Watoto Wote Wazuri

Joyful Children’s Faces and Women Who Will Touch Your Heart

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/21/2013


One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

We have had two busy and incredible days for the second and third days of our journey and an inability to recharge my electronics (mishap with the adapter we ultimately learned tripped the circuit breaker) left me wondering how I could possibly blog about these two days which were both so full of moments that had filled us with ideas and questions, left us speechless at moments, brought us to tears and touched our hearts.

We began yesterday at Nyumbani Children’s Home where the children are AIDS orphans and are HIV+ but get extremely good medical support and are doing very well.  We arrived in the morning to many joyful greetings as the older children came out to greet us. There were plenty of hugs and remarks about how much they have grown especially from those of us who only see them once a year. All the children are really polite and respectful, but all have unique personalities and some have quite the enjoyable senses of humor. We were headed off the church , Kenyan style, which is a wonderful experience and tried to describe it to the new travelers, Sarah and Jillian, knowing that you can’t quite fully describe it—it is something you just have to experience. Everyone heads up to mass, even the really young children, dressed in Sunday clothes, and its a joyful migration to behold.

Lloydie with a child from Nyumbani Children's Home headed to church

Lloydie with a child from Nyumbani Children’s Home headed to church

Once inside there are MANY children participating in the service–they are the choir, the musicians and drummers, the speakers, the servers, and my personal favorites, the dancers. And they are amazingly good at what they do! The youngest dancer who is getting taught the dances is 3 years old and has tremendous natural rhythm–and I am talking about African dancing and drumming, etc. And any children who aren’t in the front of the choir are singing and dancing–or drumming–at their seats. So this is a joyful, kid-friendly service in which priest talks to thee children, engages them, uses his sense of humor and they listen and participate. And if you are there as a visitor–you better clap, and sing and dance too!! They bless everyone who has a birthday that month and by doing it once a month practically all the children’s cottages have a birthday once a month–which brings a large cake and tub of ice cream. So we had our lunch and were invited to several birthday parties. The younger children are raised in cottages of families of 12 -14 children of mixed sexes with “Moms” who care for them. When they get older they move to the youth hostels which are divided by gender and are a little removed from the younger children.


In afternoon, we delivered bags of sidewalk chalk, temporary tattoos, and bottles of bubbles to each of the cottages. We also added 7 new scooters to the scooter supply. Sunday afternoon is the only concentrated time of free play that the children have so it is a caucophany  of scooters going around the circular playground with the older children very lovingly teaching the younger ones the ropes of scootering


Scooters are very important at NCH and build strong legs


Faces of Nyumbani Children's Home

Faces of Nyumbani Children’s Home

As has been the tradition in the past when I have  been at the Children’s Home, I planned to do face painting once again. I recruited some help from Sarah and Jill who asked me how I would let the children know when and where we would be with the face paint. I reassured them that all we had to do was set up outside somewhere and we would soon have children flocking to us. And so we did, and in no time we were surrounded by faces, and arm and hands…. And so we face painted for what was at least thee hours beside the playground with scootering, squealing children in the background and smiling children right there in front of us. I don’t know how many faces or arms we ended up painting but I know had a ball with all of them!


Just a few of the faces we painted!

We stayed around a little longer after that so that we could go cheer the boys at a football (here it would be soccer) game. Our wonderful driver Justus joined some others in creating a match team for the boys and we had a fun time cheering everyone on. By the time we actually left the Children’s Home it was about an hour and half later than we had planned and everyone was having a hard time saying goodbye even though we are going back next Sunday. We had plans to go out to dinner, one of two times which we will eat out during this trip, and after quickly cleaning up headed out to the restaurant Karen Blixen’s Estate (of Out of Africa fame).

Boys football game

Boys football game

While yesterday was a lot of fun –and definitely some work with painting a lot squirmy children and sorting the locations for numerous of those many duffels, today was definitely more work and business oriented but so very touching in so many ways. Today was purely focused on Tuko Pamoja and going to two sites where we work with women artisans groups in very compromised communities. We spent the morning in Kangami and Dagoretti, both slums of Nairobi, where Nyumbani runs the Lea Toto Programs  (Swahili for to “care for a child”)  offering outreach care to children who are HIV+.

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

Both of the groups we work with there are self-help groups — groups composed of caregivers for children with HIV–some are mothers or other relatives who may be actually raising the children, some are volunteer community caregivers—all have come together to support each other and to make crafts to earn a living or supplement insufficient income for survival. We met in the morning with the Good Hope self-help group of Kangemi and in the afternoon with the Miracle Caregivers self-help group of Dagoretti. In both cases, the agenda was the same. We wanted to share with them that Tuko Pamoja had a successful year having sold 85% of its inventory, that we had increased  our order by 30 % and talked with them about the upcoming workshop. We gave them a lot of positive feedback about how their products were so well received.

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

We read to them the poem that I had written back in 2010 which was a tribute to Kenyan women and the way that has become tradition to open all Tuka Pamoja sales events and we gave them a certificate for being charter members of the Tuko Pamoja LLC which brought lots of cheering and clapping!

Tribute to the Women of Kenya

Oh women of Kenya,
do you know how beautiful you are?
With your dark eyes holding your
stories of such sorrow and despair
your shining faces still able to smile so lovely
despite hardship beyond imagination

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how strong you are?
To carry your sick children on your backs
for miles through the alleys of Kibera
to raise the children of a nation through
sickness and poverty with such love

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how powerful you are?
You are the true backbone of your country
the bricks and the mortar of your people,
the keepers of the culture and traditions
the past and the future

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how glorious you are?
you dance and sing with a lively spirit
that could fill the heavens
that suspends all time and lifts all hearts
with infectious joy

Oh women of Kenya
do you know how truly amazing you are?
You moved me in a way I could not have imagined
found places in my heart I never knew existed
A piece of me is there in Kenya with you
I am but a deep breath away and in my mind’s eye
I am remembering just how beautiful you are!

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate


Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

We also told the women  that we thought a major key to the success that people felt a connection to their personal stories because we told about the group and at least the story of one woman at each of the sales events. In that regard we talked with them about developing a book with a photo and story of each woman and asked if we could interview all of them  so that we could say more about each of them. We also asked to do a video interview of the two women who could speak English most fluently explaining that  although we could tell their stories we felt it would be best if people could hear them in their own voices and from their hearts. So I had the honor of doing the video interviews and they were heart wrenching, touching,  honest stories of hardship and resiliency that in some cases made me cry with the women,  but they were phenomenal and I will never forget them. These women live on the edge all the time. They have to pay rent, school fees, and put food on the table and often there is not enough money to buy food. They are loving mothers who often raising other people’s  (i.e. sibling’s who have died of AIDS) children. They have endured their own hardship through many losses to AIDS and other diseases,  but are very committed to educating the children and creating better lives for them.  They are truly quite amazing. Once you meet them you cannot avoid being touched by them and wanting to help in some way.

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi


More faces, voices, news from Kenya and an update on Tuko Pamoja

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 08/10/2012

Future rock band of Nyumbani Village

Despite the demands of my life here keeping me away from blogging there has been a lot going on with KEST, Nyumbani and Tuko Pamoja. As you know from my last post, Lloydie Zaiser accompanied a group of student volunteers to Kenya this summer and they had an amazing time. I didn’t have any of their photos the last time I posted but I do have some of them now.They went to all of the sites to which we had been ……plus a few more recreational ones like this (I just couldn’t resist including this photo!)

Jack Shorb being smooched by a youngster at the giraffe park

They spent time at Nyumbani Children’s Home, Nyumbani Village, the Pastoral Community Development Alliance of the Maasai Community and all the sites where we are collaborating with Kenyan women to sell their crafts.

“On your mark, get set, go!” using all the donated scooters at the Children’s Home

One of the summer KEST volunteers, Ellie Shorb, with children from the Nyumbani Children’s Home. What a great tee shirt!

Shushu Mary donated kuku (chicken) for the summer KEST volunteers dinner

And all the while during all the volunteer and fun activities–and there many goals accomplished, Lloydie was working on the goals of Toko Pumoja (Swahili for “we are together”). She was meeting with all the women of the various groups–the Self Help Groups of  LeaToto, the women of Kibera Paper, the PCDA Maasai crafts women and the basket making Shushus of Nyumbani Village. She placed an order for their goods when she first arrived in Kenya and paid them half of the fair market value and when she left she paid them the other half and gathered the goods for 8 scheduled sales events in the U.S. So upon her departure from Kenya, 138 Kenyan mommas all living in poverty had sold their goods and been paid and were very happy to be making a better living. We now need to sell their goods in the U.S. and continue to expand the market here to keep this sustainable for them.

Shushus unbridled enthusiasm about Tuko Pamoja

Meanwhile back in the states, in Maryland, Jen was doing a stellar job of writing up the business plan for Tuko Pamoja with all the official verbiage and sparkle that it needed prepare it for an official entry into the Montgomery County MD business plan competition in which Tuko Pamoja emerged as a semifinalist!! Right after Lloydie returned from Kenya, she and Jen embarked on another adventure of presenting the business plan in the competition. If you knew Lloydie and Jen like I do then you would know that when they did their personal presentation there could not have been a more passionate duo! So now Tuko Pamoja appears in the Washington Post under “Capital Business” where everyone can go and vote for their favorite business plan of the competition. So please go to the website, view the video and vote so that you can help us get more coverage and support for Tuko Pamoja to further the cause in helping the Kenyan women and their children and communities!   http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-business/post/pick-your-pitch-which-business-plan-has-the-most-promise/2012/08/01/gJQAaTPMPX_blog.html

For those of you who live near me, SAVE THE DATE OF OCTOBER 13TH! that will be our own local Tuko Pamoja event at the Frontier. There will be a slide show and presentation in the theatre and sales of the Kenyan Women’s crafts before and after. (And if I’m really ambitious and have the time to prepare some hanging photography as part of the second Friday art walk the night before.)

Jen and Lloydie "Tuko Pamoja" We are together!

Loydie and Jen– Tuko Pamoja– “We are together!”

Once Lloydie arrived home I started getting sweet photos by email and received a wonderful package in the mail. It was a grab bag of meaningful Kenyan items and some personal correspondence that just warmed my heart. First of all there were some awesome Tuka Pamoja items including a tee shirt with that very phrase and a painting which I recognized to be the artwork of the Kibera paper artists,  the creators of our Tuka Pamoja logo.

Painting from the artists of Kibera Paper

Jefferson (left) who keeps in regular touch with me and another nice young man I’ve met at Nyumbani Village

Also in the package I received were letters from Caroline the student we sponsor at Nyumbani Village and from the boy who I started on some medication the last time I was there. He wrote to thank me for sending more medication to him (some samples) and to let me know that he was feeling well and that he is back at school (his father posed for a picture with Lloydie for me which I was delighted to receive.) I am anxious to see him again in January. From Caroline I got a lovely letter telling that she is working hard at her studies and that someday she would like to become a doctor. “I pray to God to continue giving you that heart of generosity you have with poor people and especially orphans….My brothers Joshua and Caleb have greeted you together with our house members and more so our grand shushu. We love you and we are hoping to see you when you will come. One philosopher said small deeds done are better than big deeds planned…..may God bless until I see you in early February as I will be graduating then…..”  It would be hard not to be touched by the stories heard vicariously through the news from the summer travelers, the photos sent home, and the touching comments in hand written letters. I maintain contact with Lilian the village counselor who recently updated me on how the other children are doing at Nyumbani village……and asked if I had found any other psychiatrists who would like to come and volunteer yet. I told her I would keep working on that. If anyone would like to have a life changing experience, one you can’t really imagine in advance, and one that’s hard to even put into words, think about joining us on a trip to Kenya….its an annual experience that gets better each year….maybe 2014?

Caroline, the student my family sponsors at Lawson High School in Nyumbani Village

Update from Kenya and KEST

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 07/03/2012

Nyumbani Children’s Home

As you may recall from my last post Lloydie has returned to Kenya with a group of travelers and I have had the pleasure of receiving updates from her and them and vicariously enjoying their experiences of being there. The group of young people with whom she has been traveling–Cavan, Izzy, Jack, and Catherine, ages 15-18–sound like they have had a wonderful experience and have done a terrific job of sending blog posts to their parents and including me so that I can post some updates. I am a little behind on posting since I was away on my annual art retreat last week but I was enjoying the blogs and Kenya was very much on my mind. In fact I think if I weren’t having such a wonderful experience retreating with my wonderful women artist friends I would have been feeling so sad not to be in Kenya myself!

As is always true when traveling with Lloydie Zaiser, this group of travelers covered a lot of ground! They first spent time at Nyumbani Children’s Home where the highlights seem to be attending mass in Kenyan style. Hearing the description made me smile and brought back memories of my first experience of attending the mass which is a joyous celebration of singing and dancing.  “We ventured off into the Children’s Home in our nicer outfits to go to the 10:00 mass with the children. The mass lasted about an hour and a half and was full of music, dancing, singing, and laughter. The children were extremely involved and seemed to enjoy being there. It was evident that their faith was an important factor of their lives and contributed to their happiness.” The other highlight was the scooters– “After their lunch, we had a surprise for the children. We carried over 20 razor scooters from Spurwing to give to the children, all donated by KEST friends of Nyumbani. Their excitement was an amazing sight as they all grabbed scooters and rode in circles around the cottages. They never stopped smiling.”  There were only a few scooters when I was there in January so I can only imagine the excitement!

The travelers visited the Lea Toto programs in Kangemi and Kawangware where outreach care is provided to children who have HIV and live in these areas in the slums around Nairobi. They learned about the programs and met two of the women’s Self Help groups. They shopped from the beautiful craftwork from the Self Help Groups who are part of the Tuko Pamoja project. “We went to see the beautiful bead work that the mamas had crafted for Lloydie’s upcoming business, Tuko Pamoja. We did a lot of shopping to support the women and fell in love with their work. While Lloydie was doing business with the women, we painted the entrance of the clinic and a hallway. This was not easy… very, very messy and sticky!  We went to Kawangware Lea Toto where we met with the mommas of the Good Hope Self help Group.  We interviewed them about their life and their work and got to know them very well.  Their stories were inspiring!  We did some more shopping with the women, knowing that our purchases would help them feed their children that very day. Then we did more painting in two of the Social Workers offices at the clinic. They came in to inspect the work and said, “Thank you for painting our floor!”  The paint was very drippy!  We very covered in white paint and even our Kenyan driver, Justus commented that he looked white! “

Women of Kibera Paper

They also visited Kibera Paper, another Tuko Pamoja group, where they too learned how to make paper. “After setting our paper out to dry, we sat with the women as they showed us how to make Angel cards.  This took forever and included cutting our designs and sewing on beads.  With a new appreciation of the work that goes into making ONE card, we went shopping and bought our own samples of this beautiful art.”

PCDA Maasai Women

They also went to PCDA, the Maasai community and had  a wonderful time learning about the culture and doing activities with the children. The activities were educational and learning, play and a soccer game. “The home team was pre-schoolers ages four to six and two teachers, against the four of us, Lloydie and our driver, Sammy. After thirty minutes of humiliation by the skilled toddlers, our team finally lost, 3-1. The children cheered and laughed once they realized they beat two adults and four teenagers at a soccer match. As the teams lined up to high-five and congratulate one-another, we realized our day with the Maasai children was coming to an end. Before leaving we handed out shoes that had been donated for the children and they were very excited and grateful to get them.” Lloydie was also there to work on the business of the Tuko Pamoja project with the Maasai women and while doing that the students hiked to the top of a Kenyan mountain.

PCDA Maasai children

Their first blog post closed like this: ” Spirits are high; everyone is finally sleeping well, working hard, learning a lot and loving our new Kenyan friends.  Our favorites are the adorable children, the inspiring women, and the precious animals we see each day.”  Yes that is the experience and it only gets better.

Stay tuned for another update…….and Izzy, Cavan, Catherine or Jack, if you have some pictures to share I would love to include them!

Tuko Pumoja— the Kick-Off

Posted in Kenya, Nyumbani, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 03/12/2012

View of the moon from the early morning plane ride

I headed down to Maryland this weekend, outside of Washington DC, early on Friday morning to get ready for the kick off event for the Tuko Pamoja initiative. It began as a serene and very short flight by comparison to flying to Kenya although memories of Kenya were very much on my mind as I traveled. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with my fellow Kenya volunteers, Lloydie and Deb and to see Jen, Lloydie’s assistant whom I got to know better over the course of the weekend. On Friday we spent the day finishing the preparations for Saturday’s event and spent all day talking about future plans for the initiative and travels to Kenya for next January. We have so many ideas when we get together that the synergy and excitement are a little mind-boggling! We are pursuing a non-profit status for Tuko Pamoja and came up with oh-so-many ideas for making this a successful project for helping the women, our friends of Lea Toto, Nyumbani Village, Kibera Paper and the Pastoral Community Development Alliance in Kenya. It goes without saying that the group of us have incredible passion about this mission and amazing bonds with each other so spending time together just by itself is a great experience.

Jen and Lloydie had been working hard on the set up well before I arrived and much of it was completed.  I added videos and worked with LLoydie’s husband Bill to get my photos on the big screen TV for display. The house was a virtual museum of all things Kenyan and on the first floor was an educational display about each of the women’s groups whose crafts we plan to promote. Lloydie greeted people at the front door to introduce the project, but I think they got a sense of the enthusiasm before they even walked in!

Karibu! Welcome to the Tuko Pamoja Kick-off--no mistake, you are at the right house!

Maasai display in the entry way---affectionately known as "Maasai Mary"

Our goal was to not only gather feedback about each of the crafts we had chosen as samples, but also to have our guests “meet” the women by sharing our personal experiences with them. I was at the Kibera paper station where there were photos of the days we had spent there learning to make the cards with them and doing the art exchange process of teaching them to block print and make valentines. I also had a video clip of us singing and dancing together so that people could see the sharing of the experience and the joy that it brought. There was information about Kibera and Kibera Paper and there were samples of the cards. I had a great time telling people about the women, our time together and how meaningful the experience was as well as about the cards and how they are made.

A guest at the Kibera Paper Women Display

Deb was at the display about the Susus of Nyumbani Village and their baskets and Jen introduce the women of Lea Toto projects.

Lea Toto Women Display

In the basement, many tables were set up with examples of crafts from each group with surveys to fill out. We had almost sixty people who came and also filled out surveys to provide us with invaluable information about the crafts and which ones they think will be most likely to sell.

Paper beads from Kawangware

Display of Maasai bracelets

Display of Nyumbani Village baskets woven by the Susus

Anya taking the survey


We really enjoyed sharing stories of the amazing Kenyan women with everyone and were thrilled to get such positive and enthusiastic feedback. Next we will review surveys and make some decisions about which crafts to order when Lloydie returns to Kenya in June. She will place the order then and get the crafts in August to bring them back to the US (details for transporting hundreds of baskets, hundreds of cards, etc yet to be worked out). The women will be paid the fair market value in Kenya then. Once the crafts are brought back to the US, they will be boxed for home party or craft fair/event sales and after they are sold here the women in Kenya will get an additional payment. If this works successfully the hope is to have this grow and to add a website and more….

We also provided some pretty delicious snacks for everyone and a chance to buy some Kenyan items on our sales table bringing in $1000!  It was a very exciting and inspirational day that ended with a sense of accomplishment and more vision for this project. We felt more than ever that our mission to help these women in Kenya and to thereby help their children can actually be realized, that we will no longer leave struggling with the sense of not knowing how to really help them, and that it will be possible to truly do something that could make a difference. We were all tired at the end of the day….but I think we all had a little trouble sleeping from the excitement of Tuko Pamoja– of all being in it together. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s work we can’t wait to do….. I wish we could have shared this day with the women in Kenya, that they could have been there too, but in many ways, it felt as if they were.

My last weekend in Kenya……….

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

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

Carving a giraffe

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

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

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

Fields of tea plants



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

Garden at Kiambethu Tea Farm

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

Fiona and the original tea plant

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

Kamangi giving us a tour


Kiambethu cows


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

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

The group at the tea farm

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

Justus gets a thank you gift


Deb sorting donated clothing

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


Nyumbani Village…..so hard to say goodbye

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

Nyumbani Village-- signs at the crossroads

Kristen and Lloydie taking in the Village

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

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

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

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

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

Another soulful face at Nyumbani Village

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

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

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

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

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

Last dinner in the Village

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

Students arriving at Lawson School on Saturdy Morning

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

Lloydie and Immaculate to whom she delivered a sponsor letter

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

John making delicious mandazis for us!

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

Saying goodbye to Susu Mary

Kristin saying goodbye to one of the children

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

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.

Nyumbani Village–the first few days…magical, and more to come

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 02/03/2012

We are here at Nyumbani Village! This is the place that I feel is most challenging to describe in words; the place that has brought me closest to the profound tragedy and  heartache of Kenyan lives that is not so rare here as I have listentened to personal stories,  yet has also lifted me to a magical, spiritual place that is beyond word as I have been surrounded by children singing and dancing traditional song with drums and incredible spirit and joy under the moonlit and star-filled Kenya sky.

The journey here was about four hours through major roads, small towns and then more rural areas. It was interesting sight seeing for beautiful landscape

Scenery on the way To Nyumbany Village in Kitui

and even some animal sitings–zebras, giraffes and more………..

When we first arrived at the Village we met with representatives from the different departments.  First a bit about the Village itself. You may recall that the Village is a place that is pretty independent and the goal is to become fully self sustainable. Here orphans are matched with grandparents in a home–10 children to one grandparent who may have one ior two bilogical grandparents. Homes are very rustic made out of bricks oin the village property from the Kenyan clay. Four home are arranged around a common area to form a cluster housing a total of forty children and 4 grandparents. Currently construction is under way for Cluster 25 and there are 895 children living in the village.

THe Village has a home care program with social workers who also do outreach to the community, a counselling center, a medical clinic which also serves the surrounding community, a primary school, a high school, a church and more. We met with representatives from all of these and then had a tour of the current sustainability projects which are just fascinating and so creative. The major obstacle here is lack of reliable water and there are many ways that they have addressed that including building sand dams to trap the water when there are rains. They have a solar powered drip irrigation for the gardens and have a 10 year plan for planting Melia trees which have a 10 year maturation cycle and can be harvested for sale or building furniture. (see www.Trees4children.org) They are also producing bio-gas from cow manure to power the stove in the kitchen and have just begun an aquaponics program–growing Tilapia in a tank and running the water through several garden beds and recollecting it to both water the beds and filter the water to return it to thr fishtanks clean.

The Village is physically very pretty with overarching trees and sepia colored houses. There are always Susu’s and children bustling around in brightly colored clothing sporting huge smiles and exuberant welcomes and in the case of the Susu’s specila Kikambe handshakes, greetings and dances usually followed by burst of laughter.

Nyumbani Village

There are many opportunities to be of service in the village. There are always more hands needed in the sustainability program and there are several ongoing projects such as the KEST Memory Book being created for the Susus’s. Every grandparent in the village is being interviewed about their life and a book will be created of their history along with the life of their family now. The next step will be incorporating art from the children which is planned for next January—just one of the ways I am being beckoned back to help next year. There is also the Young Ambassadors Program begun by KEST to focus on Leadership, Citizenship and other Values. Since Kristen is a nurse she has been very warmly welcomed into the workings of the medical clinic.

Medical staff at Nyumbani Village-- yeah Kristen!

I have been working with Lillian, the Village psychologist, whom I met 2 years ago, who has had clients lined up for me waiting to see me. These have included people from the community, older adolescents from the Village and even staff from the Village. She refers to them as her “extreme cases” that she feels she needs to ask for assistance. I have felt honored to be entrusted with many incredible and tragic stories but also touched that I can really make a difference here. I have seen one young man a clear psychotic illness who very seriously needs medication treatment and oh, what gyrations we have had to go through to make that happen, but it will happen and that will really change things for him. For the psychiatrists among my readers, one pill of generic Zyprexa costs about 65 cents here! BTW, Lillian’s case load is 895 children, 90+ grandparents, over 100 staff and 70+ members of the community. I am the only volunteer she has—I need some recruits!!!!!

Lillian, the Village psychologist, and me

Lynn and Walter have spent time in sustainability and Walter has been thrilled to spend time at the Lawson High School since he is a private school principal and educator, Deb is continuing her work doing the interviews with the Susus accompanied by the social worker from home care and Lynne has joined her in the process. I have spent much of my time in the counseling office but have done a number of other things too. I made my way over to the food containers for the weekly food distribution and got to mingle with the Susus—something that will always put a smile on your face.

Susu's of Nyumbani Village

Just walking around the village there is much of village life to soak up and savor. The children are adorable. There are no toys here other than the ones they create or happen to find!

A creative toy of a bicycle rim from the Village children. They struck this pose when I asked for a picture.

Nyumbani Village children playing with a big tortoise

On Tuesday evening we did home visits at 2 clusters under the magnificent moonlit and starry sky that is like no other here. The day was very hot but the night had cooled down and there was a nice breeze. We were all gathered as the children from the 4 houses sang and sang and danced and danced for us—this was one of the most magical moment in the village I have ever experienced—one that reaches deep into your bones. I am posted two videos—you will see very little as it was quite hard to record in such low light. So you will only get glimpses here and there, but you will hear everything just as we did—I hope can use your imagination to take you under the beautiful Kenyan sky too.

Nyumbani Children’s Home and Donations

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/29/2012

Today we spent much of the day back at the Nyumbani Children’s Home. We arrived in the morning in time to go to church with everyone.

Deb walking with a child to church

There has been an a feeling of excitement in the air throughout the past week as this has been the week of the summit meeting when all of the International Board Members and the Kenyan Board members meet with the Nyumbani administrators to discuss the Nyumbani programs, the progress, needs, future plans, etc. Today was the final day, so some special events were planned.  I loved watching these children of the Board Members play since as the saying goes children have alot to teach us.

Children of the Nyumbani Board Members in a sweet moment

The Nyumbani children did some extra singing and dancing during the mass as well as entertainment scheduled prior to a lunch in honor of the Board members. The entertainment included the preschoolers form the St. Paul Miki School through the “elementary school” age children.

Following the entertainment there were presentations to all the Form One students who will be leaving for boarding school and many heartfelt words from staff, children and others thanking the Board members for all that they do to keep Nyumbani going. There was, of course, frequent reference to Father D”Agostino who founded Nyumbani and acknowledgement of January as his birthday month. After many rounds of “sharing a few words” it was time for a special lunch. I was delighted to have a child, John, a toddler who had crawled up into my lap and fallen asleep during the presentations.

Sleepy John taking a nap in my lap

The KEST volunteers ate lunch at the tables with our host cottages and promised we would be back next Saturday.

Following the time at the Children’s Home it was time to hit the local Nakumat to stock up on water and a few other things to bring to The Village tomorrow. Also Lloydie, Justun and I, armed with the recipe ingredients for the porridge for the PCDA program set out to buy those ingredients (in great bulk requiring 3 shopping carts) with donation money that I had received earmarked for that purpose. We also pooled our donation money and discovered that we had quite a lot such that Lloydie could not zip it into the folder she usually uses—a very good problem to have!  That will enable us to pay for the mattresses needed for the latest new people at the Village and to buy lots of much needed sheets. We will go shopping once we are in Kitui near the Village. THANK YOU DONORS!!!!!!

Donations for mattresses for the Village!!

We went out to dinner at Karen Blixen’s house this evening—a good meal before we are off to the Village. Tomorrow morning there will be a good long shower too! The days are very full but very wonderful. As I write this post somewhat sleepy eyed at midnight here, I can say that no day yet has gone by yet been without having deeply inspiring and touching moments. Off to the Village tomorrow……………

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)

Video clips from Kenya as Promised

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Extraordinary Days in the Slums of Nairobi

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

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

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

Lloydie with Good Hope Self Help Group members

Other members of the Good Hope Self Help Group

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

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

"Thumbs up!" from the Vision Self Help Group

Meeting with the Vision Self Help Group

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

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

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

The Weekend at Nyumbani Children’s Home

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2012

We spent our first weekend in Kenya at Nyumbani Children’s Home, the orphanage for children who are HIV+. We began the weekend by meeting with Sister Mary, the Executive Director of Nyumbani , who updated us on the Children’s Home as well as the other Nyumbani Programs, Lea Toto clinics in the impoverished communities around Nairobi and Nyumbani Village in Kitui. We learned that the programs now serve over 4000 children and in the case of Lea Toto, their families are receiving services as well. The children in the Children’s Home continue to thrive although 2 children had developed resistance to antiretroviral medications (ARV’s). In the past these children would have died but she was able to petition to get special permission to purchase the drugs for these children from outside the country as only first and second line drugs are available in Kenya. The major happening in the orphanage now is that there are 14 children looking for acceptance in to high schools. All are tuition based boarding schools in Kenya and acceptance is based solely on standardized test scores. Since some of the children have had periods of being unhealthy or difficult starts they don’t all score very well, so this is a time of high anxiety for them.  We also toured the Nyumbani  Diagnostic Laboratory which is a new freestanding facility and much larger than the small laboratory which Nyumbani previously had. There they do the most advanced HIV testing in all the country and provide services to a wide range of other organizations and facilities. BTW, Nyumbani was the first site of HIV testing in Kenya and the first AIDS orphanage in Kenya.  I could say a lot more but on to the children………

The children greeted us with squeals and smiles and hugs and magnificent welcomes that were so heartwarming!

Lloydie with 2 Nyumbani kids

I have not been here for two years so one thing I really noticed was how some of the children have really grown! There are lots of names and faces to remember so I couldn’t remember them all, but was particularly surprised to see the growth in the little ones—some of whom you will recognize from my blog posts in 2010. I was amazed when one little boy who was in the ST Paul Miki Preschool the last time I was here remembered that I had taken his picture. And there are some new little ones as well.

Dolo, the little charnmer from cottage E

Baby Sharon

Innocent--remember him?!

The older children are genuinely kind and helpful to the younger ones.

Each of the volunteers was assigned a host cottage to spend time with including the children and the cottage mother. This meant hanging out with the children and seeing how the “family” (14 children and 2 Mommas) runs, having lunch with them, spending play time and getting to know them.  I was particularly charmed by a spunky pint sized 3 year old, the youngest in my cottage,  with a big personality, named Dolo. We will be back next weekend to spend some more time with them. And by popular demand I did another round of face painting which was so much fun! We also went to church with them on Sunday—Kenyan style with joyous drumming, singing, clapping and dancing. We also heard stories from the cottage mothers as well as other staff about some of the newer children and how sick they were when they arrived – some could not walk or talk and now they are racing around on scooters in the playground. You can’t help but think every once in a while that all of these beautiful children who are lively, thriving, very affectionate, little people would have died if it were not for the care they are receiving here. When you stand back and watch all this life around you it can move you to tears.

Lloydie and one of the boys from her cottage

I have some great video–you can get a peek at Dolo’s personality, experience mass at the Children’s Home and more, but I’m having some technical problems posting it. Check back later.  Kwaheri marafiki!

Getting to Kenya, via Rwanda, and just a few traveling snafus!!

Posted in Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2012

FINALLY……in Kenya!!

Well, my fellow travelers have kidded me that they couldn’t wait to hear what I would have to say about making our way here. I have to say that it was QUITE THE TRIP! I started out on Thursday morning the 19th at 9 AM and headed to Boston where I met up with Kristin and we flew off to D.C. together. We surpassed the first snag of having to check in and out security to recollect my 2 checked bags (100 lbs of luggage) that were only checked as far as DC instead of all the way to Kenya, all while toting our additional 4 carry-ons like an Abbott and Costello routine getting acquainted with a good many laughs about toppling luggage and how we already needed to” freshen up” after only the shortest flight of the trip. We connected up with the rest of the travelers at out gate to head to Brussels; that was when we first realized that our flight to Nairobi was to get there by way of Kigali, Rwanda….oh well, a little extra time added, we could handle that.

Then we learned that there was a problem with our plane. And time was passing… passing…and passing. And then came the announcements, one, then another, and another—about technical and electrical problems…and groans about the fact that that might be just “a little TOO much information to be giving everyone about the delay!” Then there was announcement that they were loading some additional software that the captain felt confident would fix it; then, well that didn’t work. Then an announcement that “well, they didn’t really know what the plan would be……” Yikes!! Now it’s about 3 hours AFTER departure time and there’s only one connecting flight to Nairobi per day. So our fearless leader Lloydie began making alternative contingency plans with the United rep: fly to London and spend a lovely day in London before the daily connecting flight to Nairobi (or not so lovely each our 2 stuffed carry ons and collective 600+ lbs of duffels), fly to Zurich and definitely miss the connecting flight, fly to Dubai for 15 hours and then get a flight to directly to Kenya…the next day. During the course of discussing our options, an announcement was made that we needed to go a new gate and we were shuffled off to a new plane where we were quickly issued new boarding passes and were about to board 4 hours late with a small hope and a prayer for reaching our connecting flight—but were told that there was no hope that our bags would arrive with us. So we took off!

The captain came over the loud speaker and said that he was going to do his best to make up time and get everyone to connecting flights…..Hmm, after taking off 4 hours late?! But we got to Brussels and were part of small mob racing to other gates and barely made it, but did succeed in getting to our connecting flight. After many, many hours of flying we landed in Kigali and got a glimpse of Rwanda, deposited some of the passengers there, picked up some others who were headed back to Brussels via Kenya. After about 2 and ½ hours of this process, refueling, etc) we took off for Nairobi. We were flying with 40 Swedish students going from Brussels to Nairobi and when we landed in Kenya, we joined in their clapping. Now about 32 hours from the original departure from home, we were finally in Kenya. And miracle of miracles (we were due for one) ALL of our baggage had arrived too!!  Our driver Justice was waiting with a huge smile and a very exuberant Kenyan welcome (Justice has a very big and happy personality) even though it was well after midnight. And the 6 of the travelers—Lloydie, Deb, Kirsten, Lynne,  Walter and myself—were exhausted,  but brimming with excitement and had managed to do some pretty good bonding, laughing, storytelling and listening of prior experiences in Kenya, and getting to know each over the trials and tribulations of getting here. Finally, in Kenya, headed to Bed at 2AM and ready to go to Nyumbani Children’s Home the next morning.

Since getting online has been a bit of a challenge—I won’t bore—I started writing my blog entries but couldn’t post them. Much more to come……….

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!!



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

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

“So how did you first hear about Nyumbani?”

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

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

Fall 2006 Nyumbani Newsletter

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

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

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

Preparations, Donations, and Communications……

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/09/2012

On the road in Kenya

Well, it’s only 10 days before we leave and the excitement is mounting… and so is the pressure to get everything done before departure. I have to say that it’s hard to concentrate on all that needs to be done here when my thoughts keep drifting to Kenya and the email communications about planning are flying fast and furiously through cyberspace. This post will be a potpourri of things to share that may not seem necessarily that connected, but that is a reflection of my whirling brain……

  •  Amongst the email communications was one that just came from Jen and the group of KEST travelers who are currently in Nyumbani Village with the “translation” provided by Lloydie:
    “it’s HOT, and the water taps keep going out (and the showers at the convent don’t work anymore). Pack lots of sunscreen, bug spray, and baby wipes. Oh, and some locks for the doors – we all have singles in the guest house, and John (the cook) didn’t have enough to go around.”
    Translation… “it’s HOT, water is questionable so take a long shower before we leave for the village, we will have drinking water with us, bring the recommended items above , and ESPECIALLY a pad lock just in case it is needed. Plan to leave the lock behind so they will have enough for future visitors. We do not have our lodging assignment yet. It will either be in the convent or the guest house but either way, it seems like there are NO showers… pole sana, TIA… This IS Africa!
  • These e-mails made me smile. You have to have a sense of humor about such things and no where else on earth would I voluntarily put up with HOT and no showers! Aaah life in Nyumbani Village!! There’s nothing like it to make you appreciate the smallest creature comforts like a shower, not to mention cold water to drink, a way to cool off in the heat… And though water may be in short supply I’m sure that there is plenty of ugali that staple food of maize made porridge that sits like a brick in your belly (your favorite, right Lloydie?!) However, there will also be ample Kenyan hospitality seeped in Kikombe culture with singing and dancing and smiling from children and grandmothers alike since the village, with its simple ways, is a very magical place.  And at the end of the day, you get to be mesmerized by the most star filled sky you’ll ever see.

Under the tree canopy in Nyumbani Village

Dancers--from children to grandmothers--of Nyumbani Village Photos by Karen Orrick

  • One of my donors was also asking about whether or not she could specifically give to the Women 4 Women Initiative,  but that is in the early stages of development and not quite ready for specific donations yet. Lloydie’s reply as an alternative was “ I think the best plan is for you to decide which community you want to help… Nyumbani Village for mattresses (they just admitted 36 new orphaned grandchildren and 4 orphaned grandparents in December), or the Maasai for the school food program (porridge every day at school for lunch, for some their only meal)”.  Although I am very much aware of the need in Kenya the thought of the school food program providing the Maasai children with their only meal of the day is a very sobering thought. And the fact that 36 new children and 4 new grandparents have been admitted to Nyumbani Village is a reminder of the increasing need and number of AIDs orphans and the elderly who have lost their children upon whom they would have relied to care for them.  The village has really grown–the last figure I heard was close to 800 orphans are living there. I’m not sure what the current count is, but I will find out.

Maasai Children

  • About donations–these are the things I’m bringing to Kenya to donate guided by a list of needed items and anything that is not monetary has to fit in duffels to go onboard the airplane with me. Somethings like underwaer and socks and medical supplies are always needed. Other things, like matresses, not to be stuffed into duffels, but rather purchased once there, are new on the list. Having reached out to family and friends and done some special purchases of my own, the gathering seems to be going quite nicely. I also had the opportunity to go to the warehouse for Mid Coast Hospital last week where supplies and goods are stored that are no longer being used at the hospital, but are ready for anyone wishing to take them to third world countries. I met a very nice young man there who was traveling to the Dominican and also gathering supplies. As we looked through all the storage areas and came across things that would suit our purposes we both got increasingly excited and started to say “This is just like Christmas!” I gathered gauze and band aids and wound cleaner and ace bandages and slings and ……  Now I have to get all the donations in one place–from my office, the car, my son’s car, various places in the house–and pack them in 2 duffels that weigh each less than 50 lbs.  A Houdini-like task even without the mattresses–this is the magic that begins before you leave for Kenya–well a piece of it anyway!

KEST and the Magical Magnetism of Shared Volunteerism

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

Volunteers from 2010 KEST Adult trip

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

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

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

Lloydie, Mercy and the shoshos at Nyumbani Village

Lloydie playing finger games with the children at Nyumbani Village

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

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


Returning to Kenya and Nyumbani!!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 12/11/2011

Children of Nyumbani Village

My last post was in June 2010–in some ways it seems like a long time ago and in some ways like yesterday. I am excited beyond words and extremely grateful to have the opportunity to return to Kenya again. I knew when I last left in February 2010 that I had been forever changed by the experience  there and that my heart would bring me back again. Since leaving Kenya I have kept in contact with Lloydie, our fabulous trip leader, who has brought many other groups of volunteers to Kenya and who has the biggest heart of anyone I know. In fact in the fall of 2010, all five of the travelers in our group reunited in Washington DC at the annual Nyumbani gala and auction. We had the pleasure of escorting Joseph, the sustainability director of Nyumbani Village, who had never before been out of Kenya around Washington DC and,  in particular, pointing President Obama’s “house” to him.

Joseph taking in Washington DC

In addition, I have kept in touch with Lilian, the counselor at Nyumbai Village both to get follow up about the young men I evaluated there but also to be a source of support as she has such a huge job being the sole counselor to so many people. There have been the newsletters from Nyumbani, letters from the student we sponsor at Nyumbani Village, many heartfelt email updates and even a visit from Lloydie, and oh so many things beckoning me back. The most powerful, however, are my memories of those moments that moved me to tears, that showed me that although the problems with AIDs, orphans, and profound poverty are so overwhelmingly huge, one person can really make a difference, one deed can really have  a powerful impact on someone else’s life.

And so we depart on January 19th. The group that is traveling this time will be four women–Lloydie, Deb, Kristen and me. Although I have not yet met Deb or Kristen, I know by the e-mails and past experience that we will be incredibly bonded by the end of the trip. The itinerary is similar to our last travel to Nyumbani, but with some extras this time. We will be spending much of our time on the weekends at Nyumbani Children’s Home just outside of Nairobi. You may recall that this is where the children are both AIDS orphans and are also HIV+. They are however thriving children who are staying healthy with good medical support and ARV medication.

Nyumbani Children’s Home

Innocent and me after facepainting at the St Paul Miki Preschool, Photo by Karen Orrick

For a week we will be at Nyumbani Village, in rural Kenya about an hour away from Nairobi. The Village is where there are about 700 AIDs orphans living in “families” of 10 being raised by a grandmother or “shosho”. The Village has its own school, medical clinic, counseling center, amazing sustainability program, etc. I will have a chance to work with Lilian again and will get to see Caroline, the student whom we sponsor. The Village is a truly magical place that is ripe with culture and alive with song and dance, smiling and laughter,  despite the enormous trauma and losses that brought people there. For  a nice up to date glimpse of life at the Children’s Home and the Village you can watch this video A Place Called Home by Shamus Fatzinger. I am very excited to see all those lively little children’s faces again!

Children at Nyumbani Village

We will be spending some time in the outreach clinics of the Lea Toto Programs in the slums around Nairobi. These programs provide services to families with children who are HIV+. We will however have more than one goal in mind in visiting these programs. At a number of sites, the women have developed groups who have learned a craft such as jewelry making. We met one of these groups during our last trip–the Vision Self Help Group in Dandora. I was very touched by having the opportunity to sit with them and hear their personal stories that were so compelling and filled with loss and heartache, yet incredible resilience, devotion to their children and compassion for each other. We will meet with them and other such groups to help them focus on establishing  fair trade practices and business plans for selling their wares in the U.S. Another group is the women of Kibera Paper who make  beautiful handmade cards, each a work of art, from recycled paper from the slums.

Examples of my favorite Kibera Cards designs

 Lloydie has actually set up some time for us to have a workshop with them so that I can bring over some art supplies and work with them on some new ideas. I am very excited about this aspect of the trip which Lloydie has referred to as Women4Women.  I was so deeply affected by the women whom we met in Kenya during our last trip and the ways in which they seemed to have such capacity to overcome such hardship that I wrote this poem about them and only recently, when thinking about the possibility of going back, did I revisit it:

These are only some of the highlights of the plans as the itinerary is very full. We are now in the stage of busily gathering donations of all different sorts–from medical supplies, to children socks and underwear, to office supplies, to Pampers and onesies with feet! Each of us needs to fill at least one fifty pound duffel with donations (and given that mattresses are on the list of needs and we’ll shop for more once we get there!) I better get gathering as I have a long way to go………

The one thing that I have a tinge of sadness about is that I will not be traveling with the same group of five this time. We had  a very special bond by the end of the trip last time and Kenya just won’t be quite the same without them there. So I’m hoping that Mary, Karen and Tom will follow along with us and get inspired for a reunion trip in Kenya some year soon……

The “Five Travelers” at Lake Nukuru in 2010

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