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AT LAST, we leave today………

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Nyumbani by Lynn Ouellette on 01/28/2010

So we leave today…….after months of preparation I can hardly believe it!  This is my last post from the U.S. until we return. Needless to say I am very excited, hoping I have attended to every detail here, pretty tired from all the preparations, yet still buzzing with excited energy. There are a few questions that people have very frequently asked so I thought I would try to answer them here.

How long does it take to get to Kenya? We are flying from Boston to London and then London to Nairobi. The combined flying time is about 15 hours going over and 16 hours coming back with a 4 hour layover in London.  Yes, that is a really long time!

Where will we be in Kenya? We will be in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi and the site of the Nyumbani Children’s Home; in  Kitui, a town about 100 miles away from Nairobi and the site of Nyumbani village; and in Kibera, an enormous slum outside of Nairobi and the site of the Lea Toto outreach program If you would like to see what life is like in Kibera, please check out this YouTube video that was done by a volunteer from another program who spent time there and it will give you a sense.

 The Masai Mara Game Preserve in southwest Kenya and Lake Nakuru will be the sites of our last 3 days in Kenya when we go on safari. If you would like to have a sense of what the safari will be like I have a found a good video on YouTube that got me pretty excited:

What will we be doing? The answer to this question is partly sprinkled throughout the blog, but I will recap some here. We are visiting all 3 sites of the Nyumbani Programs. We will do volunteer activities that have been organized for us, tour the medical clinic, go on home visits in the outreach program, mentor the counselor as I described in my previous post, do the art exchange project (I can’t wait to share the art from the Maine kids!)  and organize art donations and ideas for future projects. Tom will do some running relays and other sporting activities particularly with the teenage boys.  We will get more acquainted with the programs so we can learn: how we can raise awareness (and funds) for the program back at home, determine if we can facilitate addressing any of the medical needs, and figure out what comes next for us and our involvement with Nyumbani. And, of course, there is the safari for the last three days which includes a visit to a Masai village.  Since I am also a photographer, the entire experience is an amazing photo opportunity and I will be taking a lot of pictures.

Because of the breadth of what I will be exposed to in Kenya, all of which I only know second-hand now, I imagine that it will be an experience filled with awe, sadness, joy, amazement, heartache, and profoundly intense emotion, some of which I will make an attempt to share.

Baadaye  marafiki!  (See you later my friends!) I will write next from Kenya.

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Jordan Acres artists send colorful “Jambo’s” to Kenyan orphans!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Maine schools, Student Art exchange by Lynn Ouellette on 01/24/2010


"Jambo!" Beautiful prints by JA artists

I received the art work from the Jordan Acres and I looked at it briefly a few days ago when I first got it and was thrilled with what I saw. Today I spent more time looking at every piece and all I can say is “WOW!!” All of you at Jordan Acres did an amazing job on the art work to send to the orphans in Kenya! And all the art work was organized in beautiful little books or packages tied with ribbons.

JA students art work

And what a nice surprise to get a whole box of donated art supplies. I was also touched to find tucked away in the box a  group of yarn dolls made by Mia Denison–thanks for making that extra effort, Mia! There are some children who I will be visiting outside of the orphanage who are very poor and I will be very happy to take those with me as a special gift on my visits to see those children.

JA donated supplies and the little yarn dolls

I was also very surprised and impressed to see how many of the artists had learned some Swahili words. I know I had put a few in my earlier post telling you about Africa and Kenya, but there were so many more things that you learned how to say that I ever imagined I would see on your art. Just like the kids in Brooksville who are sending friendly greetings, the JA art is full of these, too.


There are so many things I could say about this art work: It’s so colorful, there’s a wonderful mixture of different kinds of art (paintings, drawings, prints), there are books put together in really creative ways and fun ways (examples below). I love the little books that make long colorful snakes and the one that has all the faces with little mouths that open saying “Jambo.” I wish that I could include everyone’s work on the blog, but of course that’s not possible since there are so many different pieces. I have created a little gallery below with some examples from every kind of art and every group of students. I am sure that the children in Kenya will get the message reflected in the student’s art below:



Thank you JA artists and Mrs. McCormack!!


Brooksville student artists share Maine life with Nyumbani orphans

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Student Art exchange by Lynn Ouellette on 01/21/2010



Last Friday evening I got to spend time with Bec Poole, my artist friend and also the art teacher at Brooksville Elementary School,  and had the pleasure of getting the art projects that the 7th and 8th graders have made for the children of Nyumbani in Kenya. I have to say that I am thrilled with what I received! The art work is a series of fold out books with slip covers, all of which tell the story of  the student artist and his or her life in Brooksville. I love that they show snow, lobsters, moose, the seasons and tell a story of living in Maine that will be shared with kids in Kenya who have no experience of these things. I also love that they are rich with  friendly and warm greetings  and clearly reach across the world with those feelings. An added bonus was the little blank fold out books and covers that were included and that I hopefully will be able to use with the same age kids in Kenya to bring back to Brooksville with greetings in the other direction from across the world.  

Thank you to all the artists and to Bec Poole for creating the art and bringing this all together!!


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Sneak Preview: Thank You Jordan Acres Artists!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Maine schools, Student Art exchange by Lynn Ouellette on 01/08/2010

"Jambo Jina langu ni Holly. " Hello My name is Holly.

I’m so excited to have received some scanned examples of art that the students at Jordan Acres had made for me to take to Kenya. Mrs McCormack e-mailed me some scans that she had made of a few of their pieces and they are terrific! I will be meeting with her next week to get the actual art work but couldn’t wait to share some of what I have gotten to see already. What is particularly exciting to me is that I can tell that the students have learned something about Kenya and were really speaking to the kids in Kenya when they were creating their work. I loved seeing the Swahili words! I’m really excited to all of the actual pieces next Friday. But here are some examples for everyone to enjoy!


"Twiga's" Giraffes

Beautiful Sunrise

"Jambo!!!" Hello!!!

What a beautiful giraffe!

A new year, a new decade, a not so new idea.

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 01/03/2010

It’s a new year .….and a new decade that has begun, a  time for resolutions, recollections, reflections, resolve, or at least hopefully noting something about one’s life and moving into the future.  My own personal resolutions which have never really been chosen by me around the coming of the New Year, but rather more created for me by life experience, those of gratitude and giving back, will hopefully be ones I will continue to stay strong and healthy enough to keep for decades to come.  I am very excited to be starting this new decade with the trip to Kenya to volunteer in the Nyumbani programs and to begin this relationship with helping the AIDS orphans. It’s less than 4 weeks away and  we just got our visas so it’s feeling very real! We are very lucky that we have the means to do this.  But we are also lucky  to have many people who are supporting us in various ways by donations to the Nyumbani programs, offers to be available to our one son who is at home (the other two kids will be at college), checking  in on our house, covering my practice, etc. There is a whole network of support and interest that I never imagined we would have and both Tom and I have continued to remark on this on a regular basis.

In just planning this trip, I have already learned so much. One thing I have learned that there are a lot of kind people who are willing to be generous when the need becomes real. I actually learned this in a very personal  and very touching way when I had breast cancer, so what I mean here is different. It’s that if you present a cause, like AIDS orphans , and make it real by talking about real people’s stories, and share your own enthusiasm, you don’t need to even ask people to help, they just offer. And, in the process of joining in helping, people get connected to each other in powerful ways.  I have had many enlivened and touching conversations with people wanting to help, to give donations, wanting to know more about AIDS orphans.  Bec Poole, the art teacher from Brooksville whose students are participating in the art exchange just wrote to me, “You can’t believe how much you have impacted our school.  Everyone is talking about the project.  I think the music teacher is going to do her spring concert with a theme on Kenya……… ” Well, I can’t take credit for that, I’ve never been to the school, I simply introduced the idea of the art exchange in a series of e-mail exchanges and sent along a CD about Nyumbani and the AIDS orphans in Kenya to make it real, and then she shared her enthusiam and they ran with it.   She also wanted to make sure that I understood how important it was for her students that I figure out another project that they could do to stay involved and give to the kids in the orphanage. That’s an example of what happens and it’s wonderful.  I just read an article in a medical journal about how volunteering keeps elderly minds sharp as shown by increased brain activity measured in certain regions on MRI’s, etc. I think people just feel more alive when they are sharing in some common cause and giving of themselves;  it seems like giving, and the way it connects you with other people,  is just fundamentally good for you, no matter how you measure it, no MRI’s required. This really isn’t a new idea at all, just one that’s easy to lose sight of in this busy day and age, but one that is really worth revisiting.


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“The Hats” and other donations…

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 01/02/2010

I haven’t posted for awhile since the busyness of the holidays took my attention and then on Christmas day I was ambushed by our golden retriever’s tail and took a nasty spill that injured me in a way that still keeps me from being able to sit down, which does not lend itself easily to computer work. This, of course, I am sure hoping will heal a lot before 15 hours of flying to Kenya. In the meantime, I have had a number of ideas for posts that I have wanted to write including an update on donations.  I received a package from Blick Art Supplies as promised in response to my proposal for a donation for the art exchange project. I was delighted to get more than enough watercolors, paper and markers to complete the project in Kenya. Thank you! I know from communication with the 2 Maine art teachers that additional donations along with some from my own supplies will enable me to leave a stocked art supply closet in the orphanage. In response to inquiries about what I wanted for Christmas, I had discouraged some people from getting me presents, but rather asked that they get donations for Nyumbani. It’s impossible to completely discourage people like mothers and mothers-in-law from buying you Christmas presents, but they also bought items to donate in addition to gifts. There are preschool children at the orphanage who I wanted to include in doing some art but won’t be participarting in the actual art exchange (and with whom I will be doing some facepainting though I hear they move pretty quickly) who now have lots of crayons and colorbooks thanks to my mother. And, thanks to my mother in law, they have new clothing including some hand knit items. Speaking of hand knit items, someone recently said to me that I need to include a photo of all the handknit “chemo” hats that I referred to in an earlier post. I had intended to do that, but it was hard to fit them all in one photograph  so instead I have included a video. Thank you to all my knitters: Jean, Lisa, Anne, Laurie, Katie, and more.

It’s exciting to see this accumulating collection of donations and I don’t even have the student art yet, though from what I have heard that will be very special to receive and will definitely be cause to get out the video again.

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The Art Exchange: Update and THANK YOU Maine Schools

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Student Art exchange by Lynn Ouellette on 12/19/2009

I have received e-mails from both of the art teachers involved with student art exchange updating me on how the work is coming. Sharon McCormack wrote and told me that the art would be done by the end of the week and that there is a “whole variety of art that is being offered up to you” She described a variety of wonderful projects that the students have worked on and will be finished, organized and packed away for me the end of the week. I won’t do any descriptions until I get to see them myself (like to keep it a surprise)  and I will post some examples on the blog. She will be scanning some of the art work to post on her own Jordan acres website and will be sending the files to as well. She added that she was mindful of keeping the projects light so as keep room to also pack some additional supplies such as watercolor pencils and other things that I can bring. I will be happy to bring the art which I can’t wait to see, but also look forward to being able to stock an “art closet” between my donated supplies from Blick Art and the ones that Jordan Acres students have packed for me.

I also heard from Bec Poole at Brookesville Elementary School this week. In addition to describing to me the art her 7th and 8th grade students have been working on, which sounds incredible, she also described the enormous impact that viewing a DVD about Nyumbani , AIDS orphans and the conditions in the Kibera slum has had upon them. She wrote “The whole school is excited about this project”. She also asked that I keep in mind when I am in Kenya what other ways they might be involved in supporting the orphanage because that has become very important to them, with her own comment “Isn’t this exciting!” That it is! If there were anything that I could have hoped for in imagining an art exchange like this, it was that young people here would be affected by this and would develop a connection to what’s happening to kids across the world. I hoped it might happen when I returned with art and photos and video from the orphans in Kenya. I didn’t expect it would happen so soon. What a gift! I will surely find a way to keep this wonderful bond growing.

Thank you Maine students; you have already exceeded my hopes and expectations. I can’t wait to see your art work and especially I can’t wait to share it and the good will that goes with it in Kenya.

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Gratitude revisited and passion discovered….a reflection

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Gratitude by Lynn Ouellette on 12/15/2009

I haven’t posted for awhile since a bout with some rib pain threw me entirely off course and into a state of true fear about a cancer recurrence. Everything is fine and I only bring that up here because it caused me to reflect on many things including this trip. I realize now that in the midst of all of that worry and more—that this trip still stayed near the forefront of my mind. That in my fear as I worried about many things including  the possibility of needing a course of radiation therapy (which I don’t , since I’m fine) that I was counting down how I could potentially finish that in time to still go to Kenya. And now that I’m breathing an indescribably huge sigh of relief and once again trying to get back on track, I have a truly renewed vigor for my perspective of gratitude which I feel every day.  This has also made me realize how important this trip has become to me—the real reason for this reflection.  I guess adversity, like my recent scare, does teach us, remind us of important things, and give us cause to reflect.

When I first started considering this trip I had a desire to do something for AIDS orphans, which I had had for many years, and I had always dreamed of visiting Africa. At first I thought that, despite this desire, the demands of the work I do at home might keep me from having enough time and energy to go and really devote myself in the way that I thought this trip deserved. Then I began to learn more about AIDS Orphans, I met with Lloydie Zaiser and experienced her infectious enthusiasm for the work at Nyumbani and viewed a powerful video about the experience of AIDS orphans that moved me to tears…. and I was on my way. Since then my awareness of the unimaginable breadth of this problem has grown and my heart has been weighted by the problem at the same time that I have been inspired by people who have devoted their whole lives to this cause. I have had to tell myself that even though the problem is so enormous and that doing anything that I could do seems inconsequential, that just doing something is a start,  so as not to be overwhelmed by it. I have also learned more about AIDS, about the politics of prevention and obtaining the best drugs, about African culture,  learned a little Swahili and looked at countless moving  pictures and read countless stories of children who have been orphaned by AIDS or have HIV/AIDS. Many of the stories are tragic, sad, heroic, triumphant…. All of this has connected me to this country where I’ve never been, to children I have never met, to a culture I have never experienced and a desire has grown into a passion.  So for the brief time when I thought that the reality of this trip might be threatened, I realized that I was going to go unless it was impossible, that I had made a commitment and was going, period. So I am reflecting on this now realizing  that the process of  learning  more has truly bred caring more deeply and the secondary goal of  wanting to tell others more about the AIDS epidemic and the plight of AIDS orphans has become much more of a determination. It’s a reminder that what you invest in and spend time getting to know better becomes what you care more about.  And in this process, Africa no longer seems like some distant faraway place and the largeness of the world has somehow definitely become a little smaller for me.

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