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?