Watoto Wote Wazuri

We are in Kenya!

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


Nyumbani Children’s Home

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


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

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


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

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

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Meeting with Sr. Mary

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

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

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

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



The playground at NCH

These are some of the children at NCH.

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

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








Returning to Kenya…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.

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


Posted in Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 10/05/2014
First slide of the presentation

First slide of the presentation

I want to dedicate this blog post to my mother who passed away far to soon this summer and was an amazing woman in her own right. She is the one who taught me at an early age that all people are created equally and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness regardless of race, disability or other ways of being different from me. She was also a “Momma” with strength, resilience, and grace who was my best teacher about generosity, compassion and love.

My Mom

My Mom

The busy fall season of Tuko Pamoja has begun with home parties, markets and bazaars scheduled in many places! This is when we take all of the beautiful crafts that the Kenyan women of Tuko Pamoja  have made to sell on the road. Equally as important as selling their wares is telling their stories–that these are amazing mothers and grandmothers who live in poverty, raise their own children and many others, have suffered enormous hardship, but still live their lives with grace, resilience, and strength.

Yesterday was the day for my Tuko Pamoja event–the third annual such event which was hosted at the Frontier Cafe, whose staff, especially Emily,  provide us with wonderful support and whose philosophy supports the kind of work that we do. When I looked at the perpetual African Wisdom Calendar for the day, this what I found:

So appropriate!

So appropriate!

Perfect wisdom for the day which turned out to be a very successful one. Lloydie, Bill and Sidey arrived from Maryland toting hundreds of pounds of ware for my event and another one scheduled in Hanover Vermont today. As Tuko Pamoja has grown it has been much more to manage so kudos to Sidey for organizing, coding, branding, and creating a masterful warehouse in Lloydie’s basement.

Sidey at the checkout

Sidey at the checkout

Only a portion of the hundreds of pounds

Only a portion of the hundreds of pounds

We had a wonderful display and so much inventory to capture people’s interest, both those who came by invitation and those arriving to have a meal at the Frontier who were interested and even enamored with the crafts we had to offer and the story behind them. The Frontier is a wonderful place to host this since they also have a theater where I can do a presentation, along  with Lloydie and her boundless enthusiasm. My presentation was focused on telling the story of how Tuko Pamoja came to be, “introducing” the women and giving people a feeling of why we do this work–because we love the mothers and grandmothers, and the children they are raising. People can see that buying their crafts helps them to survive in poverty, but also to thrive with pride. My presentation was the story, but also the heart of Tuko Pamoja and the difference you can make in peoples lives, and them in yours. I always enjoy presenting this, but the experience has so touched me (and the others involved) that I never get through it without  getting choked up and shedding tears. I have come to expect that…

Sign provided by The Frontier who included us the "events" on their website

Sign provided by The Frontier who included us the calendar of events on their website.

Baskets from Nyumbani Village

Baskets from Nyumbani Village


A small section of our display of crafts.

Lloydie telling two impromptu shoppers about the women and the crafts

Lloydie telling two impromptu shoppers about the women and the crafts.

A young shopper admiring the children's section

A young shopper admiring the children’s section

My two college roommates, Sue and Chris, who came from out of state to support us and become happy shoppers  (many thanks)

My two college roommates, Sue and Chris, who came from out of state to support us and become happy shoppers (many thanks)

We had a very successful day, a captive audience for the presentation, wonderful inquisitive and supportive shoppers and had sales that significantly exceeded last year’s event. The Kenyan women of Tuko Pamoja will once again be thrilled with the reception of their crafts and the comments to them in the guest book as they were in this video clip:

One of the additional, quite wonderful experiences of the day is an opportunity to reunite with past volunteers who live near enough to attend, with whom you can’t help but have a powerful bond. And since three of us who live in Maine will be going on this year’s trip it was an early opportunity for people to share excitement over dinner about planning the trip. I was thrilled to see Kristen who volunteered on the 2011 trip and and even more thrilled to know that both she and her partner Jon will be part of the travel group this year.

Spirited discussion with Kristen about getting to travel together again.

Spirited discussion with Kristen about getting to travel together again.

I am delighted to have two other people from Maine who are enthusiastic about going on this year’s trip Judy, a first time traveler, and Valerie who is returning for her second year. Since both work in the mental health field,  Lloydie is already planning their placements in our Kenya sites so they can share their professional expertise.

Five of the Kenya volunteer group for this year--already bonding over the common cause

Five of the Kenya volunteer group for this year–already bonding over the common cause. (Kristen, Lloydie, Judy, me and Valerie)

We depart in mid January to spend another amazing, touching, life-changing time in Kenya with the women of Tuko Pamoja and all of the children of Nyumbani. We all ate dinner together with family members at the Frontier after the work of the day was done, and excitement about the upcoming trip was hard to be contained and, of course, shouldn’t be.  The countdown to departure begins…


Tagged with: ,

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!

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

The Maasai Chief, Philip the Director of PCDA and KEST workers pose for a photo in front of the Rift Valley

We have been with the Maasai community of PCDA (Pastoral Care Development Alliance) for the past two days: we have loved and taught their children (and they have taught us), heard of their challenges and tried to help with some of them, sung and dance with beautiful Mommas and bought their goods, “broken bread” together and had a wonderful time of getting to know each other better.

The ride to Kiserian and beyond to their community was rich with culture and beauty as we drove to the opposite side of the Ngong hills (remember in” Out of Africa” Karen Blixen says, “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”) with views of the Rift Valley. We met Philip and his assistant Kristen in Kiserian where we picked them up to drive with us to the community. We had already previously met with Philip one evening a couple of nights earlier to discuss the needs of the community and how best to support them.

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Kristen

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Christine


The drive to PCDA

the Maassai school

The Maassai school

When we arrived at the school the children were all outside waiting for us with plenty of excitement and enthusiasm and then swarmed to greet us after we first drove by to use the facilities which were a little more welcoming (remember ALL is relative in Kenya) at the nearby church!

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Greetings from the Maasai children

Greetings from the Maasai children


Sarah and Jill’s introduction to a pit toilet 🙂

Before we actually got to spend time with the children, we met with the chief and various other leaders of the PCDA community about our plans to offer support and to learn more about some of the challenges that the community is facing. One of their biggest challenges is adequate water since they are pastoralists and rely on having herd animals as a constant source of milk and meat which are their main dietary components. Currently their only reliable source of water is that which is piped into the community from a bore hole owned by a company which charges them by the liter and it is very expensive, The overarching challenge is poverty so having to pay for water is a huge expense. Since KEST has been involved they have been able to make improvements in their school such that they are not far from becoming a government accredited school which will offer them some federal funding and relieve some of the financial burden of running the school. They are very determined to properly educate their children and one very articulate woman got up and spoke about how the key to educating a community is educating a child and that her dream is that someday the Maasai women will achieve the equality that white women have achieved. The traditional Maasai Culture is very patriarchal, but they are working to make some changes such as educating all children, not just boys, and hoping that their children can someday be leaders in the country.

Maasai chief

Maasai chief

We did a number of projects with the children that morning: making fans, making masks, and I took a Polaroid photo of each and everyone of them to take home to their Mommas. I had the very helpful assistance of Karen as the camera was clearly not designed to work that hard all at once, but the children were so thrilled and so patient as they waited their turns. We will make additional photos like these to give to the children in Maine who sent their art work over to this community. While we were finishing up their photos, the rest of the children and the KEST workers and staff had a football (soccer match).

One child showing his photo with its "frame"

One child showing his photo with its “frame”

With their masks!

With their masks!

Maasai children in the classroom

Maasai children in the classroom

The soccer teams

The soccer teams

We joined Philip, the Director, the teachers and staff for lunch under a tree with a wonderful, welcome breeze that offered some relief from the heat. We met a few parents of the children at the school through out the day but also went to the homes of some of the families in the afternoon.

Typical boma or Maasai home

Typical boma or Maasai home

Baby goats are protected from predators inside the boma--I loved petting this one!

Baby goats are protected from predators inside the boma–I loved petting this one!

Deb with Josephine

Deb with Josephine

Having determined what were the most pressing needs of the community that we could try to address, before we left for the afternoon we made a plan to meet Philip in Kiserian again the next morning to shop for school supplies and the ingredients to make porridge. The children were no longer getting lunch at school because there were no supplies for making it. So we shopped for three months worth of porridge supplies and provided the funding to keep it going for the next year and committed to keep it funded in an ongoing way. We also shopped for all the school supplies needed to keep the school going and thanks to one of my generous donors we were able to order gym/sports uniforms for all of the children (Thank you Marie!). When we brought all of these things back to the school there were great expressions of gratitude from staff to parents and the children who just cheered about the sports uniforms! I also presented the art supplies and from the Brunswick, Maine students, but will write about that in a separate post for them.

Karen and one of the PCDA teachers with a bag of maize for porridge

Karen and one of the PCDA teachers with a bag of maize for porridge

In the afternoon we met with the self-help group of PCDA, the Maasai women of Tuko Pamoja. We had the usual business meeting with Jane, who is a nurse in the group and one of several who has excellent English, who was able to translate for the other members. We presented them with the Membership certificate, went over the order, and paid them for the completed items. We also did interviews to get their personal stories of their lives. We had time to visit together, shop from the wares and play with a few children who were there.

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

On "onlooker" taking everything in.

On “onlooker” taking everything in.

I enjoyed the Maasai children--especially sweet little Elizabeth who so wanted me to paint her toenails red too!

I enjoyed the Maasai children–especially sweet little Elizabeth who so wanted me to paint her toenails red too!

Before departing we spent time expressing mutual appreciation and in the welcomed cool breeze in the hot sun we all swayed together as the women sang beautiful traditional Maasai music for us under a clear blue sky.

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

We headed back to home base at the Demise Sisters Retreat with a few stops on the agenda–one was a stop to meet the teachers at Philip’s son’s school because now he is in a different school because he has moved into Class 2 (grade 2) and can no longer go the Ororopil Preschool. When we arrived there, much to our surprise and extreme delight, a number of group members recognized this school from the movie, “The First Grader” , which if you haven’t seen I would highly recommend. It is a multi award-winning film which is the true inspiring and touching story of an 84 year-old Kenyan villager and ex Mau Mau freedom fighter, Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford.

Since we had all but one seen the film (although Philip did not know of its existence) and were really touched by it we were thrilled to see the school where it was filmed, meet the teachers who had played a part in the film, learn about the filming process, learn how they taught the children not to look at the camera and paid the children for their participation. Sarah was so excited she was in tears as she sat in Maruge’s desk!

Oleserian Academy--site of filming for "the First Grader"

Oloserian Academy–site of filming for “the First Grader”

Jill as "Maruge'

Jill as “Maruge’

Philip and his son

Philip and his son

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

So this was unexpected surprise, one of many that has occurred in our travels full of magical moments. I am finishing up this post at the end of the day of the First Annual Tuko Pamoja Workshop for Women (I am behind on blogging because I have a nasty cold and there is only so much you can fit into a day!) But stay tuned, because THIS day, the workshop, was pure magic!

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

We have arrived…and had a busy first day!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/19/2013
Our donation duffels gathered at Nairobi airport

Our donation duffels gathered at Nairobi airport

Finally in Kenya!! We arrived late last night, close to midnight,  after being delayed nearly two hours on the plane in London while snow was falling and the plane was getting deiced and desnowed. We were lucky to be on the early side of that snowstorm as subsequent flights were cancelled and we were so ready to finally be here! We were greeted by the warmest of smiles, hugs and shouts of “Karibu Kenya!” by Justus, our favorite, always good-spirited driver who delighted us by telling us that he would be our driver for the whole trip. We had 34 suitcases and duffels to collect before heading off the Dimesse Sisters, our lodging, where we arrived well after 1AM and got just organized to get to bed.


Jen, Justus, and Lloydie

Jen, Justus, and Lloydie

After breakfast at 8, we reunited with Justus and were off to Nyumbani Children’s Home. We were headed to a meeting with Sister Mary Owens, the Executive Director of all the Nyumbani Programs, but of course met up with other staff and many smiling children and delivered many hugs along the way as we promised that we would be back all day tomorrow to spend time with the children. it is amazing to see ho much they’ve all grown!

"Baby" John who fell asleep in my lap last year

“Baby” John who fell asleep in my lap last year



Deb high- fiving with a couple of little cuties

We met with Sister Mary to get an update about all of the Nyumbani Programs, to talk about various projects in which we will be involved, including the status of the chicken coop project and to talk about the plans for Tuka Pamoja while we are here. Tuka Pamoja is the company which we began to support the kenyan women artisans group who come from extreme poverty, the majority of which are connected to Nyumbani by either getting services through the Lea Toto programs catering to children who are HIV+ in the slum areas around Nairobi or by living in Nyumbani Village and being grandparents who are raising AIDS orphans. Sister Mary has been very supportive of Tuko Pamoja and the need to support the caregivers in addition to the children who are the primary recipients of support through Nyumbani. Following a productive conversation and pleasant visit as  always with Sister Mary, we were off to get ready for the first annual joint meeting between the U.S.  and Kenyan Boards of Tuko Pamoja.

Tuko Pamoja Board Meeting

Tuko Pamoja Board Meeting


Since this was the first time all of the U.S and Kenyan board members were together it was quite a thrill to be able to talk about how exciting it is that the first year of TP has exceeded our expectation in sales and enabled us to place an even larger order this year, to be planning a workshop for the women and to think long term about how to involve more women’s groups and to ultimately work towards helping the current women’s groups become self sustaining. There was a lot of excitement and synergy of good ideas in the air. We planned the Workshop for Women for next Saturday by working in pairs of one U.S. Board member paired with a Kenyan Board member of similar skills and I think we have a marvelous workshop planned! I got to spend some time with Lilian, yes, the counselor I usually work with at Nyumbani Village, and we came up with our portion of the workshop through which all the artisans groups will rotate next week—personal well being focused on self esteem, self care and nurturing, stress management, female identity issues, etc. The women will also have a chance to learn about finance and business, product development and marketing and much more. The goal of Tuko Pamoja is to help them have a sustainable income, but it  is also to foster resiliency, an investment in the future and hope, a positive identity and pride, and a strong sense of valuing themselves and being valued.  Its exciting and an honor to be part of this.


Young Artists Send Greetings from Brunswick, Maine to Kenya!

Posted in Giving back, Kenya, Maine schools, Student Art xchange by Lynn Ouellette on 01/13/2013

Really captures the spirit of this project!

Thank you Brunswick school artists!!!  I am so excited about this project! Once again working with Sharon McCormack, a wonderful and enthusiastic art teacher in Brunswick Maine, we have organized an exchange of art and culture between local students and Kenyan children. Students from Coffin School and Harriet Beecher Stowe School have sent me many wonderful pieces of beautiful art work and a generous offering of donated art supplies as part of the Art of Giving Project.


Art supplies and envelopes of art work—wait until you see samples of the art

I had so much fun looking at the art work–there are so many pieces that I think I will be able to share them with more than one group of children in Kenya.  Here are some samples of the wonderful work:





And look at these wonderful masks!


I wish that I could show all the art work since I had a wonderful time looking at each and every piece. The first stop will be with the Maasai community where I will bring the donated art supplies and many pieces of art. The Maasai children are wonderful enthusiastic learners who are in a new school in a poor community and do not have materials like art supplies. They will be thrilled to get the supplies and delighted to get greetings from the U.S.


Maasai children of Pastoral Care Development Alliance


This is the floor in their new school–it’s a lot different than yours.


And this is a Maasai house–silly me I’m trying to catch a baby goat and not very good at it!

Later I will post some more entries so that you learn more about the Maasai community and the children who live there. I can tell you that without a doubt they will be so excited to get your art, friendly greetings, and the art supplies. The other part of this project will happen when I am there working with the children. The Maasai children love to have their pictures taken and are fascinated to see them on my camera. They don’t ever have any pictures of themselves and they don’t even have mirrors. So I will be bringing a camera that takes small photos that print out instantly so that we can take a picture of every Maasai child and we will make a little frame so that they bring them home. It will be like getting a school picture which everyone is used to getting here at home, but will be very special to these children (and their parents) because they have never gotten them before. My camera also keeps a record of the photos so that when I return Mrs. McCormack and I and anyone else who wishes to volunteer (I already have one parent volunteer–thank you Judy Marblestone) will get together and make a photo of the Maasai children in the same kind of little frame to give to every child who made art work to send over. You will get to see a lot of smiling faces appreciating your friendly greetings! Later I will post about the other community where I will bring some of your art work. I will write some special posts for all of you at Coffin School and Harriet Beecher Stowe School and you will know that they are written for you because the titles will start with “FOR THE STUDENTS” Many thanks again to all especially Mrs. McCormack!



Nyumbani Village…..so hard to say goodbye

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/05/2012

Nyumbani Village-- signs at the crossroads

Kristen and Lloydie taking in the Village

The last few days at the Village were very full with activity and the final evening was a marvelous experience which could not have been a better send off. We did attend a celebration on Wednesday evening which was goodbye party to Soloman who is the laboratory technologist and to Mr. Multhi who is a teacher who has been reassigned by the government. It was quite a good dinner compared to the every meal of rice  or ugali (very thick maize porridge) with sukumawiki (cooked kale and onions) or githuri (beans with onions and maize). We had Kenyan style sangria (assisted in the making by Kristen) and softdrinks that weren’t warm! Afterwards there was a bonfire with toasting the people leaving and singing and going around the circle with each person saying something about themselves: where they are from, what country they would like to visit, their favorite animal, etc. What was most striking was the number of people who stood up and spoke from the heart and also said “I am proud to be a Kenyan.”

The Kest volunteers all continued  with working in various ways in different areas at the Village until Friday when it came time to take a field trip into Kitui to work on spending the rest of the donation money to purchase large numbers of plates, cups, silverware, sheets, etc. All have to be metal (except the sheets, of course) in order to meet the standard of sustainability established by the village. I stayed behind in the village as I had work to do in the counselling department,  but heard that it was quite the shopping trip and that the group was extremely grateful to have our driver Justus who had rejoined us at the Village that morning. Justus is Kambe and speaks the local language, is extremely charming and great nogotiator. Lynne stayed behind to do an interview for the Susu memory book and ended up impromptu running the Young Ambassadors Club since the group didn’t return from shopping until 4 even though they expected to be back by early afternoon. It has been a true spirit and example of “tuko pamoja” (we all work together, we are all in this together)  as we have worked here in the Village.

We have continued to interact with children and grandmothers and to build bonds and relationships that feel like they have been there much longer than they have existed in reality; that seems to be the Kenyan way.

Jefferson, a very nice young man whom I met in the Village

Walter playing with the children--an "action shot since he had just finished tickling that squirming one!

Another soulful face at Nyumbani Village

Brian, a retired Loretto school principal from Ireland volunteering in the Polytechnique School

On our final evening in the Village we were invited to two special events. The first was a dance performance in Cluster One for which there are no words to fully describe. The dance was done by the children with costumes, drums and other instruments and truly BLEW US AWAY!! I have a video which will give you a flavor–the performance was in one of the houses after the sun went down under the only light supply which is one solar powered light so the video is very dark, but please take a look and listen (it gets better after the beginning but I didn’t have a chance to edit…)  These kids were tireless and could be professional. We all thought they must have extra joints with the way they moved!

First, the warm up, which was so good we thought it was the whole dance:

Then the whole performance which made us vicariously exhausted and revenous because they used so much energy!!

After the performance we went to dinner at the Village priest’s house. This was the 2nd time we had a break from sakumawiki and githiri in the village…and we were surprised to find that Lillian was there and had cooked the dinner! Everything was quite delicious and it was a nice opportunity to spend a final night with people we really like and to be more relaxed.

Last dinner in the Village

The following morning Lloydie and I set out early on Saturday morning to meet the high school students as they were arriving at Lawson High School to deliver letters from sponsors and I wanted to have another opportunity to see Caroline, the student that my family sponsors since though I had met her the night before we wanted to meet again and to take some pictures. I regret that so much of the week went by without spending more time with her but I will have to do better next year!

Students arriving at Lawson School on Saturdy Morning

Caroline, the student we sponsor, and me on the school ground

Lloydie and Immaculate to whom she delivered a sponsor letter

After our early visit to the high school we had an early arrival to breakfast since we knew that John, the really friendly cook who just loves Lloydie (and vice versa) was making a special breakfast (vs the usual packaged bread and margarine) of mandazis for our final morning. Mandazis are a really delicious Kenyan treat most similar to an American doughnut but much lighter and not as sweet. We also got to watch him make them and got them as fresh as they could possibly be!

John making delicious mandazis for us!

After breakfast it was time to say all of the final goodbyes– no more avoiding it. Despite the fact that the village is really really hot, the food is mostly repetitive, there is nothing cold to drink, the bathrooms are a real “experience”, staying clean for more than a minute is impossible…..it is really hard to leave. It is a truly magical place with such a unique spirit of working together to save lives and to create a true village that works together to raise children and to care for the elderly, to respect the earth, to respect the culture, and to respect the value of all life. As I have said before, it is impossible to capture in words, you just have to go there and experience it for yourself. It will steal your heart.

Saying goodbye to Susu Mary

Kristin saying goodbye to one of the children

"Goodbye"....no it's not goodbye, it's "see you later", or as everyone in Kenya says, "we are missing you already!"

Pastoral Community Development Association

Posted in Giving back, KEST Women4Women, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/28/2012

Maasai woman and her baby

This trip just keeps on being amazing! We have spent much of the last 2 days in a Maasai Village working with the PCDA (Pastoral Community Development Association).  The drive there was quite beautiful as we drove beside the Ngong Hills and down into the Rift Valley. KEST became involved with this program rather serendipitously when Lloydie and Karen who was a fellow KEST volunteer with me in 2010 sat beside Philip the director on a long flight a year or so ago. Maasai communities are struggling to maintain their traditional culture of being semi nomadic despite pressures from the government to be more sedentary and obstacles from the environment such as drought. It is a male dominated culture in which the males are herdsmen and the women build the houses, cook, take care of the children, etc. Houses are made of sticks thatching and mud and cow dung covered walls. All children going to school such as the one that we visited in this village is a relatively modern phenomenon which is not a usual part of all Maasai culture. The goal of KEST’s involvement is to help with the school program development, to support the school lunch program (which may provide the only daily meal for some of the children) and to assist the women in selling their crafts through the Women4Women Initiative.

View of the Great Rift Valley

Friday we were at the school in the Maasai village and focused our time with the children. They were unbelievably cute! This involved singing, reading books, and crafts projects some of which built on previous lessons that they had learned from other KEST volunteers. As my assigned job, I got to rove back and forth between the two classrooms and help the children where help was needed and to take photos (much more fun than work). After the classroom work was done we went outside where the children got temporary tattoos from Kristen and face paint from Deb and me. Since there were so many children we were aiming to just paint one thing on one cheek and did butterflies, flowers and such on the girls and birds, turtles and oops….snakes on the boys. We learned that the snakes were a really bad idea when we discovered them wiping them off because they are quite afraid of snakes—a cultural faux pas which we rectified with “do-over’s”. The children were very enthusiastic learners, very well behaved, and seemed to really enjoy having us around. For those of you who gave me monetary donations, some will go to help with purchasing food to keep the stock of supplies (maize flour, oil, powdered milk and sugar) necessary to make daily porridge for the school lunch program.

Maasai Children in the School yard

Maasai Children at school

Kristen reading an Eric Carle book to the children

Watch and hear the children sing BELOW:

On Saturday we went to the homes of the families and each was assigned to help a Momma with the daily chores (except for Walter who got to sharpen his herding skills!) I went off with Jane and was assisted by Helen a lovely 13 year old who could speak English very well. After going inside the very hot and dark hut we made a fire and made chai from milk, sugar and loose tea. We talked a lot over tea and translations and Jane gave me a Maasai name that I have no idea how to spell and it took me many tries to learn how to say. It sounds like this—Nasorrrwah with the r’s being rolled a bit and it means “one who gives” in Maa (Maasai language) I thought it was rather a sweet name though in the course of my practicing my emphasis was bit off…and so was my pronunciation which had Jane’s nine year old Joy rolling with laughter and together we all had a fun time with it. Helen, who I actually the daughter of Jane’s neighbor loved to take pictures and did quite a good job, she took pictures of me doing the dishes and then she took me outside to see the baby goats,. She said to me “You catch a kid and I will take your photo.”  Well, they are not that easy to catch and they move a lot faster than you might think, so she had to catch one for me (SHE made it look easy).  That was good for quite a few laughs. Finally she did take my picture with the baby goat and the little boy Morris looking on.

The babyy goat and Morris and me

She then took some pictures with Jane and me and her mother with beautiful Maasai jewelry on. When it came time to leave Jane actually gave me a bracelet and a beautiful necklace which I will treasure.

Jane and me

Kristen and Lynne, Mzungu Maasais

In the afternoon we met with the women who do crafts which largely involve some kind of very fine beading. They were seated beside the road under a tree; all dressed in beautiful brightly colored clothing and traditional jewelry with their ware spread out on beautiful cloth. It was like this spectacular patch of bright colors in an otherwise nearly monochromatic sea of muted green.

PCDA Craft Women

Deb and her Maasai Friend

Lloydie explained the Women4Women Initiative with help of Philip as translator. We talked about their crafts and mingled and enjoyed seeing the work that they had done which had many reflections of the culture contained within it. Before our departure they sang us a song….of course. It was a great couple of days of cultural exchange, building relationships, and making a committment to help this struggling community in an ongoing way.

Video clips from Kenya as Promised

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/25/2012

We had the day at Kibera Paper and will be going back there tomorrow when I will once again be blogging about another incredible experience. In the meantime, I think I have conquered some of my technical issues and can upload a few videoclips to share–I have taken alot of video so will have more. But here are a few to wet your appetite.

My little friend Dolo in cottage E at the Nyumbani Children’s Home is quite an energetic 3 year aold with a big personality and drives the point home that these children are thriving with HIV under the care that they are receiving. Here is Dolo in action:

All of the children at the orphanage are thriving. Going to mass there is a joyous experience with a choir of child singers and child drummers and musicians and dancers. Everyone joins in the celebration. Here is a sneak preview of the children– I say a preview because I know that next Sunday when the international summit members are at the Children’s Home they will have a whole program of entertainment prepared.

This is Boniface and his wife from the Program for the Deaf singing for us:

I will have a post tomorrow about our experinence with the women at Kibera Paper….and more

Two Extraordinary Days in the Slums of Nairobi

Meet the group: Justice, our driver and Kenyan guide extrordinaire and Lloydie, Deb (center), Kristen (lower right), Walter and Lynne

Now I have the impossible task of trying to put into words the past two days—days in which we have laughed, sang (even in sign language), danced, hugged and been hugged too many times to count, cried for being touched by the stories of tremendous resilience and grace, been humbled by the strength of character and generosity of people and were profusely thanked often by people with whom we felt honored to be able to share some time together. These have been the two days in the slums of Dandora, Kangemi, and Kawangware in the clinics of the Lea Toto programs, the Dandora Program for the Deaf and meeting with the Self Help Groups.

In each of the three sites we visited we talked with various different  staff members of the programs—the Directors of the Eastern and Western divisions of the Lea Toto programs, a medical officer, a nurse, counselors, social workers and community health workers. This gave an opportunity for those who haven’t come to lea Toto before to get an overview and for others who have to get a chance to be updated. When a parent or guardian brings a child whom is suspected of being HIV+ to the clinic, they first meet with a counselor and testing is done at the same time along with counseling. If the results are positive the child receives a medical evaluation, nutritional assessment and begins on ARVs. The entire family receives nutritional support for the first year during which time they are expected to save the resources not spent on food to develop some independence from the food support. The caregivers are provided with extensive counseling and the child is given emotional support, support for school fees if needed, etc. Social workers do home visits on a regular basis and community support worker are volunteers who receive extensive and ongoing training and do home visits as well. When we met with community support workers, many of them were former or current clients in the Lea Toto Programs who felt that they were grateful for what they had received that they wanted to give back to others. The dedication of this staff, the workload that they carry is phenomenal and hearing them talk about why they do the work and what it means to them was so inspiring that when it came our time to speak we could hardly talk—Kristen and I were first and we were just passing the tissues back and forth.  Paul, the Director at Dandora, and the Director of the western division of the Lea Toto Programs, was a very thoughtful and well spoken man, who told us to remember that every little bit of help matters, no matter how small, and that it can be overwhelming to look at the overall larger picture, but when you help the person who is there in front of you, that help is enormous. He also told us that people often have many needs, but what they need most from you is “heart” and the rest follows. We did do several home visits with the social worker and the community support worker at Kangemi . In fact we found that often the several of the women of the self help groups also worked as community support worker.

Lloydie with Good Hope Self Help Group members

Other members of the Good Hope Self Help Group

We also met with the Self Help Groups to share time with them continuing to build relationships and to shop from their crafts.  This included groups at all three sites including the Vision Self Help Group whom I had previously met in Dandora 2 years ago. These are wonderful groups of very lively vibrant women who each have incredible stories to tell. Every story is captivating but I have to say that Sally of the Vision Self Help Group had the most powerful story because she has been HIV+ since 1991 and has a daughter who is HIV+ as well. She has a strong powerful voice and is incredibly articulate about living positively with HIV and a powerful commitment to bringing that message to others. (I made a deal with her that next time I come to Kenya I will do a video interview because she has a voice and a story that really should be heard and can speak for many others).

We also had the mission of meeting with representative Self Help Groups in the three sites where Lloydie explained that it has often felt difficult for volunteers to feel like they are really able to be helpful in the Lea Toto sites and that KEST has taken on a new initiative to support those communities by supporting the Mommas of these groups. She explained the plan to select from their crafts items to be considered for sales in the US and that when she returns in June she will place a larger order for these items and pay fair market value when she gets them in August. Then KEST volunteers will sell them in the US and the additional profit will be brought to them next January and the cycle will repeat and hopefully grow. This plan was met with overwhelming enthusiasm and gratitude.

"Thumbs up!" from the Vision Self Help Group

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

Finally we spent the afternoon today meeting with Boniface, who has a “ministry for the deaf”. We met with him and his wife, both of whom are deaf as well as 3 other deaf people with whom he works. Boniface is a sign language teacher and he and the others in the group spoke to us through William, an interpreter. We learned that there are schools for the deaf in Kenya but not a lot of other support and that they really have come together to support each other. Although Boniface and his wife are employed the other are currently without work though have skills. One fact that really struck me was that all five of the deaf people with whom we met (and this is largely true for Kenyans) were born hearing and became deaf as a result of illness in childhood, often common illnesses like mumps or measles for which we get vaccinated in the U.S.  I can’t quite describe what it was like to spend time with them—they may not have been able to speak, but they could certainly communicate in a phenomenally moving way that was deeply touching. I had heard through Lloydie that Boniface really needed a digital camera for work with his students and it warmed my heart to be able to give him. They say to us in sign language, taught us to sing by signing…..and more tears. I have a wonderful videotape of this that I hope to be able to upload (after 3 failed attmpts have to try again later–aaah the joys of technology…)

As always, there is so much more I could say, so many more words I could use, but words can’t capture this…..

It’s after midnight here, please pardon my typos, no more energy to proofread and a busy day tomorrow….kwaheri from Kenya!

Across the years, across the country, across the world…..

Posted in Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/12/2012

“So how did you first hear about Nyumbani?”

This is a question that I have been asked several times in the past week and in the course of answering it I have realized that I delight in telling the story, so I thought I would tell it here. As we live in the town where Bowdoin College is located and my husband, Tom, is an alumnus, we had a connection to the college when we first moved here. From very early on we began participating in the Host Family Program in which local families provide support and a local connection to Bowdoin College students who are international students and thus far away from home. We began being a host family when our sons, now about to turn 21, were still babies. It was a wonderful opportunity for our family to learn about other cultures and get exposed to some ethnic diversity which is very limited in Brunswick. We had particularly close relationships to the students whom we hosted for all 4 years and who we watched graduate along with their own parents who traveled across the world to do so. One such student was Stanley from Kenya. I don’t know if I ever told him this, but of our sons who was quite young at the time, but not very familiar with people from Africa or even African-Americans, when he was told that Stanley was coming for a visit, referred to him as “that really tall guy with curly black hair and the pink fingernails” –Stanley IS very tall. His mother and sister stayed with us at graduation time and we took them on their first ever trip to the beach and had a wonderful time getting to know them.  We later visited Stanley when he was working at a job in Washington D.C. A number of years later we heard from him that he was doing a fund-raiser bicycle trek ACROSS the US to raise money for an AIDS Orphanage back in Kenya named Nyumbani and asking if we would like to be a sponsor. So it was through Stanley that we learned of Nyumbani.

He completed his bike trek and raised a lot of money……

Fall 2006 Nyumbani Newsletter

And we found ourselves on the mailing list for Nyumbani……

As our children grew up and it became more possible for us to do some volunteer work that would take us away from home we looked more closely at what opportunities might exist there and that’s how we became acquainted with Lloydie and KEST….and once you meet Lloydie you go  to Kenya to volunteer for Nyumbani.

When we took the trip 2 years ago we let Stanley know that we were going and how excited we were. I know that I MUST have shared with him and his mother in he host family days that I had been dreaming about going to Africa since I was a child. He connected with my blog to learn more about the trip (and even complimented me on my very rudimentary Swahili.) I have just connected with him again– he and his wife Joy live in Texas and are expecting their first child in April. It was wonderful to reconnect and share their happy news and to let him know that I am off to Nyumbani again. These connections from Kenya to the US and back again which span over 15 years have been incredible and do really make the world seem like a much smaller place. We are fortunate to have had Stanley to share a little bit of Kenya with us years ago and to start the process which was to grow into much more of a connection to Kenya than we ever imagined.

KEST and the Magical Magnetism of Shared Volunteerism

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 12/31/2011

Volunteers from 2010 KEST Adult trip

We are off to Kenya in 19 days! I know that this time will fly by as I try to prepare to leave my office and home and gather up everything I need to be on my way. It’s time to direct some more concentrated attention on donations to be gathered, things needed for projects to be done while there,  and eventually the overwhelming task of packing (I hate to pack even on a small scale and this is quite something else!)

I have been thinking about how exciting it is to return to Kenya and Nyumbani having been there before and how I am looking forward to seeing  people again. I have just learned from Lloydie that we will have two more travelers, Lynne and Walter, joining our group so its wonderful to have a larger group. I have found myself immersed in thought about how this experience  really gives me much more than I give in volunteering, how my endorphin levels soar every time I talk about the trip (I have actually been told that my face lights up) and how for weeks after I returned last time I couldn’t talk about the trip without getting teary or choked up because I was so deeply moved by the whole experience. I recently came across some medical literature about volunteerism and how volunteering actually increases the life span, at least in elders in whom it’s been best studied. But I think it must be true for others too because there is something about giving to others in need that just lifts you up and fills you up, and shifts your perspective to what’s important, like nothing else can. And the relationships that you make with other people when you share that experience of working for a common cause with all the joy, and the heartache too– those are lifelong bonds.

So this brings me to KEST, Kenya Educational and Service Trips (www.K-E-S-T.com). I can’t imagine going to Kenya in any other way than through KEST (and with you, Lloydie).  KEST is a small operation started by one woman, Lloydie Zaiser, with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, dedication, and love for the AIDS orphans of Kenya. It is still a tiny operation, yet I just received the annual report tucked in a holiday card (made by the women of Kibera paper of course) and have learned more about how KEST is expanding its mission beyond the Nyumbani Programs to two different sites, launching a number of new programs and increasing the number of volunteer trips to Kenya each year (I scanned the report so I could include it below in this post). This one little organization has done amazing things by bringing to Kenya  so many volunteers and hundreds of duffels of donations and finding education sponsors for Nyumbani children and so much more….. I think this has a lot to do with the infectious enthusiasm and love of the mission that Lloydie brings to it as well as the incredible spirit of the Kenyan people that you get to soak up while you are there. But it also reflects the way that the totality of the experience profoundly binds you to each other and to the cause –what I referred to as the magical magnetism of shared volunteerism. Having been on one volunteer trip with KEST, you can’t just do one, you are now a KEST lifer!  Your heart will call you back again to the children and the people and the country, to all of it.  And if there are moments when you might not listening, you’ll get emails from Lloydie that will give you updates about the children that will pull at your heartstrings, or remind you of the touching moments in Kenya  (or tease you about how it will be 8o degrees and sunny there in February when its snowy and cold in Maine.)

Lloydie, Mercy and the shoshos at Nyumbani Village

Lloydie playing finger games with the children at Nyumbani Village

So it gives me peace of mind and a very sweet feeling to look forward to this travel to Kenya and to Nyumbani and all of the other places we will visit and to know that I start out 2012 with all of my own blessings well in perspective and my intentions pointed in a very worthy direction.

“Never doubt that a small group of  thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead


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

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

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

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

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

Masai children

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

A new year, a new decade, a not so new idea.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 01/03/2010

It’s a new year .….and a new decade that has begun, a  time for resolutions, recollections, reflections, resolve, or at least hopefully noting something about one’s life and moving into the future.  My own personal resolutions which have never really been chosen by me around the coming of the New Year, but rather more created for me by life experience, those of gratitude and giving back, will hopefully be ones I will continue to stay strong and healthy enough to keep for decades to come.  I am very excited to be starting this new decade with the trip to Kenya to volunteer in the Nyumbani programs and to begin this relationship with helping the AIDS orphans. It’s less than 4 weeks away and  we just got our visas so it’s feeling very real! We are very lucky that we have the means to do this.  But we are also lucky  to have many people who are supporting us in various ways by donations to the Nyumbani programs, offers to be available to our one son who is at home (the other two kids will be at college), checking  in on our house, covering my practice, etc. There is a whole network of support and interest that I never imagined we would have and both Tom and I have continued to remark on this on a regular basis.

In just planning this trip, I have already learned so much. One thing I have learned that there are a lot of kind people who are willing to be generous when the need becomes real. I actually learned this in a very personal  and very touching way when I had breast cancer, so what I mean here is different. It’s that if you present a cause, like AIDS orphans , and make it real by talking about real people’s stories, and share your own enthusiasm, you don’t need to even ask people to help, they just offer. And, in the process of joining in helping, people get connected to each other in powerful ways.  I have had many enlivened and touching conversations with people wanting to help, to give donations, wanting to know more about AIDS orphans.  Bec Poole, the art teacher from Brooksville whose students are participating in the art exchange just wrote to me, “You can’t believe how much you have impacted our school.  Everyone is talking about the project.  I think the music teacher is going to do her spring concert with a theme on Kenya……… ” Well, I can’t take credit for that, I’ve never been to the school, I simply introduced the idea of the art exchange in a series of e-mail exchanges and sent along a CD about Nyumbani and the AIDS orphans in Kenya to make it real, and then she shared her enthusiam and they ran with it.   She also wanted to make sure that I understood how important it was for her students that I figure out another project that they could do to stay involved and give to the kids in the orphanage. That’s an example of what happens and it’s wonderful.  I just read an article in a medical journal about how volunteering keeps elderly minds sharp as shown by increased brain activity measured in certain regions on MRI’s, etc. I think people just feel more alive when they are sharing in some common cause and giving of themselves;  it seems like giving, and the way it connects you with other people,  is just fundamentally good for you, no matter how you measure it, no MRI’s required. This really isn’t a new idea at all, just one that’s easy to lose sight of in this busy day and age, but one that is really worth revisiting.


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“The Hats” and other donations…

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 01/02/2010

I haven’t posted for awhile since the busyness of the holidays took my attention and then on Christmas day I was ambushed by our golden retriever’s tail and took a nasty spill that injured me in a way that still keeps me from being able to sit down, which does not lend itself easily to computer work. This, of course, I am sure hoping will heal a lot before 15 hours of flying to Kenya. In the meantime, I have had a number of ideas for posts that I have wanted to write including an update on donations.  I received a package from Blick Art Supplies as promised in response to my proposal for a donation for the art exchange project. I was delighted to get more than enough watercolors, paper and markers to complete the project in Kenya. Thank you! I know from communication with the 2 Maine art teachers that additional donations along with some from my own supplies will enable me to leave a stocked art supply closet in the orphanage. In response to inquiries about what I wanted for Christmas, I had discouraged some people from getting me presents, but rather asked that they get donations for Nyumbani. It’s impossible to completely discourage people like mothers and mothers-in-law from buying you Christmas presents, but they also bought items to donate in addition to gifts. There are preschool children at the orphanage who I wanted to include in doing some art but won’t be participarting in the actual art exchange (and with whom I will be doing some facepainting though I hear they move pretty quickly) who now have lots of crayons and colorbooks thanks to my mother. And, thanks to my mother in law, they have new clothing including some hand knit items. Speaking of hand knit items, someone recently said to me that I need to include a photo of all the handknit “chemo” hats that I referred to in an earlier post. I had intended to do that, but it was hard to fit them all in one photograph  so instead I have included a video. Thank you to all my knitters: Jean, Lisa, Anne, Laurie, Katie, and more.

It’s exciting to see this accumulating collection of donations and I don’t even have the student art yet, though from what I have heard that will be very special to receive and will definitely be cause to get out the video again.

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Art, Hats, Shirts and More

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 12/03/2009

When we go to Kenya, we will each be bringing at least one 50 lb suitcase (aka “duffle”) full of donations—we are each allowed to bring two 50 lb suitcases with our airfare , so I suspect that we will be putting plenty of donated items in our other large suitcases as well.

Today I learned that Blick Art Materials (www.dickblick.com) approved my request for donations for the Kenyan Orphan Art Project/Maine Art Exchange! I am very grateful to Jen McCutcheon who presented my proposal and to the company for their generosity and willingness to donate the materials. So, my suitcase will also have art supplies and, of course, the art from the Maine students.

I am delighted to be “paying it forward” with many absolutely beautiful hand knit hats that were made for me when I was having chemotherapy. I almost hate to part with some of them because they are so lovely and were made with such care, but I also hope to never need them again. And in Kenya, despite what would seem like a warm climate to us, hats are worn often during the “colder” days. Since they were made for my small, then hairless head, they are perfect for children and it feels wonderful to pass them on where I know that every single one will be fully appreciated.

Tom has a rather large collection of running T-shirts from running or working at races over the years. He hopes to share these as part of his running project and is working on getting some running shoes as well. He has ideas and room for other things………

We have been thrilled that so many people who have talked with us about this trip have asked about donations. If you would like to donate, there are lists of needed items on the KEST website. There are many of the most basic things that are needed. Some are things that may just be “hanging around” our houses and no longer being used. A few are things that need to purchased, but are relatively inexpensive. The links to the lists are below:



Though we would love to fill many, many suitcases, we are somewhat limited with space and will have a challenge if everyone chooses the bulkiest and heaviest items. But…..we’ll figure it out. We won’t turn away any donations.

I will also surely find a way to create some art for sale (maybe cards from scans of the childrens’ artwork, next year’s photo calendar, photographs, not sure yet) ……. with proceeds going to Nyumbani. So there will be an opportunity there as well.

And finally, I wasn’t sure I would say this because it seems uncomfortably awkward to me, but then I thought I should tolerate that because this is about these kids and their tremendous need and not what makes me comfortable. So we are not asking for this as donations are usually brought in material form, but if anyone feels compelled to make a monetary donation to Nyumbani ( www.nyambani.org ) we won’t discourage that….. and it would be very easy to carry.

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