Watoto Wote Wazuri

Returning….at long last

Posted in AIDS Orphans, Kenya, Nyumbani, Nyumbani Village Day of Remembrance, Tuko Pamoja by Lynn Ouellette on 10/26/2019

I have not been to Kenya since 2016. Every year since, when others have made the return trip my heart has ached to not be with them and to miss seeing that beautiful country and those beautiful people who I have grown to love. I have looked on Facebook or in my email to hear the news of what was happening there and could smile at the photos of the children, laugh at the videos of them dancing, have my heart warmed by seeing the women of Tuko Pamoja gathered for the Women’s Workshop and more. Still, I had to steal away a piece of my heart that was also very sad to be missing the experience, most especially the deep connection that we have developed with the people that has filled and changed my heart in deep and profound ways. Until now, because I know I am returning in January, I haven’t really  allowed myself to actually think about that. Now, knowing I am going back, I feel the excitement and know the moment the plane lands and I see the broad smile of Justus greeting me in the airport with a warm “Karibu!” I will be bursting with joy and tears.  And that will only be the beginning. Since I am joining the rest of the group one week into the trip, the same thing will happen greeting each of them, and they aren’t even Kenyan! They are the people, Lloydie, Deb, Karen, Megan, Valerie with whom I have shared this experience on my prior 6 trips to Kenya, the tears, the laughter, the being moved beyond what I ever thought possible; we have done it together. I have missed them too, not going for the last 3 years. There will so many tears in Kenya.



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


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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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.


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

For the Students: About Africa and Kenya

Posted in AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 12/06/2009

So that you will know a little bit more about where we will be traveling to do this volunteer work for AIDS orphans, I decided to post an entry about the country of Kenya and its people. Kenya is located in the Eastern part of Africa and in the part of the continent referred to as Sub Saharan since it is below the Sahara Desert. As you can see, part of the country is on the coast by the Indian Ocean and the country itself lies on the Equator. Although there are rainy and dry seasons, most of the time the temperature in Kenya is similar to warmest part of our summer. Nairobi, the capital city, is the largest city in East Africa and the orphanage where we will volunteering is located just outside of Nairobi in Karen. In the movie “Out of Africa” Karen Blixen moved to Kenya in 1913, to have a coffee plantation and befriend the local Kikuyu tribe; she later became a famous writer including her writing of the book which became the movie by the same title. The town of Karen is named after her.

Kenya has more than 70 different ethnic communities or tribes and 80 different dialects. Although the official language of the country is English, the national language is Swahili. Because there are so many different communities in the country the national motto is “Harambee” which is Swahili for “Let’s all pull together.” It’s likely that you are familiar with some other Swahili words if you have ever seen the Disney movie “The Lion King”. A number of swahili words were used in that movie, like “Simba” meaning “lion”, “Rafiki” meaning “friend”, and “Hakuna matata” which means “no worries.” Children are taught English in school, but most are able to speak Swahili or another tribal language. The most well known of the Kenyan tribes are the Maasai, a nomadic tribe whose cattle are highly valued. They are striking to see because they are tall, lean and dress in red “shuka” (blankets) with elaborate beads and braided hair. At the end of our trip, we will have the opportunity to visit a Maasai village. The Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya and live in the area around Mount Kenya, the 2nd highest mountain in Africa.

Maasai in a famous leaping ritual

Our earliest ancestors, Homo erectus, which evolved eventually into Homa sapiens, first inhabited the area around Lake Turkana in Kenya where their fossils were first discovered by the Leaky family.

Music, with both dancing and singing, are an important part of the Kenyan culture not just for entertainment, but more importantly for ceremony and ritual. Soccer is a national pastime and the most popular sport from children to adults. However, Kenyan’s middle and long distance runners are amongst the best in the world. Most of Kenya’s top long distance runners come from one tribe, the Kalenjin, and they have been responsible for winning many gold medals for Kenya in the last decade.

One of the things that for which Kenya is most famous  is its national parks and reserves where wildlife can roam free. It is there where people are able to go on safari (Swahili word for journey) to see the animals in their usual habitat. Some of the animals that one might expect to see include:

"Punda milia" zebras

"Tembo" elephants

"Simba" lion

"Twiga" giraffes

"Rhino" rhinocerous

The Maasai Mara is a national reserve that we will visit at the end of our trip and will go on safari. Between July and September each year, it is famous for being the site of the Great Wildebeest Migration. This involves about 2 million wildebeest, a half a million zebras , thousands of gazelles who migrate north from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to find new grazing land. They are followed by lions, leopards, hyenas and more, with the challenge being to cross the Mara River at the time of the highest water (full flood). I would love to return to Kenya during this time someday so that I could actually see this amazing spectacle (from an airplane!)

Beautiful Kenya countryside

All of the animal photos, the Maasai photo, and this one are from the KEST website and were taken by other people who went on similar service trips as the one we are taking and who also went on a safari and the end of their trip.

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The Maine Kenyan Children’s Art Exchange

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Maine schools by Lynn Ouellette on 11/29/2009

I am very grateful to 2 Maine art teachers and their students who will be helping me with a special project while I will be in Kenya. They are Mrs. Sharon McCormack and her students at Jordan Acres Elementary School in Brunswick, Maine http://www.brunswick.k12.me.us/jas/Index.html and Ms. Bec Pool and her 7th and 8th grade students and the Brookesville Elementary School http://www.brooksville.u93.k12.me.us/  in Brooksville, Maine. They will be working on art projects and gathering donations for me to bring to Kenya to share with the children at the Nyumbani Childrens Home, where I will in turn work on art projects with the Nyumbani orphans to bring back to Maine to share with the students here. I want the students in Maine to know that the children at the orphange will be extremely grateful and excited know that this artwork has been made especially for them and has come all the way from the other side of the world. They will also be really happy to have a chance to work on art projects because thay do not have any art or music as part of what they do in school. In addition, they do not have any art supplies and art really isn’t a part of their lives in any regular way so this will be a wonderful opportunity for them. For this reason I will bringing all the supplies for the art projects and hopefully stocking their closet with supplies that they will continue to be able to use. Since I am also a photographer, I will have the pleasure of photographing the project as it’s happening in Kenya and will be able to share that with the students here in Maine when I return and as part of this blog. So thank you, thank you Maine teachers and student artists!

 I hope that I will be able to blog other things about the trip especially for the Maine students and will begin those blog entries with “FOR THE STUDENTS….” so that you will know that those entries are written especially and appropriately for you. I think that this will be a wonderful learning and sharing experience for everyone involved and that you should feel proud that you are making a difference in the lives of children who are much less fortunate.

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About Nyumbani

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/22/2009

Children at the Nyumbani Children's Home with its founder

The Nyumbani Children’s Home was founded in 1992 by Father D’Agostino, a Jesuit priest and physician, in response to the need of the increasing numbers of abandoned and orphaned HIV+ children. Today the orphanage at Nyumbani, located outside of Nairobi, is home to 110 HIV+ orphans who receive medical care, psychological services, and attend public school until they can become independent adults.

The Kibera slum

Nyumbani launched the Lea Toto Program (Swahili for “to raise a child”) in 1998. It is an outreach progam to HIV+ children providing home based care to them so that they could access medical care,  psychological support and even basic needs such as food and safe drinking water.  This program provides services to children and their families in the most impoverished areas of Kenya including the Kibera slum outside of Nairobi where over  one million people live in an area smaller than the size of New York City. It is the largest slum in Africa and the second largest slum in the world.

Satellite view of Kibera slum

There are many videos like this one posted on u.tube about Kibera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9crGUNUP22I.  It’s hard to imagine without seeing some video footage and I imagine it will be overwhelming to be there in person.

Nyumbani Village in Katui

Nyumbani Village was built on 1000 acres of property given to the program by the government. The village was established to address the needs not only of orphans but also of the elderly who in the past have relied on thier children to be available as part of their extended family but have been left without them as the middle generation has succombed to AIDS. At the village, grandmothers, or shoshos, live in cottages with 10 children and create new blended families that foster healing, hope and opportunity while the HIV+ children receive ongoing medical care,  psychological support and attend school. The grandmothers also receive support and care in this extended family environment and community setting. In addition the village operates a sustainability program with solar energy, farming, and other resources.

During our trip we will be volunteering at each of the Nyumbani sites.

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Planning the trip

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans by Lynn Ouellette on 11/16/2009
Nyumbani Poem

Lloydie and the children from the Nyumbani orphanage

 We leave for our trip to Kenya on January 28th and have much to do to get ready. We have been deeply inspired by Lloydie Zaiser who is incredibly devoted and energetic in her dedication to the children of Nyumbani. We are also grateful for all her work in organizing our trip and creating a meaningful itinerary (www.k-e-s-t.com ).  Please click on  “Nyumbani poem” above to hear the voice of one nyumbani orphan.

We have also been inspired by Stanley Waringo,  our Bowdoin college host family student from Kenyan, whom we enjoyed having as part of our family for four years and beyond.   Stanley rode the bike treks across the country in support of Nyumbani and first introduced us to the organization.

Lloydie has done an amazing job creating an itinerary which has integrated us into the Nyumbani programs and winds down the emotional intensity (if one could even say use the phrase wind down about any part of this trip) by setting up a safari and a visit to a Massai village on the last few  days. Although the volunteer activities are built in and we will travel with a large load of doanted items, my husband and I wanted to each do a special project that would give something to the children that would reflect sharing something personal. Since my husband is a runner he will do a running clinic with the adolscent boys and hand over some of the hundreds of running T shirts that he has collected over the years. Since I am an artist and photographer, I will share an art project and record it photographically with the help of some special and generous participants from Maine……more about that later. Though we are both physicians and will be learning about the medical facilities and I, as a psychiatrist, will spend time with the social worker, our special projects, by design, will not involve medicine…… this time.

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