Zuri Watoto Wote

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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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

 

 

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

Through the Rift Valley to see the Maasai Community

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

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

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

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Kristen

Philip, Director of PCDA and his assistant Christine

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The drive to PCDA

the Maassai school

The Maassai school

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

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Maasai Children waving as we arrive

Greetings from the Maasai children

Greetings from the Maasai children

latrine

Sarah and Jill’s introduction to a pit toilet 🙂

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

Maasai chief

Maasai chief

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

One child showing his photo with its "frame"

One child showing his photo with its “frame”

With their masks!

With their masks!

Maasai children in the classroom

Maasai children in the classroom

The soccer teams

The soccer teams

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

Typical boma or Maasai home

Typical boma or Maasai home

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

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

Deb with Josephine

Deb with Josephine

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

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

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

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

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

Presenting the Tuko Pamoja certificate to PCDA

On "onlooker" taking everything in.

On “onlooker” taking everything in.

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

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

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

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Maasai women in their colorful clothes

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

Tuko Pamoja-PCDA Group Photo

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

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

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

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

Jill as "Maruge'

Jill as “Maruge’

Philip and his son

Philip and his son

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

The very cute children of Oloserian Academy

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

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

Sign at the turn before the Oloserian Academy

Nyumbani and Tuko Pamoja–A lot to celebrate!!

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

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

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

KEST travelers reunite!

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

Painting of Nyumbani Village Shushus

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

Lloydie leading the Tuko Pamoja board meeting

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

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

Shopping at Tuko Pamoja event

Nyumbani Village baskets

Kibera Paper cards

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nyumbani Village Shu Shu weaving a basket

Maasai Momma of PCDA

Vision Self Help Group of Dandora

Kibera Paper Mommas

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