Zuri Watoto Wote

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

TPwares

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…

travelgroupplus

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Returning to Kenya….in just 41 days!

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Responding to poverty in Kenya by Lynn Ouellette on 12/09/2012
Acaciaa's in the afternoon sun at Lake Nukuru

Acacia’s in the afternoon sun

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

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

Innocent--remember him?!

Innocent–remember him?!

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

Maasai Children in the School yard

Maasai Children in the School yard

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

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Nyumbani Village

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

Children of Nyumbani Village

Children of Nyumbani Village

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

Lillian, the Village psychologist, and me

Lillian, the Village psychologist, and me

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