Watoto Wote Wazuri

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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Something personal about why I am taking this trip…….

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Giving back by Lynn Ouellette on 11/26/2009

I am writing this entry on Thanksgiving day because, though I had planned to write this, it seems most appropriate to do so today. I have so far assumed that most people reading this blog will know us, but that’s not true since I will have some generous teachers and students from Maine helping me with with the art project that I will explain more about later, and other people have expressed an interest in making donations, so I should make introductions. “We” are Lynn and Tom, both physicians in Maine in entirely different fields of medicine. Tom is in oncology and hospice and palliative medicine and I (Lynn) am a psychiatrist and am also an artist. I feel that I have been waiting to do this kind of volunteer work for a decade, but not until the time was right for our family. We are extremely lucky to have three healthy children and although I had breast cancer almost 2 years ago, I am in remission now (and expected to remain that way), so Tom and I are both healthy too. I have always been aware that we live an extremely fortunate life. For all of the things that we make take issue with about our country, and if you work in health care that often begins a litany of concerns, we are lucky to have been born here in a safe place where for most of us its not a challenge to eat, stay safe and survive every day. This is the reason why I can never get through a single rendition of the Star Spangled Banner without getting choked up, it’s not patriotism, it’s gratitude. Also, the experience of having breast cancer had the impact of further heightening my awareness of just how fortunate I am and reminded me to try not to take for granted the things for which I am grateful. I realize it doesn’t work this way for everyone, but for me, what comes with that sense of gratitude is also a sense of responsibility for giving back. And although I do that here at home in various ways, that hasn’t felt like enough. I have a tremendously soft spot in my heart for children who can not make sense out of a world that doesn’t provide for them, care for them, or mistreats them. Though it isn’t any fairer for adults, they have more capacity to attempt to make sense of misfortune, tragic circumstances or an unfair world; children, like the orphans of AIDS, have no such capacity and that seems even more profoundly sad to me. For the huge number of a whole generation of adults in Africa who have lost their lives to AIDS, the only way to help them now is to care for their children. Because of my own experience with cancer, I can’t imagine that the worry about what their children would experience wasn’t a huge, maybe the worst, part of their suffering. There are so many children, so many AIDS orphans who need help that it is overwhelming. So it’s from this position of feeling very incredibly fortunate for all that I have, that I feel responsible for giving back in a place where the need is the greatest and the giving may be the most challenging. It doesn’t even really feel like a choice…..it feels more like something I need to do. And to volunteer with AIDS orphans feels right for me.

And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood

and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity another possibility.

And I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s all over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

From “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver

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