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?