Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 30

Pastor Karen:

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.


Let me start with my ride back to the Guest House from the Ray of Hope this evening…….while it appeared I walked alone in the slum to the Congo bus stop, I really had the President of the United States as my body guard…..nobody bothers a white man walking in the slums wearing a t-shirt with his picture on it…..instead they offer “YES HE CAN” to me in greeting…..what hope this man has brought to the United States and to the poorest people of Kenya……but get this, I jump into the first Matatu I find at the Congo bus stop, and a video (“Jalo In The House) is playing on the small TV at the front of the van…’s an Obama video….I tap my fingers, when I hear someone behind me say the President’s name….I turn and show my t-shirt to the entire van, only to have them begin to chant “YES WE CAN” over and over (I could not hear the video anymore……but I saw the flag of the United States being treated with respect instead of being burnt)…….the ride ended to fast….as I exited the van, I yelled YES WE DID!!!…..and got one last cheer as the Matatu drove off…….I realized how proud I am to be an American!

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!

But let’s face it… was about the children, and for me the two little boys who are HIV+ (again, they don’t know they are positive, so I won’t say their names in this blog)……today I was able to spend more time with each of them alone, and did nothing but love them, because God is Love, and that’s what they need. I got to see them both play in the park (this park is not in the slums), and enjoy being little innocent boys. What a day of joy with all the children, something I will fill my heart with joy for the rest of my life.
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.



Today was our last day at RoH. Our last morning does of cheering and clapping and celebration with the children. I am sad.

Evelyn, Alfred, Josh, Katie, Travis, Robin, Steve and I took all 59, yes 59 kids to Nairobi National Museum. Our ride to the museum was filled with the children singing, clapping songs in Swahili. I could feel so much love and joy. I sat next to Olivet and David, age 6 and 7. As we got closer to the museum, we could see beds of beautiful flowers. Oliver commented, “red, green, blue” in such a way, as if he had never seen such colorful flowers. My heart filled with joy. I could feel Oliver and David’s spirit as they experienced the joy of seeing beautiful colorful flowers.

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!

May 29 addendum


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. 

We laughed after every near-death experience we had, and I never missed an opportunity to point out where the lawsuits would be if we were in the States: deep, wide holes in the middle of the street, one of which almost claimed Robin’s life (or, at least, limb) when we backed up to avoid oncoming matatus, trucks, and man-powered carts filled with water collected from the nearest fill-up station. She missed the random hole-in-the-street by a quarter-inch, as we couldn’t look behind us while backing up, what with all the vehicles – makeshift or otherwise – to dodge.

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. 

Robin slipped me a little medical knowledge on the side, as we continued to the Office of the Attorney General of Kenya, where I was scheduled to meet with Baraza’s niece, Carol, a staff lawyer in the Office. She and I compared U.S. and Kenyan laws and procedures, and I slipped Robin a little legal knowledge on the side, as Carol and her friend drove us to meet with our team and the entire Ray of Hope staff for dinner.

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. 

After dinner, half the total group went out dancing, and we had a wonderful time. I contracted a little whiplash when the matatu driver took on a speed bump at five million miles per hour on the way home, forcing those of us in the backseat to bonk our heads on the ceiling full force … but hey – I didn’t step in any holes-in-the-street, so I’m not complaining.

I am very happy here.

A Note of gratitude from Paul Blaney . . .

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 Kenya. You are an inspiration to us all.

Safe Home!
Warm regards,
Paul Blaney

Manager - Volunteer Program


Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 29


The sense of community is very strong within the approximately one million people living in Kawangware, and very unlike the impersonal nature of the large cities in the United States. Community here is very much like a small town in the U.S., or a church, where members pull together to help each other in their times of need, and work together for the good of the community.

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.

Pastor Karen:

Today began with much frustration towards modern technology. A simple blog posting took nearly two hours, as computer after computer crashed on me. It must have looked like I was playing musical chairs in the Methodist Guest House business center!

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.


Today I worked on the pharmacy project with my new found friend, Peninah Wangui Kinuthia, who is the Pharmacy Technician for Ray of Hope (there is no pharmacist or “chemist” as they are referred to in Kenya working at the Ray of Hope). Once I finished taking notes, I went upstairs to talk with the children in the Ray of Hope Learning Center…….I entered the room to be greeted by a loud cheer by all the boys and girls from both classes (Alfred, one of the two ROH teachers gathered the kids in one room for me). I told the children that I am HIV positive, and how I am healthy and will live a long time. I gave the message of hope to these kids who still equate HIV to death. As I talked, one boy held on to my arm, and laid his head on my chest…..I could not help holding him closer and kissing his head over and over; other little boys and girls followed, and were given the warmth of a hug (little did they know the warmth they to gave me). The kids had some really good questions for me, including asking the reason why people with HIV in America do not die from HIV as they do in the slums of Nairobi. Alfred helped me answer the question, which really revolves around food……most families in the slums live on less than a dollar a day….we are talking about the entire family which could range from 2 people to 8 or 9 people… has to come first, or the landlords (wrong term, should be “evil slum-lords”) throw them out, or take whatever possessions they have, so food comes second. If you have no food in your stomach, it is very difficult to take the HIV anti-retroviral, and there is no church like Glide that will feed you every day, at least not near the Ray of Hope. When I was finished with the kids, I stood up and touched the ceiling, as if I were reaching for God…just then, every kid in the room was doing the same, jumping up and down to reach the ceiling…bad back and bad hips, I picked up several boys and girls and let them touch the ceiling…others stood on the desks to reach God; When I was done, Alfred took me aside and asked me to get a message to the people in the United States that these kids need food, people with HIV in the slums need food……Alfred’s message is something I have seen all week…..people go for days without eating anything at all, while I stuff my face with three meals a day…..It’s not fair (whoops, I am about to yell at God again!). The rest of my day was writing reports, and trying not to cry again (it’s not working, but at least the kids or HIV+ clients can’t see me cry).

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.


I started today doing the Neonatal Resuscitation course the staff had asked for. I learned that it is common in Kenya to “milk the cord” after birth to prevent the spread of HIV. I assured the staff that this is not practiced in the US and we talked about the transition between fetal and neonatal circulation. Some of us then visited Kileleshwa school, the school children from ROH learning center attend if they have a sponsor. I’m sure others will talk about this visit. After this, Katie and I went with Baraza to downtown Nairobi to go to Pumwani Maternity Hospital and to the Attorney General’s office for Katie to speak with an attorney. The journey began by Matatu and then bus to downtown where we went to an internet cafĂ© to print my letter of introduction to the hospital. Then back to the bus stop to another part of town where we walked over muddy, oily roads for I don’t know what, then walked back to the bus area where Katie and I were almost run over by carts and cars and I stepped back nearly into a whole deeper than I could see (I had visions of spending the rest of the trip in the hospital). We then took another bus to the hospital. We were supposed to be there at 10 am so the head nurse was not happy but she did allow us to speak to a floor nurse who answered only certain questions, if they did not pertain to neonatal resuscitation, she did not answer them, she was very suspicious and really not happy when I asked about women with HIV. I did get to look at their neonatal equipment which was the same as any hospital in the US, only older. I noticed there were 6 bare mattress beds on each side of the hall full with laboring women. Pumwani is the busiest maternity hospital in Kenya with 40-50 deliveries per day. We met again with the head nurse after our “tour” and she said there is one nurse for 9 laboring women! The saying is “anyone who works at Pumwani is a midwife.” The visit was intended to help establish a relationship between Pumwani and ROH with the hope that future volunteering medical students, doctors or nurses can have an experience at Pumwani.

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!

Craig bringing greetings from Glide to the Ray of Hope Women

More from the 28th


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.


Today was amazing. I experienced my daily clapping and shouting upon entering the children’s classrooms. Smiles, high fives, and hugs. What great medicine. I learned today that in African culture they don’t like to show they are sick. Instead they dance. WOW! We ate “green grams” for lunch today. All I can tell you—magnifico! Kenyans can cook some food!

As a team we were treated to a play on HIV in the African community—complete with costumes and lots and lots of drama. It was fantastic.

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.

This day was joyous, enriching, overwhelming, peaceful, exciting, heart-wrenching…I am so grateful for this! God is great!

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 28


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. 

Here, I’m not a “white girl” in the sense that I am in my home of San Francisco, where friends are often shocked that I can dance with soul. In Kawangware, as far as I’ve seen, dancing and screaming and clapping are ways of daily life. Passersby seem to think nothing of a crowd gathered in loud song and dance. Why would they, when that’s just what people do?

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. 

While speaking, I had held a camera in my hand, as my backpack was tucked away upstairs. A beautiful woman from the crowd approached me and placed a strapped, black canvas bag around my neck. She has no money and no food, yet she gave me her bag, and I didn’t know why – but I thanked her anyway, as I knew it was one of very few possessions she had.

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.”

Arrangements may need to be made for this mzungu to move to Nairobi.

Pastor Karen:

This afternoon, Robin and I walked with Hendrika as she made her rounds, along with two women from the women’s HIV support group. It had rained hard the night before, and the paths and roads we took were quite muddy. I can’t say I have a great sense of balance, and I confess I was a little nervous that I would slip on the mud and slide right into the sewage that flowed beside us. We went from home to home, to speak in hushed voices about their medical condition (hushed because if their HIV status became known, they would most likely be kicked out of their living quarters). The women we visited were all a part of the support group, so everyone knew one another. We learned of their status, of their history since becoming positive, of their struggle due to either widowhood or abandonment by their husbands once they became positive. We sat in close circles, woman to woman, talking, crying, laughing together. The bonds of womanhood transcend culture, class, race, ethnicity, and nationality. I returned to Ray of Hope marveling at the power of women to survive—often for the sake of their children—against all odds.

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.

Katie with some of the Ray of Hope children

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 27


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?

May 26 addendum


Wow! Robin, Craig and I spent the morning accompanying Hendrika as she made home visits to various clients throughout Kawangware. We spent most of our time in the homes of three young women, all of them HIV positive, all with young children equally affected. The first woman had 1 ½ year old twins, Troy and Trevor and they both got a kick out of the video I had on my camera of the students at Ray of Hope singing and dancing. Trevor, the more gregarious of the two, even bopped in his seat. We talked with Hendrika at length about the work that she does and I became more and more amazed the more I learned. She is a tireless and endlessly compassionate woman with a work ethic that is almost unfathomable. She makes home visits 5 or 6 days a week from 6:30 am to check her patients before they go to work, until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. She walks miles and miles every day and often accompanies her patients to far away clinics or hospitals to ensure they receive the care they need. In addition, she has 7 of her own children at home.

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

Robin, Josh, and Craig with HendriKa

May 26


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. 

For a few seconds, I could not figure out why they were so ecstatic, since they’d seen me several times already. Then I realized the reason: it was the construction paper in my arms. That's all it takes to light their eyes and bring magic to their day. Their boisterous response to seeing this basic art supply made me simultaneously joyful and sad.

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.

Pastor Karen:

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?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pastor Karen at Kawangware Methodist Church

She was asked to preach after the service had already started!

Mark and the children

May 25


Yesterday, my heart was too full – and my jet lag too pronounced – for me to gather my thoughts into any discernible writings. As we raced down the unpaved, littered dirt road in our Matatu – a bus that features loud music, audacious near-collisions with passing vehicles, and men hanging off the side to spot prospective new ride sales – I grasped the reality that I’d already learned second-hand: that Kawangware is Nairobi’s second most neglected slum.

Masses of people lined the stretch of this road, many bare-footed, and none were offered shade unless they tucked themselves underneath shanties – structures that look like boxes and offer little more shelter. They shared the choppy dirt expanse with goats and piles of garbage. I saw no running water, though still water hung in the air on the sides of these roads, providing nothing but stench, mud, and likely, the occasional mosquito.

While in Kawangware yesterday, we visited a two-hour service at Kawangware Methodist Church in Kenya. I am robbing the experience of its profundity and power by summarizing it here, but I must move on to today’s events. In very short, I was moved beyond description by the soulful, spirited music and abiding faith of this congregation. As a Glide Ensemble member, I took particular interest in the choir. I marveled at the fundamental similarities and many differences between this choir and my own. I felt very much at home, and also worlds away.

Today, we met the children whom we will serve this week. They are amazing, wonderful people. Though most of them have lost parents to abandonment, HIV/AIDS, and other social and medical afflictions, they persevere - radiating joy through their smiles, songs, and endless dances. The children of Kawangware know how to live. They know how to love.


On the ride to our first visit to the Ray of Hope, was a sticker on the dashboard of the van that read “I may be down, but I am not out”!

The first patient I met today at the Ray of Hope was a young woman that had just given birth. She is HIV+. She smiled and asked me several questions about the length of time that I have been positive that seemed to provide her comfort and hope. She touched me, and I think I touched her…..bringing her a Ray of Light and a Ray of Hope!

I talked to a young boy who was recently accepted into the Ray of Hope program. He is positive as well, as is both his parents and his two brothers. He is shy and perhaps scared, as he did not speak much (he really smiled when I took his picture). I promised him that he and I would get to know each other better in the couple of days, as I shared my HIV status with him…….another possible Ray of Light and Ray of Hope!!!

Oh yeah, I met an Angel named Hendrica….she is a Community Health Outreach worker……more on this Angel later……I will get to spend some time with her visiting persons living with HIV in their homes in this slum of one million people!


After a short matatu ride (a van meant to carry 14, but carries 20+ at times) we arrived at Ray of Hope. We were greeted b y old friends from a trip Craig and I took in 2007, and then I saw the face of God glowing from the staff and children.

As we toured the facility we met a young woman who had recently given birth and was breastfeeding her infant, her face aglow.

She has been HIV+ for a little under a year and realized that HIV was not a death sentence. I shared with her that I have been positive for 25 years and there is HOPE.

Fifty children then greeted us with song and dance. We learned of the many projects RoH is involved in: outreach, feeding program, testing, and so many more programs with only a few volunteers to serve.

More tomorrow.


Our first full day at Ray of Hope was filled with introductions to staff and clients, an overview of the many programs RoH provide, and a very basic primer of how a non-profit like RoH works in Kenya. We left saturated, filled with many emotions, and a bit overwhelmed.

The passion and dedication of the staff is clear. They face an infinite list of needs to address in Kawangware, a slum of 800,000 where the average wage is $1/day. There are 59 students in 2 classrooms measuring just 10x10 each, and there’s a waiting list of more than 300 children in the small radius served by RoH. Students receive two meals each day. A single community health worker serves more than 800 clients, and as she walks through the very congested slum to visit her clients, she identifies more children who do not go to school and who are hungry and left with one or no parents.

Some children leave school on Friday and do not eat again until they return to school on Monday. With the structure, love and attention each child receives, no wonder these kids look forward to school and don’t want to go home.


The day had come, we were on our way to Ray of Hope. I was so excited. I had waited for this day for so long. I could feel God’s grace within my spirit. We arrived to be greeted by the staff of RoH. The hugs, handshakes, and smiles filled my heart. I could hear the chatter of the children upstairs as we learned about the operations of the clinic. I was as present as I could be. I could only think of meeting the children. There they were, standing in front of us, adorable, smiling faces. This was REAL. The children’s smiles turned into singing and dancing.

Words cannot truly describe this moment. Our day was filled with lots of organizational information. The needs and disparities could not overpower the love of RoH. I tell you, my life has been enriched and forever changed to be a witness to this deep rooted and unconditional love!

I cannot wait to return tomorrow. That’s all for now.


Day two in Nairobi. We spent the day at the Ray of Hope Foundation and I was amazed by how much they are able to accomplish with so few resources. The entire staff is heroically dedicated and remarkably cheerful in the face of crushing poverty and devastating need. Hendrika, their community health worker, is alone responsible for making home visits to almost 800 families.

The two teachers, Alfred and Evelyn, create a thriving learning community despite the fact that for many of their students the meal they have on Friday for lunch is their last until they return to school on Monday. Similarly, Barasa, Florence, and Rosemary, the core of the foundation, admirably persevere despite recurring setbacks and rising costs. For example, this month, the 200 clients in the RoH feeding program will go without their monthly allocation. It is remarkable that they remain unwaveringly focused and committed. They are truly a testament to the human spirit and their lives of sacrifice and service are powerful models and reminders for those fortunate enough to be blessed by their presence.

Pastor Karen:

I don’t know her name.

She is the school cook and she shyly yet warmly greeted us as we stopped by her “kitchen”: two small charcoal burners on a balcony upon which sat huge pots, bubbling and boiling. We saw her supply room—nearly bare—and her workspace: a room no larger than a closet, the place to wash and chop vegetables.

I don’t know her name.

She moved unobtrusively in our meeting room, bringing tea and snacks. Respecting the ebb and flow of conversation, she knew when to come in and refresh the tea or remove cups and saucers.

I don’t know her name.

We were told that she had just lost her brother in an accident the night before. This humble woman was a grieving woman who could not, would not pause to take notice of death and loss, because then, who would feed the children?

I don’t know her name.

She again returned to our meeting room, and as we continued to discuss the plans for the week, she paused with a pitcher and basin before each person. It was the same hand washing ritual from the day before, but it took on much greater meaning as this one who should be comforted remained the comforter: serving, feeding, filling others with her love.

Her name is Agneta.


As others have said, getting around in Nairobi is half the fun (did I say fun?!), a Matatu is something that can only be experienced. Today we had an orientation with the staff of Ray of Hope. It included an overview of all their programs here in Kawangware as well as in outlying areas: community health, food programs, education, finance (women and groups of people have been given loans for businesses), as well as running the Ray of Hope clinic and learning center.

The staff told how their work is a calling, not a job. Their stories showed how committed and compassionate and caring they are towards the people of Kawangware, they truly are the ray of hope. Of course, the great thrill of the day was when the children greeted us outside the clinic in their blue sweaters and shorts and with their shaved heads recited poems and sang for us. The surprise was when they took our hands to come dance with them; it was dancing with love, dancing with hope, dancing with angels.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

First Day in Nairobi

May 24, 2009

After nearly 30 hours of traveling, the team arrived at the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi at 10pm Saturday night.

Pastor Karen:

Today we worshiped at the Kawangware Methodist Church. The church meets in a large room, having given over most of its property to support a school to serve the children of this extremely poor community. The music was already playing when we arrived shortly before the start of worship and we were immediately offered seats in the front. Looking around, however, we noticed we were about the only ones in church! Within 10 minutes, however, the place was packed. Under the direction of a song leader who was part choir director and part aerobics instructor, the choir and band had everyone on their feet singing, dancing, waving, and high fiving one another. It was a very spirited experience!

After worship, we were invited into one of the classrooms for tea. Well, tea in Kenya is a bit more substantial than we are used to. We, along with two others who were visiting the church that day, sat down and immediately a woman came to each one of us with a pitcher of water and a basin so that we could wash our hands. It was powerful to see this woman move from person to person, pouring water on hands over a basin. Then, two other women served us a full meal of rice, stew, and a bean and vegetable dish. Tea was offered at the conclusion of the meal, and is made with warm milk instead of warm water.

It was a very powerful experience: we have come to serve in Kenya, and the very first experience we have is of people providing us with tremendous hospitality, serving us with generous hearts and hands. We have been blessed today!


We arrived in Nairobi on Saturday evening, a bit tired but all very intact, after 27 hours of travel. I have many feelings, most of hope and opportunity. This morning we took the bumpy bus into Kawangware, the slum where we will work for the next week, and walked through the dirt streets to a thriving Methodist church. Along the way we saw children and their parents all finely dressed, on their way to church. Once in the sanctuary, we were warmly welcomed, and quickly surrounded by wonderful music voices and dance- the congregation is alive and bursting at the seams. It reminded us a lot of Glide!


The journey from San Francisco to Nairobi was long, but was relatively pleasant. We are staying at the Methodist Guest House which is the perfect setting for our group, and our purpose. Our first full day in Nairobi was a day that let me see the face of God in the people that live in the slums. It amazes me that a human can live in the conditions they live, and still smile as visitors to their community. The church we went to for services was almost like Glide, except they don’t sit on the window sills.


The flight was relaxing and comfortable. I enjoyed reading, talking and eating. I loved British Airways-good food, great service and wonderful accents. They had cute 3 oz. Diet Coke cans and the Chutney and cheese Sandwich, to die for. Who would think that airline food would be so delightful? Well it was. While landing in Nairobi I was overwhelmed with emotion that this was real: we were here. We were greeted and escorted to The Methodist Guest House. God is so present here. I took a shower and fell right to sleep. I awakened to the sounds of birds singing. We ate breakfast and off to The Methodist Church in Kenya. While riding the public bus to the church the feeling of experiencing Africa was quite joyous: the hustle and bustle of the busy streets with market vendors complete with well dressed Kenyans. Wow, they sure know how to put together an outfit. We were greeted and welcomed as part of the family. The service was full of life. Singing in Swahili, dancing and praising God on our feet. The smiles and innocent hand waves of the children made my heart fill with joy. Following the service we were escorted directly outside to receive handshakes and blessings from all 200 members of the congregation. What an amazing gift! My soul and spirit was filled with the love of God. The church members fed us a delicious Kenyan meal. The angels of the church went around and washed each of our hands with a bowel of water. I can tell you God is taking care of us. This experience has been something I never imagined. We rode the Matatu to the market and I felt like I was on a roller coaster. Well, I could go on and on and on but I must stop for now. God is good! So Good!


As we rode the bus to Kawangware, we passed beautiful homes, lush gardens then abruptly Kawangware started. Homes of corrugated tin, dirt streets with a large sewer gutter running adjacent. Masses of people walking every direction. We were told there are over 1 million people in Kawangware and the vastness of poverty was overwhelming.

I felt the hope and joy during church as I felt the music, participated in dancing and was embraced by the congregation. It was so much like Glide and the joy I feel every Sunday.


God is good all the time.
All the time God is good.

After boarding a local bus, we walked down a dusty road with goats, dogs, cats, and people dressed to the nines headed to serve God.

We entered M.C.K. Kawangware where “everybody is somebody.” We are energized with song, dance, scripture and prayer. The theme of today’s service was the commissioning of the disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor John told us of $5000 donated for a new building. It rushed fond memories of my parents mortgaging their home to make possible the building and growth of Paradise Baptist Church in Oakland.

Toda was a day of learning and exploring Nairobi. Tomorrow is our first day of service at Ray of Hope.


After 25 hours of travel and a night spent battling the slumbering sounds of my fellow traveler and roommate, my first full day in Kenya ended with a sense of purpose that I did not have when I began: one, in fact, that I hardly had by the time we ate dinner. Although our day was a sensual treat filled with new sights and sounds and laughter and worship, marked by one remarkably hospitable encounter after another, for much of it i was still trying to figure out what exactly it was we were doing here in the first place. I didn't want our trip to be just a seven day stay where we bring some supplies, do what we can, and then leave just as we begin to get comfortable.

After our meeting with Barasa, Rosemary, Florence, and Marselee (RoH staff members), I know that will not be the case.

Today was more than the first day of our short trip. It was the first day of a new relationship between glide and the ROH: one that is just beginning, but one that has a bright and long lasting future. The love, compassion, insight, and sharing that took place during the meeting before dinner convinced me that we, both sides, have the commitment, enthusiasm and leadership to make this a fruitful relationship for all. It did, however, take a hearty meal of roasted potatoes, braised beef, and a delightful cream of tomato soup before it all sunk in. I am excited to see what the rest of the week brings.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting Ready to Go!

The seeds for this trip were planted more than a year ago, when Craig Wood and Travis Woodard visited Craig's niece, a student at American University who was doing a semester abroad. Part of her term was spent at Ray of Hope, a clinic and learning center in one of Nairobi's poorest slums. Craig and Travis were deeply moved by what they saw, and wanted to find ways to support Ray of Hope and the children it serves.

When they discussed this with Glide pastor, Dr. Karen Oliveto, a dream began to take root. Thinking about the work that Glide has done in San Francisco, the trio began to wonder how Glide could develop a relationship with Ray of Hope. Plans for a mission trip were drawn, and an invitation was extended to the Glide community.

In the end, eight Glide members heard the call to serve in this way. Together, they raised funds to provide scholarships for those who would otherwise not be able to afford the trip. The Glide community supported the trip by providing donations (and bidders!) for a silent auction, as well as contributing supplies that were needed in Africa.

On Friday, May 22, the group begins a journey of more than 20 hours to arrive in Nairobi, where they will be staying at the Methodist Guest House. Your prayers are welcomed by the group as they go to learn and serve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What is Glide?

Glide Memorial United Methodist Church is a dynamic, multicultural spiritual community that is grounded in unconditional love. Through more than 4 decades of leadership under Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, Glide has grown from a small congregation to one of over 11,000 members, with more than 80 social service programs, meeting the needs of the poor and those who live on the margins.

Glide's vibrant Sunday Celebrations provide the spiritual foundation for the work Glide does 7 days a week: meals program, health care, education, and recovery are a few of the many ways Glide responds to the realities of people's lives.

With this mission to Kenya, Glide goes global! The mission team, led by team leaders Craig Wood and Travis Woodard, includes our pastor, Dr. Karen Oliveto, Josh Biddle, Katie Burke, Stephan Chase, Mark Hespeth, and Robin Ridenour. The team will be working at Ray of Hope and will also be visiting the Riuta United Methodist Church as well as the Children of Africa Hope Center orphanage.

The team will leave for Kenya on May 22 and return on June 5.

You can follow the team member's reflections on this blog!