: to confirm the plans for participating the Women’s Workshop; to learn about and tour an example of a very socially responsible,  community and family focused business;  and to do some “socially responsible” and delightful shopping from their beautiful collection of bead items. Kazuri beads has been in existence for decades, employs and busses to the location 100’s of women from the Kibera slums, and provides on site child care and medical care. The women get higher wages than at most businesses and are treated extremely well. The newbies got a full tour and the retreads spent time in the two largest workshop areas handing out sweets and enjoying the joyous experience of an extremely warm welcome with song and dance.

Workers at Kazuri Beads

Workers at Kazuri Beads

The "monkey feeder" at Kazuri Beads

The “monkey feeder” at Kazuri Beads

The longest employed woman at Kazuri Beads has worked there for FORTY years!  And in case you are wondering, Kazuri means “small and beautiful” a perfect description of all their beads.

From  11AM to noon each day, visitors are welcome at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where the rescued baby elephants cared for there are brought out for feeding. Most of the elephants have lost their mothers to death by poachers in pursuit of ivory. The young elephants are rescued, nursed (really, with giant baby bottles and formula!) and fed, and then later released back to the wild. For all of us it is an opportunity to see prime wildlife conservation in action as well as to have the heart melting experience of truly being up close and personal with these adorable babies.

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Following “lunch with the elephants” we set off to Kibera Paper to have the Tuko Pamoja meeting and to see this business on the edge of the Kibera slums which employs over 20 women and a couple of men from Kibera and who make beautiful cards, each a handmade work of art, on homemade paper recycled from paper discarded by businesses. As in each of the prior sites we had the TP meeting reporting the year’s success and giving out scarves and bonuses. Last year, not only were the women given individual bonuses, but each TP group was also given a 5000 ksh bonus to start a bank account. We learned that the group made a commitment to growing their bank accounts by each women contributing 100 ksh ( about $1.10) per month such that their account is now over 2900 ksh! As n all the other sites I filmed a demonstration of products made– the beginning to end process of making the paper and creating a card which involves so much work! And, all the volunteers were able to learn how to make paper and help in making cards. This is a wonderful group of warm women to be amongst, they welcome us heartily and it is always so hard to leave! Kibera paper is located at a church where they rent space and beside a school so we always get to enjoy the children when they come out for recess.

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Some little Kibera school "monkeys"

Some little Kibera school “monkeys”

The following day was a packed one,  which I sadly missed completely, but was dazzled by reports and stories later. New volunteers spent the day at the Children’s Home in various activities with the children in their cottages and outside, and Judy and Valerie also returned to their much-needed counseling roles. Visiting the children in their cottages and playing with them outside serves several purposes: providing enrichment lessons, some one on one attention, a lot of physical affection, a much-needed break for the cottage Mommas…..and, of course, good fun all around.

Kristen and th hildren at NCH

Kristen and th children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

At dinner we all were treated to some very heartwarming and FUNNY stories by Jon about his time with the children; Jon is the quintessential story-teller, complete with animated voices, humor and endless anecdotes so you can just imagine how much fun the children had with him. Irma and Megan also had fun in their cottages and Judy and Valerie had some intense counseling experiences. Also while at NCH, Kristen continued the process of giving out the scrubs to all the medical and respite workers who were thrilled to receive them.

Giving out the scrubs

Giving out the scrubs

While the others were at the Children’s Home, Lloydie and Deb were at the Third Annual Women’s Workshop. When they returned at the end of the day and told me the story of how amazing the day was, I was teary for being sad to have missed it, for being touched by how much the women were engaged and learned,  and laughing in tears for a near food mishap (a midday report that all the food was “spoiled” and we still don’t know what that meant since it was fine.) The workshop was different this year. Two people from all of the Tuko Pamoja groups attended and went to three successful business sites to learn from their success. First in the morning they met at Dimesse Sisters for mandazis and chai and then headed off to Kazuri Beads. There they toured, but also learned valuable lessons from the manager about the importance of quality control and from the staff in the retail shop about displaying items and customer service. They ALL asked lots of questions. When Lloydie was reporting about this she said very excitedly, “It was as if I had scripted it to emphasize everything we have been trying to teach!”

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Following the time at Kazuri Beads, the group travelled to the Power Women’s workshop in Kibera and were very inquisitive and mesmerized by seeing this successful business which grew from another self-help group that began in  very similar way to all the other Tuko Pamoja groups. Evelyne, who is the president,  and also a TP board member, described the history of the group, challenges and successes, and also gave a tour of their shop, beauty salon, and day care center. The women enthusiastically asked many questions and were very inspired.

At the Power Women's Shop

At the Power Women’s Shop

The final destination was Amani Ya Jou, where Maggie, also one of the Tuko Pamoja board members, is employed. She also gave the story of the group, a cooperative of women refugees, all with horrendous hardships, who were “rescued” by their experiences of being trained there and of being together. One of the messages that she emphasized was that if you have “something inside of you” (difficult or good) you should never hold back, you should always share; that can only help others and help you. Talk about a message that was perfectly delivered! Following the tour and talk at Amani everyone sat down for lunch there. It was an “American lunch” of tomato soup, grilled cheeses and more, typically on the menu at the Amani Cafe and enjoyed by all.

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Following lunch it was time for the women to give feedback, get certificates, and get goody bags. I am told by Lloydie and Deb that they were “blown away” by the women’s feedback and cried, even sobbed through some of this. Jacqueline from Dandora stood up with both hands to her forehead and exclaimed, “From this day forward, I am changed!” She went on to talk about how she learned she could be a much better leader for her group, could be much more vigilant about quality control and how she felt that the group needed to display their products differently. One after one, the women gave feedback which echoed that and more, and went FAR beyond the expectations of the day!

The workshop wound down with the giving of certificates and goody bags ( basic food items like flour, sugar, lard, etc) and the women oohed and aahed at each item pulled from the bags.

Giving goody bags and certificates

Giving goody bags and certificates

The day ended with a group photo and, as all events end in Kenya, with a prayer and a song, actually several of both.  Most especially however, it ended with the powerful sense of the smallness of the world, the way in which we are all connected as human beings, and the true spirit of Tuko Pamoja, “We are together!”

Group photo of Women's Workshop

Group photo of Women’s Workshop

We Are All One Family

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Gratitude, HIV in Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/19/2015

Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen's Home

Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen’s Home

It has been an incredibly full two days since my last post. It often very difficult to find words that truly convey the experience of being here in Kenya. Every day, many times day, there are so many things that touch our hearts so deeply that we are moved to tears again and again. The last two days have certainly been no exception.

I want to give people a glimpse at the Dimesse Sister’s Retreat Center where we stay for a week as well as to introduce the volunteers. The interior lodging at Dimesse is very simple, but the exterior grounds are extremely beautiful, like being in the middle of our own private botanical garden when much of the world nearby is som ugh different. If there is time in the morning before we depart I like to take a brief walk and take it all in.

Dimesse Retreat grounds

Dimesse Retreat grounds




We all meet together in the morning before we depart which is a time for reuniting with Justus, talking about plans for the day, and often sharing some fun moments or stories from the day before. We also meet up with Charles, a former child of Nyumbani Village who is in college and doing an internship with KEST.

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

We returned to Nyumbani Children’s Home on Sunday and began the day by going to church with the children and staff. The mass  is a jubilant, joyous, singing, dancing and clapping experience when the volunteers, staff, cottage parents and most especially the children come together. The children were dressed in their “Sunday best” with the girls in skirts and dresses and fancy shoes, often with something sparkling in quite unique combinations, and the boys in ties, vests, and dress up clothes. All except the babies came, with the younger ones sitting in the front and the littlest on people’s laps, perhaps yours if you are a lucky volunteer. It’s always very interactive with priest speaking to the children, drawing them in with questions, and teaching them a valuable lesson. The children form a beautiful choir accompanied by drums and instruments and there are young dancers for every song. You will get a sense of the adorable young girls with the gift of rhythm from this video clip.

At the end of the mass, Protus Lumiti, the Director, always goes up to the front and thanks EVERYONE (the singers, choir, drummers, speakers….) each followed by a hefty round of applause with musical accompaniment. The volunteers always are thanked and this time we were all called to front along with Lloydie and we were introduced including the number of years we have been coming. As Lloydie talked about the return volunteers and why we come back, she explained that being here in Kenya, being with the children, has so opened our hearts and changed our lives such that, by the end, many of us stood there in tears.

After the church service, we had an opportunity to have tea with Sister Mary and the staff which was also a time to catch up on what’s happening within the Children’s Home, the successes and the challenges. We then all went off to various activities. Judy and Valerie continued their group counseling and will return next weekend to do some individual counseling. We also visited the cottages where the children live, each retread and newbie volunteer together with an assigned cottage. We were able to see the children in their homes and speak with the cottage parents. Judy and I were in Cottage E visiting the children, but also talking with Mom Jane who has been working as a house parent for 15 years. She has raised four children of her own and now she is raising a second family of fourteen. It is opportunity for us to interact and provide the house parents with support and to learn about them. The children are happy and spirited, but also very well behaved, affectionate with each other and very responsible in doing chores such as cleaning up after the tea and snack, without even being asked.

We were also able to visit children in the Respite Program. The children cared for there are children referred from the Lea Toto clinics providing outreach care to children with HIV. They come to Respite Care because they are too ill to be cared for in their families and require inpatient care. The most frequent reason for admission is malnutrition and the children come for intensive nutritional intervention. Most return to their families in the slums, but some who are too sick, become residents of Nyumbani Village.

Children of the Nyumbani Respite Program

Children of the Nyumbani Respite Program

By the end of the day at the Children’s Home, we were all dragging, feeling the effects of jet lag, too little sleep, and two days full of emotion. We returned to Dimesse Sister’s retreat long enough to freshen up, take a brief walk, or organize donations and then set off on the evening plans. We had a planned dinner out as an entire group with our guests being Lucy and her friend Anne from Kenyatta Univrsity. Some of us have a very  special relationship to Lucy who grew up in Nyumbani Village in the same “family” as Charles. Lucy is a very delightful young woman whom  we got to know at Nyumbani Village as she helped with the Memory Book project and in other ways. She was a very good student, scored high on the national exams, was assured acceptance at the university, but had no way to fund her attendance. With belief in her capabilities and affection for her as a person, and with Lloydie’s assistance, we formed “Team Lucy”, a group of five women (Deb, Karen, Carla, Marguerita and me) who committed to financing Lucy through 4 years at the university. Although Lucy feels very fortunate, we all feel honored to support her and that we are having a wonderful and heart warming experience doing so because she is a very special young woman. We keep in touch through the year and Deb, Lloydie and I were thrilled to have her and her friend Anne join the KEST group for dinner. We enjoyed talking with both of them about their future plans and goals and we were very surprised and extremely touched when Lucy brought out a bag of gifts for “Team Lucy.” In each gift was a tee shirt from Kenyatta University, a photo, and the sweetest, most heartfelt note of gratitude. This brought tears to some of us, which completely overflowed as we turned the shirts over to find “We Are One Family” on the back. At that point even the KEST travelers, who didn’t even know Lucy prior to that night, were in tears.

Lucy with Lloydie, Deb, and me.

Lucy with Lloydie, Deb, and me.

We are One family..

We are One family…..

The entire dinner was a fun time with sharing, humor and much more, but the experience with Lucy was moving in a way that I can’t possibly describe. So we all went to bed very tired, but happy and full from the day, hardly believing that it was only our second day in Kenya!

Today we moved on to different plans at a different site, but since every day in Kenya is rich and full with a yet another amazing experience, this day was no exception. Today we began the series of Lea Toto Clinic visits and Tuko Pamoja “business meetings” with the women’s self-help groups. We traveled to Dandora, one of the slum areas of Nairobi, with Tuko Pamoja Board members (Lloydie, Deb and Lynn) meeting with the women of the self-help group and the others meeting with the clinic staff and going on home visits.

When we arrived, as is always the case, we were greeted with high spirited singing, dancing and hugging to welcome us. This group, the Vision Self Help Group, was the first Lea Toto self help group established and the one with which we have the longest history. All of the women care for HIV+ children, both biological and foster, many live with HIV themselves, and all craft to support their families. These are inspiring, amazing, and persevering women whose strength and grace has overwhelmed me since I first met them in 2010. We shared with them the success of the last year in selling their products, many of the lovely and poignant comments left in the guest book by people in the States who have attended Tuko Pamoja events. We also had the pleasure of handing out bonuses because of the success of sales of the past year. The women are always overwhelmingly grateful and not shy about expressing that.

Deb meeting with some of the Vison Self Help Group

Deb meeting with some of the Vison Self Help Group

One of the other goals of our meeting, and at each Tuko Pamoja meeting to come, was to do video of a demonstration of making one of the products. I had the pleasure of doing that with Margaret who demonstrated how to make a spiral bead bracelet.

At the end of our time there all of the volunteers were able to shop heartily from the women’s crafts. It wasn’t until our usual dinner time debriefing that I heard about the experiences of the new volunteers who did home visits with Lea Toto staff and volunteer community health workers. The purpose of home visits is to do outreach to families who have an HIV+ child receiving care at the clinic. Hearing about their experiences brought me back to my very first visit to Kenya when I did my first home visits. They talked about the extreme poverty and terrible conditions that they saw as they passed through the alleys of Dandora where they found trash and streams of raw sewage. However inside the tiny tin houses, the size of a small bathroom in the States, lived families of many members in miniature living quarters were kept extremely clean. They were welcomed with grace and gratitude and the people shared openly their situations and struggles. Judy told us of visiting household, with a grandmother who has cared for her three grandchildren for many years since her daughter died. The oldest, an adolescent girl, is HIV+ and doing well on ARV treatment, despite the enormous challenges of living in severe poverty.

Home visting in Dandora

Home visting in Dandora

They talked about the hardships, but also the blessings in life, and shared humor and mutal family experiences. Then while the volunteers were engaged in talking with the grandaughter, her grandmother, in act of gratitude, and with severely limited resources, slipped out and returned having bought each vistor a bottle of soda, a real treat in Kenya. This is the Kenyan way that we have experienced again and again: having very little, but still being grateful, gracious, and wanting to share with others. We often feel that we are the ones being given to in so many ways, that the world becomes smaller although we have traveled long from halfway across the globe and that we are indeed all one family.

We are in Kenya and thrilled to be here!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Gratitude, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/17/2015

The KEST group has arrived after a LONG journey from home. The traveling wasn’t without a hitch because we had quite a turbulent flight and when we arrived at the airport there were a few issues with our VOLUMINOUS luggage filled to the brims with donations. We are truly a sight and a subject of much curiosity at the airport! However many of us were delighted beyond words and with joyful tears to be reunited and working together again and to see Justus with his good spirit, great smile, and big hugs there to greet us at the airport.

Taking the airport by storm!

Taking the airport by storm!

Some of this year's volunteers--you will see them all over the course of this trip.

Some of this year’s volunteers–you will see them all over the course of this trip.Valerie, Judy, Irma, Kristen and Deb

We finally made it to our lodging at Dimesse Sisters retreat at 2:30 AM–a very tired, but happy crew thrilled to be back in Kenya or to be here for the first time. We are a group of nine this year, our fearless leader LLoydie, four repeat travelers known as the retreads (Deb, Kristen, Valerie and me) and four new to KEST, also known as the newbies (Judy, Irma, Megan and Jon.)  After a few or a couple (or less) hours of sleep the KEST group met Justus to head out for the day. However, before that, we spent some time with Justus with a special presentation.



Justus is now working directly with KEST as the Assistant Trip Director, doing many different things including lots of legwork, driving arrangements, organizing events along with Lloydie and providing the best Kenyan hospitality. Jon later in the day said that you hear Justus’s smile and that was very aptly put. So Justus was presented with his new KEST business cards, lots of praise and appreciation, and a number of gifts from back home including new sunglasses sent by Karen Geiling. He was very humble and so touched by this acknowledgement and appreciation.

Then we were off to spend the day at Nyumbani Children’s Home with our first stop there being a meeting Sister Mary Owens, the Executive Director of Nyumbani. This is always a wonderful way to start our time at all the Nyumbani Programs because Sister Mary gives us the latest updates on all the programs, the most current knowledge about treating children with HIV, and new program developments. My weary sleep-deprived brain was trying to keep up with reporting all the details but it was less than reliable when it came to writing this post. We talked about many different issues including the effect on development for children who have HIV, the impact of the medications and the unfortunate risk for developing drug resistance, the challenge of fostering self-reliance for children who grow up in the shelter of the Numbani programs and the fact that rate of new infections HIV  is now beginning to decline (although the numbers of people living with HIV is ever

Deb and the children

Deb and the children

increasing.) particularly interesting to me was that prevention of transmitting HIV to infants born to HIV+ mothers is very effective with proper prophylactic medication. It is not however widely available to all the population in Kenya.

Nyumbani Executive Director, Sister Mary Owens

Nyumbani Executive Director, Sister Mary Owens

Equipped with a wealth of information about HIV and all the programs (I am always impressed by Sister Mary’s range of knowledge)  , the new volunteers had a tour of Nyumbani Children’s Home including the very advanced HIV testing lab, and we set out to work (and play) with the children and the staff.

There is always a lot of excitement, many enthusiastic greetings, and much hugging when the children see that we have arrived. Now that this is my fifth trip to Nyumbani it is s wonderful to see how the children have changed so much overreach year, to be able to have a conversation with that child who was a baby in my lap a few years ago or even with one who is finishing high school.

Hugs all around

Hugs from Lloydie and Deb

The faces of the children

The faces of the children

Playing at Nyumbani Children's Home

Playing at Nyumbani Children’s Home

More fun and faces.

More fun and faces.

Being around the children, who are enthusiastically invested in play time on Saturday is really a joyful experience. Much of the time they look like energetic happy playing children. This is an adorable, giggling video of the children looking at the photos on Deb’s camera–a must watch!

Hair, our hair, always attracts a lot of attention from the children and is a curiosity that they loke to get their hands on. Deb had quite a number of children wanting to touch her locks with curiosity, but the BEST was their fascination with Jon’s beard and the way they like Ed home to Santa Claus complete with the children saying “Ho Ho ho! And Merry Christmas!” Check out the video of the children admiring his beard–it really will make you smile!

Hair at Nyumbani Children's Home

Hair at Nyumbani Children’s Home

In addition to talking to, playing and providing our hair to the children, we were involved with other activities. Valerie and Judy were long-awaited to me with the adolescents in a group counseling role. Although I am heavily invested in mental health issues at Nyumbani Village, they were snatched up by the staff at the Children’s home to provide some much-needed counseling and a forum for talking about issues that they otherwise may not have an opportunity to address. They will meet with them again tomorrow. The other volunteered got acquainted and visited with the children in their assigned cottages. We all got to eat lunch with the A/B boys (adolescents) and the silver lining to the kenyan teachers strike was that some of the boys who are away at boarding school or college were home at Nyumbani. This created a very. Ice  opportunity for us to reconnect with wonderful and lively conversation at Lunch. I got to concerns with Thomas with whom I had spent time with prior to going to boarding school and it was great to reconnect with him and so many others.

Serendipitously I had an opportunity to meet with Bernard and Edwin who are two Nyumbani alumni successfully out in the world and employed. We talked about the challenges for the children in becoming self- reliant and employed after they leave the Children’s. Both of them are successfully working to de sol a self-help group. for alumni. So far there are 7 members, they have opened a bank account and they have received the government certificate. After 6 months of saving some money into the  bank account earned by doing “casual or temporary labor” they will be eligible for a government loan to help them develop businesses. Bernard was very excited with what they are doing with the encouragement of Nyumabani. It was align ant statement when he said that even if some of them are employed they can’t be happy unless their brothers also have a job and will work toward the goal of everyone being steadily employed and perhaps beginning their own businesses. This will be one way of helping to address the transition from the shelter of Nyumbani to becoming self-sufficient.

Meeting with Brenard about the COGRI self-help,group for Nyumbani alumni.

Meeting with Bernard about the COGRI self-help,group for Nyumbani alumni.

Everyone had a packed, full day despite all of our weary and sleep deprived brains and everyone returned smiling, happy and ready to get some sleep, but only after a lot of sharing about our days and the children after our dinner.  Although I am staying up much too late to write this post, I wanted to do it because there is so much to talk about at the end of a day. We will return there tomorrow for activities , more counseling, visiting with the children in our assigned cottages and so much more.

Returning to Kenya in Just Eleven Days!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/03/2015

I am returning to Kenya for my annual volunteer trip in just 11 days. The last year has been personally a very difficult one laden with grief, but the return to this beautiful country and these warm and gracious people truly lifts my spirits. I am also so very excited to be once again in the company of my good friends and fellow volunteers and the new travelers who will join us. The eastern members got together at my annual Tuko Pamoja event in the fall and excitement was running high.

The east coast travelers

The east coast travelers: Kristen, Lloydie, Judy, me and Valerie


Kristen is returning with her wonderful smile!


Yes, excitement was running high..

Lloydie and one of the boys from her cottage at the Children's Home

Lloydie and one of the boys from her cottage at the Children’s Home

Deb with a child at the Children's Home

Deb with a child at the Children’s Home

I am looking forward to meeting the new travelers, to reuniting with Deb  and Lloydie for our fifth trip together,  and so excited to have Judy, my friend and colleague, joining us for the first time! We will miss Karen and Jen so much, but will await the news of the arrival of Jen’s baby while we are in Kenya. There are so many people in Kenya who I am excited to see, but most especially at the top of the list is Justus, our trusty driver with Kenyan nerves of steel, our reliable guide sherpa and protector, and most of all our dear friend.

Justus looking at photos with the children near Kibera Paper

Justus looking at photos with the children near Kibera Paper

Justus our good friend, guide, driver and more with Kristen

Justus our good friend, guide, driver and more with Kristen

As is always the case, we have a full agenda, many projects to do, places to go and people to see. For part of the first weekend,  we will spend some time at Nyumbani Children’s Home. Going to Kenya year after year it’s wonderful to see how these children, all orphans who are HIV+ continue to grow and thrive.

One of the most popular fun activities at Nyumbani Children's Home

One of the most popular fun activities at Nyumbani Children’s Home

Valeris joined in the face painting last year

Valeris joined in the face painting last year

We will also visit each of the Tuko Pamoja sites and have a business meeting and a wonderful dancing and singing visit with all of the Mommas at each of the Tuko Pamoja sites to which we can drive from Karen outside of Nairobi. This is when we will review the success of Tuko Pamoja over the past year, especially sales in the U.S., place orders for the next year, give bonuses, look at new crafts etc. We have a long history with the women in these groups much affection and a powerful bond from years of working together, sharing our lives including successes and hardships. Here is a little gathering of video clips to give you a peek at what the time is like.

We will visit the Tuko Pamoja groups in the slums around Nairobi as well as the Maasai community of PCDA. There we not only visit with the Mommas, but also bring donations of support for the school and the community including the lunch program, supporting access to water and much more. We also do enrichment programs with their gorgeous children who are all lively and eager learners. I have some of my best time filling the role of the official photographer there taking many photos of their beautiful faces.

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

PCDA Maasai Women

PCDA Maasai Women

On the second weekend, on Saturday, we will host the third Annual Workshop for Women, when women of each of the Tuko Pamoja groups come together to improve their business skills, marketing and product development, increase their pride and improve their sense of personal wellbeing. Two years ago, when we held the first workshop, it became one of my all time favorite days in Kenya. The gathering together of diverse groups of women from within Kenya, together with us from across the globe united in a common cause was powerfully moving. When we all sang together, hand in hand, gathered in a circle in beautiful harmony at the end of the day it was magical. I get teary when I think about it now and I remember looking across the circle to Deb and we both had tears streaming down our faces. Be ready to be moved new volunteers!

Tuko Pamoja Women"s Workshop group photo

Tuko Pamoja Women”s Workshop group photo

After we spend some more time with those beautiful children at Nyumbani Children’s Home we will head off to start our second full week by traveling to Nyumbani Village, about four hours away from Nairobi. There it is will be much hotter and very different than the time that we have spent near Nairobi. In the Village, where 100 grandparents raise 1000 AIDS orphans, life is more rustic and in keeping with traditional Kamba culture. During the day the children are at school in their school uniforms and many groups of them will pass by and greet us to and from on their way. Though they will be quite enthusiastic, these  are nothing like the greetings we get from the shoshos or grandmothers who walk down the paths in the Village and will be singing and dancing as they greet us with the special three part Kamba handshake. They will teach this and some greetings in Kamba to the new volunteers with boundless enthusiasm and ALWAYS break into dance at the sight of us. In the evening, the children will be out gathering kindling, climbing trees, playing together, and as night falls we will be under the starriest sky you can imagine.

Nyumbani Village

Nyumbani Village

Nyumbani Village children in the school yard

Nyumbani Village children in the school yard

Many happy beautiful faces at Nyumbani Village

Many happy beautiful faces at Nyumbani Village

Some fun loving boys at the Village

Some fun loving boys at the Village

We have many projects planned in the Village which is a place steeped in culture and rustic living, but very advanced in farming and sustainability projects.  The grandmothers have a tradition of making beautiful baskets and are the final group of Tuko Pamoja women whom we will visit. As the sale of their baskets is their sole income, and the Village is very focused on sustainability, one of our projects this year will be to support (with the generosity of our donors) and participate in the planting of 5 acres of sisal, the main fiber of their baskets. Then the grandmothers will be able to harvest and grow their own rather than having to purchase it and the Village will be another step closer to full sustainability. I won’t personally be planting as I spend most of my time volunteering in the counseling center, but other members of the group will be planting sisal and doing a whole lot more.

Traditional Basket weaving at Nyumbani Village

Traditional Basket weaving at Nyumbani Village

As part of my psychiatric volunteer work, I will consult to the two counsellors in Nyumbani Village  on their most challenging clients and continue to address the issues of grief and loss in the Village. This will include the first Day of Remembrance, a luminary ceremony dedicated to acknowledging family members lost to AIDS for the children, grandparents and staff of Nyumbani Village. This will also be a legacy to the memory of my son Brendan and to the lost children of other mothers I know. We have packed 1500 luminaries to travel to Village, one for each child, grandparent and staff. Having a remembrance ceremony and lighting all of them in the evening as we all sing under the skies will be a moving and beautiful scene which I cannot fully imagine ahead of time. That will take place on our final evening in the Village which will be on my son Brendan’s birthday, a wonderful way to honor his memory.

With Lilian, the Billage counselor

With Lilian, the Village counselor

Nyumbani Village as night falls

Nyumbani Village as night falls

There is so much more I could say about the Village because it is one of the most special  and magical places on earth,  but I will save that for posting when I’m there. After we wind down our week at the Village we will have a couple of days of fun and hopefully a little more rest as we head off on safari with Justus as our guide to end our trip. Stay tuned to hear many stories that will touch your heart and many new photos when I blog contemporaneously from Kenya where my first post there will be the 100th post in my blog!

My all time favorite photo taken on safari

My all time favorite photo taken on safari

Visiting with the Mommas of Tuko Pamoja

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2014

Woman from Kibera. Paper and her daughter


Our first week in Kenya has been structured around doing site visits with the women with whom we collaborate through Tuko Pamoja. On Monday we were in Kangame, on Tuesday we went to Dagoretti and on Wednesday to Dandora to visit the women’s self help groups associated with the Lea Toto clinics at each site. The first four site visits have been with self help groups whose members all live in the slums around Nairobi in very compromised conditions. Poverty is an everyday challenge. I first met the women of Dandora, the Vision Self Help Group in 2010 and was so moved and inspired by the way in which they shared their stories of incredible stories–about being HIV+, having HIV+ children, extreme poverty, struggles with illness, yet were also community activists about HIV, community health workers doing outreach to other families with HIV+ children and raising many orphans. They were candid, passionate, and had such warmth that they have a special place in my heart. They are also the longest running self help group begun about 15 years ago by a Nyumbani nun! Sister Little (she is little and feisty!) she brought in someone to train them on beadwork and they quote her as saying “If you need money, don’t sleep.” In other works, make your crafts and she would find a way to sell them. 

Group photo at Dagoretti

A bonus for Simon Wasike, administrator for the Lea Toto self help groups

Florence from Dandora and her daughter


Fingers and toes braiding beads


We have had similar meetings at each site, sharing the success of Tuko Pamoja, the growth of the product sales, and how we are marketing their goods. We share with them that people buying their crafts are given a little insert telling about the women, Tuko Pamoja, and showing a picture from the group that makes the craft.  The women are thrilled to know that people in America want to hear their stories and appreciate their crafts and art. We often hear words like “miracle” and “blessing” and gratitude flows abundantly. These women are truly touched by comments written to them in our event guest book as if they can’t quite believe it. We have not finished all the interviews and photos that allow us to feature each woman and story on one page of the site book, so we have also been finishing these.  This is an opportunity to have a one on one conversation and a more powerful connection with each woman. When we ask the women about their greatest challenge, the overriding answer by far is that poverty is their greatest challenge–the inability to be able to get money for rent, school fees or even food for their children or themselves. They pay testimony to the fact that Tuko Pamoja has helped, but life is still very difficult. So continuing to grow Tuko Pamoja is a powerful mission.These women live incredibly hard lives, work very hard, yet still are kind, warm, generous and very supportive of each other and of us. When we announce that they are getting a bonus that just bring the house down. In fact, at Dandora we had women in tears, one of whom had been called to take her son out of school because she couldn’t pay his school fees and now she was able to do so. 

Tears of joy for the bonus at Dandora


Many hugs!

On Thursday we went to Kibera to visit our Mommas of Kibera Paper who make gorgeous cards from handmade paper. I also have a special place in my heart for this group because Deb and I have done art exchange projects with them and have so enjoyed this collaboration. They are also a group with incredible heart and gorgeous singing voices to which we get treated every time. They do their work in space that they rent at a school in Kibera and are located right next door to the school where the children come out to play. They are absolutely adorable children in red school uniforms who love to have their pictures taken and whom we recognize as growing a little taller each year. New visitors to Kibera  paper always have the opportunity to make cards and paper so Valerie spent time doing that with Leah! a fine teacher. As at all the sites, we had a wonderful visit, exuberant enthusiasm about the growth of sales and purchases and overwhelming emotion in response to bonuses. This is a heart warming, heart filling experience with these women. It’s hard to describe the warmth, affection, and love that they pour out for us, their American sisters. 

Today we are off to PCDA, pastoral community Development Alliance, the Maasai community,  another group of women who craft and are part of Tuko Pamoja. We have a big surprise for them….

Valerie and Leah

Outfitted in Kibera paper work kangas

Beautiful baby of Kibera Paper Momma

Karen doing an interview at Kibera paper

Group photo at Kibera Paper

Justus looking at photos with enthusiastic children

Beautiful face!

So cute!

Playing in the school yard beside Kibera Paper






Our first few days back in our Kenyan home

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


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!

Winding down the trip…with good food, good fun and more!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 02/10/2013

Up close and personal...

Up close and personal....
Up close and personal….

So I am home now but there is still a lot that I want to share about our trip. We worked very hard on the trip, in fact it became a running joke that the definition of free time was having 3 free hours with only 6 hours of work to do in them! I have to say that we accomplished an enormous amount and it all felt tremendous.We did however save a little time for fun and relaxation at the end. The drive back from Nyumbani Village was very scenic and enjoyable as we were once again able to see beautiful countryside with mountains and terraced gardens or just people carrying on with life in Kenya.




However, the best things that we did on the drive back from Nyumbani Village was to stop at Wamunyu Carvers and the Giraffe Park. We had stopped at the carvers last year and I think it will now become a regular tradition. It is a men’s cooperative of gifted carvers who make many things out of wood and are fascinating to watch since many of the tools they use are larger than the delicate animals they carve….and they all start with a log!


One of the carvers working on a giraffe

Working on a giraffe

Working on a giraffe


Story of Wamunyu Carvers

Story of Wamunyu Carvers

Not only do you get a tour and an opportunity to talk to the carvers, but you also get a chance to then shop from the huge store of hand carved wooden goods at far better prices than you will find anywhere else in Kenya. The only problem is deciding what to buy! Wamunyu carvers is not far from Nyumbani Village, but on the other end of the drive in Karen, just outside of Nairobi, is the Giraffe park where they rehabilitate rescued giraffes and are trying to raise more of the endangered Rothchild’s giraffes in captivity. Those are the species that look like they have on white knee socks. Before we could get to the giraffe park we hit the dreaded traffic pile up near Nairobi and it would have taken us about 3 hours to get through the city. So Justus our trusty driver and friend took us on one of his famous short cuts. This was the back way to avoid all the traffic and get what is affectionately known as a free “African Massage.” We had been on bumpy roads before (there are many in Kenya, but none quite like this one with holes capable of swallowing up half a car!) But it truly was a shortcut with a sense of humor and Justus was our hero once again.

The short cut

The short cut–this wasn’t the worst part, but a part I could hold the camera still enough to shoot

Once we got to the giraffe park the giraffes were being “called” by the park rangers into visit us and so that we could feed them. They weren’t anywhere in sight at first but they gradually made their way toward the gazebo like stand where we were all waiting with a crowd of other people.

You can barely see them here...

You can barely see them here…

and then they got closer

and then they got closer

Then closer

Then closer

Then much closer!

Then much closer!

I even got to feed one!

I even got to feed one!

They were not at all shy about getting close; many of us got to feed them and some people even got giraffe kisses! They are quite beautiful animals up close .


Beautiful animals!

This ended our fun on the way home from Nyumbani Village and everyone had first and foremost on their minds getting to the Spurwing guest house for the night where we knew we could take a long-awaited shower and would have something, anything other than Village food, for dinner. Having stayed in a cluster house with no electricity and no running water under hot conditions and having been running around in the red Kenyan soil for the week too, we were all feeling like a shower would be so heavenly. Having stayed at Spurwing in the past and knowing that they are good friends of Lloyd assured us of a great meal as well so we were in high spirits. We all emerged for dinner a little giddy with joy from being clean again. The following day we had on our agenda–packing–our personal things including all the things we had bought for souvenirs and gifts, finishing the distribution of donated items, and packing up the purchased Tuko Pamoja items to fly home with us all in duffels weighing less than but as close to 50 lbs as possible. We had another stop to make at the Children’s Home and I had a meeting with Lilian to debrief her about all the patients I had seen. We were however also scheduled to do something fun and relaxing that day by visiting the Kiambethu tea farm in Limuru, a wonderful place to learn about growing tea, see the gorgeous tea fields, drink tea, and have a delicious lunch of homemade food.


Entrance to the Kiambethu Tea Farm

Tea Fields

Tea Fields

Perfectly sectioned tea fields

Perfectly sectioned tea fields

The garden at the Tea Farm

The garden at the Tea Farm

The house at the tea farm

The house at the tea farm

All of us being entertained by the Colobus monkeys on the roof

All of us being entertained by the Colobus monkeys on the roof

A very welcome lunch at the tea farm

A very welcome lunch at the tea farm

Going to the Kiambethu Tea House is a lovely relaxing experience. Fiona, the owner, gives a talk on the history of the farm and the history of tea growing in Kenya which is the largest exporter of tea in the world. Upon first arrival there are tea and biscuits on the veranda to go with her talk about how tea is grown and processed. Then there is a walk through the neighboring deciduous woods followed by juice wine or cocktails before lunch. Lunch is served outside on the lawn and is wonderful and homemade with lots of fresh garden vegetables especially enjoyable for us vegetarian types. And for dessert ice cream made from milk from the cows they refer to as the “ice cream makers”. And the delicious tea that we were served can also be purchased at a steal to take home.

After the tea farm we went back to finish up a few more things as most of us, all but Lloydie and Deb, would be departing that night. I had made arrangements to meet with Lilian at the Children’s Home for debriefing and still had one very important delivery to do there as well. I had to deliver a letter and more importantly hugs to Hannah from her sponsors Emma and Marie back in my home town. And then, of course it was irresistible to visit the other children who we hadn’t seen since last weekend even if we were interrupting their dinner–we just couldn’t help ourselves!

Hannah with a letter and picture from Emma

Hannah with a letter and picture from Emma



Kid's shoes of one household

Kid’s shoes of one household

And so this was our last day in Kenya–a day with a little relaxation and lots of beauty to remind us of all of this country has to offer, a day of some hard goodbyes, yet we’ll be back next year, a day of already reminiscing about this amazing trip and work well done and already planning new things for the next one. I’ll keep blogging about this one for a while since I have a couple thousand photos and parts of the trip I haven’t shared yet. Thank you all to my fellow travelers and volunteers and especially the most incredible Lloydie Zaiser, my soul sister (even if she doesn’t know the definition of free time 🙂

Maize grows everywhere!

Maize grows everywhere!