Watoto Wote Wazuri

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.

Excitement, generosity and THANKS!

Posted in Gratitude, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/10/2015


This is the 100th post in my blog! I thought that I would do this post from Kenya, but instead I am posting it in the days before departure. This is the final weekend before we leave, when the final donations are being gathered and tallied and we are all scurrying around trying to pack enormous amounts of donations into duffles weighing as close to 50 lbs as possible. Since there are 9 volunteers on this trip, each of whom brings four 50 lb duffles (plus a suitcase and personal item) we will take the airport by storm with our massive collection of baggage. Each of us will have at least 3 full duffles of donations which allows ups to bring a tremendous amount of socks, underwear, shoes, clothing and so much more with us. It was all the emails back and forth, the heroic packing stories, and the conversations about donations that made me decide to write this post. We are all so excited about what we are bringing to share with the orphans of Nyumbani, the families of the Maasai community and the women crafters of Tuko Pamoja and about some new projects involving even more people. Here are some samples of the many emails:

“I just got a donation of 15 lbs of beads and 12 lb of yarns! The Tuko Pamoja Mommas will be so excited!”

Beading with hands and feet

Beading with hands and feet

“I am out of control with excitement! The village has given the sisal project 15 acres!” We have funding to plant at least five.

Kristen, who is a nurse who volunteered 3 years ago, and has been saving, planning and longing ever since to go back to Kenya, pursued getting scrubs for all the medical personnel at Nyumbani. “She thought to reach out to her fellow workers for donations of gently used scrubs. Then she decided to do better than that, for these well-deserving health workers in Kenya. She contacted the owner, Christopher, of the uniform company/store where she and her co-workers buy their work clothes. She asked me for advice of how many sets of scrubs to request. I tallied up all of the clinical officers at Lea Toto (8); the CO, nurse and lab technician at the village (3); and the 2 nurses and 2 Respite Care workers at the Children’s Home (4) for a total of 15 medical care professional in greatest need. I advised her to shoot for the stars and make her request for 15 scrub sets. Christopher donated two brand new sets for each!”

“so I’ve been in my office since 7am today…what have I done? Looked at Kenya pics, checked the Nairobi news, recounted multiple stories to my office partner, laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t think I can wait a day longer….”

“Very excited about a new project underway for Tuko Pamoja. I have just contacted the Kawangware Street Children and Youth Project….. These children make paper bags out of recycled materials, (like) the bags at Kazuri Beads, one and the same! The sisal handles are outsourced to single mommas living in Kawangware. Go to http://www.africabags.com to learn more. Check out the photo of bags to see the Kazuri one they already make! Tuko Pamoja is buying 100 bags and giving them to Kibera Paper to paint the TP logo on… more branding! It is my hope that we can visit the Kawangware Visions Center and see the operation and meet some of the children and help the Kibera Paper mommas paint the logos on the bags. How cool would this be?!”

“Just received an email from a friend that said: “Judy, you can stop by any time today. I will be waiting for you with money and underwear. You must be excited.” Now that’s an email I never thought I would get!!!”

“This is what I have to pack into 19 – 50lb duffels. Wish me luck! Thanks Woods Academy for your overly successful underpants, clothing and shoe drive. Kenya or bust, literally!”

Oh my!

Oh my!

And there's so much more...

And there’s so much more…

“I have a donor who will completely cover filling the water cisterns at PCDA! ($2200)

“Aren’t these stories reconfirming your faith in humankind?”

Yes, they are and that’s why I decided to post this blog now. Too often we can see what is wrong with the world, but just as easily we can see what is right and good. We have all of these donations and more. Collectively we have funding for the sisal garden project, filling both the water cisterns and funding the lunch program at PCDA, a sponsor for the Tuko Pamoja Women’s workshop, clothing and shoes for hundreds and a hefty response to the needs at all the sites where we volunteer.

I have been writing thank you cards to all my donors and found myself again and again writing that we could not do all that we are able to accomplish without the support and generosity of people who give us donations. Every donation of every size is a contribution that is so appreciated by us, but even much more so by the recipients there, the men,women and children of Kenya, who have tremendous gratitude for everything. Please know that there will be smiling and singing children, dancing grandparents, crying with gratitude Mommas of Tuko Pamoja, all of whom will be touched by the generosity from across the globe. This is why I decided to write this as my 100th post, to say thank you to everyone for making all of this good will possible and for truly changing so many lives.


There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” Dalai Lama

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela

The need to do something good……and to say thank you.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Gratitude, Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 12/26/2012
Scenery on the way to the Rift valley

Scenery on the way to the Rift valley

I had another catchy title with an alliteration planned for this post, something to pique the interest of the readers and take them into our planned itinerary in more detail, but I decided that it’s not where I am right now. It’s the holiday season which is certainly joyful in many ways and for me is a time that I stop to appreciate the people I care about and to really let the people I appreciate know that. It’s a time I reflect on my riches and want to share them in different ways whether it be with holiday gifts or the annual donation to the food kitchen or the homeless shelter or just putting something in the red kettle as I walk by. But this year I am also more acutely aware of the sad things in the world– the events in Connecticut, the loss of a family friend, other people’s losses, the death of another grandmother at Nyumbani Village, they seem to be all around. And so I’m a little too heavy-hearted for the catchy title.

I know however that going to Kenya is the perfect antidote, that doing something good for someone else also feeds my soul.  Now that the busyness of the holidays is winding down I can hopefully do some more detailed planning for the specifics of some of the projects that I love to do so much when I am there. I know that the indomitable spirit of the dancing and singing Kenyan women and the broad smiles of the Kenyan children will be magical once again. I have been overwhelmed with how many people have opened their hearts and their wallets with such generosity because I received many donations to help with the work in Kenya. I know that some are still on their way. I think that everyone may be feeling the need to do something good and I hope that through the blog I will be able to convey what a difference your donations will make for the people we work with in Kenya and the depth of their gratitude. I wish everyone could join me there for just a few moments and share in the amazing  connection with the people who speak from their hearts with such authenticity and know the true  feeling of the phrase “tuko pamoja”, we are together. I recall leaving after the second day at Kibera Paper last year and having one of the women say, “though we will be far apart, our hearts will still be together.” That is the Kenyan way.

So I will do my best to let you all know how we are putting those donations to good use and to let you know with my words, photos and occasional videos, the magic of the experience that keeps me going back year after  year, that connects me with people across the globe, and has left those people indelibly in my heart forever. A heartfelt thank you to everyone for your generosity in helping me to spread good will and in some cases, literally help people to survive. John F. Kennedy once said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Thanks for trying along with me and please know that you have made a true difference in the lives of people whose hardship is difficult to imagine,  but whose gratitude is unforgettable.

Gathering with the children at Nyumbani Village

Gathering with the children at Nyumbani Village

My last weekend in Kenya……….

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Gratitude, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/09/2012

Following our departure form Nyumbani Village on Saturday morning we drove back to Nairobi and then to Karen and our lodging at the Dimesse Sisters. We had a very long ride partially because we stooped at a worrdcarvers workshop and store but also becuase we got caught in a lot of traffic around Nairobi and arrived back much later than expected. The drive was yet another reminder of how much we appreciated our driver Justus since none of us would want to brave driving in the crazy Kenyan traffic or on the really bad Kenyan roads with crator size potholes and for which speed limits are determined not by signs but rather by enormous speed bumps. Knowing we were going to arrive late, Lloydie called ahead to let Sister Rhoda, the very hospitable and outgoing nun at Dimesse sisters that we would not make it back for lunch. She offered to leave a snack out for us and when we arrived mid afternoon  there was a table set with a full course meal plus some extras treats. She wanted to be sure we got something to eat because we were “doing such good work.”   You just have to love that Kenyan hospitality! And having just come from the village, this was especially a most delicious meal!

Carving a giraffe

We were headed to Nyumbani Children’s Home in the evening for movie night and had to make yet another trip to the local Nakumat to buy popcorn and such but a priority for everyone before that was to take a real well needed shower .  We all seemed to emerge from our showeres slightly euphoric from the feeling of being squeaky clean again! So well groomed and well fed we set off to buy the movie treats and headed to the Children’s Home. In my cottage they were just finishing up with dinner and had to do the after dinner chores. Everyone pitches in with doing the dishes, sweeping, washing the floor, etc. After that was done they all watched the news, broadcast primarily in Kiswahilie, but the older children translated for me. After that we settled into a viewing of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” as I dispensed cup after cup of cheese curls and juice baxes amidst a chorus of pleases and thank yous. That was my last evening at the Children’s Home.

Cottage E children cleaning up after dinner--everyone helps out

The plan for the next day, my final day in kenya was to do something fun and relaxing and Lloydie had scheduled us to go to a tea farm for a tour and for a lunch. I have to say that the drive there was quite beautiful and one of the most lush views of Kenyan vegetation. The day was beautiful like every other day, but a welcome bit cooler. As we got closer to the tea farms the view got more and more beautiful.

Fields of tea plants



We went to the Kiambethu Tea farm in Limuru which has been in existentence since 1910. The original beuatiful house is still there and has been in the same family for four generations. There is a beautiful garden on the property and a preserved section of the original deciduous forest.

Garden at Kiambethu Tea Farm

We began our tour with Fiona, the owner, showing us the original tea plant, now a non-harvasted tea tree, and then taking us inside for tea and telling us much more about the growing of tea as a criop and how it is processed at the local factory.

Fiona and the original tea plant

We then took a walk through the forest with Kamangi who pointed out much of the indiginous vegetation and its medicinal purposes. We met the geese of the fram and the cows who supply the milk for the delicious homemade ice cream.

Kamangi giving us a tour


Kiambethu cows


Kiambethu geese--they didn't seem that happy to have visitors

The walk was followed by drinks on the veranda and then by a very delicious lunch including fresh salad and vegetables and some of that homemade ice cream amongst other tasty treats for desserts. This was a wonderful thing to do on my final day in Kenya.

The group at the tea farm

Since I would soon be departing when Justus drove us back to our lodging we gave him a special gift for having been such a pleasure to work with and to let him know how much we appreciated him. The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting our 6 duffels of donations plus 4 additional huge duffels that were left by the last group.

Justus gets a thank you gift


Deb sorting donated clothing

I must admit that I got a pass for much of this so I could do some packing of my own, but more importantly so I could blog the rest of the time spent at the village since it had become a way for everyone else to be able to share their experiences too. As my bags were packed, the reality of leaving became all too real and the time was drawing nearer for me to head to the airport. I must admit that it was hard to leave since I knew that everyone else would be staying on for at least another week, but I could not be gone any longer from my practice. And it was, of course, especially hard to say goodbye. Though we talked about reuniting in the fall for the annual Nyumbani fund raising gala in D.C. and at least Deb and Lloydie and I were already talking about returning next January, that only softened the sting a little. We had all had this wonderful experience together, knowing that we were making a difference in people’s lives, loving all these adorable children, building relationships with many people, hearing their stories of hardship and loss, being moved to tears and being inspired by all of them to be better, do better, appreciate more….a bonding experience that will keep us forever connected to each other and to the people of Kenya.


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!

Missing Kenya, friends, and appreciation

Posted in Gratitude, Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 02/12/2010

Now that we are home, I have begun to reflect some on our trip and to realize that although we were in Kenya for less than 2 full weeks we did a tremendous amount in that time period. We have Lloydie Zaiser and her unique talent at planning, but more importantly at making and maintaining relationships with people in Kenya, to thank for that.  Her capacity for warmth and friendship with the people in Kenya and her affection with the children afforded us an immediate welcoming and acceptance that we would not have had otherwise. We have been genuinely lucky for that and also for being able to share the trip with Karen and Mary who were like minded in their enthusiasm and openness to the experience. This is the kind of trip that bonds people in new relationships because of the depth of the experience that was shared. So thank you all for that.

The "five travelers", Lloydie, Mary, Karen, Tom and me, holding hands and casting long late afternoon shadows on the beach at Lake Nukuru

As I was going through my day today, I found myself with an awareness of being appreciative for the smallest things such as the fact that I could use a washing machine, brew some some good coffee in the morning, take a bath; and I don’t have any day to day worries about my livelihood, how I will feed myself or my family, having enough water, or about catching serious communicable diseases.  It is quite a different world in which we live  from many of the people I met in Kenya where the most fundamental of life’s resources are out of reach. From the women who have HIV and are raising 5, 6 or more children, some with HIV, in a one room shack. Poverty is not the exception in Kenya where the unemployment rate is 75%. It’s a harsh reminder to appreciate what I have……. Despite extroadinarily hard lives, the Kenyan people I met were some of the most gracious, appreciative and inspirational people I have ever encountered. It’s really quite remarkable. It’s easy to fall in love with children, I knew that would happen, but I was surprised by the  power of the experiences with adults. Whenever I am feeling put upon by life I have a new standard of comparison that will be easily called upon to lighten my load and refocus me on the things I should be appreciating.

Gratitude revisited and passion discovered….a reflection

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Gratitude by Lynn Ouellette on 12/15/2009

I haven’t posted for awhile since a bout with some rib pain threw me entirely off course and into a state of true fear about a cancer recurrence. Everything is fine and I only bring that up here because it caused me to reflect on many things including this trip. I realize now that in the midst of all of that worry and more—that this trip still stayed near the forefront of my mind. That in my fear as I worried about many things including  the possibility of needing a course of radiation therapy (which I don’t , since I’m fine) that I was counting down how I could potentially finish that in time to still go to Kenya. And now that I’m breathing an indescribably huge sigh of relief and once again trying to get back on track, I have a truly renewed vigor for my perspective of gratitude which I feel every day.  This has also made me realize how important this trip has become to me—the real reason for this reflection.  I guess adversity, like my recent scare, does teach us, remind us of important things, and give us cause to reflect.

When I first started considering this trip I had a desire to do something for AIDS orphans, which I had had for many years, and I had always dreamed of visiting Africa. At first I thought that, despite this desire, the demands of the work I do at home might keep me from having enough time and energy to go and really devote myself in the way that I thought this trip deserved. Then I began to learn more about AIDS Orphans, I met with Lloydie Zaiser and experienced her infectious enthusiasm for the work at Nyumbani and viewed a powerful video about the experience of AIDS orphans that moved me to tears…. and I was on my way. Since then my awareness of the unimaginable breadth of this problem has grown and my heart has been weighted by the problem at the same time that I have been inspired by people who have devoted their whole lives to this cause. I have had to tell myself that even though the problem is so enormous and that doing anything that I could do seems inconsequential, that just doing something is a start,  so as not to be overwhelmed by it. I have also learned more about AIDS, about the politics of prevention and obtaining the best drugs, about African culture,  learned a little Swahili and looked at countless moving  pictures and read countless stories of children who have been orphaned by AIDS or have HIV/AIDS. Many of the stories are tragic, sad, heroic, triumphant…. All of this has connected me to this country where I’ve never been, to children I have never met, to a culture I have never experienced and a desire has grown into a passion.  So for the brief time when I thought that the reality of this trip might be threatened, I realized that I was going to go unless it was impossible, that I had made a commitment and was going, period. So I am reflecting on this now realizing  that the process of  learning  more has truly bred caring more deeply and the secondary goal of  wanting to tell others more about the AIDS epidemic and the plight of AIDS orphans has become much more of a determination. It’s a reminder that what you invest in and spend time getting to know better becomes what you care more about.  And in this process, Africa no longer seems like some distant faraway place and the largeness of the world has somehow definitely become a little smaller for me.

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