Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting Humbled in Kenya: second letter home

Hi everyone!
So many amazing things have happened over the past week! I hardly know
where to begin!
Last week I think I told you that I was able to spend some time at the
orphanage/school that the pastors I live with run. The children are
beautiful and happy and the teachers try so hard despite their lack of
resources. I'm working on an art project with a couple of classes
there--another volunteer and I are taking photos of the kids, printing
them for them, then making paper photo frames that they can decorate
and take home. Most people I meet in developing countries have never
had a printed photograph of themselves, so I think this will be a real
treat for them.
Last week I was also able to go out with another volunteer and a
couple of local village women to visit some HIV patients in their
homes. The first woman we visited, Judi, was taking her antiretroviral
drugs (ARVs), but was pretty weak and unable to work. She didn't have
any money, and really couldn't afford food, so we went down the street
to buy a bit of maize flour, rice, cooking fat, and some spinach for
her, then took it back to her home and cooked lunch for her and ate
together. The food most everyone eats here is called ugali, which is
basically maize flour and water mixed together until it thickens--it's
decent, and everyone here likes it, I think probably because it can be
so filling if you're hungry...which most people are.
The next woman we went to visit was Mary. She was actually not being
treated for HIV, but showed me that she was being treated for TB. I
noticed that she was quite a bit thinner that a photo she had from
about a year earlier and asked if she had ever been tested for HIV,
and she said that she hadn't. TB and HIV kinda go hand in hand in a
setting like this, and so I suggested to her that at her doctor visit
the next day she be tested for HIV. We found out the next day that
she was HIV+.
The next day we went to visit another HIV patient, but when we arrived
at her home, found out that she had passed away a couple of weeks
earlier. Everyone seemed so casual about the fact that she had died--I
think that it's because everyone here sees sickness and death here a
lot more frequently than we usually do.
We were able to visit with a wonderfully positive group of HIV
infected women who get together ever day to make beads and jewelry as
a way to try and make a living. These woman are so strong. They're
living with a disease that they know will never be cured, but are
taking their ARVs and trying to support one another and push forward
with their lives.

There is such a stigma here against HIV. People are so ashamed of it.
People are afraid even to be tested for HIV for fear of what their
neighbors will think of them. So many of the HIV infected people we
meet get no support from their families or communities, when the
reality is that many of the people who shun them probably have HIV
themselves, but are just to afraid to be tested. So many people have
major misunderstanding about HIV, and how it's spread!
This weekend we went to a place called Hell's Gate National Park. It
was amazing!! We biked about 14km up a dirt road through wilderness,
passing zebras, warthogs, gazelles, baboons, and a few people even saw
a giraffe. It was amazing! Then we hiked through Hells Gate gorge
which is a lot like the narrows, only greener and with little
waterfalls and hotsprings.

We were also able to go to three IDP camps (Internally displaced
people). These are camps where groups of Kenyans were displaced to
after the 2007 election and civil conflicts in Kenya. Over 300,000
Kenyan families were driven from their homes because of civil conflict
and violence. We visited an area that had about 600 of those families.
A very basic school had just been built near one of the camps, so we
went to build and paint chalkboards for them and dig trenches around
the buildings so they would not be flooded during the rainy season.
It was hard but rewarding work. We also spent the night packaging bags
of flour, rice, and cooking fat and took it to the camps to give to
the families. It was such a humbling experience to hand a mother a
small bag of flour, a bag of rice, and about a cup of cooking fat,
knowing that that would be all the food she would have to feed her
family for the next two weeks. We were able to go inside the homes of
a couple of the families. Their homes are patched together with
sticks, peices of plastic and bits of old tarps. It's windy and cold,
they have no light other than a tiny little bottle full of oil with a
wick that burns out in the wind. one of the women we went to visit was
pregnant with her 9th child.

Yesterday we went to visit 4 different medical clinics, just to see
where we could be of the most help. I was blown away by how primitive
some of these places really are! We stood in one room that served as
the doctors consultation room, operating room, pharmacy, and records
room--he had a patient behind a curtain and was removing an absess
from under the man's arm--he didn't use any kind of numbing agent or
give him any pain killer. He just cleaned it, then started cutting.
The man sounded like he was in so much pain! As we were walking
through the slums on our way to the next clinic, I had to hold back
the tears as I thought about how difficult it must be for so many of
the people here to get the medical help they really need, and how
blessed I am to have a world class hospital so close to home.
The clinic that I decided I'm going to be working with is a new clinic
that just opened about 3 months ago. They have so little, but I see so
much potential to really help things get going there! They have a
really primitive maternity ward (one small room with a delivery table
and a bed--no monitors or electronic equipment) and are working to
open up two more rooms for treating other patients. They have a small
lab with a sink, a mini fridge, and a microscope--no centrifuge
machine or anything you would find in a lab at home. They are so
positive and so excited about having help.

The emotions I've felt over this past week have been indescribable. I
felt a bit overwhelmed yesterday! EVERYWHERE I go here, someone needs
help. Whether it's medical, emotional, educational, financial...there
is so much to do, and I have to remind myself that I can't help
everyone, but who do you CHOOSE to help?! I'm really excited about
working with this new medical clinic, doing the photo project at the
school, and I'll also be helping with a new mushroom growing project
that some of the HIV infected women in the area are undertaking in
order to make a living.
There is so much more I could write, and I'll have to send photos of
some of the places I've been and people I've met so you can get a
better idea of what it's really like here.
It's challenging, and overwhelming, but also a blessing to be
surrounded by opportunities to serve! We are soooooo blessed! Never
forget that!