Sunday, October 4, 2009
This morning, we received an email from Kenya, that one of our friends had been beaten in his home. His partner wasn't in at the time. The intruders, as they beat him, said that someone like him should die.
The two men are now in a safe home. We ask for your prayers for them. We also recommit ourselves to working around the world and in the US for civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Evelyn emailed me on Friday, to let me know she received the letters I sent to Celestine and Lawrence. Evelyn told me they were very happy to receive their letters, and that she took photos of each of them holding her/his letter. She will attach the photos to the return letters that each of them writes me.
On Friday, a lifelong dream of mine came true. When I was a child myself, I watched the Christian Children's Fund ("CCF") ads, and I was touched by the images of children with poverty-ravaged lives. I envisioned having a pen pal relationship with a child whom I would support, and it was the human connection of that epistolary relationship that inspired me the most.
In retrospect, the CCF ads feel creepy and exploitative, but in my childhood viewing, all I knew was that I wanted to help a child in desperate circumstances. That dream did not leave me over time, but I never knew how to realize it, not having a relationship with any of the agencies claiming they would use my money to directly benefit my sponsor children.
Celestine and Lawrence weren't yet born when I watched those ads, but God had them in mind for me. I am fortunate to have met and worked with them, to personally know these shining lights who brought me joy this summer. I am blessed to support their educations and build a mentoring relationship with each of them, if both or either of them chooses to engage on that level. I can't wait to know them better over time, and I will do all I can to encourage and inspire them to realize their dreams.
For now, I await my return letters, excited to read from their souls.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I saw their "homes" - well, not theirs in particular, but those of a few classmates at Ray of Hope, their unaccredited school. All the dwellings I saw in Kawangware look the same to me - corrugated tin, dark inside, highly unstable, and not at all insulated.
Without electricity, food, or water at home, I wonder how the children I met this summer subsist. Thankfully, Ray of Hope feeds them lunch every day, but nights and weekends must stretch on endlessly and painfully. Survival aside, I cannot fathom how the children sing and dance and smile with so much spirit. In many ways, they are the lucky ones, their joy so full, and their gratitude so effortless, despite their dismal circumstances.
I have signed up to sponsor two of these angels: a seven-year-old girl, Celestine, and an eight-year-old boy, Lawrence. It will be, by far, the most meaningful commitment I have ever undertaken.
The agreement is that I will financially support both of them through eighth grade, but I'm not stopping there. I have wanted to sponsor African children since I was a child myself, and being privileged to personally know the ones I will support, I won't feel fulfilled just writing a check for the next six or so years. I will visit them every year, actively exchange letters in the interim, and financially support them through high school at least.
Two weeks ago, one of the two Ray of Hope teachers, Evelyn, emailed to tell me that Celestine and Lawrence both aced their national exams! Thanks to their brilliant work, the tireless efforts of their teachers Evelyn and Alfred, and my financial assistance, they will both attend an accredited school next year.
I am very excited for these little ones, and I can't wait to write them and tell them so.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
We are on retreat at a beautiful lodge, with several small Maasai villages surrounding us – the nearest, from what I understand, being about 20 miles away. Out in the open air, I feel so far away from the densely packed slums we’ve left behind. I am grateful to be resting, even as more sadness sets in: I won’t see the Learning Centre children or Ray of Hope staff until my next trip to Nairobi.
Tonight, a group of Maasai tribesmen performed one of their traditional dances, as entertainment for guests of the lodge. The men were cloaked in beautiful red shukas (their tribal cloth garments), and they were so fabulously bejeweled in their adornments, I actually wondered before they danced if they were true Maasai warriors or the faux variety, reserved for lodge guests who wouldn’t know the difference.
They were real. The guttural tones, accompanied by well-timed, high-pitched shrieks, all set to intentionally paced head movements and line walking along an apparently predestined line, sent chills through me. I felt the warrior energy, and I lost myself in the moment, so much so that I actually felt terrified when the line headed in my direction.
The dance we saw was the one best known by Westerners, featuring several vertical jumps. Afterward, the leader told the audience that the jumps signify the number of girlfriends one has, with higher jumps indicating more relationships. (Maasai communities are traditionally polygamous.) He also mentioned that a Maasai warrior wishing to marry must first kill a lion.
This all sounded fantastical to me, not in the sense that such rituals weren’t recorded in my social studies books, but only in that I had not heard news of any lion slayings in quite some time. I assumed the leader was reporting on tradition, rather than on current events. I approached him after his remarks and asked.
Turns out, I was wrong again: Traditionally and still, killing a lion is required before a Maasai man can marry. In more recent years, the government has restricted the Maasai, in terms of the number of lions they may kill in a given time period. Accordingly, marriage-bound Maasai men are now joined with their peers in age sets. As long as the group successfully kills a lion, each member may marry.
The leader showed me the knife that he and other tribesmen use for the slaying. The very short blade suggests that lion encounters must be handled toe-to-toe ... assuming one is lucky enough that those are the only two body parts involved.
I had never met anyone who has killed a lion before tonight. I have to say, I’m impressed. I am not a fan of animal hunting generally, but when taken on as a prerequisite to achieving a cultural milestone, it sounds – well, warrior-like. And that’s fascinating to me.
I’m going to make a project of learning much more about this compelling tribe.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The emotion of the prior eight days was for the most part, overwhelming. Early on I took out my emotions on our team leaders, Pastor Karen, and Craig. My petty issues do not compare with what those living HIV in the slums Nairobi, or those who are gay in Kenya, not to mention gay and HIV+. I realize how great my life is, and that I have an obligation to work to find ways to help those I came in contact with during the past eight days.
I saw women living with the virus who are too poor to feed themselves. Many have children; some of the children are HIV+. I meet one gay man who is HIV+, and talked about the trouble he has accessing the medications needed to save his life. Food for most is the big issue, while simply accessing the medications is the “double” issues a gay person in Kenya faces if he has the virus.
The last three days have been just what the doctor ordered……rest, relaxation, and a time to reflect. Reflect on what a great life I have, reflect on what a great Pastor Glide has in Karen, and reflect in the hard work Craig did in putting this mission together, and reflect on the work ahead of us…..but mostly it was about rest and relaxation, which came in the form some trips in a Land Rover looking into the eyes of hundreds of wild animals, and speaking with a Maasi Warrior about his life. I also got a chance to spoil myself with a couple of massages. I would end this entry with a story about a monkey, except this is a church blog, not rated XXX…………what an adventure in nature!!!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
More blogs and pictures when we return!
Monday, June 1, 2009
This is the last day of the beginning of something very special. Today the group went to an orphanage I stayed behind to continue healing; everyone was so overwhelmed that even I could feel the sadness and the emotion they felt.
We then went to downtown Nairobi and watched the aftermath of the Independence Day celebration. We meet with Dennis Heresey, who is in Nairobi visiting with a friend, showed him down town and had a meal with him.
The evening was spent with old friends from Ray Of Hope and new friends from a ministry not unlike ours, fighting for the rights of all people. I think we have made some lasting friendships with our visit here and perhaps some day in the not so distant future we can have them Visit with us at Glide and tell their very touching stories of survival.
See all of you Sunday.
Today, I took a mental and physical health day, as I developed a little cough. I made a quick visit to Ray of Hope to drop of some medicine, and get my tempeture taken. Rosemay and Florence took care of me (my tempature was in the normal range....I felt hot because it’s hot in the sun, and I did get a little burn on Saturday at the park with the kids). The afternoon was spent having lunch downtown with a Travis (he’s feeling better, yeah!!!), Craig, Mark, and Dennis Hershey who meet up with our group today.
The evening was marked by the making of two new friends that I connected with. My heart has opened to them as well! They are a gay couple living in Kenya, but they must live their lives underground or risk arrest or worse in this county. One of them is HIV+ positive as well.
Today was a day of overwhelming emotions, as we visited the Children of Africa Hope Center. John and Anne and their staff do what seems to be the impossible: care for 250 children, with little resources. We saw cramped classrooms, hungry children, and dedicated teachers. While John, Anne and I discussed the challenges they face in their ministry, the children and teachers were preparing a special school assembly for us. The entire school had filed outside, chairs were set up for the Glide team, as well as Glide ensemble member Dennis, who happened to be visiting in Kenya.
Each grade level sang songs for us, and recited poetry and bible verses. There was one poem that had a line that caused tears to well up as I listened:
“God, are orphans and vulnerable children a part of your creation? God, only you know the answer.”
Riruta’s Assistant Pastor, Isaac, also serves as the head teacher for the school at the Methodist Church. The small sanctuary is converted into even smaller classrooms during the week, and the church serves food and provides education to more than 250 children. Dennis Hersey, also from Glide and visiting Nairobi with a friend, joined us for the day. After a wonderful outdoor program put on by the students, Dennis sang with his incredible voice for the children and staff- it was an amazing, beautiful moment. Afterwards, we all led the children in singing “We Shall Overcome”.
Later, we served lunch to all of the children. Afterwards we present Pastor John, his wife Anne, and Pastor Isaac with a bag of supplies. Inside were two quart bags of almonds. The pastors were delighted and suggested that each child might receive a few almonds each. When they went outside into the courtyard, they held the bags up into the air. 250 children erupted with screams of delight like I have never heard. Karen, Robin and I looked at each other stunned. Two bags of almonds. This is one moment I will never forget.
After spending the morning at the Hope Center today, I see that it is far from its goal, though not for lack of passion. John and Anne are doing incredible work against the odds, feeding children every day on very little, and educating them well, despite severe classroom overcrowding. (Several children have to sit on the floor, and those fortunate enough to have desks are squeezed in with as many other bodies as will fit on a bench, without anyone falling off.)
After we served the children their morning porridge, we played with them in the front yard, which has no swing-sets or climbing equipment. They do not have soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and bats, or even adequate space to play any sport. There is room enough for all of them to be out there, and that in of itself seems a rare blessing for a school in the slums. But the rent is astronomical, and the school does not generate any income from students whose guardians cannot afford to pay fees.
On the playground, the children swarmed me. I felt as though I were surrounded by the paparazzi, except that my captors only wanted to love me. The stampede knocked down Maureen, a small, mild-mannered girl, probably two years old. I picked her up and carried her around with me for the rest of the recess period, as the crowd showed no signs of letting up, and she appeared too sweet and tiny to stand up for herself. Her schoolmates laughed when I put my sunglasses on her, as they covered half of her face.
Maureen and I made a game of my efforts to break free. Every time we ran from the mob, impelling them to chase us, she giggled, my sunglasses holding fast to her beautiful face. All she wanted to do was stare and smile at me. I took every opportunity to stare and smile back at this little, human doll, as she warmed my heart with the love beams she directed at me.
After recess, our team sat out on the playground, as each classroom of children assembled before us and sang for us in turn. The songs were inspired, and I was touched by the effort that the teachers and school leaders had obviously spent in teaching them to the children.
I left feeling simultaneously hopeful and overwhelmed with despair. It is a loaded emotion I’ve come to know well this past week.
Today was another powerful day. We experienced a welcome dance and inspiring play by the women who are clients of Ray of Hope. The song was about friends, one lady fell to the ground, rolling around crying for help, waiting to see who came to her aid. What a powerful meaning friendship has in this community. We were then introduced to a group of women and men who have been empowered by a micro financing (they have borrowed money and paid it back with interest, allowing them to start a business) they sell fabrics, food items, jewelry and assorted items on the streets of Kawangware.
Our next adventure took us several miles into the slums through mud and unusual sights and smells where locals sold to locals, traffic jams of matatus and people.
That night Florence (better known as COCO) invited us to celebrate her birthday in an authentic African celebration with legs of Goat carven at the table and a large assortment of other foods all eaten by hand. Coco told us this was to officially make us part of their family in Kenya.
Saturday was the day all the children were looking forward to. They didn’t know what was going to happen but the new it was big…
We all boarded a bus and went to Visit the Kenyan National Museum. The children were so wildly excited (but well behaved) many of them never venturing out of the slums. After an hour or so of education it was time for play. We went to a local park and found the Kenyan Air Force, Army and navy practicing for a parade the takes place on Monday (Kenyan’s Independence Day). We were all very excited to see the perfection in their drills.
The children played, and played and played. We then took a moment to share a very small meal. (Steve provided some power bars and we purchased sodas. Back on the bus and through the maze of traffic jams delivering the children back at ROH.
I can only chronicle my journey for that day. I went to bed feeling a little under the weather on Sat. night and as the day progressed I felt even worse. In the mid afternoon I found I was having trouble breathing and God gave me the presence of mind to gather myself and go down stairs for what I thought was just fresh air. I sat on a ledge in front of Security Guard and the sweat poured from my body. He asked if I was all right, I said I need help and that’s the last thing I remember for what I’m told several minutes. I came to on the lawn with several people elevating my legs (I’m thankful the staff has drills for this type of thing). Eventually my group returned and I was taken to the Hospital by the General Manager of the Guest House. I am in a recovery stage, and am blessed that it’s some unknown infection rather than something that could have ended not only my mission trip but my life.
Today, we met Pastor John, the senior pastor of Riruta United Methodist Church. We took the Citi Hoppa (Kenya city bus) to his church. As we drove through the streets, I could see it was a very busy day. Lots of Kenyans on the streets and full of traffic. When we arrived into Kawangware, we were immediately stuck in a traffic jam. It is amazing to see the craziness of a traffic jam here. Several of the people on the streets began directing our bus and other cars and buses out of the jam. The sounds of horns kept beeping and loud Swahili filled the air. I could feel my bladder aching because I had to pee. Yes, I had to pee BAD. As the bus drove down the street over bump after bump, the bouncing created and overwhelming ache of the fluid in my bladder. I tapped Pastor Karen on the shoulder and told her I must go soon. It was an emergency. She told Pastor John I was in trouble and he negotiated with the bus driver to pull over at the nearest gas station. Well the busy stopped at the gas station and I ran out the bus with Pastor John to the toilet. The rest is history, if you know what I mean. In SF, a MUNI bus driver would never pull over to let someone use the toilet and wait for them. Forget it. This is Kenya. The love and hospitality is something indescribable.
We went to a few homes in the community. Many of the children followed us, holding my hands tight and refusing to let go. I cannot describe the deep feelings of peace and joy while feeling the hands of these children. Pastor John, Anne (his wife), Winnie, Jane and a couple of other of God’s angels walked us to our busy stop. Jane escorted us to the Ya-Ya shopping center, which was so nice. The hospitality in Kenya is above and beyond anything I can describe in words. All of our team except Travis (who was sick in bed) went to lunch and did some shopping. Upon return to the Methodist Guest House, Josh found Travis sitting in a wheelchair which was quite surprising. He had fallen ill while we were gone. He needed to go to see a doctor to be on the safe side. Pastor Karen led prayer for Travis and all of our team put our hands on him for healing. He returned in good spirits before dinner was over. All I can say now is prayer is powerful and God is great. We de-briefed, hugged and went off to our rooms. My heart is full. Amen…hallelujah!
After church (John kindly gave me a heads-up about preaching—he asked me several days ago!), which included lively singing by the children, youth, and women’s groups, and heartfelt prayers, as well as the dedication of the church’s new website, John and Anne and members of the congregation gave us a brief tour of their community, with stops at several congregational members homes, where we shared prayers of blessings.
It was a very powerful day, but we also send a word of concern home: please pray for Travis Woodard. He has not been feeling well this week, and stayed home this morning because he felt flu-ish. When we returned home, we found him in a wheelchair. He had passed out and a security guard helped him. Craig and Robin have taken him to a hospital for tests. Please keep him in your prayers!
The church, which is deep in the heart of the same slum as the Ray of Hope, serves as a classroom for the Children of Africa Hope Center. Much smaller than the church we attended last Sunday. The church has an HIV Coordinator I met, and will talk to further tomorrow when we visit and bring the gifts for the children. The staff warmly received the Glide Miracles Through Action t-shirts we brought them. More people living in the slums with hope. After service, I went to the home of the church treasurer, who told me he has known he is HIV+ for two years. His house (read my previous entries for the definition of a house in the slums) must have been over 110 degrees inside; as were the other homes we visited briefly with the Pastor from the church.
As I write this blog, I am worried about my friend Travis who was taken to the hospital as he fell ill today. He is in good hands with Craig and Robin (aka Girl Wonder).
Today we visited an amazing little Methodist Church in Riruta, a slum next to Kawangware. Pastor John met us at our guest house; although the church is only a few miles away, the bus ride took us almost 90 minutes as we got caught in crazy Sunday morning traffic jams on the narrow roads. We arrived almost an hour late, but as we entered the sanctuary the music was rocking and congregation clapping as if nothing had happened.
The congregation motto was visible on the alter: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds. This congregation was so much like Glide, welcoming ALL through their doors. Remarkably, a few days ago Pastor Karen and I had stumbled on the fact that my niece Miriam, who had been in Kenya on business, had coincidentally visited this same church two Sunday’s earlier- what a small world!!!
Pastor Karen preached a message about Pentacost that was received by the congregation with great energy and excitement. She talked about her prayer for each of us to have God’s voice, and she asked how God’s voice is heard through each of our voices, even as we speak different tongues.
After church we visited several of the homes of congregation members. Many are dedicated to taking care of hundreds of orphans. One home, a small tin building that was dark inside, without a light bulb and well over 110 degrees, were at least eight little children sitting against one wall. It was a wrenching site to take in.
When we arrived back at the Guest House later than afternoon, we found Travis in a wheelchair looking pretty grave. He had had a high fever, become dehydrated, and had collapsed outside. Godfrey, the Methodist Guest House General Manager demonstrated typical Kenyan hospitality. He drove Travis, Robin and I down to Nairobi Hospital and stuck with us for four hours, with gentle care and a smile on his face the entire time All of this on a Sunday evening when he had out of town guests at home. Travis improved greatly. Godfrey called back to the Guest House and had the kitchen stay open late so that when we returned a little before 9pm, dinner was waiting for us.
LGBTQI advocacy can be a challenge to undertake anywhere, but I’ve learned that the stakes are higher in Kenya than anyplace I’ve seen, making this social justice work very dangerous. John, Anne, and their leadership team have been marginalized from other faith-based communities for the work that they do.
I was pleased to find that women’s lay ministry leadership is strong in this church. Winnie Ishmael is the first female Lay Leader in any church in Africa, and she leads this one.
During the service, the children’s choir sang “Marching in the Light of God,” and I wished the Glide Ensemble were there to see it; this is my favorite song that the “GTC” (Glide Teen Choir) sings.
Tomorrow, we will return to Riruta, to see it transformed into an unaccredited school for several children in the Ngong slum who do not have parents, or who are severely neglected by the parents they do have. It was once an orphanage, but John and Anne were unable to continue paying the rent for the boarding space. In response to this loss, various families in Ngong have taken in the children who have no place to live, often resulting in several people sharing space in those same 10' X 10' tin shacks that we found in Kawangware.
What a place, where people with many basic material needs so effortlessly reach out to help one another.
As it will be no surprise to those who know me, I’ve fallen behind on my blog. The week has been emotionally rich and incredibly fulfilling. After the birth on Tuesday, Wednesday was spent with Craig, Robin, Karen, and Barasa at the Lea Toto children’s center in the morning and shopping for paint at the city center in the afternoon. Of interest there was the fact that Karen’s passport would have been stolen, had not Robin grabbed the backpack strap of the would-be thief and demanded that he give back the stuff. It surely must be one of the few times in Kenyan history in which a Nairobi pickpocket has actually attained his objective only to thwarted by a scrappy little white women.
Thursday brought wonderful song and dance from the women’s HIV support group that meets at Ray of Hope every week. They performed traditional African songs including one in which the groups leader rolled around on the ground with dramatic urgency while her fellow performers surrounded here in aid. We later learned that the dance was meant to symbolize the importance of community in African culture and to show that when an individual falls, the community at large will come to their aid. This performance was then followed by a drama about one of the ways in which HIV is spread. Hendrica stole the show as the lusty housekeeper, ready and willing to lay down with father and son, passing the virus to each, and killing both in the end. After lunch Katie, Mark, and I began to paint one of the room’s in the clinic with Gideon but were quickly redirected when it was time to go on some home visits to those of the children. The whole thing was quite a scene, Katie, Craig, Mark, and I walking down the street each holding than hand of at least two children, while much of the community gave their greeting as we passed. Other school children were especially curious and would follow us around laughing and yelling only to be told by our children that they “had bad manners.” The day was great.
Friday was spent painting. In the early morning it was Mark, Gideon, the two Brian’s from the school, and myself, and in the afternoon it was Gideon, Karen, Emily, and I. It was great to be able to leave a tangible mark at the clinic and especially nice to be able to brighten up the delivery room that had impacted me so much earlier in the week with a nice new coat of paint. Later in the afternoon I was able to watch Nathaniel, the same nursing student who performed the delivery, perform a circumcision on a five-month-old boy. It was longer and looked more painful than I seem to remember.
Later our entire team was treated to an amazing dinner that was purchased by contributions from each staff member of the Ray of Hope. The goat was delicious! After dinner we went to a bar, but Karen, Katie, Mark, and I were the only ones with enough energy to go in. It turned out to be a very special night. Everyone from the ROH team was there dancing and the music was great. Just one man on the drums and another on the guitar, but the rhythms were smooth and tight and the dancing came easy. We smiled a lot that night. Emily said it had been years since she’d last danced. I will say, however, that I’ve never felt whiter dancing sober at a bar in Kenya. I’ve also hardly ever felt better.
Finally, Saturday was spent taking the children on a field trip to the Nairobi National Museum and to a downtown park for sodas, power bars, and play. The children love taking photos with the digital camera and for much of the day I didn’t know where my camera was or who had it. When I did get it back, I’d found that they’d taken some very special photos. At the park, everything went according to plan accept the smattering of bees, hell bent on Fanta and Coke. It was fun to watch the children screech and run and laugh for cover as they clutched their sodas tightly in one hand and the power bars tightly in the other. The teachers Evelyn and Alfred really stood out that day and my respect and admiration for all they have done and all they continue to do was deepened greatly. Finally before we got back on the bus to go back, they presented us with traditional African shirts for the men, a skirt for Katie and lovely belt for Robin.
Back at Ray of Hope, we began to burn a disc of pictures and videos we had taken throughout the week for Solomon and the staff and we gave the soccer balls and hula hoops we’d bought in town to the kids. Predictably joyous mayhem ensued. And then it was time to say goodbye. And I cried. A lot. All I really remember is Hendrica taking my hand, telling me it would be alright, and then Emily taking my head in her hand and pulling me to her chest when it got really bad. It’s not too often that you feel that much love. It made me miss my mom and feel sad for all the children in Kawangware who don’t have a mom or a family of their own. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sadness, and some pain. But it felt good to be in the midst of a loving and supportive community. Then we hugged the kids one last time and they left. A closing meeting followed where each person, from both Glide and Ray of Hope, talked about the week and how we felt about each other. We shared love and mutual respect and were all of the mind that this was just the beginning and not the end. I am certainly excited to see what the future will bring.
Today, we said goodbye to the Learning Centre children and the Ray of Hope staff, but not before taking the children to the Nairobi National Museum in the morning and to a local park in the afternoon.
Working with children has always been a calling for me; as far back as my own childhood years, I remember telling people that I wanted to help children in need. Our week at the Learning Centre solidified this resolve, though I’m not sure it needed any more cementing.
The Nairobi National Museum is beautiful – spacious, with beautifully designed exhibits and a well-told history of Kenya. As we walked into an exhibit of large-as-life wild animal replicas, one of the Learning Centre girls, about eight years old, clung to my side. She steered me as close to the exhibit as she was willing to go, guiding me away from the large, predatory animals displayed out in the open, and toward the smaller ones encased in glass.
I was relieved to witness her childlike innocence, to know that her daily exposure to live cows, goats, and infestation in her living space – to say nothing of the crime and substance abuse that plagues the slum in which she lives – haven’t hardened her, such that she would scoff at an exhibit of fake animals. Her fear enhanced my hope that all is not lost for her, even though she faces insufferable conditions every day.
After only a week of time spent with the Learning Centre children and the Ray of Hope staff, the seemingly inordinate grief accompanying our goodbyes was real. I knew what I was losing, and though my commitment to the Ray of Hope will have me returning to Nairobi more than once, this awareness did little to ease the pain of letting go.
Tomorrow, we will visit a church in a neighboring slum, returning the next day to visit the same building, which will be transformed into a school. As I say goodbye to Kawangware, I welcome the opportunity to serve another community in need.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Today was our last day at Ray of Hope. While most of the team went with the children to a museum and park, Craig and I stayed behind to meet with the senior team at Ray of Hope. Craig led a great in service on finance and budget management, and together we discussed the systems RoH needs to put in place so it can position itself to receive grants and continue to grow its donor base.
The children returned and we all had a final meal together, and then it was time to say good-bye. It is amazing how deep bonds can be formed in a week’s time when people share a common mission and vision. Tears flowed freely from Glide team members and RoH staff, as we realized our time together had come to an end. We had learned much from one another, and all our lives had been touched in significant ways.
The children gave each of us a gift before they departed for home, and then the RoH staff and the Glide team debriefed the experience: how did the week go? What did we accomplish? What lessons did we learn about working together? Did we meet the goals RoH set for us? What could we have done differently?
Oh, the gift I received? I am returning with a gift from Ray of Hope for Glide: a clock with praying hands on it, that says: “The family that prays together stays together.” Their last request: that every Sunday, we at Glide look at that clock and remember to pray for them for one minute.
Moments before this ride was my goodbyes to the children and staff of Ray of Hope, and you guessed it, the emotions were running pretty high…..while I love everyone at the Ray of Hope, I really connected with Peninah (she is my new close friend) and Hendrica (also known as “Super Angel”)…….we could hardly let go of each other as we embraced, kissed, and cried. I know I will be connecting with both of them soon!
As I write this blog, I can here the song “One Love” playing from the courtyard……that is the theme of my visit to the slums of Kenya.
Let me end by preaching: THEY HAVE THE HIV DRUGS TO SAVE THESE CHILDREN AND ADULTS……THEY NEED FOOD IN ORDER TO TAKE THE MEDICATION TO SAVE THEIR LIVES…..AND THESE POOR PEOPLE ENJOY LIVING!
The museum was filled with African artifacts, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, monkeys. I loved watching the children having fun. I decided to check out the gift shop and got lost from the group. As I searched outside for the group, I suddenly heard “Mark! Mark! Mark! Mark!” But I didn’t see anyone. I knew the Swahili accent. I immediately noticed a large pane of glass. The children were calling me from the other side but I could not see them.
I was relieved. As I re-approached the entrance to the museum, the children came running towards me, cheering and clapping: “Mark! Mark! We missed you.” All the money in the world could not give me the joy and happiness I felt at that moment. God had found me and I was safe.
We boarded the bus to head to the park. All the children ate popsicles. I loved watching the smiles on their faces as they licked away on those popsicles. We arrived at the park and watch the African army, navy and air force practicing a drill, each man holding a machine gun. I dare not take a photo. A man with a machine gun is in charge. The children ate power bars and drank sodas. I could see and feel how happy these children were. We took lots of photos. The children love taking photos. They drank and ate the sweets, bees began to swarm the children. They scattered, screamed and laughed all at the same time.
Evelyn, Alfred and the children presented us all with African gifts—Dashikis for the men and African belts for the women. We all were surprised. We ended our day at the park and headed back RoH. We said our goodbyes. Boy, I have goodbyes. I cried like a baby from joy and sadness as this was the end of our visit to RoH.
The children presented us all with African necklaces. I felt so overwhelmed. My emotions were working overtime. We all hugged each child as I felt overwhelmed. My emotions were working overtime. We all hugged each child as I tried not to cry. The children seemed puzzled by my tears. What can I say—my tears are tears of hope, tears of happiness filled with joy and sadness. I know this is only the beginning of something greater. We had been blessed!
We ended the day with our final meeting with all the RoH staff, sharing our experience, strength and hope for the future. God is great!
I spent most of today with Baraza – Ray of Hope’s Coordinator – and my teammate Robin. We took five million buses and matatus to travel fifty feet … or so it felt. I didn’t mind at all, as I was excited to see the big city of Nairobi, having spent the previous seven days in Kawangware, the slum I’ve come to love, but not the only part of Nairobi I had come to experience. Today, Robin and I got to see so much more.
Robin, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, met with a nurse at Pumwani Hospital, a well-esteemed maternity hospital in Nairobi, to discuss the hospital’s neonatal resuscitation methods. She and Baraza asked the local nurse questions, and then the nurse gave all three of us a brief tour of the communal delivery rooms, as well as a baby warmer with a newborn on it.
The Ray of Hope staff had planned the dinner to celebrate a few things: It was a birthday party for Florence, the Ray of Hope Director; our team had worked hard at Ray of Hope all week; and the family size of everyone seated at the table had exponentially increased with the partnership of our respective groups. The love in the room was immense, as if we had all been together for years.
I am very happy here.
Dear Glide Ray of Hope Team,
I have been following your Blog postings and have been meaning to write to you. However, I am at a loss for proper words to describe how much I admire the mission work you’re doing. As a Manager of Volunteer Service, I’m pleasantly astounded by such authentic outpourings of support, care, and concern for those-in-need, regardless of how far across the globe these souls may dwell. The human heart is always growing, as evidenced by your dedication to serve, learn, love, and listen. The abject poverty you describe is overwhelming, for no matter how challenging my American life may seem, I am fortunate. I am also fortunate to know people like you. Please know we miss you and we look forward to hearing your stories about the new relationships you forged in
Manager - Volunteer Program
Saturday, May 30, 2009
This is most evident in the work of the Community Health Workers at Ray of Hope, both in Kawangware, and upcountry in some of the rural communities supported by Ray of Hope. We worked with three of these Community Health Workers this week; each works at least forty hours a week as a volunteer for Ray of Hope. Their work is tireless. They walk from home to home, offering counseling and medical referrals. They work to address other needs such as hunger. They act as midwives, perform accounting support, and organize the building of schools and wells. When asked why they do this, the response is very matter of fact- there is a need that must be filled for the good of the community.
Much of our work this week is about building community between those served by Ray of Hope in Kenya, and the team from Glide Church. It is about building understanding and sharing knowledge. Our prayer is that the message of hope inspired by the work of Ray of Hope will filter to many more people around the world, and that we each regain the sense of community that many of us have lost.
I was more than a little grouchy by the time I had reached Ray of Hope. The time it took to post the blog meant I had missed breakfast, and most likely tea. Then I caught myself. I had just spent the day before listening to woman after woman talk about how hungry they were, wondering when and how they would have their next meal, and I was grouchy over skipping breakfast. I will remember these women the next time I am inconvenienced by a missed meal.
I spent the day mainly with Josh, Emily (a community health worker from “Upcountry”—western Kenya), and Gideon, the Ray of Hope’s handy man. We painted two rooms in the clinic. Sometimes we worked in silence, the rhythm of our brushes keeping time with one another. Other times, we laughed heartily, enjoying one another’s company.
The evening was an unexpected delight. After a crazy matatu ride across town (when the matatu picked us up at the Guest House, they asked us—Glide folks and RoH staff—where to go. No one knew!), we arrived at a restaurant where the rest of the staff were waiting for us. They were sharing an African feast with us, complete with goat, chicken, ribs, greens, maze with crushed pumpkin leaves, chappo…the food kept coming out, and we shared plates heaped with food, eating only with our fingers. It was a delight, but the fun had only just begun!
After presenting the RoH staff with gifts of Glide tee shirts and a cash gift for their work, we were taken out dancing to a local club. We all—Glide members and RoH staff—hit the dance floor. It was a night of so much joy! We danced (with the rest of the patrons of the club looking on) and laughed together, solidifying the bonds of friendship we had established. I am going to bed feeling full in body and spirit.
A quick update on the HIV+ boy in the Learning Center who was ill the other day…he did test positive for Malaria, and stomach parasites, but with medication, he was back to school (He has not been told that he is HIV+, as the staff fears he will lose hope if told).
Tonight the Ray of Hope staff took our group to dinner at an outdoor restaurant, where we ate food from Africa…….eating with our hands and sharing off the same plates. True community.
After Pumwani, another long bus ride and walk to another part of Nairobi to the state building where Katie met with an attorney.
The night ended with a very long drive to yet another part of Nairobi for a party with the ROH staff. It was a really fun night with the staff before out last day at ROH. Since we have become family with the staff, they treated us to a Kenyan feast in which we all ate from the same plates: Goat, chicken, spicy tomatoes, maze, potatoes with pumpkin leaves, chappo (bread similar to tortillas) and French fries. It was a celebration of love!
Today we were blessed by the singing, dancing and acting of the HIV positive women’s support group that meets at Ray of Hope weekly. Some of the women put on a very funny play with a message about HIV. After lunch, Karen and I went with Hendrica (the community outreach worker) and two women from the acting/support group and visited the homes of 5 HIV positive women. A common theme of the women’s stories was: because of HIV, the women’s husbands abandoned them and their children, or their husband’s families’ shunned them after their husband’s death and they ended up poor, living in the Kawangware. The blessing was found in the wonderful community and friendship these women shared, they laughed and teased each other. Despite being HIV positive and having to be very secretive with their neighbors (if their landlord knows they are HIV positive, they will be kicked out of their home) they have this support group they can share with and through this have developed bonds for empowerment.
We had an opportunity to purchase items that would support participants in the microfinance groups at RoH. Craig, Josh, Katie and I went on home visits with all the children. Yes, 57 children plus their school teachers, Evelyn and Alfred. As we walked through the slums, I had a moment of clarity—this was just like the Sally Struthers Relief for Africa commercial and I was in it…this was real. The street vendors selling vegetables, meat, clothes, fish, charcoal, beans, rice, you name it—they had it! The hustle and bustle, the congestion of people, the smiles and waves of the Kenyan felt so welcoming and warm. This was our parade.
We managed to begin our painting of the clinic, which we will resume tomorrow.
Friday, May 29, 2009
This morning, several women who utilize the Ray of Hope’s feeding program and/or HIV support group sang, danced, and performed theatre for us. Elation abounded during the song, as our Glide team members were each called forth to join hands and dance with various women.
In Kawangware, I’m a “white girl,” all right … or, more accurately, a “mzungu, ” the Swahili term for “white person.” It is a word I’ve come to know well, as I hear it repeatedly each time I walk through the Kawangware roads, just before throngs of children run out to see the spectacle that is my white skin and blonde hair, and adults stare and wave. The children almost always say, “How are you?” instead of “hello,” and the adults say “hello” and sometimes follow it with, “Asante” – the Swahili word for “thank you.”
After today’s song, dance, and community theatre production (the women in the HIV support group performed a play to educate the audience about how HIV is spread), each of my Glide team members and I spoke to the women gathered in front of us. We all expressed some variation on the theme that we are blessed to be here with them, celebrating life, and that we love them and feel loved by them as well.
When I turned around, my teammate and friend Robin said, “Oh, it’s because you’re the only woman on our team not holding a purse.” Upon realizing Robin was right, I quickly placed my camera in my new purse, my heart unable to bear the woman’s outrageously kind gesture. I’m not a Bible person, but I do know the one about the woman with only a few pennies, who gave all she had, which also featured a man with lots of gold (or something … I’m improvising!), who gave nothing. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare myself to the gold man, but I will say that my life would be far richer than it is now, if I could only figure out how to bottle this woman’s grace and lock it in the black canvas bag.
When I told my teammate and friend Mark the story of the bag, he said, “Oh my god. Did you see what the purse says?” He pointed to a small leather rectangle sewn into the front of the bag. In the rectangle were the words, “Sport good health.” My modification on the above-referenced Bible story goes, “A woman in an HIV support group in an African slum, with no money, no work, and no food to eat outside of a medical clinic’s feeding program, shared one of her last possessions with a physically healthy American lawyer.”
Hendrika and I walked much of the trip together, and I asked her how she had come to do the work that she does. She spoke of how she had met a nun from America, Sister Bridget. They developed a friendship and Sister Bridget had noticed something within Hendrika. She encouraged her to go to college in order to prepare to be a community health care worker. Hendrika said that when Sister Bridget said this, she felt the power of the Holy Spirit encouraging her to pursue this work. She said, “This is a calling from God.” Because she feels called to this work, she is able to withstand the long hours, many miles of walking each day, and facing the despair of those struggling with disease and poverty. “The Holy Spirit gives me the strength each day. God is good.”
It’s so hard to be brief when my emotions are being tugged in different directions. But today I was joyful, and here are some quick points that reflect why;
About 100 or so HIV positive clients came to Ray of Hope today for their regular HIV Support group, most are woman, but several men also attended. We danced with them, and they entertained us with a play about how HIV effects the families in the slum.
I feel good because after I shared my HIV status with all of them, I was able to find time to shake each of their hands, hug them, and kiss several babies. I came here to provide them hope that they could survive HIV, and at least 10 (who’s counting?) told me that they felt like they received hope from me. I can’t tell you how many asked for my email address (not for money, but just to connect with someone outside the slums). Many handed me phone numbers.
As our group purchased wares from a number of them that have small roadside businesses (they brought their wares with them today), I connected with another HIV positive man who told me he has know he is positive for three years, and that he is open about his status……it’s rare for anyone to be open about their status in the slums, and even more rare for a man to accept his status. Of course I emptied my wallet on the fabulous merchandise he was selling so that he could afford to eat!
Two different women expressed surprised that white men in the United States could have HIV, as it is not considered a “gay” disease in Kenya.
As part of my pharmacy inventory management project, I traveled in the afternoon with Peninah by bus to the Centre Center (downtown Nairobi)……what a sharp contrast…..not as many smiles in the big city that what I see in the million person slum……..Peninah told me she feels that the people that have nothing appreciate life more than the people that have material goods…..This is so easy to understand.
Lastly, I have made a new lifelong friend in Peninah. We have connected on so many levels. We took a cab ride back to the Guest House, and during the cab ride, Peninah talked to my Babycake for a minute by telephone. I think he will love as I am starting to.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
A small group of us visited the Lea Toto Child Support Centre. Ray of Hope refers HIV+ children there for further evaluation and dispensing of ARV drugs. I was surprised to hear that there is no shortage of medication to fight HIV here. The impediment is lack of organizations like Ray of Hope to counsel patients and follow up to ensure that the medication is being taken as prescribed and that the drugs have the intended effect. Lack of food to eat in combination with the drugs in a common problem.
This visit brought me great hope. If we can help organizations like Ray of Hope to grow, we will pull thousands, perhaps millions of children into the safety net. Lea Toto’s track record is extraordinary: 90% of their young patients become non-detectible within 18 months.
We arrived at Ray of Hope. As usual, I raced upstairs to see the children. I entered each classroom and was greeted with clapping, cheering, laughter, and smiles of joy. This has become my morning shot of expresso! A charge to my spirit. I can get used to this.
Next, it was time to have tea. The Kenyan culture! Hendrica (the community outreach worker) greeted us with a big smile and a Kenyan hug. Today, Stephan, Katie and I were off to visit families living with HIV. We walked down the street receiving greetings of good morning, good day, and jambo (“Hi” in Swahili). We walked through the mud and narrow pathways, underneath hanging wet clothes, scurrying goats, and clucking chickens. Dear God, this was amazing. We visited many homes, their lives devastated by hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS, houses the size of my closet. Many of the homes were occupied with 5-7 children, one adult parent or guardian, with no electricity or running water. This was very hard to see.
What was unique about this experience—we were welcomed with open arms, Kenyan hugs, smiles and love. Despite the living conditions, I was so impressed by the joy, happiness, and faith in God radiating within their presence. A cheerful woman named Finest spoke of her excitement to sing us a song. But we had to wait until tomorrow. Well, I was so excited. I asked her, “How about a sample.” Finest began singing and dancing. Her daughter joined in. Stephan, Katie and I all began to dance within a tiny space, yet filled with so much love and joy! I could see and feel the spirit of God!
We all laughed and hugged goodbye. As we continued down the street, I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace and calmness words cannot describe. We returned to RoH to have lunch. We ate the maze (corn) and beans—the flavor teased my taste buds and filled my heart. This meal was De-Lic-Ous! I found it incredible that beans and corn cooked in the Kenyan way could make me feel so enriched with joy. Yes, this is real.
The afternoon was spent with Emily, Hendrica, Katie, Robin, and Evelyn. We learned about how Kenyans deal with thieves, and trust me, they don’t play! The community members will beat you, stone you, put a tire (yes a tire) around you and light you on fire. Evelyn shared how it would be a blessing if the thief was arrested as he/she would be spared. Hendrica shared about hunger and when her family of 11 does not have enough to eat—enough meaning nothing. They drink hot water and go to sleep because they have faith that tomorrow will bring a new option. I was blown away by her “this is normal for us” matter of fact attitude. Yet she was so selfless and loving.
Well, back to the Methodist Guest House for dinner, devotions, journaling, and bed. My heart is full and my spirit is lifted. I am tired. I will try and quiet my mind from this wonderful day so I can sleep. God is great and God is good!
Today, I ventured into the heart of the Kawangware slum, with two of my Glide teammates and one of our Ray of Hope colleagues, Hendricka. Hendricka is the Community Health Worker for the Ray of Hope, and every morning, she does what we spent three hours doing this morning: conducting home visits to the Ray of Hope Medical Clinic patients, to assess their health and encourage them to continue with their medical regimens.
Following Hendricka, I dodged sewage streams while tiptoeing through what I can only hope was mud, noting the doorsteps that stretched on endlessly, each home separated by only a thin sheet of corrugated tin. As I turned a sharp corner between alleys, to find a stray cow walking toward me from five feet away, I landed squarely outside of my element. I began steeling myself for what I knew would be a heart rending series of home visits.
On this trek, I encountered attack goats; shared narrow alleys with wayward chickens; watched a cat crawl in and out of a woman’s home through gaps between her tin roof and tin walls; witnessed flies landing repeatedly on almost every child and adult I saw; noticed ants marching across the cement floors of people fortunate enough to have a cement barrier between their feet and the earthen mud; and heard the pitter patter of rat feet on the roofs above us while sitting in various Kawangware homes – dark, smelly rooms the size of a 10' X 10' storage unit, with no electricity or water.
No one should have to live in these uninhabitable conditions. Based on what I saw, and the many stories of crime I have heard, I feel that having a “home” here is far more threatening to health, safety, and happiness than being homeless in the United States.
And yet, I see profound joy and gratitude in the spirits of every person I’ve seen who lives here.
Today a few of us went to learn about Lea Toto (means: to bring up a child), an organization providing HIV services to children, funded by USAID. It is a comprehensive program to assess and treat children ages 0 – 18 dealing with medical as well as psycho-social aspects of being HIV positive in Kenya. The model has been to make the child an asset rather than a liability in order for families to keep their HIV positive children and help to change the stigma of being HIV positive. This is accomplished by providing medical care and hospitalizations accessible and free, providing the whole family with food (although the families we met were not receiving food from Lea Toto even when children were in the program), paying school fees so the children can stay in school (again, families told us their children had to drop out of school because they couldn’t pay their fees even when the children were in the program) and helping families to pay their rents (ditto). More research to be done.
After Lea Toto, we had a field trip to downtown Nairobi to cash traveler’s checks (note to self and others: NEVER TRAVEL WITH TRAVELER’S CHECKS IF YOU WANT MONEY). 5 banks later, no money. Thank goodness for ATMs. The money was for buying painting supplies for a project at Ray of Hope. The interesting part of the journey was Karen getting mugged on the bus in which three young men stole her passport and money. We got it back after grabbing the thieves’ backpacks, yelling and holding up the bus. We wouldn’t have tried this is SF, but our physical selves weren’t in danger in Nairobi. We don’t hold this incidence against the generous, hospitable Kenyans. It was fun to see downtown Nairobi. Until tomorrow.
Today was a short day for me, but another emotionally charged day. Today, I visited the homes of persons living with HIV or AIDS in the slums with Angel (her real name is Hendrica A. Ongoro. Before I tell you about my journey, let me talk to you about Angel. She is the Ray of Hope Community Outreach worker that spends every day going into the slums and visiting her 800 clients (all are HIV positive), to provide them with hope, guidance, and when the funds are available, other things like food. Angel lives in the slum with her seven children; her husband does not live with her, and offers no support.
I was able to be touched and touch the lives of so many today that suffer from HIV, and many have had to fight off TB and other illnesses as well. They live like no human should ever have to live. I have a hard time calling where they live houses, because they are not, they are shacks, some are frames with empty food sacks from “Feed the Children” program for walls and roofs…hardly weather-proof (I say this as the skies have opened again this afternoon with thunder showers)…garbage sits outside the doors (if you call a piece of cloth a door), and not one was larger than the bedroom I share with my partner and four pets. Because each person touched me today, I could write a book on the people who I came in contact with, but let me speak of the couple we visited with a small child. The husband, a bit older, HIV positive and disabled (hard for him to walk) had a roadside stand with his wife (also HIV positive), where he repairs shoes all day long sitting in mud and rocks…both have very positive attitudes (something I found with most of those I came in contact with today that were dealing with AIDS), as she repeated to me that “God is good.” They work to pay the rent on the roadside shack, and the small house 9again, I use that term loosely) they live in…and hope that they have something left over after rent. I really connected with the father, because I was so proud of him for staying with his family, and trying to support them, while he could not even stand for us (and I thought my hips hurt!!!). Both have such positive attitudes which I am sure keeps them alive. I was able to touch each person with my own story of HIV, letting them know it’s been 12 years for me, and I am strong and alive!
Finally, as we walked through the slums (think “Slum Dog Millionaire”, but much worse), I enjoyed saying hello to almost everyone I saw…you cannot imagine the bright smiles and responses I received back from almost every one of the hundreds I greeted. The people in the slums have the nicest smiles I have ever seen (okay, except for my Babycake Dino!!!). Their smiles for the most part kept my tears inside…I always made sure I cried in private so the hope I brought was not diminished.
The emotions were so overwhelming that I had to come back to the Guest House at lunch to rest and recharge my batteries…but I can’t wait until tomorrow when 200 HIV positive clients will be coming to Ray of Hope to sing for our group!
I was with Craig, Josh, Robin, and Barasa for most of the day. We first visited Lea Toto, to learn of their work with HIV+ children. Ray of Hope refers some of their children to this organization. The director discussed that often children with HIV are seen as a burden by their families and are often abandoned. Lea Toto seeks to help families see their children as assets to the family. They offer a full range of services—medical care, educational opportunities, counseling, and food—to keep these children healthy.
From there we went to Nairobi City Center to pick up painting supplies. I was pickpocketed as I was leaving the bus. The thieves were thwarted by Robin, who grabbed one of the men and wouldn’t let go until he returned my passport!
We were in town to buy painting supplies for one of our projects. It was striking to see the difference between the business professionals in the city center versus in the slum of Kawangware. Here, people walked with a sense of purpose, were well-fed, and clothed in high fashion. It was hard to believe that a few miles away lives over a million people in utter poverty. How can such disparity live in such tight quarters? But then I think of the corner of Taylor and Ellis, where Glide is, versus the corner of Stockton and Geary. It is only a few short blocks, but totally different worlds. Is there a way to bridge the gap? Can the rich share their wealth and resources so no one goes hungry at night, no one is left to sleep on a city street?
After a nice meal of boiled mixed greens, a filling corn meal cake, and homegrown pineapples from Marsile’s home, Craig and I sat down with Hendrika to write the day’s report. Almost before we began, Robin, who had just gone down to the clinic to assist with a delivery, came rushing in and told me to come down. Hendrika and Craig graciously allowed me to leave and Robin and I rushed down to the delivery room. Robin entered and I waited in the hallway until Nathaniel, the nursing student in charge of the delivery, led me into the room. Inside I found Robin with Florence who was in some control of the situation, a plastic apron over her sharp office attire, and a stoic young woman lying on her back, legs propped up, hands around her ankles. As Nathaniel put his hands between the woman’s legs to show me the child’s yet emerged head, I turned to Robin and said, “That’s got to be impossible.” She laughed and assured me that it was and Florence laughed more when she heard what I’d said. I then asked if I could let the woman hold my arm and Florence laughed again and said that she’d probably break it. So I sat, excited and expectant, at the foot of the bed and waited while in energy in the room rose with each contraction until in one excruciating and euphoric burst the child’s head exploded out and the fluid shot nearly to the ceiling, while the mother gave her one and only scream. The body slid out, followed by a short moment of calm and relief, and a few seconds later the silence was broken by the holy cries of the newly born babe.
It wasn’t until later that night that I realized what had happened. Not only had the seemingly impossible became possible, it had become actual. I think that’s a good lesson as I continue to think about the devastating poverty and need that plagues the place we’re in. It’s true that a solution seems impossible, but babies are born every day. The impossible is continually made actual, and birth makes the past irrelevant.
The mother’s name is Sophia, and she had a beautiful baby girl.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The sky’s opened, and rain came as we reached the front door of the Guest House late this afternoon. It was a day of feeling joy, smiles, and sadness. The sadness because the young HIV+ boy I met yesterday, who is the most recent addition to Ray of Hope was not feeling well today, and malaria is suspected (I pray the lab results will show just a tummy ache). Smiles, because everyone smiles, everybody greets me, everybody wants to shake my hand, want to hug me, and want to connect……no strings attached. Many want their picture taken (especially the children). Joy because I got to work in the pharmacy all day long with a Pharmacy Technician with three first names; Peninah, Wangui, and Kui. I think I may have found a second angel in Kenya! Peninah will be 30 years old on December 5th, and is a woman show (there is no Pharmacist. Her knowledge of the medication the knowledge of many of the hundreds of Pharmacists I know in the USA. That’s not a knock on the pharmacists, but a testament to Peninah ability. We never got to the work that I was asked to do. Instead I put we put away 10 plus 50lb bags of medical supplies, filled prescriptions, and helped the many patients who crowed in the clinic today. While all the patients struck me in one way or another, I learned from one woman from one patient today, a woman who told me she found out she was HIV+ in 2006, after being told she was HIV- in 2000 when her youngest son was born (he is HIV+). Margret is a smart woman that did not need to hear my message of hope, as she already has plans to be a grandmother someday. Her 9 year old is in school, and is #4 in his class, one of his older brothers is #1 in his class. I showed her two magazines……one the glossy POZ 15 year anniversary edition with lots of pictures, the other was Positively Aware (The edition with Nelson Vergel on the cover), which is chocked full of in depth information about the HIV virus. She choose to keep the second because she wanted to learn more about the virus. Of course I gave her both, because it showed many pictures of many long term survivors including a woman from Africa.
I spent all day today with the children in the Learning Centre: 59 of them, sharing two classrooms that are both tiny by U.S. standards. The youngest child is five years old; the oldest is 11. All of their heads are shaved, as many of the children come to the Learning Centre with ringworm. The Ray of Hope staff treats them when they come in, and then keeps their heads shaved and treated, so that if they contract any such condition again out in the dirt roads of Kawangware, they won't bring it in.
The children have blue uniform shorts and sweaters. The girls in each classroom wear yellow shirts, and the boys wear red ones. I appreciate that the staff distinguishes the boys and girls this way, or else I would have had a lot of trouble identifying them by gender, before I got to know them. In fact, I asked my fellow volunteers last night, “Why do they only teach boys?”
I began the day in the younger children’s classroom. They screamed, cheered, and clapped, yelling, “Hello, Katie!” when I entered. They were all smiles, boundlessly excited that a strange-looking guest was spending time with them. (The children here are fascinated – transfixed, really – with my light skin and blonde hair.) I entered and left the room several times throughout the morning, but on one occasion when I walked in, the children started screaming, cheering, and clapping again.
My fellow Ensemble members will appreciate that I taught the older children “The Storm Is Passing Over.” I told them that I sing in a choir where I live, and that we sing the song, and that if they learned it very well, I would record it on my camera’s video recorder to show you all when I return home. They were diligent and tireless in their efforts to learn it.
I taught them the song using three modalities: singing it to and with them, writing the lyrics on the chalkboard, and acting out the lines of the song with hand gestures. While we were in the midst of one of our many takes, my fellow volunteer and dear friend Mark walked in. A longtime, devoted Glide member, Mark immediately knew what we were singing, and he walked over to the chalkboard and pointed out each word at the moment the children were meant to hit it. He also gestured for them to sing louder at the right spots, by raising his arms up – a gesture that some of the children tried to emulate, until we explained that his gestures were for direction, while mine were for helping them remember the lyrics.
In both classrooms, I witnessed pure love in the hearts of every child. I don’t know how much of their authentic gratitude I can hold without my heart shattering into pieces.
My role today was to do a training on team building/management with the senior staff of Ray of Hope. What I was most impressed with was the total dedication of the staff. With little resources and a huge need, they pour out all they have, their time, energy, and personal resources, to provide compassionate care to children and those who are sick. These persons are doing heroic work against insurmountable odds. The vastness of poverty and sickness is beyond comprehension, yet each morning the staff of RoH wake up and do their work with joy and optimism. The vision they have for RoH is inspiring. It is an honor to listen and learn from them about the work they do, and to be invited in to strategize together for a stronger RoH.
Today I went on home visits with Hendricka, the Community Health worker with Ray of Hope. Again I was overwhelmed with the vastness of Kawangware. We walked through miles of slum on muddy, dusty roads lined with sewage ditches, garbage, goats and many, many people. It was interesting how there were groups of like shanties probably owned by the same person. One area was on a cement slab and on it were row after row of 10 x10’ corrugated tin homes, then the next group of dwellings would be small wooden structures surrounded by a fence. We would go through very narrow passage ways and alleys. I was most affected by the disparity of where the slums end and where the estates begin especially as we were visiting and had to walk by the huge stone wall with the electric fence above it. We visited women and children who were affected by HIV. Hendrika would assess the home, make sure the children and mother were well. She counseled clients on taking their ARVs and made sure they had food. Every home we left she told us Ray of Hope gave them food, but it was not enough. We visited the mother of twin 18 month old sons who all are HIV positive. The husband left her because of her HIV status and she has to leave her children on the bed by themselves while she goes out to find other people’s laundry to do in the slum. Story after heart breaking story. I felt honored to be invited into the homes of these clients and to be able to cradle the experience of their lives in my heart. I wonder at how there can be such poverty and what I can do. I have to support the good work being done by Ray of Hope and their vision to do more, to empower people to take charge of their HIV status and situations, to help with education and medical care for the poorest of the poor, and to want to do more.
It is a beautiful morning in Nairobi. We arrived at Ray of Hope and were greeted by cheering, clapping, and smiles of the children. The feeling of their unconditional love filled my soul. I could see the joy in each of their eyes. Katie, Travis, and I met with Evelyn (school teacher) who shared with us several stories of the children’s lives that have been impacted by the loss of one or both parents to AIDS and some of the challenges they were having with finding relatives or guardians to take care of several of the kids. Evelyn shared of her own loss of a sister and brother to AIDS. I was blown away by her faith and ability to find the strength and hope in all the disparity. I was a witness to her loving, compassionate, selfless passion to life and the lives of the children. I asked Evelyn how she remained so happy, peaceful, and joyous with all that she has been through and she said, “God is great and I have found all the love I need in God.” It is amazing to be in the same room with Evelyn as I see God in her eyes. Words cannot express the spiritual gifts I am receiving.
It was time to do art with the kids and boy was I excited. I had picked out some construction paper, crayons, drawing pencils and was ready to be a school teacher :-) !!!
When I entered the room they cheered and clapped. What a gift it was to see their eyes light up like Christmas. It was the CONSTRUCTION PAPER. Yes, the CONSTRUCTION PAPER. These kids have found happiness in things as little as construction paper. As I write, tears fall from my eyes. I spent much of the afternoon going back and forth to each classroom: sharing in their drawing, taking photos and teaching the kids how to take photos. They love taking photos. One by one as they completed their drawings, they smiled for their photo. These children have found so much joy in the smallest things in life.
Next, Travis and I gave them Bazooka bubblegum for a bubblegum blowing contest. We all blew bubbles, snapped photos, and laughed. My heart was so happy. I could see God in each of the children’s eyes.
It was great joy to witness Katie in her role as a school teacher. She created a writing project for them and read several of the kids a story. The highlight was acting as a co-choir teacher with Katie. Yes, I helped Katie teach the kids a verse from a song sung by the Glide ensemble.
It was extra special when Katie and I left room and heard the kids practicing the song without us. Again, my heart is full. Our day at RoH ended with more cheering, smiles and laughter from the kids. I cannot wait to return tomorrow.
The evening was spent in a 12-step meeting with Boniface—an angel that was sent to take me to a meeting. It was a great experience to be in a meeting in Africa. I was given a ride back to the Methodist Guest House and the windshield wipers did not work and it was pouring rain. There are no street lights or stop signs here and the roads can be quite scary. I prayed for our safe return to the MGH and God delivered. Adventure is an incredible addition to life even when I am scared to death. The evening ended with a great bonding session and devotion with our service team. I really appreciate and cherish each and every one of my experiences here. I cannot fail to mention our team leaders, Travis and Craig. They have really been the glue within our team. Pastor Karen has an amazing way of anchoring us with her songs of hope and faith. I just love all this! That’s all for now.
Today I walked with Hendrica, the Community Health worker who counsels 800 different families in Kawangware. There were so many stories desperate stories. A woman who must lock her 18 month old twin boys in their 10x10 foot house to look for clothes to wash so that she can feed her kids and pay rent. The husband has left the area to look for employment. All are HIV positive; the mother and sons have accepted their status and they received HIV drugs and counseling through Ray of Hope. One boy needs an operation on a growing tumor on his testes, but there is no money. Another woman is bedridden with HIV and TB; when she and her husband tested positive for HIV, her husband blamed her and left. He returns occasionally to beat her and see if she has died. Ray of Hope has ensured she receives medication, and a small amount of food, but there is not enough to give her to feed her and her three children. As we walked farther into the slum, we came to a high wall with electric wires on the top. On the other side were large green trees, grass and mansions. I asked myself how people could live in these houses, and not do anything, everything, to help this desperate situation. And then I realized I did not know where that line of responsibility really existed- is it just over the fence? The Kenyan border? An ocean?