Zuri Watoto Wote

A Special Day with Justus’s Family

Posted in Kenya, Our Kenyan Family by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2016

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If you have read any of my posts before, you know that we have a special relationship with Justus who began as our driver in Kenya, but who has become  part of the KEST family, part of Tuko Pamoja, and simply put, part of what makes Kenya for all of us. Because I usually depart before the other volunteers, I had never had the chance to meet his family and neither had Karen. But we spent my last full day in Kenya with Justus and his family driving to Lake Navaisha where we went on a ‘”hippo safari”

When they first arrived, Denzel and Wycliff presented all of us with a letter from each which also had earrings and a magnet in the envelope, and each of us a beautiful bouquet of roses. I was so moved by their presentation and simply meeting all of them that it brought me to tears.

We visited for just a bit before we set off to buy lunch and to get on the road to Lake Navaisha. In celebration of the occasion, we had ice cream before we ate our lunch.DSC_1842

The ride was quite beautiful along the Rift Valley.

And arriving at Lake Navaisha was equally as beautiful!

We then boarded the boats for the hippo safari, a tour through the beautiful lake teaming with birds and other wild life, including, of course, hippos.

The boaters

The hippos

I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the hippos as I was with boat ride itself since the water was full of vegetation and so many birds. It felt like we were going through the bayou for part of the ride.

The entrance to the water

A sampling of the birds we saw.

As we got out further from the shore, the guides pointed out the African Fish Eagle and threw a fish up into the air so it would take flight.

African Fish Eagle

Following our foray with the birds, the boats picked up pace and brought us over to Crescent Island. The island is actually the site where “Out of Africa” was filmed and originally did not have any wildlife. All of the animals that are there were initially brought over  and remained,  but the lion was brought and then removed.

We ate our lunch on the island which was very beautiful and then began a walking safari that was so incredible because we were so close to and amongst the animals.

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We first encountered encountered many zebras. Although we weren’t quite close enough to pat them, we got within 30 yards of them. You may notice that there are some young ones in the group. They were born 3 and 4 months earlier and we had the opportunity to see them playing, frolicking, and even nursing.

The zebras, including the cute young ones.

Many other animals were sited, including a giraffe that was just 4 days old!

We saw many other animals while on the walking tour of the island, but the best part of all was spending time with Justus and his family.

We were there all afternoon, managed to avoid the thunderstorm that was happening in the distance and enjoyed a cool breeze which made it much more comfortable to be there. We headed back on the boats in the midst of different scenery now that it was later in the day.

We did not get into the van to head home until appropriate group pictures had been taken!

The ride home along the Rift Valley was a whole new vista, just as beautiful as earlier, but different as the sun was going down.

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The Rift Valley at Sunset 

When we arrived back at Dimesse Sisters Retreat, that rascal Justus had something up his sleeve. His sister and her family were there to meet us!

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The cousins

We had a really wonderful day together. I was so happy to finally meet Justus’s family. By the end of the day it felt like we were all part of a family. And then, of course, came the hard goodbyes. But we will be in touch by email and as always the goodbyes were really “See you next year!”

I am finishing this blog as I countdown to my flight to go back to the US so please pardon any typos. I depart with such mixed feelings; its so hard to say goodbye to Lloydie, Karen and Deb, too, and to this beautiful country that has filled my heart.

The Day of Remembrance

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

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

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

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Simon, the Nyumbani Village counselor

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

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

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

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Meeting with Susus

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

Working on the luminaries

When Friday came, despite the frantic pace of the day before, we felt prepared, though in need of many extra hands to help set up the luminary bags. The first bag that I put down was the luminary for my son Brendan who would have turned 25 on the Day of Remembrance,  making the day even more emotionally powerful for me. Fortunately all of the KEST volunteers and the other volunteers  from the Village were enthusiastic about helping with the process which involved putting sand in the luminary bags and arranging them in an enormous circle. DSC_1722

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

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

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

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

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

Nyumbani Village, “Wow!”

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

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

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

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Everything is growing well in the Village

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

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Susu Janet

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We  really enjoyed working with these other volunteers.

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

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The Village is very beautiful

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

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

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

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Lloydie off to teach!

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

Blankets, sports equipment and  first aid kits

Doaling out the yarn for basket making

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

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

My  morning walk to the clinic

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

Enjoying her polaroid!

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

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

The Susus

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

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

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The  girls practicing a dance performance.

And the little girls wanting to join in!

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

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

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Star trails photographed at Nyumbani Village


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

Mukuru… and the Village is Green

Posted in HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/27/2016

DSC_1370.JPGThere is always a sense of excitement when we are getting ready to head to Nyumbani Village. It is a place that is steeped in the richness of the Kamba culture and holds a little magic for everyone who visits there. The magic comes in the starriest sky you could ever imagine, the spunk and spirit of the dancing and basket weaving grandmothers, but most of all from the singing and laughter of 1000 children who would have died without it. But we had another stop along the way in Mukuru, the sight of the self help group which was the most recent addition to Tuko Pamoja.

We drove through the streets of Mukuru which seem somewhat more crowded and closed in than the streets of the other slum areas. The streets were very vibrant with vendors and loudly broadcasted upbeat Kenyan music. However, the poverty, crowded living conditions and lack of services like trash pick-up were very apparent.

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We arrived at Mukuru to meet at the Lea Toto site that is based there. On the way in, there were some interesting signs, one again about cholera and another about sexual and gender based violence.IMG_4051

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This prompted me to ask Simon, the director who oversees all of the self help groups of Lea Toto, how much of a problem there has been with cholera. He let me know that he actually had cholera back in 2011 and was quite ill as would be expected for anyone  infected with cholera. I thought that cholera was primarily a disease of the past, but not so in Kenya. The sign about sexual and gender based violence, which was really the side of a small building, gave me great satisfaction since that is such an issue in Kenya. There is a school right beside the Lea Toto clinic so we enjoyed seeing the mass of children in green school uniforms, all lively, very cute and interested in interacting with us.

The Mukuru self help group makes products from banana leaves, anything from baskets to detailed animals. Part of the order was for Christmas things and there were some rather cute Santas in cars, boats and even in a zebra drawn sleigh,  as well as other detailed people.

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Crafts of the women at Mukuru

The women were very excited to have us arrive. I had not met any of these women before, except for those who attended the Women’s Workshop, because this group was added to Tuko Pamoja in June when Lloydie was here. The women were lovely and gracious and, of course thrilled to hear that a bonus was to be given.

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The women of the Mukuru self help group

The women were given financial training by Karen and also were delighted to hear the cooments from the guest book which Deb has read at each Tuko Pamoja meeting.

The TP Guest Book

After we finished up at Mukuru, we were back in the van packed full of donation duffles and on our way to the Village. The drive there is about four hours total and after you get past the city area, it becomes very beautiful.

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The very packed van

On the drive, there was alot of green, sometimes zebra or giraffe sightings in a distance, terraced gardens, and wonderful fresh air.

The ride to the Village

When we arrived at the Village we found it to be lush and green like we have never seen it before. There was so much vegetation I almost got lost on my way to the counseing office. But we are here and it is  beautiful! The internet connection is SO V E R Y  S–L–O–W and connection, technical, and charging problems abound so it may be a bit before the next post!

  

Joy, laughter, and sorrow

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

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

The route to Dandora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Grandmothers (plus one)


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Vision  Self Help Group of Dandora

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

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

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

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

Kibera (Nairobi skyline in the background)

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

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Former Kibera Paper work space

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

Making Bracelets

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

Filling the orders

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Those adorable school children in there red uniforms

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

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

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

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Bougainvillea from the Dimesse Retreat grounds

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

Nyumbani Village and the Day of Remembrance

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/01/2015

We arrived at Nyumbani Village Sunday following a lovely drive there. There is much beautiful countryside on the way with layers of mountains on the horizon, beautiful terraced gardens gracing the mountain’s sides, fields of zebras, lush mango trees heavy with ripening fruit and beautiful blooming trees full of yellow and red flowers. I always appreciate the travel here because it’s an opportunity to take in some of Kenya’s most beautiful landscape. We arrived just as the sun was golden and setting over the Village landscape.

Travel to Nyumbani Village

Travel to Nyumbani Village

The Village on a foggy morning

The Village on a foggy morning

Starting out in the Village is always beautiful in the morning. The week began with a meeting with the administrative staff of the two departments at the Village–Home Care, everything involving the people of Nyumbani Village and Sustainability, everything involving the environment including food, farming, and many creative projects which serve to make the Village more self sustainable. We got a brief synopsis of the major projects happening in the Village such as biomethane, tilapia aquaculture, beehives and honey, extensive vegetable gardening and fruit-growing for feeding the Village as well as for sale. The crops including vegetable and fruits are irrigated from bore hole and sand dammed water pumped by a solar pump and there is a new solar greenhouse. All of the furniture used by the Village is made there in the Polytechnic School and production is plentiful enough to allow for sales. There is also a program called Trees4Kids, which includes planting many acres of Milia trees each year. This variety matures in 10 years and can be harvested for timber with the first harvest due in 2017. I won’t go through all of the sustainability projects, but only say that they are quite ingenious and amazing and that the Village serves as a model for sustainability. We also heard about the status of the Village residents which currently includes just under 1000 AIDS orphans all raised by biological or adopted grandparents, most of whom are grandmothers. Each of the grand mothers raise 10 or more children in blended families which in a model which was the first of its kind in Kenya. There are many beautiful faces in Nyumbani Village and always fun-loving children who are very engaging with their smiles and antics.

NV children

NV children

NV children

NV children

There were many projects that the volunteers worked on during our week at the Village. Lloydie and Irma taught in the classrooms; Jon, Irma, Kristen and others planted the sisal garden and worked in sustainability, Kristen worked in the medical clinic, Deb and Meagan worked on the memory book that includes histories of all of the individual grandparents, Judy, Valerie and I worked in the counseling clinic and I worked with Lillian to prepare the Village for the Day of Remembrance. The days were very hot, but also very productive.

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Lilian and the KEST volunteers with the children

Given how hot it was, I was relieved that I wasn’t working in the sisal garden, but Irma and especially Jon were very enthusiastic about the planting and were able to work side by side with some of the grandmothers.

Planting the sisal garden

Planting the sisal garden

We also held a meeting with the grandmothers to go over the success of their basket sales through Tuko Pamoja over the last year. The Village Memory Book which includes interviews and photos of all the grandparents and recounts their personal histories is a project that has been in the works for several years and is almost complete. The grandmothers or Shoshos are very interesting characters with a lot of personality and a penchant for singing and dancing and greeting the visitors with a lot of fanfare, teaching them Kamba at the same time. We always truly enjoy them and most especially enjoy the children. There were also a few other volunteers in the Village who we got to know during the week, all of whom turned out to be of tremendous help with the luminary ceremony on the Day of Remembrance.

I am writing a whole week after we first began our work in the Village so it is hard to now describe all the work AND most of all, every touching moment. The times that most stood out for me personally were talking with all of the Village to prepare for the Day of Remembrance and being invited to one of the homes in the evening by one of the high school students. At the time I thought that there was an issue in the home and that Lilian and I were invited to try to help with that. However, after I arrived it became clear that the real agenda was to ask me many questions about the U.S.–about farming, schools, food, religion, climate and so much more. The keen curiosity and the hospitality of the grandmothers and children in the home I was visiting was really delightful.

By far my most important and meaningful work was talking to the children, grandparents and staff about grief and loss and preparing for the Day of Remembrance. As soon as I arrived Lilian and I mapped out a schedule that enabled me to spend time in every class at all grade levels to talk with the children about loss and their most profound grief, the loss of their own parents. I was also able to speak with the grandparents and the staff and there was whole-hearted enthusiastic support on the part of the administration (Raphael, the home program manager, the school principals, counsellors, especially Lilian and more)  for moving ahead with the Day of Remembrance. As I spoke with all the groups, having Lilian as a translator for the younger children, I talked about grief and loss as universal experiences, ways to cope and ways to honor and remember loved ones and carry them in our hearts. Depending on the age of the children, my talks were simple to more complex, but the enthusiasm for having a special ceremony to honor and remember those lost loved ones was universal. At the end of each talk, I had the lovely experience of hearing the children sing and even had Lilian write down the words to my favorite Kenyan Swahili song so that I would be able to sing with them.

Lilian and Judy visting the classrooms with me

Lilian and Judy visiting the classrooms with me

Lilian and I scurried around from classroom to classroom and school to school, the Polytechnic School, the primary school also know as HotCourses and Lawson High School. As I talked to the children it was very interesting to see their reactions and watch their faces as grief was as times very palpable even though it has rarely been acknowledged in the Village.

Talking about grief and loss

Talking about grief and loss

And grief was ever more present than I even expected because just prior to our arrival at the Village, the principal of the Polytechnic School, a very beloved teacher, had died at only 42 years old. Everyone knew “Mr. Mike” as the person who really “fathered” the school so there was a great deal of sorrow about this very big loss.

As we worked toward the Day of Remembrance, there was a great deal of planning and coordinating with school staff and the home care staff and Lilian and I worked very closely as a team. Judy also joined us on some of our visits to the classroom and in preparing the luminary bags. One of the biggest tasks was getting the names of the children’s parents who had died as we wanted to be sure that everyone was included in the ceremony so no child’s parents and no grandparent’s children would be left unacknowledged. Lilian and I often looked at each other saying, “I can’t believe it, but I think this is really going to happen.” Although there was much support all around, I wasn’t really sure how many people would actually attend until the evening ceremony began. And then I was absolutely beyond words when the entire Village poured into the Social Hall until there was standing room only and people were not even able to fit in through all the doors. That’s when I knew that we were doing something that was profoundly important and special to address their issue of unacknowledged loss in the Village. The evening began with a special mass also devoted to talking to the community about loss, remembrance and honoring our lost loved ones. As the mass began, the choir trained by Lilian and having practiced for weeks was unbelievable beautiful with rising harmonious voices.

All of the volunteers and I were outside during the mass setting up the luminaries which had by then been prepared with the names of lost loved ones of the children, grandparents, staff and volunteers. I am so grateful that all of my fellow volunteers worked so hard together to accomplish the lighting of the luminaries. There were two lines of luminaries leading the way into a very large circle. The two lines of luminaries were led by all the names representing staff and volunteers with a luminary for Mr. Mike on one side and for my son Brendan, who would have turned 24 on this day, at the other. Then the luminaries were arranged by house and cluster so that every child would be able to find the names of their parents in the circle. We arranged nearly 500 luminary bags  and lit all of the candles in them as the sun was setting and the choir was singing beautifully. And as darkness fell, they were all shining like stars.

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

Coming to the Day of Remembrance

The luminaries as night falls

The luminaries as night falls

Luminaries shining like stars

Luminaries shining like stars

When the Mass ended, everyone came out of the Social Hall (used as a church) and the crowd was in awe of what they saw–a beautiful circle of nearly 500 shining luminaries with names on each one. One staff member remarked “It is like you have brought heaven down here to us.”  There was glorious singing as people gathered round the circle of luminaries and then there was a prayer and a moment of silence led by the priest. Then Lilian and I read every one of the names. We periodically stopped for singing and other silent moments as we worked toward and finished the names of all the parents from cluster one to twenty-six. Even with almost 1200 people there, most of whom were children,  every moment of silence was completely quiet and every song was in beautiful harmony. After I had read the names of the loved ones of the volunteers and Lilian was reading the children’s parents names, I walked into the circle to hear everyone singing around the shining luminaries and under a beautiful starry sky. This became my most magical moment ever spent in Kenya. It was overwhelming to think of the enormity of the losses, but also extraordinarily moving to feel the coming together of this community and support that they shared. A few of the children knelt and prayed in front of their parents luminaries, but it was not somber, it was a time that was truly of honor and remembrance and especially of acknowledging the commonality of that experience which had previously been unspoken in the Village before. I was thinking of all those children, but also of my son Brendan as I felt that he was in some way there with me too.

Here are some video clips which will give you much more of a sense of being at the Day of Remembrance

REMARKS ON  THE DAY OF REMEMBRANCE

LIGHTING OF THE LUMINARIES

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!

JUSTUS!

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

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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.

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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

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“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

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!

Kristen is returning with her wonderful smile!

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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

TUKO PAMOJA’S SPIRITED FALL SEASON

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

TPwares

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…

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Visiting with the Mommas of Tuko Pamoja

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

Woman from Kibera. Paper and her daughter

 

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

Group photo at Dagoretti


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


Florence from Dandora and her daughter

 

Fingers and toes braiding beads

 
 

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

Tears of joy for the bonus at Dandora

 

Many hugs!

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

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

Valerie and Leah


Outfitted in Kibera paper work kangas


Beautiful baby of Kibera Paper Momma


Karen doing an interview at Kibera paper


Group photo at Kibera Paper


Justus looking at photos with enthusiastic children


Beautiful face!


So cute!


Playing in the school yard beside Kibera Paper

 

 

 

 

(more…)

Our first few days back in our Kenyan home

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

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Returning to Kenya……heavy hearted

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

 

 

 

 

In front of the Great Rift Valley

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

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

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

 

My son Brendan


My three children, Ryan, Katie and Brendan

   

 

Update….and early countdown to Kenya!

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

Aaah, Kenya!

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

Making projects at Nyumbani Children's Home

Making projects at Nyumbani Children’s Home

More projects

More projects

Smiles at Nyumbani Children's Home

Smiles at Nyumbani Children’s Home

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

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

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

Sho sho gets a new lasso

Sho sho gets a new lasso

 

Village girls and KEST volunteers

Village girls and KEST volunteers

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

Hot Courses Primary School

Hot Courses Primary School

Delivering supplies to adolescent girls at Nyumbani Village

Delivering supplies to adolescent girls at Nyumbani Village

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

Joseph and his homemade guitar

Joseph and his homemade guitar

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

Always hard to say goodbye...

Always hard to say goodbye…

Lots of baskets!

Lots of baskets!

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

Lloydie "modeling"

Lloydie “modeling” the ware

Tuko Pamoja--We are together!

Tuko Pamoja–We are together!

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

PCDA children

PCDA children

Summer 2013 KEST volunteers

Summer 2013 KEST volunteers

A tough group...

A tough group…

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

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

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

Mother and baby...

Mother and baby…

So cute!

So cute!

She's a beauty!

She’s a beauty!

Because you can't see too many elephants!

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

Tall beauties

Mother and youngster–tall beauties

Beautiful Kenya!

Beautiful Kenya!

Nyumbani Village–always a unique experience

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 02/02/2013
Nyumbani Village Child

Nyumbani Village Child

We have just returned from Nyumbani Village! The internet connection was so slow there that I didn’t have the opportunity to blog, but as always time spent in the Village was an experience unlike any other. The week was so packed with activity and the group did so many diverse things that I can’t begin to recount all the projects in which everyone was involved.

Let me begin by saying that the ride to and from the Village was mostly through beautiful rural Kenyan countryside  marked by a few communities.

Drive to Nyumbani Village

Drive to Nyumbani Village

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Along the way to Nyumbani Village

Along the way to Nyumbani Village

It is about a four-hour drive from Nairobi, but much of it is very scenic. The arrival at Nyumbani Village is marked by a unique entrance made out of bricks from the Kenyan soil as is the entire Village.

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

The Village itself is also quite beautiful. It was  built on 1000 acres of what was originally arid land and is now the site of 25 clusters–a cluster being four brick houses arranged around a common watering hole with each house being home to one grandparent and 10 AIDS orphans. The Village is designed to preserve the Kamba culture so there are no modern conveniences in the homes–no electricity, no running water; food is prepared over flames outside, water is gathered outside, etc.

Inside Nyumbani Village

Inside Nyumbani Village

Another view of the Village

Another view of the Village

View trhough to the Administrative Offices

View through to the Administrative Offices

It’s always exciting to arrive in Nyumbani Village since as soon as we arrive the greetings begin! There are always brightly dressed grandmothers waiting to offer exuberant greetings in Kikambe with the special extra exuberant handshake or to break into spontaneous dance upon first sight. They are an extremely friendly group of women who do not hold back and are extremely agile when it comes to dancing. And once school is out there is a sea of children in mint green uniforms who quickly change into play clothes and snatch you up for playing and photos. these are a few of our neighbors from cluster 8 where we stayed and found out we were there within moments of our arrival.

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Deb with the neighbor children

Deb with the neighbor children

Once we had all barely settled in, basically dropped our things in our lodging (this year living in an actual cluster house as the Village residents do with no inside plumbing, water, or electricity) we were quickly off do other things starting with meeting with the various administrators talking about placements and activities to be done. some of the main activities were time spent in polytechnic doing carpentry, doing ongoing interviews with the grandparents for the memory book project, doing artwork with students for the memory books, working in sustainability and agriculture projects, building chicken coops, carrying on the business of Tuko Pamoja with the Shushus (grandmothers) and for me,  doing psychiatric consultations that had been scheduled for me by the Village Counselor Lilian who was actually away during that week in Nairobi. We also interacted and enjoyed spending time with three interns doing long-term projects there and the Princeton fellow who is there for an entire year. In fact,  Jill had come to Kenya partly to visit her friend who was at Nyumbani Village doing an internship.

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

Lloydie is also working on developing a sister school program with a school in Maryland at which her daughter is a teacher and brought donations of school supplies and soccer balls from there in addition to all the other clothing donations that we brought. Sorting of these and presenting them at a school assembly is always a fun thing to do. It is a great opportunity to see all the children together in the school yard and enjoy them.

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Great toothless grins!

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

 

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Love her beautiful big eyes!

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Clapping for the sister school

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At the assembly

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Buddies

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I love pictures of feet…or hands

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Lloydie and the sports teacher

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This child made we wonder what he was thinking….

I spent a lot of time in Lilian’s office during week and have to say that I was much busier than in years past. It seems the word got out o the surrounding community that I was there and expectations were high that I would have answers or solutions for problems in which many cases there were none. on the first day in the clinic I saw 7 new patients all from the community who came in with children from 4 to adulthood who had never acquired any language skills. their difficulties ranged from anoxic brain damage acquired at birth to possible severe hearing impairment to severe autism and a number of them had a history of never having been evaluated before. It was quite incredible and profoundly sad because these parents did not really have an ideas of the problems with which they were dealing, has false information and in some cases false hopes because they had never been told the reality of the situation. Even on the second day that I was there another crowd of community people showed up when I had appoints scheduled for others from within Nyumbani Village and had to turn many away. The bright spot in all of this was the follow-up visit of the young man I had seen last year who had been acutely psychotic and through the round about of many different steps manage do get on medication. He came in with his father who told me his son was a new man and he was right. He had stayed on the medication until just recently and was profoundly different. He had not been back to school because they could not pay the school fees, but so wanted to be there and needed to go back on the medicine because of the return of some subtle symptoms . So we discussed both and I have to say it absolutely warmed my heart to see him doing so incredibly well. I saw him twice more before the week was up and arranged to pay for his school fees and am finishing the arrangements to get his medication. He starts back to school on Monday and is so grateful and so is his Dad. It’s a wonderful feel good story and its hard to say who amongst all of us is happiest! there were many stories that I heard in Lilian’s office and Sarah joined me for several days of that work. they were not all feel good stories, in fact, many were profoundly sad. There were times we just had to finish up with someone and close the door and shed a few tears because people have suffered such hardship; they have just endured so much. There was another young man who had spent 2 years caring for a sibling  who was three years younger (when he was 12 and she was 9) before he came to the Village and now he was worried that if he left the Village after only 2 years at the Polytechnic School (the alternative to four years of high school) that he would not be able to support himself. All he wanted was to stay for the  2nd two years of the Polytechnic program so that he could feel secure about his future, but he had no one to sponsor him (pay his school fees). So Sarah, moved by his story, is now his sponsor, and going to tell him she had made these arrangements was another amazing bright moment. I remember being told by one of the administrators at the Lea Toto programs the first time I went to Kenya that you can get overwhelmed if you look at the whole picture and feel like you are not doing enough,  but you have to remember that you can help the person that is right there in front of you and that makes a difference. I never forgot that. It was a very busy, sometimes profoundly sad, always moving, but also very rewarding time there in Lilian’s. Sometimes it was acknowledging the all too sad truth, sometimes only words of comfort and solace, sometimes  just listening, sometimes trying to make something happen where things seem slow to impossible,  and once in a while it was actually changing someone’s life.

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In Lilian's Coulseling office at Nyumbani Village

In Lilian’s counseling office at Nyumbani Village

One of the other fun things I got to work on, partnered with Deb, with a group of Nyumbani Village students in the art group gathered to make art for the Memory Book. We asked them to focus their art on pictures of life in the Village and they did a great job. The Memory book, when it is finished , will be an amazing piece of history as well as a tribute to all of the grandparents raising AIDS orphans at Nyumbani Village. I haven’t participated in the interviewing since I have been always been busy consulting to Lilian at Nyumbani Village but I have had the pleasure of hearing about many of the interviews. The grandparents at the village are primarily grandmothers, but there are currently 3 grandfathers. they all have incredibly rich and unique histories full of the local culture. AS far as we know, since all (more than 100)  haven’t yet been interviewed,  the oldest is 104 (and still raising children). One of the most recently interviewed grandfathers participated n the Mau Mau Revolution which is a rich part of Kenyan’s quest for freedom from British rule. One of the eldest grandmothers at 97 once remarked to Deb, in an effort to market her baskets, “How do you expect a 97-year-old blind woman to make a living if you don’t buy her baskets?!” Many of them have rich histories and are rich characters passing down wonderful culture and traditions to the grandchildren.

Working on art for the Memory Books

Working on art for the Memory Books

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

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Caroline, the student my family sponsors

Caroline, the student my family sponsors

As I mentioned previously, there were so many projects and activities in which the group was involved while we were in the Village. Jill did a lot of work with Polytechnic and sustainability. Jen worked with the Young Ambassadors–this is a group of Junior high students learning social responsibility and citizenship. Deb and Karen did a lot of grandparents interviews. We got to cheer at one of the Lawson High School (Nyumbani Village High School) basketball games which was the first place I caught up with Caroline the student I sponsor. We also had a little time to visit the next day before she had to leave to get her birth certificate and other items needed in preparation to take the national exam. The group  also spent the better part of the day with the shu shus having a Tuko Pamoja meeting but this was a special one in which they demonstrated to us the technique of making their beautiful baskets. They too were delighted to hear the success of Tuko Pamoja, the fact that we are purchasing way more baskets this year, and that they will receive payment for a purchase twice a year. We also spent time carefully going over the features of the baskets that make them most likely to sell including quality, characteristic and colors and had a very attentive and receptive audience for that.

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Rolling the sisel on her knee

Rolling the sisal on her knee

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A row of basket weavers

A row of basket weavers

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out....

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out….

Thanks to my generous donors, the KEST group was able to participate in  building and in significantly contributing funding towards the chicken coop project for Nyumbani Village. The Village has always had some chickens but they fall prey to Mongoose and other animals and have not been plentiful enough or  efficiently tended to enough to be a source of eggs. the goal is to have a chicken coop for all one hundred houses so that all the families will have a regular source of eggs to add a regular and nutritious source of protein to their diets. The KEST group helped to build one of the chicken coops. I was too busy in the clinic to take part, but I heard the stories–very hard work in Nyumbani Village, especially in the heat with everything being done and carried by hand. A nice looking product in the end however! I have to say that over all we truly lucked out with the weather this year! it must have been around 105 degrees the first day and we were all melting, but in a very unusual turn of events for this time of year, we have afternoon showers three days in a row that brought some cooler (relatively) air and we were all very grateful!

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

Our last night in the village was a special treat. Instead of the usual food–ugali (maize porridge) or rice and sukumawiki (stewed kale with a few onions and tomatoes)  or  kitheri (beans and maize) we had a tasty coconut vegetable curry made by the interns. that was followed by a performance extrodinaire in one of the clusters to watch the children later joined by the grandparents dance traditional dances. that left us awe-struck!! Truly an amazing performance of human endurance flexibility and fast movement that always make me think that the Kamba people must have some extra joints in there somewhere to be able to dance like that, And biggest surprises were the grandfather of 84 years old and the tiny peanut of a six-year-old, his grandson who could dance unbelievably well! It was the perfect ending to our time in the Village!

Waiting for the dancing to start

Waiting for the dancing to start

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The cutest little dancing machine!

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The Shu shu joins in!

The Shu shu joins in!

Grandfather and grandson

Grandfather and grandson

AND… we all to join in more than once being taken by the hand onto the dance floor by the young dancers, BUT fortunately none of the locals have cameras!

Stay tuned for adventures on the way home from Nyumbani Village–the Wumunu Carvers and the Giraffe park! And thank the heavens we have all had a real bath and oohed and aahed at the feeling of actually being clean from head to toe again– the Nyumbani experience is truly a road to appreciate the small things in life we take for granted like running water and a shower! And we have  delighted in being served a delicious meal by Susan and Raphael Maina at the Spurwing House!  We have a trip to the tea farm scheduled tomorrow then sadly some of start the journey home tomorrow night……

Resting on a log......being silly!

Resting on a log……being silly!

First Annual Tuko Pamoja Women’s Workshop—Pure Magic!!

Posted in HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja, Women helping women by Lynn Ouellette on 01/27/2013
Directing the way to the work shop

Directing the way to the work shop

It would be very difficult to pick a favorite day that I have spent in Kenya, but if forced to choose, yesterday might be the one. We held our first Annual Tuko Pamoja Workshop for Women and it surpassed all of our expectations and imaginations for what it would be! All of us went to bed at night feeling as if we had been part of something truly amazing that day. It was the culmination of dreaming and planning and a whole lot of  work  on the part of LLoydie and Jen–a synergy of ideas and passion that came together to be a profoundly moving experience for all.

The workshop was well planned in advance and the logistics were all in place at the start of the day. We all began putting up the signs and getting the rooms for the workshops ready first thing in morning. The night before had been the shopping and preparing brigade for gift bags to go home with the Tuko Pamoja participants–each would be receiving a tote bag of  maize flour, sugar, cooking oil, tea and powdered milk at the end of the day in addition to a small personal bag of toiletries containing soap, hand lotion and tissues.  The attendees for the workshop were to be 3 women from each of the 6 women’s groups with which we work as well as the administrators of the groups if there were separate administrators–i.e. three women from PCDA , three from Kibera paper, three from the Nyumbani Village grandmothers group and three women from each of the three Lea Toto self-help groups and four administrators. The plan was to meet together as a whole group in the morning, to stay in separate groups rotating through four separate workshop session topics with a break for lunch and to meet together again in the afternoon. The women had all been asked to bring a sampling of their crafts to share on a display table with the other groups.

Jen setting up the name tags

Jen setting up the name tags

Sarah "posing" with the goals and workshop session titles

Sarah “posing” with the goals and workshop session titles

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Lloydie, Jill and Sarah getting ready with their name tags

Pre-briefing for the day

Pre-briefing for the day and then we were off!

And then the women began to arrive and there was a sense of excitement and energy in the atmosphere. It was so clear that they were so happy to be involved–they were extremely warm in their greetings, many were dressed quite beautifully and they were profuse in their gratitude for being able to participate. When I say warm, I mean these women do not hold back–there was a lot of hugging, occasional spontaneous dancing and many comments that conveyed that they felt so special that this was being given to them. It was just wonderful to witness this from the very start of the day.

And the women began to arrive.........

And the women began to arrive………

Dressed beautifully....

Dressed beautifully….

Deb and Jane look like they chose the same outfit for the workshop...

Deb and Jane look like they chose the same outfit for the workshop…

Once everyone had some a few minutes to enjoy tea and those Kenyan delights, mandazis,  each of the U.S. board members teamed up with a group of artisans to facilitate them coming up with a group motto and mission statement and to give them their schedule of workshop sessions for the day. Lloydie made the opening remarks and each of the Board members spoke briefly about what would be  the focus of their workshop.

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper

 

We ran the workshops in four separate rooms. Since Lilian, the Nyumbani Village counselor and Kenyan Board member, and I ran our workshop all day I did not attend the others but I do have pictures to share. I was mostly out  of my usual photographer role having entrusted my camera to Sarah out of  my need to stay focused on my group.  Lilian and I did workshop sessions on personal well-being. This was focused on a self-esteem building exercise, and a guided relaxation exercise. At the end of the first session, Lilian said to me–and I so wish I could convey this with her Kikamba accent– “Oh my God, I did not know we would be making this amazing impact on these women!” What prompted her comment was the combination of their willingness to be so authentic and expressive  and their openness to being  moved by the positive comments that their fellow group members made about them. They were also really receptive to the relaxation exercise which we worked on with them. In the last group as we finished the relaxation exercise accompanied by soft music, one of the women exclaimed, “Wow!” and another “Oh my God, I was almost asleep!” which really delighted me! Over the course of the day we heard stories of women who had endured great hardship and loss who were so very admired by their friends yet had never really heard these positive things about themselves before who were now hearing them and being very moved by them. It was quite touching to be a part of it.

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Lilian and me in the personal well being session

Lilian and me and the TP women in the personal well-being session

In addition to our session there were others focused on marketing, product design and quality control and finance. The marketing session was run by Lloydie and Maggie who is the marketing director at Amani Ya Jou. They talked about concepts and ideas to market to increase sales as well as effectively marketing directly to customers by doing some role-playing.

One of the marketing sessions

One of the marketing sessions

The product design and quality control session

The product design and quality control session with Deb, Jen and Simon, Director of the Lea Toto Self Help Groups

The finance workshop

The finance workshop with Karen, financial planner in New Hampshire and Susan Maina, Kenyan business owner

All the board members report that their workshop sessions went very well and that they accomplished a great deal. the knowledge flowed in both directions learning more about the challenges the women are facing in producing their crafts but also providing them with useful knowledge that will help them address their needs as they try to develop more of a local market, learn to budget and begin to save small amounts of money to put toward their ultimate goals, produce higher quality products with more consistency, introduce new products, and develop an increased sense of pride in accomplishing all of these goals. Our ultimate goal is to work with all of these groups until they become self sustainable and then expand Tuko Pamoja to take on collaboration with additional woman’s artisan groups.

In the middle of the day when we broke for lunch we could tell that things were going extremely well as we could see that all the groups were mingling. We also could tell that lunch was an extremely abundant meal for these women as they ate heartily and commented quite vocally on how much they were enjoying the food we had provided. During the break, women were looking at each others products and talking with each other, sitting with different group members for lunch, some even bought each others products. This just warmed our hearts because this was across tribes and in a situation in which, under other circumstances there might have been some competitive feelings. And it was clear that some of our women are HIV+ and other groups do not have this issue and there was potential for the stigma to be an issue (this is HUGE in Kenya) and none of this was present! These women embraced each other and it was heart warming  to watch the heart of Tuko Pamoja (we are together) in action!

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

At the end of the day, we all came together as a group once again and talked about how the day had gone, Lloydie explained that this day was the culmination of a dream a long time in the making and that the day was a very meaningful event on so many levels. Several times during the day i heard the same comment form women “I don not want this day to end!” She asked people in the room to give some feedback about what they had learned during the day and many people responded. Some of my favorite comments were:

Jen spoke up and said that she had a new understanding and even greater respect for just how hard some of the women work and how little time they actually have to put into their crafts and that its amazing that they accomplish even making the products that they make.

My absolute favorite comment was from Jackie of the Vision Self Help Group who spoke up by saying “I have learned about something I never knew in my entire life. I have learned about personal well-being, this is something we must do everyday!” Yes!! And for me that’s when the tears started and they didn’t stop for the rest of the program….

Then we began to give out the gifts. Lloydie held up the canvas bags , with the food goods inside, and the room broke into cheers JUST for the bags, and for Deb, that when she was moved to tears. Just for the bags……. without even knowing what was inside they were overcome with gratitude. We introduced the board once again and spoke about how honored we felt to be there with all of them sharing this day.

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

The Board feeling the excitement of the day

The Board feeling the excitement of the day

 

So we moved on to giving every woman a certificate of attendance, a bag of food items and toiletries with hand shaking and hearty hugs and even spontaneous dancing as we went down the line. Every Kenyan Board member was recognized and every contact person at each site was given special recognition and there was profuse cheering and clapping and an intense spirit of celebration in the air.

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Spontaneous dancing

Spontaneous dancing

 

And more hugs..

And more hugs..

Following the  certificates and the distribution of gift bags it was time to really close the day so we all held hands in one huge circle and one of the women led us in a tradition prayer in Swahili, Then it was powerfully magical as we sang a song led by first one woman and swayed in the circle as one voice became many and then became a song with many parts in beautiful harmony.  And when that was done then Lilian led us in another song that began with one voice, that then became many, and then became a song with many parts all sung in harmony and we swayed together in a circle holding hands, many os us tearful, some of us with tears streaming down our faces as we took in this profoundly magical moment.

And then came the group photo and the goodbyes. And the day ended with a sense that we had truly accomplished something, feeling a little emotionally exhausted but oh so happy that the workshop had exceeded our expectations. And we all agreed that this is why we come here and that its impossible to truly convey what this feels like. And when people say that we are being generous to do this work the part they may not understand is that this the reward, that what you get back is immeasurable. The connection with these women overflows your heart. Karen remarked at dinner last night that she wished that every woman could be a part of an experience like this. We are the lucky ones to share this with these women who have so touched our hearts in ways that simply cannot be put into words.

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

Tuko Pamoja Women"s Workshop group photo

Tuko Pamoja Women”s Workshop group photo

 

 

For the students: Brunswick, Maine students send friendly greetings to Maasai children of Kenya!

Posted in Kenya, Maine schools, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Student Art xchange by Lynn Ouellette on 01/26/2013

 

Telling the Maasai children about the artwork

Telling the Maasai children about the artwork

Hello artists of Brunwick, Maine! Your artwork and the donated art supplies have traveled  a long way to make it all the way past Kiserian,  Kenya where the Maasai children live. The children here and the teachers and parents of the community were VERY grateful to receive them! The trip to their community is about an hour’s drive from where we are staying and we traveled through the town of Kiserian and through some beautiful countryside. It was common to see donkeys grazing on the side of the road or to see herds of cows crossing the street and even to have to stop for them as they pay absolutely no attention to the cars sometimes even if they are being herded. Often they are roaming free when not in town. We traveled through the Rift Valley which I wrote about in my last post for you.

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Cows crossing!

Cows crossing!

Our group getting our photo taken in front of the view of the Rift Valley

Our group getting our photo taken in front of the view of the Rift Valley

The Maassai school

The Maassai school sign

When we arrived at the school the children were all very excited to see us because they know that we always bring things that will add to their classrooms and do special projects with them. They are very smart children who are hard workers and love to learn but do not have all the books and supplies which children in the U.S. have. They have very few art supplies (maybe a few crayons) and their school has tin walls, a tin roof, windows with no glass, and until recently dirt floors. because of some donations they were recently able to make a cement floor on the school which has made it much better. All children who go to school in Kenya are required to wear school uniforms so you will notice that they are all dressed alike in the photos taken while they are at school. Although much of the time the Maasai rely on milk and meat to eat, when there are enough supplies to make it, the children get porridge made out of corn flour, dried milk, oil and sugar for lunch. When we arrived they had run out of the supplies for making hot lunch so the children were getting any lunch. However, we were able to get them enough supplies to make sure that there would be lunch for them for the next year.

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Greetings from the Maasai children

Greetings from the Maasai children

The homes that the Maasai children live in are very different from the homes that we live in and they often raise the baby animals of their herds inside while they are young to keep them safe from predators. The Maasai are known for dressing in very bright clothing and wearing traditional tribal beaded jewelry. Even the very young children wear bracelets made out of beads.

Typical boma or Maasai home

Typical boma or Maasai home

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

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When I told them about your art, I explained to the children and the parents that it was a way to send friendly greetings from America and that part of my goal in traveling is to teach the children at home about the cultures of other parts of the world and try to connect them to each other I explained that your artwork had many friendly sentiments and that Mrs. McCormack had been talking to you about Kenya and the Maasai people.

Showing the envelopes of art

Showing the envelopes of art

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Sharing the individual pieces of art

With their masks!

With their masks!

On the day before we had made masks with them so they had just been making masks. I shared some of the masks that came in the art work form some of you which made them laugh and clap!

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enjoying the masks you sent!

I also explained to them that I would be making copies of  the photos that I had taken of them the day before to share with all of you when I return to Brunswick. Since they do not have mirrors or any photos of themselves it was a special treat to take instant Polaroid photos of them and put them on a frame for them to bring home in the same way that you would have your picture taken at school.

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Example of a the nphotos taken of the Maasai children

Example of  the photos taken of the Maasai children

I am hoping that we might be able to continue this exchange back and forth as I go to Kenya each year in the future. Although Many things about your lives are different, there is much more about you and the Maasai children that is the same and it would be a nice opportunity for you to learn more about that. A huge thank you to all the Brunswick, Maine artists and especially to Sharon McCormack for coordinating this with me!!

Maasai children in the classroom

Maasai children in the classroom (including learning the word for” head”  in English!)

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

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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

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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.