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!

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