Zuri Watoto Wote

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

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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!

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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.

AFRICA SMILED

– 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.

 

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Mukuru… and the Village is Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crafts of the women at Mukuru

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

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The women of the Mukuru self help group

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

The TP Guest Book

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

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The very packed van

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

The ride to the Village

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

  

Joy, laughter, and sorrow

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

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

The route to Dandora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Grandmothers (plus one)


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Vision  Self Help Group of Dandora

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

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

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

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

Kibera (Nairobi skyline in the background)

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

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Former Kibera Paper work space

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

Making Bracelets

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

Filling the orders

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Those adorable school children in there red uniforms

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

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

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

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Bougainvillea from the Dimesse Retreat grounds

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Sister Ida who kissed the Pope!

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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.

 

We are in Kenya!

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/17/2016

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Nyumbani Children’s Home

We brought the rains to Africa when we arrived, something that has never happened before.

 

We arrived in Kenya after so many hours of travel very late Friday night, having left home midday on Thursday. The flights were long and the travel was very tiresome, but the reunion with fellow volunteers and the excitement of what was to come carried us along until we touched down in Kenya at the airport. we arrived later than expected because of a delayed flight in London and then needed to go through immigration, gather our many duffles and move through customs. Despite the stellar efforts of the administration at Nyumbani to address the new requirements at customs (about which no one is clear), to provide us with detailed documentation and our own efforts to carefully inventory all of our donations, we were stopped at Customs to question why we had so many bags. It was a frustrating and time consuming snafu that hinged on having a government document that supposedly exists, but no one has yet been able to actually procure. After attempts to get through this process, we left customs very weary having had to pay to bring our donations into the country. All of this disappeared as soon as we met Justus with his huge smile and exuberance waiting to transport us and all of our baggage to our first lodging.

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Karen sitting at the far end of the caravan of duffles in Customs

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We are a small, but dedicated group of four this year. Our combined total of visits to Nyumbani is 36, with Lloydie being responsible for more than half this visits.

We arrived at Dimessee Sisters retreat at about 2:30 AM and were up and running the next morning to Nyumbani Children’s Home to meet with the Executive Director, Sr. Mary, at 9:30. This is always the first stop of any volunteer trip as Sr. Mary briefs us with the latest update on the Nyumbani programs.

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Meeting with Sr. Mary

She filled us in on the happenings of each of the programs. One of the themes is that the children are getting bigger and older. When you reflect on the fact that Nyumbani began over 20 years ago with the focus of providing hospice care for children who were orphaned and also expected to eventually die of HIV, the idea that the children are getting older, graduating from high school, and some going on to college is phenomenal progress. While there are still young children entering the Nyumbani programs at all the sites, the needs of an older population have brought a different set of challenges. One of the recent major efforts has been to prepare the children for living independently, with jobs and secure income. Much of the new program development has focused on this group with life skills training, further education, business skills development and the beginning of Microfinance resources. Currently at Nyumbani Children’s home there are 100 children, at one end some are being admitted as toddlers and at the other, there are graduates who are exiting to become self sufficient. One of the biggest challenges is for these young adults to find employment in a country where the unemployment rate is 40 percent.

In the slum areas surrounding Nairobi, the Lea Toto outreach programs provide services to children with HIV. Currently there are over 3000 children and their families receiving services from Nyumbani. Although the  central need of all of these children is a access to antiretroviral medications, like at Nyumbani Children’s Home, the children are staying healthy, getting older and their needs are changing to include preparation for being set sufficient adults. The ARVs are supported by USAID and there has been a recent concentrated effort to reach children who need this treatment. Currently the Nyumbani programs have secure support from USAID until 2017.

In Nyumbani Village there has also been an increasing group of children who are finishing high school and moving towards independence. Here there is a population of 1000 AIDS orphans being raised by 100 grandparents. while there are children reaching adulthood and exiting the village, there are always younger children awaiting admission. There were 42 new children admitted in December. All of the children are rescued from dire circumstances, living in extreme poverty, often in child headed households. There is a great deal of progress to celebrate, yet still so much need remains. While the need can seem overwhelming at times, there is also powerful, often magical, joy in watching these children, who otherwise would not have survived, growing, thriving and moving ahead to living full lives.

Our first stop of every trip is Nyumbani Children’s where we meet with Sr. Mary and get the update, but also talk with her about the projects which we are working on at all of the different sites. There will be much more to say about that as this trip progresses. The children at NCH now know us and part of the satisfaction of being there is seeing children who arrived for respite care, severely ill, malnourished, with life threatening illness now running around the playground, singing and dancing in church, and growing older each year. I first came to NCH six years ago and some of the babies who sat in my lap are now grabbing me by the hand to escort me off to their cottage or to church or simply to play.

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The playground at NCH

These are some of the children at NCH.

We went to Sunday mass with them and that is always a jubilant experience with singing, dancing, drumming and the older children tending to younger ones with real tenderness that is wonderful to observe. This year instead of the usual group of girl dancers in church, there was group of boys, one of whom sat on my lap as a  baby a few years ago.

We have had a relatively low key weekend, getting acclimated after long travel and adjusting to jet lag, reconnecting with people, getting updated from others on the happenings at Nyumbani and preparing ourselves for meetings and projects to come in the next few days.Tomorrow the real work begins as we start meeting with all the artisan groups of Tuko Pamoja,  those Kenyan women who come from areas of poverty and with whom we collaborate to sell their crafts. They are the women we have come to know and love as our “Kenyan sisters”,  hard working, courageous women who maintain such grace and generosity of spirit amidst tremendous adversity. Some are HIV positive, many are raising orphans with HIV, all live in poverty, all are dedicated and incredibly hard working mothers. They are the people of Kenya I most admire; they are the true heroes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to Kenya…again.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/11/2016

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I cannot believe its been nearly a year since my last post. Despite the lack of writing, Kenya has been very much on my mind, our Kenyan friends have been very much in my heart, and the bond with  my fellow volunteers has been as strong as ever. Although I haven’t traveled to Kenya since last year, the work of Tuko Pamoja has been quite active and it has been a very successful year with many events to sell the women’s  crafts. We also had the joyous and truly fun-loving experience of welcoming Justus to the U.S. this fall.

The opportunity to come to the states was something Justus as well as his family never imagined happening. However, those of us who live here were not any less excited to welcome him as warmly as he has welcomed us in Kenya. Lloydie planned a very full itinerary for Justus  (imagine!) and kept him busy with teaching at the sister school to Nyumbani, taking in the sights in Washington D.C., and best of all, a reunion for KEST volunteers at the Little Squam Lake  in New Hampshire. There were many hugs, happy reunion tears,  much laughter, and a poignantly difficult time saying goodbye to him at the end. I was lucky to avoid the goodbyes in knowing that I would see him in Kenya in January.

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

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Justus had an opportunity to experience real New England: lobster rolls, local history and charm, the mountains and lake, a full Thanksgiving Turkey dinner, s’mores (yes, that are really sweet, Justus!) and a lot of teasing about our New England version of Safari and whether or not we would have a real moose sighting.

Justus will welcome us in Kenya in just a few days; we will be excited as always since he is one of the people there who is like family on the other side of the world.

I was fortunate to co-host with Judy Marblestone the final Tuko Pamoja event of the season at the Frontier Cafe for the forth year. The staff there is very supportive of what we do, the set up is perfect and we have the opportunity to do a presentation in the theatre which is part of the cafe.

 

It was an extremely successful event, not only selling many of the Kenyan women’s crafts but also getting to tell their stories, which is equally important. It was also another great reunion opportunity for some of the other New England KEST volunteers to gather.

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After event gathering at Judy’s

However, we are nearing the close of the great preparation, the efforts which go into the planning of events in Kenya and transporting donations.IMG_6711

This is our itinerary for this year; the infamous color-coded schedule prepared by Lloydie, masterful organizer, fearless leader, sometimes task master, and now dear friend to all of us, and well known to half of Kenya! it will as always be a packed trip with visiting the Nyumbani Children’s Home, the Tuko Pamoja sites, the PCDA Maasai community, Nyumbani Village and more. There are only four of us traveling this year, but each is working on a special project and all will be participating in the Fourth Annual Women’s Workshop. We will all be welcomed in the warmest possible way as we are have all made numerous trips to Kenya before and are looking forward to being with our family across the globe once again.

I just received the Nyumbani Newsletter and in it was an article written by friend and fellow volunteer Kristen. Her words so resonated with my feelings that reading it brought tears to my eyes. She said it so well that I will share it.

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We begin our travel on Thursday, Lloydie,  Deb, Karen and I, and all have a lot to do before take off. But each year, the excitement mounts as we count down the days to being once again at our home and with our family in Kenya.

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

The Women’s Workshop and so much more…..

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/25/2015
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Group photo from the Women’s Workshop

So much has happened since I last posted! I have had to rely on photos and stories from the others for much of this post and was so disappointed to have missed out on so much. I was really sick for three days  (high fever, headache and GI disturbance) so had to stay back completely for 2 days and one day when I tried to make the trip I spent most of the time like this:

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No fun to be sick and miss everything!

I want to say however that I have never in all my prior trips to Kenya been sick before and I think I did my own self in by temporary stupidity with how I processed a grapefruit for eating, so don’t be discouraged by coming to Kenya by my experience.

On Friday we went to Kazuri Beads, stopped at lunchtime at the Elephant Orphanage, and then moved on to Kibera Paper for another  Tuko Pamoja Event. The trip to Kazuri Beads had a threefold purpose: to confirm the plans for participating the Women’s Workshop; to learn about and tour an example of a very socially responsible,  community and family focused business;  and to do some “socially responsible” and delightful shopping from their beautiful collection of bead items. Kazuri beads has been in existence for decades, employs and busses to the location 100’s of women from the Kibera slums, and provides on site child care and medical care. The women get higher wages than at most businesses and are treated extremely well. The newbies got a full tour and the retreads spent time in the two largest workshop areas handing out sweets and enjoying the joyous experience of an extremely warm welcome with song and dance.

Workers at Kazuri Beads

Workers at Kazuri Beads

The "monkey feeder" at Kazuri Beads

The “monkey feeder” at Kazuri Beads

The longest employed woman at Kazuri Beads has worked there for FORTY years!  And in case you are wondering, Kazuri means “small and beautiful” a perfect description of all their beads.

From  11AM to noon each day, visitors are welcome at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where the rescued baby elephants cared for there are brought out for feeding. Most of the elephants have lost their mothers to death by poachers in pursuit of ivory. The young elephants are rescued, nursed (really, with giant baby bottles and formula!) and fed, and then later released back to the wild. For all of us it is an opportunity to see prime wildlife conservation in action as well as to have the heart melting experience of truly being up close and personal with these adorable babies.

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Baby elephants AND warthogs at the Elephant Orphanage

Following “lunch with the elephants” we set off to Kibera Paper to have the Tuko Pamoja meeting and to see this business on the edge of the Kibera slums which employs over 20 women and a couple of men from Kibera and who make beautiful cards, each a handmade work of art, on homemade paper recycled from paper discarded by businesses. As in each of the prior sites we had the TP meeting reporting the year’s success and giving out scarves and bonuses. Last year, not only were the women given individual bonuses, but each TP group was also given a 5000 ksh bonus to start a bank account. We learned that the group made a commitment to growing their bank accounts by each women contributing 100 ksh ( about $1.10) per month such that their account is now over 2900 ksh! As n all the other sites I filmed a demonstration of products made– the beginning to end process of making the paper and creating a card which involves so much work! And, all the volunteers were able to learn how to make paper and help in making cards. This is a wonderful group of warm women to be amongst, they welcome us heartily and it is always so hard to leave! Kibera paper is located at a church where they rent space and beside a school so we always get to enjoy the children when they come out for recess.

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Making cards at Kibera Paper

Some little Kibera school "monkeys"

Some little Kibera school “monkeys”

The following day was a packed one,  which I sadly missed completely, but was dazzled by reports and stories later. New volunteers spent the day at the Children’s Home in various activities with the children in their cottages and outside, and Judy and Valerie also returned to their much-needed counseling roles. Visiting the children in their cottages and playing with them outside serves several purposes: providing enrichment lessons, some one on one attention, a lot of physical affection, a much-needed break for the cottage Mommas…..and, of course, good fun all around.

Kristen and th hildren at NCH

Kristen and th children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

Jon with the children at NCH

At dinner we all were treated to some very heartwarming and FUNNY stories by Jon about his time with the children; Jon is the quintessential story-teller, complete with animated voices, humor and endless anecdotes so you can just imagine how much fun the children had with him. Irma and Megan also had fun in their cottages and Judy and Valerie had some intense counseling experiences. Also while at NCH, Kristen continued the process of giving out the scrubs to all the medical and respite workers who were thrilled to receive them.

Giving out the scrubs

Giving out the scrubs

While the others were at the Children’s Home, Lloydie and Deb were at the Third Annual Women’s Workshop. When they returned at the end of the day and told me the story of how amazing the day was, I was teary for being sad to have missed it, for being touched by how much the women were engaged and learned,  and laughing in tears for a near food mishap (a midday report that all the food was “spoiled” and we still don’t know what that meant since it was fine.) The workshop was different this year. Two people from all of the Tuko Pamoja groups attended and went to three successful business sites to learn from their success. First in the morning they met at Dimesse Sisters for mandazis and chai and then headed off to Kazuri Beads. There they toured, but also learned valuable lessons from the manager about the importance of quality control and from the staff in the retail shop about displaying items and customer service. They ALL asked lots of questions. When Lloydie was reporting about this she said very excitedly, “It was as if I had scripted it to emphasize everything we have been trying to teach!”

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Workshop participants at Kazuri Beads

Following the time at Kazuri Beads, the group travelled to the Power Women’s workshop in Kibera and were very inquisitive and mesmerized by seeing this successful business which grew from another self-help group that began in  very similar way to all the other Tuko Pamoja groups. Evelyne, who is the president,  and also a TP board member, described the history of the group, challenges and successes, and also gave a tour of their shop, beauty salon, and day care center. The women enthusiastically asked many questions and were very inspired.

At the Power Women's Shop

At the Power Women’s Shop

The final destination was Amani Ya Jou, where Maggie, also one of the Tuko Pamoja board members, is employed. She also gave the story of the group, a cooperative of women refugees, all with horrendous hardships, who were “rescued” by their experiences of being trained there and of being together. One of the messages that she emphasized was that if you have “something inside of you” (difficult or good) you should never hold back, you should always share; that can only help others and help you. Talk about a message that was perfectly delivered! Following the tour and talk at Amani everyone sat down for lunch there. It was an “American lunch” of tomato soup, grilled cheeses and more, typically on the menu at the Amani Cafe and enjoyed by all.

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Time at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Lunch at Amani

Following lunch it was time for the women to give feedback, get certificates, and get goody bags. I am told by Lloydie and Deb that they were “blown away” by the women’s feedback and cried, even sobbed through some of this. Jacqueline from Dandora stood up with both hands to her forehead and exclaimed, “From this day forward, I am changed!” She went on to talk about how she learned she could be a much better leader for her group, could be much more vigilant about quality control and how she felt that the group needed to display their products differently. One after one, the women gave feedback which echoed that and more, and went FAR beyond the expectations of the day!

The workshop wound down with the giving of certificates and goody bags ( basic food items like flour, sugar, lard, etc) and the women oohed and aahed at each item pulled from the bags.

Giving goody bags and certificates

Giving goody bags and certificates

The day ended with a group photo and, as all events end in Kenya, with a prayer and a song, actually several of both.  Most especially however, it ended with the powerful sense of the smallness of the world, the way in which we are all connected as human beings, and the true spirit of Tuko Pamoja, “We are together!”

Group photo of Women's Workshop

Group photo of Women’s Workshop

We Are All One Family

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Gratitude, HIV in Kenya, Nyumbani, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/19/2015
Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen's Home

Time with the children at Nyumbani Childen’s Home

It has been an incredibly full two days since my last post. It often very difficult to find words that truly convey the experience of being here in Kenya. Every day, many times day, there are so many things that touch our hearts so deeply that we are moved to tears again and again. The last two days have certainly been no exception.

I want to give people a glimpse at the Dimesse Sister’s Retreat Center where we stay for a week as well as to introduce the volunteers. The interior lodging at Dimesse is very simple, but the exterior grounds are extremely beautiful, like being in the middle of our own private botanical garden when much of the world nearby is som ugh different. If there is time in the morning before we depart I like to take a brief walk and take it all in.

Dimesse Retreat grounds

Dimesse Retreat grounds

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We all meet together in the morning before we depart which is a time for reuniting with Justus, talking about plans for the day, and often sharing some fun moments or stories from the day before. We also meet up with Charles, a former child of Nyumbani Village who is in college and doing an internship with KEST.

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

KEST group: Kristen, Irma Jon, Deb, Lloyde, Valerie, Judy, Megan and the KEST intern, Charles

We returned to Nyumbani Children’s Home on Sunday and began the day by going to church with the children and staff. The mass  is a jubilant, joyous, singing, dancing and clapping experience when the volunteers, staff, cottage parents and most especially the children come together. The children were dressed in their “Sunday best” with the girls in skirts and dresses and fancy shoes, often with something sparkling in quite unique combinations, and the boys in ties, vests, and dress up clothes. All except the babies came, with the younger ones sitting in the front and the littlest on people’s laps, perhaps yours if you are a lucky volunteer. It’s always very interactive with priest speaking to the children, drawing them in with questions, and teaching them a valuable lesson. The children form a beautiful choir accompanied by drums and instruments and there are young dancers for every song. You will get a sense of the adorable young girls with the gift of rhythm from this video clip.

At the end of the mass, Protus Lumiti, the Director, always goes up to the front and thanks EVERYONE (the singers, choir, drummers, speakers….) each followed by a hefty round of applause with musical accompaniment. The volunteers always are thanked and this time we were all called to front along with Lloydie and we were introduced including the number of years we have been coming. As Lloydie talked about the return volunteers and why we come back, she explained that being here in Kenya, being with the children, has so opened our hearts and changed our lives such that, by the end, many of us stood there in tears.

After the church service, we had an opportunity to have tea with Sister Mary and the staff which was also a time to catch up on what’s happening within the Children’s Home, the successes and the challenges. We then all went off to various activities. Judy and Valerie continued their group counseling and will return next weekend to do some individual counseling. We also visited the cottages where the children live, each retread and newbie volunteer together with an assigned cottage. We were able to see the children in their homes and speak with the cottage parents. Judy and I were in Cottage E visiting the children, but also talking with Mom Jane who has been working as a house parent for 15 years. She has raised four children of her own and now she is raising a second family of fourteen. It is opportunity for us to interact and provide the house parents with support and to learn about them. The children are happy and spirited, but also very well behaved, affectionate with each other and very responsible in doing chores such as cleaning up after the tea and snack, without even being asked.

We were also able to visit children in the Respite Program. The children cared for there are children referred from the Lea Toto clinics providing outreach care to children with HIV. They come to Respite Care because they are too ill to be cared for in their families and require inpatient care. The most frequent reason for admission is malnutrition and the children come for intensive nutritional intervention. Most return to their families in the slums, but some who are too sick, become residents of Nyumbani Village.

Children of the Nyumbani Respite Program

Children of the Nyumbani Respite Program

By the end of the day at the Children’s Home, we were all dragging, feeling the effects of jet lag, too little sleep, and two days full of emotion. We returned to Dimesse Sister’s retreat long enough to freshen up, take a brief walk, or organize donations and then set off on the evening plans. We had a planned dinner out as an entire group with our guests being Lucy and her friend Anne from Kenyatta Univrsity. Some of us have a very  special relationship to Lucy who grew up in Nyumbani Village in the same “family” as Charles. Lucy is a very delightful young woman whom  we got to know at Nyumbani Village as she helped with the Memory Book project and in other ways. She was a very good student, scored high on the national exams, was assured acceptance at the university, but had no way to fund her attendance. With belief in her capabilities and affection for her as a person, and with Lloydie’s assistance, we formed “Team Lucy”, a group of five women (Deb, Karen, Carla, Marguerita and me) who committed to financing Lucy through 4 years at the university. Although Lucy feels very fortunate, we all feel honored to support her and that we are having a wonderful and heart warming experience doing so because she is a very special young woman. We keep in touch through the year and Deb, Lloydie and I were thrilled to have her and her friend Anne join the KEST group for dinner. We enjoyed talking with both of them about their future plans and goals and we were very surprised and extremely touched when Lucy brought out a bag of gifts for “Team Lucy.” In each gift was a tee shirt from Kenyatta University, a photo, and the sweetest, most heartfelt note of gratitude. This brought tears to some of us, which completely overflowed as we turned the shirts over to find “We Are One Family” on the back. At that point even the KEST travelers, who didn’t even know Lucy prior to that night, were in tears.

Lucy with Lloydie, Deb, and me.

Lucy with Lloydie, Deb, and me.

We are One family..

We are One family…..

The entire dinner was a fun time with sharing, humor and much more, but the experience with Lucy was moving in a way that I can’t possibly describe. So we all went to bed very tired, but happy and full from the day, hardly believing that it was only our second day in Kenya!

Today we moved on to different plans at a different site, but since every day in Kenya is rich and full with a yet another amazing experience, this day was no exception. Today we began the series of Lea Toto Clinic visits and Tuko Pamoja “business meetings” with the women’s self-help groups. We traveled to Dandora, one of the slum areas of Nairobi, with Tuko Pamoja Board members (Lloydie, Deb and Lynn) meeting with the women of the self-help group and the others meeting with the clinic staff and going on home visits.

When we arrived, as is always the case, we were greeted with high spirited singing, dancing and hugging to welcome us. This group, the Vision Self Help Group, was the first Lea Toto self help group established and the one with which we have the longest history. All of the women care for HIV+ children, both biological and foster, many live with HIV themselves, and all craft to support their families. These are inspiring, amazing, and persevering women whose strength and grace has overwhelmed me since I first met them in 2010. We shared with them the success of the last year in selling their products, many of the lovely and poignant comments left in the guest book by people in the States who have attended Tuko Pamoja events. We also had the pleasure of handing out bonuses because of the success of sales of the past year. The women are always overwhelmingly grateful and not shy about expressing that.

Deb meeting with some of the Vison Self Help Group

Deb meeting with some of the Vison Self Help Group

One of the other goals of our meeting, and at each Tuko Pamoja meeting to come, was to do video of a demonstration of making one of the products. I had the pleasure of doing that with Margaret who demonstrated how to make a spiral bead bracelet.

At the end of our time there all of the volunteers were able to shop heartily from the women’s crafts. It wasn’t until our usual dinner time debriefing that I heard about the experiences of the new volunteers who did home visits with Lea Toto staff and volunteer community health workers. The purpose of home visits is to do outreach to families who have an HIV+ child receiving care at the clinic. Hearing about their experiences brought me back to my very first visit to Kenya when I did my first home visits. They talked about the extreme poverty and terrible conditions that they saw as they passed through the alleys of Dandora where they found trash and streams of raw sewage. However inside the tiny tin houses, the size of a small bathroom in the States, lived families of many members in miniature living quarters were kept extremely clean. They were welcomed with grace and gratitude and the people shared openly their situations and struggles. Judy told us of visiting household, with a grandmother who has cared for her three grandchildren for many years since her daughter died. The oldest, an adolescent girl, is HIV+ and doing well on ARV treatment, despite the enormous challenges of living in severe poverty.

Home visting in Dandora

Home visting in Dandora

They talked about the hardships, but also the blessings in life, and shared humor and mutal family experiences. Then while the volunteers were engaged in talking with the grandaughter, her grandmother, in act of gratitude, and with severely limited resources, slipped out and returned having bought each vistor a bottle of soda, a real treat in Kenya. This is the Kenyan way that we have experienced again and again: having very little, but still being grateful, gracious, and wanting to share with others. We often feel that we are the ones being given to in so many ways, that the world becomes smaller although we have traveled long from halfway across the globe and that we are indeed all one family.

Excitement, generosity and THANKS!

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

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

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

Beading with hands and feet

Beading with hands and feet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh my!

Oh my!

And there's so much more...

And there’s so much more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to Kenya in Just Eleven Days!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back, Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/03/2015

I am returning to Kenya for my annual volunteer trip in just 11 days. The last year has been personally a very difficult one laden with grief, but the return to this beautiful country and these warm and gracious people truly lifts my spirits. I am also so very excited to be once again in the company of my good friends and fellow volunteers and the new travelers who will join us. The eastern members got together at my annual Tuko Pamoja event in the fall and excitement was running high.

The east coast travelers

The east coast travelers: Kristen, Lloydie, Judy, me and Valerie

KRISTEN!

Kristen is returning with her wonderful smile!

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Yes, excitement was running high..

Lloydie and one of the boys from her cottage at the Children's Home

Lloydie and one of the boys from her cottage at the Children’s Home

Deb with a child at the Children's Home

Deb with a child at the Children’s Home

I am looking forward to meeting the new travelers, to reuniting with Deb  and Lloydie for our fifth trip together,  and so excited to have Judy, my friend and colleague, joining us for the first time! We will miss Karen and Jen so much, but will await the news of the arrival of Jen’s baby while we are in Kenya. There are so many people in Kenya who I am excited to see, but most especially at the top of the list is Justus, our trusty driver with Kenyan nerves of steel, our reliable guide sherpa and protector, and most of all our dear friend.

Justus looking at photos with the children near Kibera Paper

Justus looking at photos with the children near Kibera Paper

Justus our good friend, guide, driver and more with Kristen

Justus our good friend, guide, driver and more with Kristen

As is always the case, we have a full agenda, many projects to do, places to go and people to see. For part of the first weekend,  we will spend some time at Nyumbani Children’s Home. Going to Kenya year after year it’s wonderful to see how these children, all orphans who are HIV+ continue to grow and thrive.

One of the most popular fun activities at Nyumbani Children's Home

One of the most popular fun activities at Nyumbani Children’s Home

Valeris joined in the face painting last year

Valeris joined in the face painting last year

We will also visit each of the Tuko Pamoja sites and have a business meeting and a wonderful dancing and singing visit with all of the Mommas at each of the Tuko Pamoja sites to which we can drive from Karen outside of Nairobi. This is when we will review the success of Tuko Pamoja over the past year, especially sales in the U.S., place orders for the next year, give bonuses, look at new crafts etc. We have a long history with the women in these groups much affection and a powerful bond from years of working together, sharing our lives including successes and hardships. Here is a little gathering of video clips to give you a peek at what the time is like.

We will visit the Tuko Pamoja groups in the slums around Nairobi as well as the Maasai community of PCDA. There we not only visit with the Mommas, but also bring donations of support for the school and the community including the lunch program, supporting access to water and much more. We also do enrichment programs with their gorgeous children who are all lively and eager learners. I have some of my best time filling the role of the official photographer there taking many photos of their beautiful faces.

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

Maasai children of PCDA

PCDA Maasai Women

PCDA Maasai Women

On the second weekend, on Saturday, we will host the third Annual Workshop for Women, when women of each of the Tuko Pamoja groups come together to improve their business skills, marketing and product development, increase their pride and improve their sense of personal wellbeing. Two years ago, when we held the first workshop, it became one of my all time favorite days in Kenya. The gathering together of diverse groups of women from within Kenya, together with us from across the globe united in a common cause was powerfully moving. When we all sang together, hand in hand, gathered in a circle in beautiful harmony at the end of the day it was magical. I get teary when I think about it now and I remember looking across the circle to Deb and we both had tears streaming down our faces. Be ready to be moved new volunteers!

Tuko Pamoja Women"s Workshop group photo

Tuko Pamoja Women”s Workshop group photo

After we spend some more time with those beautiful children at Nyumbani Children’s Home we will head off to start our second full week by traveling to Nyumbani Village, about four hours away from Nairobi. There it is will be much hotter and very different than the time that we have spent near Nairobi. In the Village, where 100 grandparents raise 1000 AIDS orphans, life is more rustic and in keeping with traditional Kamba culture. During the day the children are at school in their school uniforms and many groups of them will pass by and greet us to and from on their way. Though they will be quite enthusiastic, these  are nothing like the greetings we get from the shoshos or grandmothers who walk down the paths in the Village and will be singing and dancing as they greet us with the special three part Kamba handshake. They will teach this and some greetings in Kamba to the new volunteers with boundless enthusiasm and ALWAYS break into dance at the sight of us. In the evening, the children will be out gathering kindling, climbing trees, playing together, and as night falls we will be under the starriest sky you can imagine.

Nyumbani Village

Nyumbani Village

Nyumbani Village children in the school yard

Nyumbani Village children in the school yard

Many happy beautiful faces at Nyumbani Village

Many happy beautiful faces at Nyumbani Village

Some fun loving boys at the Village

Some fun loving boys at the Village

We have many projects planned in the Village which is a place steeped in culture and rustic living, but very advanced in farming and sustainability projects.  The grandmothers have a tradition of making beautiful baskets and are the final group of Tuko Pamoja women whom we will visit. As the sale of their baskets is their sole income, and the Village is very focused on sustainability, one of our projects this year will be to support (with the generosity of our donors) and participate in the planting of 5 acres of sisal, the main fiber of their baskets. Then the grandmothers will be able to harvest and grow their own rather than having to purchase it and the Village will be another step closer to full sustainability. I won’t personally be planting as I spend most of my time volunteering in the counseling center, but other members of the group will be planting sisal and doing a whole lot more.

Traditional Basket weaving at Nyumbani Village

Traditional Basket weaving at Nyumbani Village

As part of my psychiatric volunteer work, I will consult to the two counsellors in Nyumbani Village  on their most challenging clients and continue to address the issues of grief and loss in the Village. This will include the first Day of Remembrance, a luminary ceremony dedicated to acknowledging family members lost to AIDS for the children, grandparents and staff of Nyumbani Village. This will also be a legacy to the memory of my son Brendan and to the lost children of other mothers I know. We have packed 1500 luminaries to travel to Village, one for each child, grandparent and staff. Having a remembrance ceremony and lighting all of them in the evening as we all sing under the skies will be a moving and beautiful scene which I cannot fully imagine ahead of time. That will take place on our final evening in the Village which will be on my son Brendan’s birthday, a wonderful way to honor his memory.

With Lilian, the Billage counselor

With Lilian, the Village counselor

Nyumbani Village as night falls

Nyumbani Village as night falls

There is so much more I could say about the Village because it is one of the most special  and magical places on earth,  but I will save that for posting when I’m there. After we wind down our week at the Village we will have a couple of days of fun and hopefully a little more rest as we head off on safari with Justus as our guide to end our trip. Stay tuned to hear many stories that will touch your heart and many new photos when I blog contemporaneously from Kenya where my first post there will be the 100th post in my blog!

My all time favorite photo taken on safari

My all time favorite photo taken on safari

TUKO PAMOJA’S SPIRITED FALL SEASON

Posted in Giving back, Kenya, Nyumbani, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 10/05/2014
First slide of the presentation

First slide of the presentation

I want to dedicate this blog post to my mother who passed away far to soon this summer and was an amazing woman in her own right. She is the one who taught me at an early age that all people are created equally and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness regardless of race, disability or other ways of being different from me. She was also a “Momma” with strength, resilience, and grace who was my best teacher about generosity, compassion and love.

My Mom

My Mom

The busy fall season of Tuko Pamoja has begun with home parties, markets and bazaars scheduled in many places! This is when we take all of the beautiful crafts that the Kenyan women of Tuko Pamoja  have made to sell on the road. Equally as important as selling their wares is telling their stories–that these are amazing mothers and grandmothers who live in poverty, raise their own children and many others, have suffered enormous hardship, but still live their lives with grace, resilience, and strength.

Yesterday was the day for my Tuko Pamoja event–the third annual such event which was hosted at the Frontier Cafe, whose staff, especially Emily,  provide us with wonderful support and whose philosophy supports the kind of work that we do. When I looked at the perpetual African Wisdom Calendar for the day, this what I found:

So appropriate!

So appropriate!

Perfect wisdom for the day which turned out to be a very successful one. Lloydie, Bill and Sidey arrived from Maryland toting hundreds of pounds of ware for my event and another one scheduled in Hanover Vermont today. As Tuko Pamoja has grown it has been much more to manage so kudos to Sidey for organizing, coding, branding, and creating a masterful warehouse in Lloydie’s basement.

Sidey at the checkout

Sidey at the checkout

Only a portion of the hundreds of pounds

Only a portion of the hundreds of pounds

We had a wonderful display and so much inventory to capture people’s interest, both those who came by invitation and those arriving to have a meal at the Frontier who were interested and even enamored with the crafts we had to offer and the story behind them. The Frontier is a wonderful place to host this since they also have a theater where I can do a presentation, along  with Lloydie and her boundless enthusiasm. My presentation was focused on telling the story of how Tuko Pamoja came to be, “introducing” the women and giving people a feeling of why we do this work–because we love the mothers and grandmothers, and the children they are raising. People can see that buying their crafts helps them to survive in poverty, but also to thrive with pride. My presentation was the story, but also the heart of Tuko Pamoja and the difference you can make in peoples lives, and them in yours. I always enjoy presenting this, but the experience has so touched me (and the others involved) that I never get through it without  getting choked up and shedding tears. I have come to expect that…

Sign provided by The Frontier who included us the "events" on their website

Sign provided by The Frontier who included us the calendar of events on their website.

Baskets from Nyumbani Village

Baskets from Nyumbani Village

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A small section of our display of crafts.

Lloydie telling two impromptu shoppers about the women and the crafts

Lloydie telling two impromptu shoppers about the women and the crafts.

A young shopper admiring the children's section

A young shopper admiring the children’s section

My two college roommates, Sue and Chris, who came from out of state to support us and become happy shoppers  (many thanks)

My two college roommates, Sue and Chris, who came from out of state to support us and become happy shoppers (many thanks)

We had a very successful day, a captive audience for the presentation, wonderful inquisitive and supportive shoppers and had sales that significantly exceeded last year’s event. The Kenyan women of Tuko Pamoja will once again be thrilled with the reception of their crafts and the comments to them in the guest book as they were in this video clip:

One of the additional, quite wonderful experiences of the day is an opportunity to reunite with past volunteers who live near enough to attend, with whom you can’t help but have a powerful bond. And since three of us who live in Maine will be going on this year’s trip it was an early opportunity for people to share excitement over dinner about planning the trip. I was thrilled to see Kristen who volunteered on the 2011 trip and and even more thrilled to know that both she and her partner Jon will be part of the travel group this year.

Spirited discussion with Kristen about getting to travel together again.

Spirited discussion with Kristen about getting to travel together again.

I am delighted to have two other people from Maine who are enthusiastic about going on this year’s trip Judy, a first time traveler, and Valerie who is returning for her second year. Since both work in the mental health field,  Lloydie is already planning their placements in our Kenya sites so they can share their professional expertise.

Five of the Kenya volunteer group for this year--already bonding over the common cause

Five of the Kenya volunteer group for this year–already bonding over the common cause. (Kristen, Lloydie, Judy, me and Valerie)

We depart in mid January to spend another amazing, touching, life-changing time in Kenya with the women of Tuko Pamoja and all of the children of Nyumbani. We all ate dinner together with family members at the Frontier after the work of the day was done, and excitement about the upcoming trip was hard to be contained and, of course, shouldn’t be.  The countdown to departure begins…

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Visiting with the Mommas of Tuko Pamoja

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

Woman from Kibera. Paper and her daughter

 

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

Group photo at Dagoretti


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


Florence from Dandora and her daughter

 

Fingers and toes braiding beads

 
 

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

Tears of joy for the bonus at Dandora

 

Many hugs!

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

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

Valerie and Leah


Outfitted in Kibera paper work kangas


Beautiful baby of Kibera Paper Momma


Karen doing an interview at Kibera paper


Group photo at Kibera Paper


Justus looking at photos with enthusiastic children


Beautiful face!


So cute!


Playing in the school yard beside Kibera Paper

 

 

 

 

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Our first few days back in our Kenyan home

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

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Nyumbani Village–always a unique experience

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

Nyumbani Village Child

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

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

Drive to Nyumbani Village

Drive to Nyumbani Village

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Along the way to Nyumbani Village

Along the way to Nyumbani Village

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

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

Entrance to Nyumbani Village

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

Inside Nyumbani Village

Inside Nyumbani Village

Another view of the Village

Another view of the Village

View trhough to the Administrative Offices

View through to the Administrative Offices

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

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Deb with the neighbor children

Deb with the neighbor children

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

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

Interns Anna, Becky and Ashton

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

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Great toothless grins!

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

Karen in the crowd of Nyumbani children

 

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Love her beautiful big eyes!

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Clapping for the sister school

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At the assembly

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Buddies

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I love pictures of feet…or hands

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Lloydie and the sports teacher

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This child made we wonder what he was thinking….

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

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In Lilian's Coulseling office at Nyumbani Village

In Lilian’s counseling office at Nyumbani Village

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

Working on art for the Memory Books

Working on art for the Memory Books

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

Jen and two girls from the basketball team

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Caroline, the student my family sponsors

Caroline, the student my family sponsors

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

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Nyumbani Village Shu shus

Rolling the sisel on her knee

Rolling the sisal on her knee

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A row of basket weavers

A row of basket weavers

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Looking over Tuko Pamoja materials

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

Nyumbani Shusus get the Tuko Pamoja certificate

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out....

A little spontaneous dancing breaks out….

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

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

The chicken coop that KEST helped to build

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

Waiting for the dancing to start

Waiting for the dancing to start

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The cutest little dancing machine!

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The Shu shu joins in!

The Shu shu joins in!

Grandfather and grandson

Grandfather and grandson

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

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

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

Resting on a log……being silly!

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

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

Directing the way to the work shop

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

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

Jen setting up the name tags

Jen setting up the name tags

Sarah "posing" with the goals and workshop session titles

Sarah “posing” with the goals and workshop session titles

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Lloydie, Jill and Sarah getting ready with their name tags

Pre-briefing for the day

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

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

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

And the women began to arrive………

Dressed beautifully....

Dressed beautifully….

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

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

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

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Enjoying tea and mandazis

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper

Motto and mission statement for Kibera Paper

 

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

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Great signage thanks to Jill!

Lilian and me in the personal well being session

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

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

One of the marketing sessions

One of the marketing sessions

The product design and quality control session

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

The finance workshop

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

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

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

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of tems on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

Sampling of Kibera Paper cards on the display table

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

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

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

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

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

Lloydie talking about the food bag gifts

The Board feeling the excitement of the day

The Board feeling the excitement of the day

 

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

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Hearty hugs in the line for certificates and gifts

Spontaneous dancing

Spontaneous dancing

 

And more hugs..

And more hugs..

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

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

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

A special goodbye and photo with Lilian

Tuko Pamoja Women"s Workshop group photo

Tuko Pamoja Women”s Workshop group photo

 

 

Singing, Dancing, and Making It Snow with the Mommas of Kenya

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, HIV in Kenya, Kenya, poverty in Kenya, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 01/23/2013
School children at the Kibera Paper location

School children at the Kibera Paper location

Wow, we have been incredibly BUSY over the past two days!! I wish that I could blog every day because it seems that each day is so full of moments that are so moving,  so profound, so joyful……and there are so many stories to tell. It is in many ways like being in a different world here because the poverty and hardship are so beyond imagination, the impact of AIDS touches everyone here, yet people remain resilient, joyful, and tell their stories with such authenticity from their hearts. We have continued our intensive focus on Tuko Pamoja as that is a very important goal of this trip. Supporting the caregivers of children with HIV or AIDS or the mothers of children living in extreme poverty is the most effective way to support families and communities and is at the heart of the mission of supporting the women artisans of Tuko Pamoja. Before telling you about our recent visits with Tuka Pamoja groups I just want to tell you who the group of travelers is this time. Sarah and Jill are the new travelers–Sarah is a nurse from North Carolina and Jill is an artist and preschool teacher from Arizona. Lloydie is our fearless leader and head honcho of KEST (Kenya Educational and Service Trips) and Jen is the junior head honcho at KEST (sorry I can’t remember your official titles.)  Lloydie Jen, Deb, Karen and I are the U.S.  Board members of Tuko Pamoja and have all made multiple trips to Kenya with Lloydie leading the pack at 13! Justus is our amazing driver who is always happy (I hear it’s a Kamba tribe trait 🙂  extremely helpful and has nerves of steel to be able to drive in Nairobi where the entire large city seems to have only one traffic light. So you have met the group–on with the experience.

The KEST Group--Deb, Sarah, Jen, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

The KEST Group–Deb, Sarah, Jen, LLoydie, Karen, Jill, Me and top center is Justus, our wonderful driver, translater, and friend

Yesterday we went to the final Lea Toto site (Nyumbani outreach clinic for children with HIV living in the slums of Nairobi) supported by Tuka Pamoja in Dandora, called the Vision Self Help Group. This group of women has been together for many years and was the first self-help group that I met. They make jewelry, beaded items and sewn items, all wonderful! Many of them are volunteer community health workers helping other families who have children with HIV and some are themselves HIV+. In fact Sarah, in the elegant peach colored garb above has been living with HIV for over 20 years and nearly died before she knew her HIV status. But now she is a community activitist, AIDS educator, is raising AIDS orphans, and is an empowered woman living positively with HIV. I had the opportunity to interview her and its amazing that she survived. HIV and AIDS are still very much stigmatized here despite the fact that so many people’s lives are touched by them. In Dandora, we also interviewed the women about their lives and had a business meeting about Tuka Pamoja. One of the things we always do is bring fruit and biscuits (cookies) when we come, but this year we also brought scarves for all the women so you may notice them in the pictures, We also presented them their official TP certificate.

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group

Tuko Pamoja certificate for the Vision Self help group

 

Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Visit with the Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

One thing that we did a little differently here was to spend more time talking a circle as a larger group and by the time that was done, with the women expressing such gratitude and such heart-felt sentiments, there was not a dry eye, virtually everyone was in tears. Although we don’t see these women often the incredible warmth of the welcome, the sharing of the connection, the way we are brought into their lives and they into ours, the emotional exchange, it all leads to a profound connection. we did life story interviews, shopped from their wares, and it was all too soon time to leave with very hard to say goodbyes.

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Group photo with the Vision Self Help Group

Following the time spent in Dandora, we had plans to do some “socially conscious shopping” in two sites where we have developed relationships with the staff and workers over time. The first stop was Amani (meaning peace in Swahili) which is a cooperative of African women refugees who have a very successful business selling many  hand sewn items featuring hand died and batiked cloth. In fact, their business is so successful that we asked their marketing director, Maggie, to be a member of the TP Kenyan Board.

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

Maggie of Amani and Lloydie

We also made a stop at Kazuri Beads, another favorite place. This is another special place that now employs almost 350 people, predominantly women, many of whom are bused in from the slums. They receive excellent pay, have on site medical and day care and are treated very well. They make gorgeous pottery and ceramic beads from clay mined in Kenya. Learning about the process of mining and harvesting the clay, preparing it for shaping, hand shaping it,  firing, then glazing and refiring it makes you appreciate the beauty of the beads even more. When we stopped at Kazuri Beads yesterday we were too late to see the workers because our day had gone too long so we could only do some shopping. So had to decide to leave early this morning to make sure that we could go back for the tour and especially to see the workers because we have a tradition of visiting them, getting welcomed in song and dance and handing out a little candy treat–lollipops this time, you may notice the sticks in the photos….

Making Kazuri Beads

Making Kazuri Beads

Kazuri Bead factory workers

Kazuri Bead factory workers enjoying the sweets

Kazuri Beads!!

Kazuri Beads!!

We had to get an early start today to fit in the trip back to Kazuri Beads because we knew we had another full itinerary. In fact last night I had most of the group in my room helping me prepare for today’s project at Kibera Paper.

Late night project preparation

Late night project preparation

Today we headed to Kibera paper, the final Tuko Pamoja group from the slum area of Nairobi. This is the group of women who make l hand-made paper from recycled paper obtained from businesses into absolutely beautiful handmade cards which are each a piece of art. When we go to Kibera paper, anyone who hasn’t been there before has the opportunity for hands on instruction in paper making and making the cards. Deb and I have also established a tradition of sharing an art project with the women. So in addition to the Tuko Pamoja business meeting and presentation of the certificate, receiving our order and paying for it, doing the personal interviews, drinking chai and eating homemade mandazis (Kenyan like doughnuts)  that one of the women had made for us, sharing in a circle, singing and dancing, we also did paper making and art projects which made for quite a busy time. Kibera paper was the fourth group that was so prepared  and had 100% of their order ready for us even though we only expected 50 %. So all the groups are doing so well with getting their orders completed early, introducing new products and being professional in ways that will really make them successful!

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Making cards, dancing, singing at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper

Cecily and the TP certificate at Kibera Paper

 

Both Deb and I make handmade cards and decided to make a different kind of card with them. She made very fancy valentines and I decided to teach them a bit about snow by making snowflake cards. Since none of them had ever experienced snow, that was quite a lot of fun! I brought plenty of photos I had taken in the winter in Maine with various quantities of snow, but the big hit was one of my children when they were younger posing with a snowman they had made. The women really got into it once they once they got the technique for cutting a six pointed snowflake and the snowflakes and glitter were flying everywhere because there was a bit of a breeze and the paper was very light. At one point I looked down and there were about a dozen snowflakes on the ground by the table and it made me laugh to think we had made it snow in Kenya today! I love working with these women–they have a lot of spirit! So once again it was a hard goodbye with singing and dancing…..lots of hugs and tears.

Making snowflake cards

Making snowflake cards

Following spending most of the day at Kibera Paper we drove further into Kibera to pay a visit of support the Power Women’s Self Help Group.

Glimpses of Kibera

Glimpses of Kibera

They are also a Lea Toto founded self-help group, but through some extra support, really hard work and exceptionally good financial decisions they have become self-sustaining and own and operate their own shop to sell their goods. They have also recently expanded to having a hair salon attached to their shop. Their president, Everline, is on the TP Kenyan Board. We sat and talked with them about the history of their group, how they run the business, and let them know that the other self-help groups have similar aspirations and see them as an inspiration.

Everline of the Power Women"s Self Help Group

Everline of the Power Women”s Self Help Group

 

Power Women's Hair Salon

Power Women’s Hair Salon

It’s very late here in Kenya and its time to get a few hours of sleep before we head out in the morning on a little bit different path. It has been an intense, but very rewarding past few days. We will be headed to the Maasai community of PCDA to do more Tuko Pamoja business,  but also to spend some time supporting other projects in that community. You may recall some of the time we spent with the Mommas and the children last year. If not, I will tell you ahead of time, the children are absolutely adorable, enthusiastic, engaging, beautiful little ones! Can’t wait……

 

 

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

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

 

One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

One of the Tuko Pamoja women and her children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scooters are very important at NCH and build strong legs

 

Faces of Nyumbani Children's Home

Faces of Nyumbani Children’s Home

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

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Just a few of the faces we painted!

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

Boys football game

Boys football game

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

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

Pictures on the periphery of Dagoretti

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

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

Some of the beaded products at Kangemi

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

Tribute to the Women of Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate

LLoydie showing the Tuko Pamoja certificate

 

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja Certificate

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

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi

Son of one of the Tuka Pumoja women at Kangemi

 

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