Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day Four: Not Just Surviving


Kwame with teacher Alfred

Today we got to meet some of the Ray of Hope’s women’s group.  One of the staff members, who heads this group, told us of her back story which led to the formation of the group.  I heard in her story the actions of someone who, seemed to be, completely selfless in her caring for others, at the same time, urging them to care for themselves. It was this theme that set my thoughts for the day in motion, back to this later.
  Once the teatime discussion with that staff member was through, we were escorted into a small room where 10 or so were waiting for us.  After a short introduction the group performed songs for us, the last of which we were invited to dance.  The songs were I would best describe as real authentic.  I enjoyed it all very much, and then we sold souvenirs.  That short experience reminded me of my mother. I thought to myself how much she would enjoy all of this and how I wished she was here.
  My thoughts for the rest of the day seemed to be focused on the fact that, all that I was seeing, learning and experiencing, I would never be able to forget! What seems to mean so little to us, means so much more to the people I am meeting here.  What can I do to help?  Where do I begin? 


I spent most of the day working in the clinic today. We saw everything from typhoid to malaria. There was a mother getting ready to give birth, and a mother with 3 children under the age of 2, talking with us about family planning. 

I spent a lot of time with Mary, a 7 year old with an advanced case of malaria. I went through two rounds of seizures with her, a painful injection in her back, and she still had a smile for me when she woke up from a nap. A few of the other children I saw were afraid of me because they had never met a white person before.

I am reminded of how much I take my good health and healthcare for granted. The "maternity ward" here is a very old metal bed with a small table covered with a baby blanket, next to it. The mother who was there, was alone, and just waiting. I'm sure that by the time that I am writing this now, she has given birth and gone home. The medical team here does an amazing job of taking care of everyone - and graciously told me how much they appreciated the extra set of hands today.

It was a good day today. Full of hope and healing. We are all tired, but fulfilled with the opportunity to be able to have done so much.
Kirsti and Craig


Each day we hear the stories of students at the Learning Center and of the families served by Ray of Hope’s Community Health Worker, Henricka.   Many children are orphaned or have a single parent who is sick with HIV/AIDS, often too weak to look for work.   The safety net for these families is tenuous at best; if parents die a relative may step forward to care for the children but often these guardians then become sick and die as well.   There are many children in Kawangware whose current living situations, as dire as they are, hang by a thread with the potential to get even worse.   What becomes of these children when there are no close relatives left or their guardians disappear?  We’ve met some incredible single parents who have taken in more and more children, stretching what little they have to provide a safe and loving home for children who would otherwise be living on the streets.
Ray of Hope serves many children in these situations.  Teachers Evelyn and Alfred and many others on the Ray of Hope team are like parents to the 50+ students and Learning Center alumni. In lives often swirling with great uncertainty, there is a safe place full of love for the children to come to.   After school hours the teachers sometimes get knocks on their doors in the middle of the night, young children, their students, looking for a safe place to escape to from a difficult situation at home.
The tireless, unselfish efforts of the Ray of Hope team truly provide rays of hope for many.


Today we met with the Ray of Hope Women's Support Group. These are women who are HIV+, that come together to provide emotional and financial support to each other.
Angela with her class

Before we met with the women, Hendrika, who leads the support group, discussed how the group started, in 2004. She started counseling with five women, which at one point grew to 1000 women. Most of her counseling was done in the home of the women, who needed someone to care for them. By care I mean the basic necessities, food, water, caring for their children, getting their medication for them.

Being HIV+ the women were often abandon and or beaten by their husbands and family members, leaving them alone to fight this unknown disease and take care of their children. Hendrika  would bring the women food, clean the women's homes and themselves if needed. She is responsible for some of the children receiving an education at Ray of Hope school. She would bring children whose parents had died from AIDS, and or who might themselves be HIV+ to the Ray of Hope for an education.

Hendrika makes all of her visits on foot, through the slums of Nairobi. She talks about a time where being HIV+ could get a person evicted from their housing, so if someone saw her going to a home, the assumption was that person had AIDS.

Hendrika attempts to focus her counseling on pregnant women, so that the child can be born HIV-, and the mother can also get treatment. She also focuses on young women who see no other way to support themselves than to sell their bodies. They tell Hendrika, "that she may give them one or two meals, but what will they eat after that meal is gone." At the very least she encourages them to use condoms.

The group of women at the Ray of Hope meet every Wednesday, each woman donates 10 shillings (1.00 US = 81 shillings). They place the money in and bank, and some of the money they use to purchase materials that the women need to make their crafts. The women sell the crafts to support themselves and their families. The women had a display of items for us to purchase.
Hendrika does all of her counseling work, while being the mother of seven girls. Hendrika's energy and commitment to the women is boundless.

The children continue to be a joy, as I struggle to remember their names.  Of course the kids with the outgoing, and unique personalities stand out, but I make an effort to draw out the quieter kids, especially the girls. The kids really love arts and craft activities.


Today, we met with members of the women’s HIV support group.  Hendrika started this group in 2004, when HIV/AIDS carried much stigma as well as a death sentence. At one time, the group numbered 1000 women. While the stigma has lessened somewhat and drugs have made HIV/AIDS manageable, there is still a need for education and support. Additionally, through microfinancing, the women of the support group have created income-generating business projects.

Karen helping with some of the arts and crafts
Hendrika spoke to us briefly before we met the women. She said something so profound that hours later I am still reflecting on her words’ power. She said that one of the biggest things she does is help women accept their HIV status. As she said, “If you have accepted yourself, you will have life. If you don’t accept yourself, you will die.” Accepting one’s HIV status puts one on a course to doing something about it, which can manage the disease and ensure a future. But to run from it, to deny it, will only hasten death.

There is a truth here that runs beyond one’s HIV status, however.

If you accept yourself, you will have life. If you don’t accept yourself, you will die.


Craig and I took Evelyn (one of the two teachers at Ray of Hope) to the emergency room yesterday for what turned out to be a serious infection in her foot. Thank you all for your prayers, she is much better today.  

Robin prepping for class
While we were at the hospital, the doctor told her how serious the infection was and gave her IV antibiotics. As we waited (for many, many hours), I thought, "What if something happened to her? Who would teach and love and care for these children?" Evelyn is their teacher but she is so much more. She has her own four children to raise by herself (her husband passed away from TB many years ago) and has taken in (and by this I mean added to her family) an orphan boy who is HIV positive (and who has been very ill this past year), a baby boy whose mother didn't want him (he is now three), and her niece when the child's mother abandoned her. Evelyn is also available to all the children of Ray of Hope any time of the day or night.

Craig and I walked to her home to check on her. We were accompanied by three boys from Ray of Hope. One of the boys told me that when his grandfather (who is raising the boy and his brother following the death of their mother) was very sick, Evelyn came by every day to take care of them.

Evelyn's home has two small rooms, no plumbing or water, yet she so generously gives what she has. I thank God that Evelyn is better.


Classy and a friend working on journals
My day was pretty good. We got to the school around 8:15 and we were just as excited from the previous days. My class began working on their hula skirts and lei's. Each class room got to make either a lei or a skirt. They didn't care which one. They were just so happy to be making them. They couldnt wait to finish. Some even made more of what they had. We sung the Hawain song while making them and still, they weren't tired of the song. I am excited about tomorrow when we will put both groups together for the first time and sing the song with their lei's and hula skirts while dancing to it... I must say that I was really tired today. I didn't think I would be able to be as energetic as I was the previous days but that all changed when we got to the school and saw the smiles on their faces. Today was a good day!!!


My soul is humming.  We had the honor of meeting 10 people from Henrika's Support Group today. Echoing sentiments from yesterday's blog: Hendrika is ONE heck of a woman. A visionary. A helper.  A life saver.  A motivator.  An angel.  Since 2006, Hendrika started counseling and supporting women who were diagnosed with HIV.  To date, she has had over 1,000 patients, and  currently has 30 individuals who have a newfound acceptance for living with HIV, and therefore, are choosing to live over dying - because she believes, if you do not accept who you are, you *are* dying.  When diagnosed with HIV, a person's immunity drops drastically, making them successible to TB and many other serious diseases.  Therefore, HIV is essentially a gateway to other life-threatening illnesses, and without education - or even acceptance of HIV in the first place - most of these women are looking at a more life threatening diagnosis' down the road.   The detail Hendrika went in to around the identification of need, care, support, treatment and education around what she does is so detailed, and I would love to elaborate further on a future blog, but am going to honor my body and get a good night's rest as tomorrow is going to be another long, intense day.  So more to come on this experience soon...


  1. May the lord light up your ways always and whatever you do God bless you abundantly. I like your activities around the ROH/LC community it's amazing.


  2. Miss and Love you guys. I am beyond blessed and grateful to read your posts. Except, you will all owe me four days worth of contacts (so far) that pop out as my eyes well up...