My apologies, faithful readers, for my extreme delay in updating my blog. I really have been quite busy this time! Warning: it’s a long one, grab a cup of tea before you begin.
As I am posting, an interesting interaction occurred- my boss, Benard walked into my office and asked me all in Kiswahili “Did you finish the grant assessment and make a photocopy?” At first I stared at him and moments later I realized I knew what he said so I quickly nodded in my head to which he responded “Asante” without realizing he had addressed me in Kiswahili. I guess I really am settling into life as a Kenyan, if a real Kenyan does not even realize that they are speaking Kiswahili to me, a MUZUNGU!
The past two weeks have been filled with a lot of new challenges, GSC (for my non-YAVs- Good. Self. Care.) some routine activities and fun.
Last week I spent a lot of time at Kikuyu hospital, just outside of Nairobi. ChangeOneLife (the second organization I work with in Kenya) is working on a program called “Mother’s Milk” which is based out of Kikuyu hospital. The programme provides infant formula (Nan) to HIV positive women who are unable to breastfeed as they are too sick and are unable to purchase the formula for their children (formula can be extremely expensive and it is almost never used in Kenya). I have been traveling to Kikuyu hospital to work out the details of the program with a nurse at the hospital. Our goal is to get these children through the first 5 years of life healthy and HIV-negative, the first 5 years of life is the period in which children are most likely to die from preventable health related causes. The Nan will help the children reach healthy weight because it will be used instead of the other supplement that women who are unable to breastfeed use, animal milk (cow’s milk mostly) that does not provide the nourishment and antibodies that a young child needs. The program is moving very swiftly, we have identified the women who will benefit the most from the program and will begin providing formula, bottles, blankets, cleaning supplies to the women when the babies are born. On Monday I will have the opportunity to meet the women and learn a little more about their needs and what we can do to help them. I am really looking forward to meeting them. It is such a blessing to live and serve in Kenya. As much support as it is (and trust me it A LOT) to donate money, it is an absolute gift to be able to work with and meet with the people whom you are serving. I really look forward to taking advantage of this opportunity with the women and babies from the Mother’s Milk project- being able to see the impact that this project is having on them as well as insuring that we are doing everything we can to improve the health of the women and children in the project.
I have also devoted a large chunk of my time to planning Girls Health Retreats for December. This has meant a lot of time in the car, stuck in jams and a lot of time out of the office. (more on Kenyan traffic another time…) The retreats we are planning will be in December and will work with about 25 girls aged 13-15, mostly from rural villages in Kenya, from several different tribes. We will work on self-esteem and self-worth, HIV/AIDS awareness, issues such as “who has a right to my body?”, developing youth leaders, and basic feminine health knowledge. I am really excited about the retreats, I have devoted a lot of time on Microsoft Word the past few days to writing the program for the girls, at the end of each day I re-read what I wrote and really am excited for all the potential these retreats have to influence girls in a positive way. I look forward to updating you all on the retreats after they happen. I must say as much work as I am putting into these retreats here in Kenya, I am reminded of how helpful funds are. I want to thank all of you who have helped bring me to Kenya, it is a different way of giving yourself that is of equal importance. It is important to realize that the funds help all the programs that people like me are working on run. Thank you!
Tomorrow I am heading to West Pokot with the OAIC. We will be working with a group called “Mafuta Pole” on theology training. It will take about 2 days to travel to West Pokot and we will spend about 2 days there as well. I have been told that there will be no electricity and in order to charge our phones we will hire someone to ride a motorcycle two hours away, sit with the phones while they charge and bring them back. Look forward to some stories from my trip to West Pokot! My knowledge of West Pokot thus far is limited to a 14 page brief and some peripheral knowledge given to me by my fellow YAV, Ben, who traveled to West Pokot for a Church World Service program. From what I have read the group we are meeting with has very interesting theology, much different from the liberal theology I am mostly exposed to in New York. I look forward to the conversations I will experience and the training I will take part in, I am a little nervous for the language barrier, the lack of electricity and I am sure- lots and lots of goat/ugali.
In other news I have created a new role for myself at the OAIC… One way the OAIC serves AICs and their members is thru microfinance. Basically, members of our AICs (Afircan independent churches) are given small loans/grants for education or opening small businesses etc. The point of these grants is to help foster rural and informal settlement growth. Microfinance provides the funds a person living at or below the poverty level needs to work their own way out of poverty. It is a similar idea to the “give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for life.” Microfinancing avoids large interest rates and corrupt bankers intervening in the loans of the already poor. Along with the grant, we help the receiver work through their first endeavor in entrepreneurship by working through business plans with them and checking in on business every two weeks to insure it is going well. So, my new role/deal with the OAIC is this: I told Benard (my boss) I would do all his filing (he tells me daily how organized I am and “would you please organize my office?”) for microfinancing if he will in turn let me work in the program, approving grants, making visits and doing assessments while also teaching me all he knows about microfinancing (he was the head of a microfinance organization for several years before the OAIC). So the deal is on! I have organized all the small grants information, and am now working with Benard to develop our programme to make it as successful for our recipients as we can. Today I was able to approve my first grant loan for a single mother who wishes to purchase a barber shop and run that. She is eager to get her business running and was very gracious to receive the loan. It was absolutely wonderful to ahnd her a check that will have such an influence on her life, it will provide her with a sustainable income rather than just a check that will run out in several months. I look forward to going to Terry’s barber shop in two weeks to see what improvements she has made and how business is going and bringing her a steady job and income.
I have also been keeping myself busy by coaching swimming for Atieno (my site co-ordinator’s daughter) and her swim team. I am focused mainly on Atieno right now as there are two male coaches there as well. It is turning into a rather nice morning tradition, Phyllis picks me at the corner and brings me to swim practice at 6a, after Atieno swims Phyllis and I drink a cup of tea while we wait for Atieno to finish her shower so we can drop her at school and I can head into work. I taught swim lessons in the US and always enjoyed coaching the older kids more than teaching the young ones to swim (mostly because I do not need to get in the pool to coach). I have really enjoyed teaching Atieno; Phyllis asked me to come to her swim lesson after Atieno’s first gala disheartened her as she came in last place in her 3 events. I hope to boost her confidence back up and have her win a few events at the next gala! Here’s hoping. The swim coach has also asked me to join his triathalon training for an event in Mombasa later this year: I am considering the pros and cons of this offer right now but will most likely join him in the training: wish me luck!
That’s all for now, my apologies for my delay in posting. Will post more pictures and updates soon! I have excluded a few details but promise more to come when I return.