Watoto Wote Wazuri

Joy, laughter, and sorrow

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

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

The route to Dandora

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Grandmothers (plus one)


Vision  Self Help Group of Dandora

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

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

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

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

Kibera (Nairobi skyline in the background)

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


Former Kibera Paper work space


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

Making Bracelets

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

Filling the orders


Those adorable school children in there red uniforms

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

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

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


Bougainvillea from the Dimesse Retreat grounds

More on Nyumbani Village–that special place

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/04/2012

Kristen playing with Village children outside our lodging in the early evening

We have had a wonderful experience at Nyumbani Village with the children, the staff, the Susu’s; everyone we have come in contact with has been welcoming, grateful, and incredibly warm towards us. There are many complimentary things that we can say about the Kenyan people, but one trait that seems to characterize all of those whom we have met which is especially true in the Village is that they speak in such an unhibited way that is genuinely from the heart. It is very touching  and something that I wish we could see more at home.

Our days have been busy with activities but there has always been a little unstructured time just to walk around the village and take in the beautiful surroundings or chat and play with children who are always out and about in the evening. The younger children are often out gathering firewood and carrying big piles of kindling.

Village boy gathering kindlking

Children picking and offering to share berries

These children love to have their pictures taken. There are many joyous, smiling and laughing faces and a natural tendency to hold hands or put their arms over each other’s shoulders, but there are some soulful faces too that often make me wonder what they are thinking because I know that they have experienced a lot of loss already in their young lives.

They also love to look at their pictures

Kids here love to have their pictures taken!

Some of their faces are so compelling....

Children on their way back from the primary school

Children go to school at 7AM and arrive before the teacher to do homework and go home around 5 to eat dinner. All but the younger students go back to school in the evening to have a self quided homework session and the hugh school student go back to school for the same purpose on Saturday. In addition to a lot of school hours they all participate in household chores and wash their own clothes and help take care of the younger children. Sunday is a day off with Church in the morning, but they also have mass once during the week. We attended the mass with the primary school children on Wednesday morning. It begins at 7AM with a massive migration of children in green school uniforms from the school to the church and is quite something to watch!

Village boys in church


I have really valued my time working in the counseling office seeing the clients from adolescents to staff to community members whom Lilian identified as needing further evaluation. People were remarkably open with me, I believe because they trust Lilian, and we were able to work as a team to create some interventions that I think will be very helpful. With Lilian being the only counselor for so many people and there being no other volunteers to assist her and no psychiatric services available I really felt useful as well as feeling the importance of not waiting two years to return again—I think I need to return next year. I have tremendous respect for all that Lilian handles. She is like a mother to every child in the Village and even to some of the adults. She recognizes that these children have all experienced such incredible loss that sometimes they just need to stop by her office to get a hug or to connect briefly. One such child, Mwende, is in this photo with Lilian who told me that she has a special attachment to her. She was working in the social work department when she went on a home rescue to get children to bring them back to the village. Mwende was just a baby and had so many sores all over body that she couldn’t pick up without carefully wrapping her first. Other family members told Lilian to leave her behind because she would only survive for a day or two, but she brought her back to the Villlage and they were able to save her and she is a thriving child now.

Lilian and Mwende

We had many opportunities to take in the Kambe cultures but none were better that those offered by the Susu’s themselves. They are an extremely outgoing group of women who always want to shake your hand or give you a hug as well as a very animated quiz on the appropriate Kikombe greeting—all before they start dancing with you . Most do not speak any English, but mange to communicate okay. All of them weave really beautiful baskets from which we shopped heartily. We had a special treat with them on Wednesday in the form of a special dancing session which was both a performance and a lesson. It was quite amazing to watch them dance since when you see them walking around the village they often look a little slow and as if they are showing their age. Once they start dancing, however, watch out!

Susu's dancing

You will have a much better appreciation for how they move in the video’s below:

After the dancing was done we had gifts for them: sweets, Nyumbani canvass bags, and Washinton D.C. AIDS Walk Tee shirts (KEST had a team in the walk and the AIDS clinic had donated the shirts tio bring to Kenya). All, but especially the shirts were a big hit! lloydie also explained about the Women4Women Initiative and how that will included selling their baskets and they were quite excited about that.

Susu's wearing their AIDS walk shirts

Yes, they ALL really loved their shirts

We also met with the Current Young Ambassadors and ran an activity for them. Our final two days, and especially our final evening in the Village were quite the finale. The internet connection at the Village has been extremely slow and unpredictable making blogging a challenge though it seems only fitting in a way since technology is so foreign there. I am going to save the finale at the Village for the next post since it was especially wonderful and the goodbyes were certainly bittersweet.

Pastoral Community Development Association

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

Maasai woman and her baby

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

View of the Great Rift Valley

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

Maasai Children in the School yard

Maasai Children at school

Kristen reading an Eric Carle book to the children

Watch and hear the children sing BELOW:

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

The babyy goat and Morris and me

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

Jane and me

Kristen and Lynne, Mzungu Maasais

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

PCDA Craft Women

Deb and her Maasai Friend

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

Kibera Paper and so much more……….

Posted in AIDS Orphans, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/27/2012

Wednesday and Thursday were two really packed days such that when I arrived back at our lodging on Thursday night after 10 I was too exhausted to get a blog post done.They were as usual two incredible days filled with new experiences, inspiration, dancing and singing and yes once again tears from being touched by the experience. You go through a lot of tissues here!

We spent the better part of two days at Kibera Paper. I blogged in an earlier post, before I departed, about how Kibera Paper employs women from the Kibera slum and enables them to earn income to support their families when they would otherwise not be able to afford the basic necessities of life. We had two incredible days working with the women at Kibera Paper, getting to know them, working alongside them , learning their craft, exchanging ideas with the 2 young male artists who create many of the designs and really touching each other’s hearts. The KEST volunteers learned from the women how to make cards from beginning to end—that included “processing” the recycled paper (squishing it by hand in the water) into mush and then making it into sheets.

Learning to make Kibera cards-- Start to finish!

We also painted, beaded and threaded some designs and glued them together, folded and threaded the cards, put the Kibera Paper logo and description on the bag and even signed some of them. Since they were in the process of making more of my favorite mother and baby cards I was especially delighted that we got to participate in the making of those.  We really learned how time consuming and intricate a process it is to make Kibera cards since they are handmade every single step of the way in the finest detail.

Bothe Deb and I worked with the Mommas to help them create cards with a technique that we use. Deb brought a lot of materials to make valentines since we are coming upon that holiday and that is recognized in Kenya.

Deb's valentine project with the Kibera Paper women (even Justice helped out with this)

I really wanted to work with the woman to teach them a technique that they might be able to incorporate into their production and might be both fun by introducing something new, but also sustainable if I brought extra materials. I decided to teach them how to make small block prints with softcut linoleum and lino cutters and how to print them. If they liked the process and the designs, they would then be able to print the same blocks over and over again since I brought a lot of extra ink, printing paper and other materials to keep them going for a quite awhile. Wel, l I have to say that this was very exciting to me. They started out being very hesitant and unsure of themselves and by the end they were so proud of the work they had done that it just warmed my heart to see this unfold. I felt so happy to tell them what a wonderful job they had done and how proud I felt to have taught them. And they were profusely grateful for the lesson and the materials.

Kibera Paper women making block prints

Proud of their work!

Both days we enjoyed chai and biscuits together and shared a genuine exchange of warmth and affection. Lloydie explained the mission of the Women4Women Program and how it would work and its intention to increase their sales in the U.S. We also shopped heartily form their stock of cards which are just beautiful.

When it came time to leave there was a lot of singing and dancing, the most joyous of which you can see in these videos.

There were also blessings in song and words shared in the Kenyan way which is to speak from the heart without being shy in a way that we don’t tend to do in the U.S. and when you experience it in Kenya it is so profoundly touching—well, that is why we always end up in tears. They are not shy about acknowledging that our hearts have been touched by each other and doing it in the loveliest of ways. And Kenyan goodbyes—well everyone gets hugs and you are escorted to your vehicle and hands are held, and more hugs and people are still waving as you drive away……

Since Kibera Cards are made on the property of a church and school where space is rented  to allow for making and storing the cards , there are sometimes school children around as was the case when we were there. Since they were so adorable and I can never pass up an opportunity to photograph a child, I thought I would give you a peek and these children looking especially “smart” (Kenyan term for sharp, stylish) in their red school uniforms.

School children at Kibera Paper

Included in our two packed days were also some other activities, we drove into Kibera and stopped at a storefront that is run by one of the longest established Self Help Groups. They call themselves Power Women. Although not one of the groups for KEST’s Women4Women Initiative we did want to meet with them and to  hear their story since they have a long history of success. And of course we came upon some other children and the usual chorus of children shouting after us “How are you?” which is what they do whenever they see white people (Mzungus) in Kibera.

Power Women in their Kibera store front

Kibera Kids

We also took a trip to Amani ya Juu (Higher Peace in Swahili), a women’s sewing and training program based in Nairobi for marginalized women and women refugees from many African Nations and cultures. The focus is on mentoring women, holistic development, producing quality environmentally friendly goods, peaceful existence and self sustainability. We had a lovely meal there and then browsed and purchased some of their goods.

Amani: the Peace Quilt and The Children's Peace Quilt

Finally, we actually managed to fit something more into these two days—on Thursday evening we took the adolescents who will be going away from the Nyumbani Children’s Home to begin high school Form 1 or fist year of high school)  out for a celebratory evening. In Kenya, after eighth grade children take standardized exams and only are accepted into high school if they pass and get adequate scores. All high schools require tuition and are boarding schools and acceptance is based entirely on test scores. This is all very anxiety provoking. All 14 students from Nyumbani Children’s Home will be going on to high school and will be leaving in the early part of February. We took them to a “nyama choma” (literal translation=grilled meat) and had a meal, hired a DJ for dancing and they had a wonderful evening. We road on the bus with them and KEST volunteers danced under the disco ball with them! I had the pleasure of sitting next to Thomas, a very bright young man who is very articulate and we had some wonderful conversation. Lloydie gave them all a bag of catsup, peanut butter, and hot chocolate—apparently the most missed food items when away at boarding school. Sitting back, looking at all of them having a wonderful time, dancing up a storm, well, it’s something to marvel at considering that many of them were so sick when they arrived at Nyumbani Children’s Home that they weren’t expected to live. Now that truly is something to celebrate!

Nyumbani Children's Home Form One Students "Send Off" Dinner

NCH Form One students and KEST volunteers dance the night away

Next stop PCDA (Pastoral Community Development Alliance) in the Maasai community and some of the most adorable children…stay tuned. LLala Salama! (Goodnight)

Two Extraordinary Days in the Slums of Nairobi

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

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

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

Lloydie with Good Hope Self Help Group members

Other members of the Good Hope Self Help Group

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

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

"Thumbs up!" from the Vision Self Help Group

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

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

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

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

One more day, one more post, one more duffel…then we’re off!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, KEST Women4Women, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/17/2012

We are off to Kenya on Thursday so this will be my last post before I leave home. Tomorrow will be a busy day since I will be working until the afternoon , then finishing up many things to prepare to be away, packing my last duffel and heading out on Thursday morning. I will first fly to D.C. where I will meet up with my fellow travelers and we will all fly together to Kenya. I received a lovely email from Lilian, the counselor at Nyumbani Village, wishing me safe travels and letting me know that she can’t wait to see me. We have also had several e-mails back and forth from the women at Kibera Paper making plans for our time together for a sharing of creative ideas.

More people have come by with donations making the packing a little trickier, but the bounty more plentiful and I’m very grateful to have these to bring with me. The monetary donations have really added up and I am very grateful for those as well since they will help us contribute to the nutritional needs of the Maasai children and to  buy mattresses for Nyumbani Village. They are also very light weight and don’t take any packing space and at this point I’m particularly appreciative for that! I really want to thank everyone who has made the effort to donate to this cause– every little bit adds up, every little bit makes a significant difference, everything is received with such grace and gratitude.  I wish all of you could have the opportunity to experience what I will when giving to the Kenyan people who I will encounter– it’s quite beyond words.

Finally, I would like to introduce you to another artisan group with whom we will work to discuss fair trade practices for selling their ware in the states. You have,  however, actually been introduced previously though not from this perspective. These are the grandmothers or shosho’s (sho sho’s , su su’s, nobody can actually really say how you spell this Kikombe word in English) at Nyumbani Village. This is a very spirited, lively, dancing and singing group of grannies who are prone to grabbing you at any moment and pulling you into an impromptu dance, who have a special 3 part Kikombe hand shake that they teach everyone, and who also greet you with gigantic smiles and Kikombe greetings with the expectation that you somehow know the correct response–if you don’t, they teach you on the spot with great gesticulation and broad smiles and laughter until you get it. They also weave very beautiful baskets out of Sissel and yarn and make it look incredibly easy. They sell these though do not have a well established market and really need to expand that since the baskets are quite beautiful and so well made.

Nyumbani Village Sho Sho's weaving Baskets

The storage room for baskets at Nyumbani Village

As you can see the baskets are as “colorful” as the sho sho’s!

So we leave on Thursday and arrive in Kenya late  (midnight) on Friday night. Our first stop after a night’s sleep will be the Nyumbani Children’s Home on Saturday. Imagine being surrounded by excited, squealing children with smiling faces who you know are healthy and thriving, who you know are alive and have a future literally because Nyumbani exists to care for them–it’s a very powerful and a very wonderful feeling. What could be better than that?!

Next time I write…..I’ll be in warm and sunny Kenya.

The Vision Self Help Group Of Dandora

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

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

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

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

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

WE leave in JUST 4 more days!!



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