Watoto Wote Wazuri

Much more after I left….

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, Our Kenyan Family, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 02/14/2016

This year in Kenya I was the first of the volunteers to leave, ambivalently, reluctantly, but headed home to my own life and responsibilities that beckoned me there. I left knowing that some of the work would continue, donation money would be well spent, and more good would come after my departure.

Because of very generous donors we were able to address many needs in the communities we visit and for the Kenyan people we love. Although I was leaving, I knew that my remaining donation money was in good hands and that it would reach its fullest possible potential with Justus at the helm of seeking out bargains that could only be accessed by someone local, someone Kenyan, our favorite Kenyan. Before I departed we pooled the rest of our donation money and divvied it up to go towards various projects. Our last night at the Nyumbani Village guest house, we gathered in the open sitting area, fatigued though happily satisfied with our time there. Drinking wine out of water bottles (the only possible glasses) and eating a dinner of our remaining healthy and not so healthy snacks, we counted money and packed it into envelopes designated for different causes. We had already been able to purchase 200 sets of sheets and blankets for Nyumbani Village, but in doing so learned that the need for mattresses was even greater. So mattresses, with plastic covers for the younger children became the object of one of the envelopes of money. Though we had purchased sports equipment, uniforms were still to be purchased, uniforms that would instill pride and identity by including the Nyumbani name written on them. And we had been communicating with Philip of PCDA, despite our various technological problems with phones, computers and internet, regarding shoes for the Maasai school children. This was another envelope of donation funds dedicated to a real need. This was my final night in the Village and I had one more day in Kenya, the wonderful day we spent with Justus’s family.

After I departed, and while I was settling into life back at home, recovering from travel and jet lag, those volunteers still left in Kenya, along with Justus were busy at work doing other things. Deb and Karen headed to Talitha Kum, another orphanage, but before that,  Deb purchased baby clothes to be donated to the maternity unit mothers and babies at St. Joseph’s. Since Lloydie stayed in the Nairobi area, she got to deliver those in a final visit there.

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Sisters  at St. Joseph’s delighted to receive newborn clothes from KEST traveler Deb DeArmon!

She also got to visit with the spirited nuns, Sisters Rhoda and Ida. I wonder if there were any more stories of the Pope’s visit?! While at St. Joseph’s, she also met with a women’s self help group there, one that is just getting started, and could benefit from some Tuko Pamoja wisdom.

Wonderful, inspiring women, love 'em all!
Wonderful, inspiring women, love them all!

She and Justus did some major shopping and arranged for mattresses to be delivered to Nyumbani Village. I wish I could have been there when they arrived since it looks like it was a major event!

Thanks to Raphael, the Village Director for sending photos along with a huge and heartfelt thank you that I am passing on to my donors.Thanks to Justus for scouting out the best prices and doing the leg work! The sports uniforms had to be printed with the Nyumbani name so had not yet been brought to Nyumbani Village before everyone departed. But Lloydie enlisted the help of the children at the Children’s Home to model some of them for photos!

I really wish I had been around when the Maasai children of PCDA got their new shoes, but Lloydie has sent me very many great pictures so that I could share the process and the delight.

James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks.  They received a very nice tip!
James and Eunice who helped us buy 91 pairs of shoes and socks. They received a very nice tip!

I think Justus had a good time!

Out with the old, in with the new!

How happy are they to have new shoes!

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Happy Kids!

I had to restrain myself to keep from posting all 248 photos of smiling children with shiny new shoes! But I think you can get the feeling of how happy they were and how much  of a difference this made for them. Next year….they really need new school uniforms!!

Lloydie wrote to me about all the things that she continued to do after I departed,  while Deb and Karen were at Tabitha Kum and after they departed. She had not slowed down one bit (no surprise to all who know her!) She went with Charles, Lucy’s brother, both of whom grew up in Nyumbani Village and visited Charles’s school for which she is sponsoring him. He is training in the hospitality business which should afford him a job in the future. They also got to celebrate his birthday.

She also met with Nicholas Syano, former Director at Nyumbani Village, and Joseph Lentunyio, former Sustainability Director at Nyumbani Village, who have teamed together to help teach communities permaculture farming techniques. A future plan is being made for them to come to PCDA to teach the women and children how to farm crops that are hearty in their environment. And stage 2 of the PCDA water program funded by Woods Academy in Bethesda will include water accessible for farming!

There is so much more work that was done, but yet still so much more that could be done. You can already see some of the goals for next year taking shape and including replacing all the mattresses in Nyumbani Village over time, getting new school uniforms for the PCDA kids who clothes don’t hold a shine to their new shoes. We would like to support the Maternity Unit at St. Joseph’s more–more baby clothes and I am researching an incubator update. Karen is working to have a micro finance program to help the people that Nyumbani serves through the Lea Toto Program.  We always end up with more new ideas, projects to pursue, work to be done our next time in Kenya.  Never do we leave with our hearts not feeling full for the work we have done, the people with whom we have connected, the relationships with our Kenyan family and a profound love of Kenya and all that she holds.


– A poem by Bridget Dore, dedicated to Madiba (Nelson Mandela)

Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We know you,” Africa said,

“We have seen and watched you,

We can learn to live without you,

But We know

We needn’t yet.”

And Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said.

“It is always with you,

There inside your head.

Our rivers run in currents

In the swirl of your thumbprints;

Our drumbeats

Counting out your pulse,

Our coastline,

The silhouette of your soul.”

So Africa smiled a little

When you left.

“We are in you,” Africa said.

“You have not left us, yet.”

© Bridget Dore

We all get teary each time we read this as its sentiments  apply to how we feel about Kenya and the roots we have grown there.


Mukuru… and the Village is Green

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

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

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


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


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

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


Crafts of the women at Mukuru

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


The women of the Mukuru self help group

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

The TP Guest Book

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

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The very packed van

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

The ride to the Village

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

Three busy days for Tuko Pamoja

We have had exciting full few days since I last blogged. There are so many stories that I would love to tell that I could write a book, but I can’t possibly include everything. The major focus of this whole week is to visit the sites of the women’s self help groups with whom we collaborate in Tuko Pamoja (swahili for “we are together”). We began on Monday by visiting 2 groups located in the different compromised communities (i.e. slums) surrounding Nairobi. Our first stop was in Kawangware where we received a warm and affectionate greeting at all the women with lots of hugging and wishing of “Happy New Year!” The agenda for each site visit is the same: to remind people of the mission and philosophy of Tuko Pamoja, to update the women on the progress of the year and give out bonuses, to share the feedback which we receive about the women and their crafts, to pick up the order for the next round of events in the states and to see what new crafts they have made and which we might promote in the future.



The women of the Kawangware Self Help Group

One issue that we have particularly emphasized this year is making sure that all the women within each group teach each other how to make all the crafts and that the work, and therefore the income earned, is equally distributed. The philosophy of TP is that everyone works together, shares,  and by doing so strengthens the group. We want to discourage competition within and between the groups and promote working together.

Looking for new product designs

In addition, Karen has also been working with the women on their finances: opening a bank account, showing them how to balance their account, how to budget, and how to save. It is a requirement to have a group bank account to be part of Tuko Pamoja, but we also encourage the women to have individual bank accounts. Karen has been working with each group of women and she has had a captive audience as they listened to everything she said and practiced keeping a financial ledger.


Karen teaching about finances

In the afternoon we at Dagoretti meeting with the Self Help Group based there.

One of the highlights of the meeting, in addition to bonuses of course, is when we share with the women the wonderful feedback which we receive from people attending Tuko Pamoja events and writing comments in the guest book.

Bonuses always bring a round of applause

Comments from the guest book are well received

I always tell the women that at my event one of my favorite parts is to have a presentation in which I explain the history of Tuko Pamoja, talk about the women’s lives, and talk about the rich and meaningful bond which develops between us. I cannot help getting choked up every time I say that I am very proud and honored to represent them. We also tell them that hearing about them, their stories, their lives, impresses people so much that they want to buy more of their goods. At the end of every meeting is a prayer and a round of joyful singing.

Singing with the group at Dagoretti

While at Dagoretti we got a chance to catch up with Bernard, a young man who grew up at Nyumbani Children’s home and is now employed by Nyumbani as the IT expert in the Lea Toto clinic at Dagoretti. Bernard is an exceptionally nice young man who provides a powerful example to the younger people of Nyumbani with his success and work ethic and his desire to give back to the community in forming a Nyumbani graduates self help group. However, the best part of catching up with Bernard was learning that he has become engaged to marry Grace. They both brought us to their home right near the Lea Toto Clinic and showed us their rabbits. Bernard received a microfinance loan to get the training and loan to begin raising rabbits which he can sell to others. It’s a little difficult to think to think of those sweet bunnies entering the food chain, but this is Kenya and sources of protein are not plentiful.

Bernard, Grace and the youngest member of the bunny family 

We had a very full day on Monday and felt good about the work and our connections with the women. We went to bed tired and early knowing  that the next day would also be a very busy one.

On Tuesday we headed to Kiserian to visit the Maasai community of PCDA. The ride was on a road with the largest, deepest and most incredibly plentiful potholes that it was beyond anything we have experienced in Kenya before…..and Kenya has such a reputation for potholes that “potholes” is one of the words in my rather limited Swahili vocabulary. It was also along some of the most beautiful scenery as we drove past the Great Rift Valley.


Before arriving at the community we picked up Philip, the director,  along the way so that we could go shopping for the supplies for the school lunch program: maize meal, beans, powdered milk, oil and sugar. We had even more of an adventure because it has rained for part of every day since we have been here and there is an enormous amount of mud everywhere, especially on the streets of Kisersian. During this time we also had an opportunity to get an update from Philip. The structure of the school was holding up well since the roof had been replaced and there is a project in motion to get water into Maasai homes. This would be huge as water is such a commodity and during the dry season is in really scarce supply. The mud was to become an even greater issue when we arrived at PCDA and got very stuck in it! However, the determination of Justus, our driver, and Phillip along with a helpful passerby eventually got us out of the mud, but not without some some serious strategy,  a lot of muscle and nearly swallowing up some shoes.

The mud! Our van was in deeper than this car!

All of that was soon forgotten when we arrived at the school to be greeted by all of the Maasai children who were very excited to see us. The first order of business was to unload all of the food supplies and then we got to spend some time with the children.

Unloading the school food supplies

Our greeters!

We often do enrichment projects with the children, but this visit more time was taken in getting there, buying the food and getting extracted from the mud, that we didn’t have as much time as usual. However there was time for visiting the different classrooms, rounds of singing and the older children showing off their progress in learning English.We sang with the children and the children sang for us.We could tell simply by observation that the children needed new uniforms and especially shoes.


Time for new uniforms and shoes

“Eensy Weensy Spider”

And the children sang for us!

Following our fun with the children, we left the school to meet with their Mommas, the PCDA self Help Group of Tuko Pamoja. Last year when we were there we helped them to paint their workshop which donation funds help to build. They were extremely proud of the now finished and furnished workshop and excited too share it with us.

Meeting in the work shop

We had a Tuka Pamoja meeting in the workshop and were very impressed by the space and how organized the women were with their orders. We were very surprised at the end of the time to learn that the women had cooked a full meal for us as large pots and pans of stew and chapatis came trailing down from the houses. It was a time to enjoy a meal together, to  see some of the children who were now out of school and to visit with the women. We finished the day feeling very gratified as the relationship with this community has come a long way from the first year when the women seemed unsure about trusting us to now being very warm, grateful and seeing us a part of their family.

Enjoying the Maasai women and children

We drove home along the Great Rift Valley once again and another round of rain held off until after we did our traditional photo of “flying over the Rift Valley.” We also stopped to see “Jane the soap lady” who used to wave to us and say “Happy New Year!” as we drove past her each year. Last year we actually stopped to see her as she sat in her wheelchair by the side of the road selling soap. Now that is a tradition too and and she is always overwhelmed and touched when we stop. DSC_0897

Flying over the Rift Valley

Stopping to see Jane the soap lady

Today we visited two different places in Kangemi; one stop was to meet with the women’s self help grump and the other was to catch up with an old friend, a nun who was formerly stationed at Dimesse Sister’s Retreat and to see the work that she is doing in a new facility bordering Kangemi. We were also to meet with her about the possibility of adding another women’s group to Tuko Pamoja. We weren’t sure what to expect from the facility in which she now works, but were sure that any time spent with Sister Rhoda would be quite spirited!

We toured the facility of St.  Joseph and learned about the programs that they offer and some possible ways that there could be some sharing of experience and knowledge between the polytechnic school there and at Nyumbani Village. One of the parts that impressed me the most is that they have a program especially focused on women from the Kangemi slum which included a maternity unit that offers both prenatal and postpartum care. This is much better care than what most pregnant women get in poor ares of Kenya. They also offer HIV testing and HIV preventative medication during pregnancy for HIV+ women to prevent mother to child transmission. What impressed me even more than all of this however, was that they have a good understanding of and intervention for postpartum depression and pregnancy loss. They could use a much better infant incubator and we had a discussion  about that, but even if we could find one to be donated, getting it there and paying taxes and tariffs would be very challenging. Its something I would like to pursue trying though…

The Maternity Unit

In addition to maternity care they have another medical clinic, primary and secondary school and a polytechnic school. Their biggest claim to fame, however, is that the vestments worn by Pope Francis were made there and he came to see who made them and to visit Kangemi. In fact he drove into the slum and did a church service there and Sister Rhoda was very proud to share the details with us. She described him as saying that he was “not there for the Catholics, but there for humanity, ” and that he stopped and touched and blessed each disabled person when he came into the church. I wish I could convey Sister Rhoda’s sparky personality. The best way I can think of giving you a glimpse is by quoting her when she wanted some of us who will go unnamed who were holding up the group by still talking: “People of God! Lets move it!”

A visit from Pope Francis

The streets of Kangemi

Sister Rhoda and meeting people in Kangemi

We also met Sister Ida, an older nun, originally from Italy, while we were there. She told us that she wrote a long letter to the Pope before he came to Kenya and she only just wanted to see him. She made a connection with the security people who were in Kangemi to provide protection for him. They kept her informed about how she might get close enough to see him and eventually relayed the message that she was the nun who had written the very long letter. She ultimately got to meet him and described herself as shaking as they had a warm embrace. And she “didn’t know how I got up the courage but I asked him if I could give a kiss.” And he replied that she could as long she didn’t bite him” and so she did. I could never convey in my words how wonderfully she relayed the story with her spirited animation and Italian accent, but it was quite entertaining!


Sister Ida who kissed the Pope!


The St Joseph’s sisters and the KEST volunteers

We made two other stops in Kangemi, one to visit a self help group under Sister Rhoda’s wing who she thought could be an addition to Tuko Pamoja and the other with the women’s self help group of Lea Toto in Kangemi who have been a part of Tuko Pamoja since the beginning over four years ago.  We carried on the same agenda as at the prior meetings, but this group had some challenges which needed attention and which we were able to eventually work through.

The Lea Toto Kangemi Self Help Group

We ended the work of the day on a very good note and headed home from Kangemi as it started to rain once again. It has been a gratifying few days with the women of Tuko Pamoja and an opportunity to meet some interesting people, dare I say characters,  doing very good work in the slums of Nairobi. I have countless other pictures that I could post and many more stories than I could possibly tell, but I am finishing this post in the wee hours of the morning, hoping I didn’t miss too many typos and in serious need of some sleep before we start another busy day.


Visiting with the Mommas of Tuko Pamoja

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

Woman from Kibera. Paper and her daughter


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

Group photo at Dagoretti

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

Florence from Dandora and her daughter


Fingers and toes braiding beads


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

Tears of joy for the bonus at Dandora


Many hugs!

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

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

Valerie and Leah

Outfitted in Kibera paper work kangas

Beautiful baby of Kibera Paper Momma

Karen doing an interview at Kibera paper

Group photo at Kibera Paper

Justus looking at photos with enthusiastic children

Beautiful face!

So cute!

Playing in the school yard beside Kibera Paper






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

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

Directing the way to the work shop

Directing the way to the work shop

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

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

Jen setting up the name tags

Jen setting up the name tags

Sarah "posing" with the goals and workshop session titles

Sarah “posing” with the goals and workshop session titles


Lloydie, Jill and Sarah getting ready with their name tags

Pre-briefing for the day

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

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

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

And the women began to arrive………

Dressed beautifully....

Dressed beautifully….

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

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

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

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper


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

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Lilian and me in the personal well being session

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

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

One of the marketing sessions

One of the marketing sessions

The product design and quality control session

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

The finance workshop

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

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

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

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

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

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

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

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

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

The Board feeling the excitement of the day

The Board feeling the excitement of the day


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

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Spontaneous dancing

Spontaneous dancing


And more hugs..

And more hugs..

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

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

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

Tuko Pamoja Women"s Workshop group photo

Tuko Pamoja Women”s Workshop group photo



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

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


Telling the Maasai children about the artwork

Telling the Maasai children about the artwork

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


Cows crossing!

Cows crossing!

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

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

The Maassai school

The Maassai school sign

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

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Greetings from the Maasai children

Greetings from the Maasai children

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

Typical boma or Maasai home

Typical boma or Maasai home

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Maasai women in their colorful clothes


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

Showing the envelopes of art

Showing the envelopes of art


Sharing the individual pieces of art

With their masks!

With their masks!

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

L1000670 - Copy - Copy

enjoying the masks you sent!

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


Example of a the nphotos taken of the Maasai children

Example of  the photos taken of the Maasai children

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

Maasai children in the classroom

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

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

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

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

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

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Kristen

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Christine


The drive to PCDA

the Maassai school

The Maassai school

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

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Greetings from the Maasai children

Greetings from the Maasai children


Sarah and Jill’s introduction to a pit toilet 🙂

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

Maasai chief

Maasai chief

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

One child showing his photo with its "frame"

One child showing his photo with its “frame”

With their masks!

With their masks!

Maasai children in the classroom

Maasai children in the classroom

The soccer teams

The soccer teams

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

Typical boma or Maasai home

Typical boma or Maasai home

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

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

Deb with Josephine

Deb with Josephine

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

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

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

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

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

On "onlooker" taking everything in.

On “onlooker” taking everything in.

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

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

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

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

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

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

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

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

Jill as "Maruge'

Jill as “Maruge’

Philip and his son

Philip and his son

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

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

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

We have arrived…and had a busy first day!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/19/2013

Our donation duffels gathered at Nairobi airport

Our donation duffels gathered at Nairobi airport

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


Jen, Justus, and Lloydie

Jen, Justus, and Lloydie

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

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

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



Deb high- fiving with a couple of little cuties

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

Tuko Pamoja Board Meeting

Tuko Pamoja Board Meeting


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


Chicken Coops, Chillin’ Mommas, Chirping Children …and Ugali?!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 12/30/2012


Nyumbani village–view through the schoolyard

And so we depart very soon—on January 17th. Everyone is counting the days and the lists of things to be done before departing are getting very long. This year is more complicated than most and with each year I wonder just how I am going to do it–to get ready to leave and then somehow it miraculously happens. We really have an incredible itinerary this year and a trip packed with things to accomplish. In fact, we keep packing in a little more….though I will admit I am one of the worst culprits for adding on projects. Just to give you an idea below is the link for our itinerary for my portion of the trip….before we added in the chicken coop supply buying and building, the photo project with the Maasai children and another project I am working on incorporating (that’s the one you might not know about yet Lloydie–surprise!)

2013 18 day AO calendar (01)

You can see that Lloydie Zaiser is a master at color coded itineraries! She  also has worked out the details of volunteer activities here:

Volunteer assignments in Kenya

You see… part of my goal in including these in the post is the hope that I might entice some potential interested volunteers for future trips (some of you already know who you are).

I want to tell you about some of the plans that we have in place so that you will have a preview of what we will be doing. Though we are departing from the States on Thursday the 17th, we don’t actually arrive in Nairobi until late Friday night.  We might be exhausted,  but I can tell you from experience that excitement will make us early risers and we’ll be off and running on Saturday morning since it will the first time waking up in the daylight in Kenya. One of the major goals of this trip will be to focus on Tuko Pamoja, our collaborative business with the Kenyan women artisans and that will begin right away by having a joint U.S. and Kenyan Board meeting on Saturday and dinner together on Saturday night. Now it might seem like a Board meeting sounds stuffy,  but you have no idea—I’m talking about 10 people, all friends, half of whom haven’t seen each other in a year,  9 women and one man, who have enough passion about the Kenyan women artisan groups to blow the roof off the building. It could be problem that we are meeting in a sedate retreat center run by nuns…. Part of what we will be preparing for is the following Saturday we will be offering the first annual Workshop for Women for the Tuko Pamoja artisans. It will be their opportunity to participate in a workshop focused on product development and quality control, financial and business skills, personal nurturing, relaxation exercises   and self-esteem (my part with my Kenyan Board counterpart, Lilian, the counselor from the village) and much more. We will have a lot of  fun with them, a lot of positive feedback and skill building, new business cards, food bags for them to take home,  and some personal items, some great bonding time and I am sure much singing, dancing,  and probably some tears of only the best kind.

Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

The workshop will be after a week of going to all the sites where the women work to make their crafts–to the slums of Kibera, Dandora, Kangemi, and Kawangare where the Lea Toto outreach programs of Nyumbani provide services to families of children with HIV, and to the Maasai Community of the Pastoral Care Development Alliance.

Massai women of the PCDA craft group

Massai women of the PCDA craft group

The only group which we will not see before the workshop is the basket weaving grandmothers of Nyumbani Village, but we will see them when we spend all of the following week in the Village.

While we go to each site we have some other activities planned which will include outreach visits with the social workers to homes at the Lea Toto sites. These are always amazing touching experiences. At Kibera paper  we will do another workshop with a shared art project for new card ideas. Last year I taught the women how to block print and had a wonderful time. This year I don’t have a plan yet but know I will and we will have a lovely touching time together. It will be a little bittersweet though as Hilder who so patiently taught us to make paper passed away since we were there last year. These women are so lovely, friendly and warm and so appreciative of the time we spend with them—of course that’s true of all these groups.

Hilder teaching e to make paper at Kibera paper

Hilder teaching me to make paper at Kibera paper

We also have some fun things planned with the Maasai Children at PCDA. I have to say that I had a wonderful time with them last year and I think that was partly because I got to paint their faces and I was assigned the volunteer “task” of being the photographer.

Maasai Children

Maasai Children

Well I have managed to weasel my way back into that assignment this year by coming up with an actual photography project. We are going to make “school photos” for the children to take home. I have a polaroid digital camera that takes instant sticky back photos that we can mount on matte and these children who never have photos of themselves and are fascinated by the camera will bring photos home to their Mommas! I have also been in contact with the local art teacher , Sharon McCormick, who did the art exchange with me back in 2010. She now teaches the gifted and talented art class and her students thorough the “Art of Giving” project are going to send art work and art supplies for me to bring to the children. Lloydie can we fit in a little art work project with the PCDA children 🙂 ?

On the weekends we will be visiting Nyumbani Children”s Home. We may do food sorting, clothes sorting or other volunteer activities,  but most of the volunteer time is spent just being with the children and loving them. It has become tradition for me to do face painting with the younger ones so I have already stocked up on face paint to travel. Last year Puritee, a former Children’s Home resident who is now grown up and living independently (the real miracle of the Children’s Home is the  normalcy of this kind of outcome) joined with me in the face painting and I hope we will do that again. I will never forget the first year when I had preschool children chirping all around me in unison “I want to be Bahtamahn (Batman with the swahili accent!)

One little happy painted face

One little happy painted face

We head to Nyumbani Village for the second week and though living in the Village is rural and rustic and HOT, with lots of ugali  (very heavy traditional Kenyan maize porridge that drops into your belly with a bang) at most meals,  it is the most magical of the places we go. It is beautiful with lovely foliage and red Kenyan soil and smiling green clad children around every corner. The nights are cooler with the starriest sky you will ever see and if you are not treated to an up close and personal performance of singing or dancing by one of the families then you can often hear singing in the distance. We will be working on any number of things there. My primary focus is to work with Lilian, the sole village counselor for all 1000 children, 100 grandparents, the staff and community workers. There are no psychiatric services available. Lilian already has people chosen for me to see, gives me the key to an office and I get to work. I don’t think she has any idea what hours I work at home because around midday she will tell me I am working too hard and bring me chapatis and a drink. The KEST Volunteers have been working on  memory book to preserve the history of the grandmothers or Shushus  and one of my other projects while in the Village will be to work wit a group of children on art for the memory books. Lilian doesn’t  yet know she has to share me in the afternoon and I might find it hard to pull myself away if there are too many people in need.

Lilian and me

Lilian and me

There will be a lot of simultaneous projects going on with volunteers participating in various different activities at the Village. And then there’s the chicken coops. One of the big request from Nyumbani Village was funding and help with 100 chicken coops. This makes so much sense since having eggs will be a very self sustainable way to increase dietary protein and the village is all about sustainability in remarkably creative ways–like growing tilapia and filtering the tanks through a vegetable bed (aka aquaponics),  using biodeisel (methane from cow manure) to fuel the stove, and using human urine to kill the termite hills. But when will we fit in the chicken coops?!

Dancing Shoshos

Dancing Shoshos

We always plan a special time to visit with the Shushus and they think they are teaching us to dance when really we don’t have a chance of ever dancing like they do–not in a million lessons! But we have a lot of fun!

There will be plenty of time to mingle with the children and I will get to visit with Caroline the student I sponsor for high school. Children are always out walking back and forth from school, gathering kindling in the evening, or just coming up to greet you.

Nyumbani Village children walking back from school

Nyumbani Village children walking back from school

They loved to be photographed and to have your attention and are wonderful reminders of the success of this program. They are all AIDS orphans many of whom were rescued from unthinkable conditions after their parents died and now they are thriving healthy children. In fact the Village recently got international media attention for being a unique and successful model for raising AIDS orphans. news.yahoo.com/kenya-village-pairs-aids-orphans-grandparents-165643122.html One thing though that is always difficult is saying good bye at the Village. That is why last year I had to decide before I even left that I would be back this year and every year.

Returning to Kenya….in just 41 days!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 12/09/2012

Acaciaa's in the afternoon sun at Lake Nukuru

Acacia’s in the afternoon sun

In some ways in feels like a long time since we left beautiful Kenya and in other ways it feels like we just said goodbye. In the almost year since I’ve been there, much planning and work have taken place to get ready for this trip and of course our amazing leader Lloydie Zaiser and her fabulous sidekick Jen Geiling have put in an enormous amount of work not only planning this trip, but also Lloydie led a multiple week trip to Kenya over the summer. We have been hard at work planning our activities for Tuko Pamoja which in its first year has been a success beyond what we had hoped. In fact, the order has already been placed and the women are working starting to make the items now. For next years sales. There will be seven of us traveling to Kenya this year, 5 of us make up the Tuko Pamoja U.S. Board and have all been to Kenya before and we have 2 additional volunteers who have never been before who are very excited to be joining us.

So let me say a little bit about our plans for this trip. First of all I have to say that it is a wonderful whirlwind of an inspirational, industrious, impassioned and ambitious itinerary, like all the past trips, but even more so! WE will spend some time on the weekends at Nyumbani Children’s Home with multiple enrichment activities plan with the children and other volunteer activities. Having started the tradition of face painting with the little ones 2 years ago and realizing that they remembered the experience when I when I went last year means that this is a must for an annual activity–and one that I have so much fun doing with them. In fact the first place that we land is always the Children’s Home where we get the warmest of all possible welcomes.

Innocent--remember him?!

Innocent–remember him?!

We will not spend much down time before we are up and running however as we arrive on Friday and have our Tuko Pamoja Board meeting with the Kenyan Board on Saturday. This will give us an opportunity to review the year and plan a day long workshop that we will host for the TP women on the following Saturday. More details will follow as I blog about it, but it is very exciting to have some plans to work with the Kenyan artisans groups in a way that will help them build business and financial skills, take pride in the wonderful work they are doing, collaborate in helping to grow their self esteem and empower them to feel truly successful. Prior to this workshop and during the week we will be visiting all of the women artisan groups except for the Shushus of Nyumbani Village who we will see the following week when we spend the whole week in the Village. We will go to the outreach clinics in the severely impoverished areas around Nairobi such as Kangemi, Dandora and Kibera. I”m delighted to say that there will be another art exchange with the women of Kibera paper who I had such a wonderful time teaching to block print last year. Yikes, I don’t have the project planned yet but I know I will come up with something that will be fun and valuable to exchange. We will also spend 2 days at the Maasai community of PCDA working with those women and their adorable children.

Maasai Children in the School yard

Maasai Children in the School yard

One of the plans I have for the children there is to use my new digital Polaroid camera which takes tiny sticky back pictures (2×3 inches) and mount them on some kind of backing so they will look framed and they can bring them home like “school pictures”. They never have pictures of themselves so I think this would be so special for them. Lloydie, since you know I have too many ideas for this trip all the time, you might not know about this plan yet….but doesn’t it sound like fun and something they would so enjoy bring ing home to their mothers?! On all our visits to the women artisan groups we will be reviewing their progress, offering support, going over the sales success of their products etc. During our visits we will be bringing various donations and supplies to different places–like for example last year we brought supplies that enabled the school lunch program (i.e. daily porridge) to continue at the Maasai school where for some it was the major food intake for the day. The work with Tuko Pamoja will culminate with the workshop and then we will head out to Nyumbani Village for the following week.


Nyumbani Village

While in Nyumbani Village there is always a lot to be done. Each year we get a list of donation requests along with bringing many duffels of donated clothing and other items with us. Once we get there we sort them and often the Village is the place with he greatest need for clothing and other things. This year amongst the list of requested items was supplies to make 100 chicken coops, one for each family (one grandparent and 10 orphans) in the Village.

Children of Nyumbani Village

Children of Nyumbani Village

Clearly we need to go out and purchase the supplies and part of our role will be to help to build the chicken coops! Now I am usually busy much of each day working in the clinic with Lilian doing psychiatric consultations but I have been encouraged to join in the fun of chicken coop building at least long enough for a good photo op. I have never built a chicken coop, but I’m very handy with tools, so this is not too daunting to me and if the who Shushus are participating it could be a wildly fun time. I will also be helping the children do art work for the Memory Book which is being created with the stories of all the grandparents of the Village. Lilian, who I recently corresponded with over email tells me she already has a client waiting list for me so I don’t think I will not have a problem with idle time! Then again, there is no idle time when we are in Kenya, just time full of amazement, magical time immersed in the culture, singing, dancing, and feeling connected to people who live across the globe and then stay forever in your heart. I will wrap up my stay after we return from the Village, but most of the group will stay on for another week and do some additional volunteer at another orphanage. Someday, I will stay longer too when it fits together better with the rest of my life. For now I feel really lucky to have discovered this kind of work, the wonderful people with whom I travel and the remarkable people of Kenya, many of whom have so little yet with which to get by, yet rejoice in life with amazing and admirable spirit that I wish everyone could experience. Keep reading my blog….I’ll do my best to share that as far as words will allow.

Lillian, the Village psychologist, and me

Lillian, the Village psychologist, and me

Relearning the Lesson: Life is precious, life is fragile…

Posted in Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 10/24/2012

The Tuko Pamoja Team have been singing our hearts out and sending greetings and news of our sales successes to the Kenyan Board and Tuko Pamoja artisans in Kenya. I think that we have lit cyberspace with our excitement as we have shared how people here have generously opened their hears and their wallets, wrote encouraging and inspiring comments in our guest book and truly enjoyed the Kenyan women’s crafts.

Cynthia’s cat claiming her Village Shushu basket

We have all felt the sense that this was better than expected and OMG, this is really going to work. “We might be on to something pretty TERRIFIC!”  “This just makes my heart sing!” “And I’m singing the same tune right along with you!!!!” Well, you get the point—a lot of excitement, and joy, and truly a countdown to Kenya as we cant wait to share all this in person with the women of Tuko Pamoja.

Sadly, however, in the midst of this, we received word from Cecily that one of the Tuko Pamoja artisans, Hilder of Kibera paper had died suddenly after a brief illness. She traveled upcountry in Kenya to see family, returned feeling ill, was treated for malaria and died within a few days. She was the single mother of 3 children. Our hearts were deeply saddened to hear of this news, to think of her, her family and children and all of the women grieving at Kibera paper. If you saw the blog while we were at Kibera paper, you will recall Hilder as the very patient, welcoming lovely woman who taught everyone of us how to make paper.

Hider patiently demonstrated the process

from the beginning

And watched as we tried, often more than once….

….until we got it right. (I am usually the photographer so I am shooting Justus an unusually cheesy grin)

Despite the language barrier she had some humor along with us about the moments of our less than stellar performance and a very warm presence. And like all of the women at Kibera she drank tea and sang and danced with us (she is the first woman that Lloydie enjoins to dance). We enjoyed her very much and will miss her at Kibera Paper when we return in January.

Hilder is the 2nd of the Tuko Pamoja artisans who has passed away since we left Kenya. You may recall that Jane of Maasai Village of  PCDA died unexpectedly of illness as well.

Jane of PCDA

While I pay great homage to these woman for their strength of spirit, their resiliency and determination to care for their children under very difficult circumstances. I am reminded that their hard lives, lives in extreme poverty, with little access to good nutrition , health care, and many of the things that we take for granted—it all takes it toll. These women died young by our standards. I tried to find out what the average life span in Kenya is, but found conflicting figures. Its safe to say that it is at least 20 years younger than here in the U.S. and in the extremely compromised communities like Kibera it maybe as low as 30 years old.

So we send our truly heart felt condolences along to Hilder’s family and her friends and fellow artisans at Kibera paper and we carry on the work of Tuko Pamoja–the partnership with these and the other artisan groups in the hope of making some difference in their lives, helping them have an income they can count on, bringing  them some hope for the future and with the hope that the long term toll of the hardship of their lives will somehow be  a little lessened by our efforts and those who join with us.

Nyumbani and Tuko Pamoja–A lot to celebrate!!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Responding to poverty in Kenya, Women helping women by Lynn Ouellette on 10/14/2012

I haven’t posted for awhile because I have been so so busy with all things Nyumbani and Tuko Pamoja! Many fellow KEST travelers and the Board of Tuko Pamoja met outside of Washington D.C. two weekends ago for a weekend chock full of events. On Friday evening was the Annual Fundraising Gala for Nyumbani which was also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the start of the Nyumbani programs. Everything began with Father D’Agostino, Jesuit priest and psychiatrist who wanted to do do something for the children who were dying of AIDS in Kenya. The Children’s home began as a hospice program, but things have changed a lot since then. At the gala, we got to view a new video celebrating 20 years of Father D’Ag’s vision of the Nyumbani Programs.


Some of my fellow KEST travels reunited after having not been together since our travels together and it was a mighty spirited time celebrating the connections we have developed in this passion of caring for AIDs orphans.

KEST travelers reunite!

We both attended and volunteered at the GALA raising a lot of funds at the sales table! This summer, when I might usually paint Maine landscapes I painted Kenyan portraits which I donated for Gala auction.

Painting of Nyumbani Village Shushus

But the Gala was only one event in the several days we spent outside D.C. Tuko Pamoja also had a Board Meeting (or several) in which we reviewed the progress we have made toward working with the Kenyan Mommas to sell their goods in the U.S. and the plan, BIG PLANS we have as we move ahead!

Lloydie leading the Tuko Pamoja board meeting

Tuko Pamoja folder–Our motto from JFK “One person can make a difference and everyone should try. “

Not only do we have 8 sales events planned for this fall, the reception has been so great that we will be able to plan 6 or 7 for the spring. When we travel to Kenya in January we will have a meeting with Kenyan Board members and then a workshop for representatives from each group of women to offer training in financial and business skills, product quality control and development,  and self esteem and professionalism. We have a lot more up our sleeves, but let me share some of the successes which have actually happened. Lloydie and Jen did a dry-run sales party the weekend before the board arrived and that was a great success. This was a warm up event for the weekend of the Gala when the kick-off sales party for Tuko Pamoj was scheduled to occur with Sister Mary Owens, the Executive Director of all the Nyumbani programs in Kenya, who was present as our honored guest. Sister Mary updated people on the status of Nyumbani  and spoke with wisdom and inspiration about the need to support the mothers and grandmothers who are raising the children affected by AIDS in Kenya. She acknowledged that it is most often, as it should be “all about the children” yet it is the women who raise the children who also need to be supported. Jen and Lloydie show a photo of an individual woman from each of the groups and shared their personal story. And I was surprised to learn that my poem about Kenyan women (below) which it now seems I wrote a long time ago has become the ritual opening for all Tuko Pamoja events! Then we let everyone shop!

Shopping at Tuko Pamoja event

Nyumbani Village baskets

Kibera Paper cards

And shop they did!! After everyone was done we were excited to see what the proceeds from the first official Tuko Pamoja event had been and found that a whopping $2700 had been made!

Tuko Pamoja Board with Sister Mary Owens, Exec Dir of Nyumbani

After these events, cyberspace was lighting up between Rockville, MD (Lloydie Zaiser’s home) and many sites in Kenya as we shared news of future Tuko Pamoja plans and of its success with the Kenyan Board and the Mommas! We had a hard time departing for the weekend but we knew that some of us would meet again real soon as Tuka Pamoja would hit the road to New England in 2 weeks.

Over this past weekend, there were 2 additional TP events. I hosted an event in Brunswick Maine at the Frontier, a wonderful restaurant and establishment with a mission of highlighting global cultures. It was the perfect venue with an art walk Friday night for photos of beautiful Kenyan faces, a theatre for doing a presentation on our mission and about the Mommas and children, and a great space for setting up sales tables which were extremely well received. Thanks to the generous people who attended, many of whom were my friends, this Tuko Pamoja event netted another $2600. Because I was so busy with all aspects of the event, I cannot believe that I didn’t take a single photo, not one.

TP was back on the road this morning as LLoydie met Jen in Hanover New Hampshire for a home sales event at Karen Geiling’s house (another board member). Proceeds were another $1500! We are so excited that we have been able to surpass replacing the seed money that we borrowed (we also had generous donors) and will certainly have the funds to once again pay the mommas in full a fair market price for another big order when we return to Kenya. We have all been feeling the thrill of helping our sisters across the globe to have an income to feed their families and to feel some hope for the future.


Nyumbani Village Shu Shu weaving a basket

Maasai Momma of PCDA

Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Kibera Paper Mommas

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.

“Tuko Pumoja”….We Are Together

Posted in HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 02/24/2012

Lloydie with a "Momma" from the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Deb and Josephine of the PCDA women's craft group

Originally it grew out of the idea of wanting to help the mothers of children with HIV who are getting services from the Nyumbani Lea Toto Clinics in the slums……because whenever you help the mothers in a community you help the children, whenever you help the mothers, you are helping everyone. There were already established groups of women, like the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora,  working together to craft products to help finanacially support their families and to emotionally support each other.  They had been selling their crafts, but the market was quite limited. And then the idea grew to helping other women’s groups who have been severely affected by hardship and poverty and also hand creating incredible crafts. Groups like the grandmothers of Nyumbani Village who are raising so many orphans after losing their own children to AIDS and weave beautiful baskets of sissel and yarn; the women of Kibera Paper who hand make greeting cards, each individual works of art from recycled paper;  and the Maasai women of PCDA who doing amazing beadwork. First it was casually called the Women4Women project as it was beginning to take form. Now it has gathered momentum and garnered lots of enthuisiasm as it has gone  from the U.S. to Kenya and come back again and has evolved a new, very appropriate name of “Tuko Pamoja” literally in Swahili, “We are together”,  the spirit of which is that we are working together.

Lloydie recently  announced the Tuko Pamaja project in an e-mail that was sent far and wide to friends of KEST (Kenya Service and Educational Trips) and said the following:

Many former KEST travelers have left Kenya wishing they could be of more assistance to the many women’s groups we meet struggling to feed and educate their children.  KEST has decided to do something to help, hence the Tuko Pamoja initiative… we ARE in this together…

The mission of the Tuko Pamoja initiative is to:

1. Create a sustainable income resource for female-led Kenyan artisan groups by way of providing a US marketplace for their wares

·      Facilitating ownership, independence, empowerment and a shift in thinking from day-to-day to longer term planning

·      Insisting on high quality, useful, and diverse products that are suited to the US market

2. Educate Americans to the needs of these groups and call them to ACTION

·      Organize a way to provide an opportunity for Americans to help the identified Kenyan artisan groups from the States

I am hoping that my family and friends will be interested in supporting this program, and not just by purchasing crafts!  Women from all across the country will have the opportunity to sell these products on behalf of our Kenyan sisters!  This can be done by hosting a party in your home, much like a Tupperware party, or by having a table at a local fair or bazaar.  KEST will provide everything but the customers, your friends!

The womens groups in Kenya groups in Kenya who will be initially supported by the project are the groups whom I previously mentioned. The Pastoral Community Development Alliance woman’s crafts group. You can get a glimpse of thier capacity to do beadwork just by lookint their own necklaces and bracelets!

Massai women of the PCDA craft group

PCDA Woman and crafts

The women of the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora–these women have been together for almost 10 years. They all have HIV and/or have HIV+ children and live in the Dandora slum around Nairobi. They are now skilled artisans who make jewelry and a lot of different items from beads as well as many other beautiful things:

Women of the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

The Susus or grandmothers from Nyumbani Village who have all lost their own children to AIDs are are all each raising 10 AIDs orphans. Not only can these spirited and rocking grannies dance, but they are the keepers of the Kamba culture for the Village, the ones who make the homes for the children and are skilled basket waevers with many years of experience!

Dancing Susus of Nyumbani Village

Traditional Basket weaving

The women of Kibera Paper all live in Kibera, the largest slum on the periphery of Nairobi. They work at Kibera Paper in order to make an income to support the very basic necessities of life for their families. All of their cards are made from recycled paper and in each one is individually crafted, panted, wired, threaded, designed and signed by hand. Having worked side by side with them I can attest to just how much work goes into each card and to the beauty of each card.

Making Kibera Paper

This is a wonderful video about the making of Kibera Cards, I posted it in a prior post but am putting here because I want people to have another chance to view it in this context:

On March 10th, KEST is hosting a kick-off event to the Tuko Pamoja Project at Lloydie’s House near Washington D.C. It will be an opportunity to introduce the project to as many people in the area who can come, to get feedback on the crafts we hope to promote and to give people an opportunity to “meet” these women through the sharing of our experinces with them. Having spent time with all of these Kenyan women, I personally say that I have tremendous respect and admiration for all of them. They all struggle with tremendous poverty and many have been through unimaginable hardship and loss. They are however some of the most grateful, resilient, and warm women and mothers I ever have met.  I know that I speak for all KEST travelers when I say that spending time with them has created a special place in our hearts for them–we have created with them, sung and danced with them, listened to their stories, drank tea together,  hugged and exchanged heartfelt words and shared tears in saying goodbyes.  We want to share in helping them in their lives, after all “Tuko Pamoja,” we are truly all in this together!

If you missed it before here are the Kibera Paper women singing with us before we had to say goodbye.

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!

Kibera, Lea Toto, and Kibera Paper

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 01/08/2012

Somewhere between a half and a million people live in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. No one knows for sure what the population is there, but it is estimated that 20% of Nairobi’s inhabitants live there at a population density of about 750, 000 people per square mile. It is one of the most crowded places on earth. It is hard to describe in words but photos and video give a better sense.

Kibera is the site of great poverty, overcrowding, unsanitary living conditions, and a high crime rate. It is also a location with a very high incidence of HIV/AIDs. This is the reason that The Lea Toto program of Nyumbani began—to provide outreach services and home based care to families with children who have HIV/AIDS. In addition to having a clinic in Kibera Lea Toto now has 8 other satellite clinics in the slum areas surrounding Nairobi. We visited these clinics in Kibera, Kariobongi and Dandora during our last trip to Kenya and will be visiting them again.

This time we will also be paying some special attention to a couple of women’s artisans groups which have developed out of the need for these women of poverty to to have an income to support their families. One of these groups is Kibera paper. We have been working on a plan for our visit to Kibera paper to work with the women there who make the cards from recycled paper. In addition to talking with them about ideas to market and sell more of their cards in the US, since 2 of us make our own cards, we are planning an interactive card making workshop with a sharing of ideas and new media.

Here is an article from CNNWorld about Kibera Paper:

Greeting card project helps slum women



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// // December 22, 2010|From David McKenzie, CNN

In the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, some of the community’s poorest women are taking part in project that is spreading the true meaning of the holiday season. In 2001, an Anglican missionary from Australia started the Kibera Paper Card Project to help disadvantaged women in the sprawling Kibera slum.

The initiative began with a group of six women making greeting cards from recycled paper. Nine years later and it has expanded to employ 26 local women.

“It’s for women who are widowed, some of them are orphaned, some of them are abandoned by their husbands, so they make cards to meet their needs,” said Kibera Paper Card Project coordinator Emma Wathura.

Wathura said the project focuses on helping women because “women are the ones who care for the family.”

Agnes Awour is one of those benefiting from the project. She used to struggle to put food on the table, but joining the group has helped, she said.

“It enables me to buy food and clothes and pay school fees,” she said. “Even my children are happy about it.”

The women involved in the project see the card making process through from beginning to end. They collect scrap paper from Nairobi businesses and soak and dye the paper, turning the waste into pulp and then the pulp into new paper.

The paper is then dried before the women’s creativity transforms what was once rubbish into beautiful greeting cards.

“Yeah there is money,” said Wathura. “For one thing, we don’t spend a lot. Because the recycled paper we are given is free.”

At the Nairobi Christmas Fair, where thousands descend every holiday season, the cards are proving popular.

In a business where message is key, the Kibera Paper Card project offers its customers much more than just a greeting: Shoppers know that by buying these cards, they’re changing lives.

This is a great video that focuses on Kibera and the Kibera Paper Project

The slogan for Kibera Paper has become “Buy a card, change a life.” If you watched the video you know how that is literally true. You can learn more about Kibera paper at www.kiberapaper.com and I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say when I am actually there sharing the experience with these women. This is just one example of a truly hopeful project that has arisen from the slums; there are more, including of course the Lea Toto clinics.  Despite the enormity of the horrendous conditions and poverty, there is hope too.

The Kazuri Beads Factory

Posted in Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 02/06/2010

The Kazuri Bead factory  is a place not far from the Children’s home that we stopped on the way back from one of our days at Lea Toto. It is now a company that has about 350 employees but first began when one white woman wanted to create a way for impoverished Kenyan women to support themselves. Since Lloydie, our trip leader often takes travelers there and is a frequent visitor (as well as being one of the friendliest people in the world), she has developed a relationship with the “Mamas” who make the beads. When we arrived for our tour there was immediate excitement and with the support of the management in this incredibly worker friendly environment, all the women broke into song and dance as a special welcome for us. We have had a lot of special welcomes since as Lloydie’s friends we have been instantly accepted and welcomed in the most enthusiastic ways. After some singing and dancing, and handing out of candy to the Mamas, we went on with the tour. We learned about the making of the beads, which are beautiful, but also of a work environment that is incredibly supportive, offers onsite childcare and medical care,  transportation for workers, rotates the work assignment daily to keep in interesting, and has a value system that is dedicated to employing single mothers, and the disenfranchised. What struck me the most was that it was the happiest workplace and that the women had a so much pride in their work. It is a wonderful model of a socially responsible company dedicated to its community, most especially mothers.

This YouTube video gives a great description of Kizuri Beads:

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