Journey to Kenya
Follow along during a remarkable journey that promises to be life changing and eye opening.
The countries of
Get a glimpse into a World Neighbors Journey, as participants travel beyond the end of the road to villages where World Neighbors is partnering with people in ways that are transformational. Communities are joining together to help each other start household businesses, address the staggering HIV/AIDS crisis, develop the skills and respect to be leaders in their communities and so much more.
The group arrived in
Melissa Haley O'Leary, M.N.O. lives in Bay Village, Ohio with her husband and three young sons. She works for World Neighbors as a leadership gifts coordinator. This is her first vist to World Neighbors program areas.
Dr. Susan Chambers is a well known OB/GYN from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She is a former board member and played a key role in establishing the WOW! (Work of Women) program at World Neighbors. Susan has traveled far and wide with World Neighbors, including trips to Mali, Ecuador and Guatemala.
Saturday morning, July 25 Kenya
Yesterday was our last full day together. We spent a few hours at the World Neighbors office in Nairobi debriefing our experience with Qureish, the agricultural expert on staff who has accompanied us these two weeks, Chris Macoloo, the regional associate VP for Africa, and other staff. While the meeting was going on, I sat at the reception desk and desperately tried to catch up on e-mail with one ear on the meeting.
Having traveled long, long days on the roads here and watching the “matatus” (sp) (vans stuffed full of people) careen along the roads dodging trucks, pedestrians and animals, we collected money amongst the group and purchased an iPod for Qureish so that he can get some peace in his travels – which are often and far. This is especially true now that the World Neighbors office in Nairobi will also coordinate the work in West Africa. Of course, we also wanted to thank him for his extraordinarily knowledgable, patient and good humored leadership over these past two weeks.
Although we had top notch drivers from Phoenix Safaris, who didn’t take any chances and were in a van with only 5-8 people, it was wearying at times – particularly the last hour of any given day. We also managed to hit rush hour in Nairobi almost every time and the traffic jams were horrendous. Thus, having reached our ‘van limit’ yesterday between dusty, bumpy roads in the am, crowded paved roads in the afternoon and a terrific traffic jam to cap the day, we adjusted our touristy schedule yesterday afternoon with one goal in mind, to minimize our time in the van!
As a result, we concentrated our time in one touristy, up market area yesterday. We were decidedly on the tourist trail as we traveled from Karen Blixen’s house (Out of Africa author and main character) shop and tea house to a Giraffe refuge and a bead factory and showroom. It seemed odd to be amongst many Europeans and Americans. Nonetheless, it was a very relaxing day and I managed to complete my gift shopping in triplicate as we went along. At the giraffe sanctuary I fed a giraffe (sand paper grey tongue) and three in our group lost their minds and fed the giraffe by putting the pellet in their mouths for a giraffe kiss. Ugh! The guide at the preserve assured me that a giraffe had an antiseptic mouth, but I wasn’t about to kiss that giraffe! Indeed, I have been teasing the others in the group that I am glad to be leaving them this morning (most are on evening flights) because there is no telling what they will get up to today!!!!!!
We finished the day with dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant where the World Neighbors Nairobi staff of 5 met us. Carnivore is filled with tourists and Kenyans and is famous for smoked/roasted meat of all varieties. Dinner was platters of various meats – (we had pork, beef, turkey and chicken but game animals were available) and potatoes. Esther, who is an administrative assistant in the office, told me that potatoes came to Kenya from Ireland, so they are called ‘Irish potatoes’ here.
There was also an annual meeting going on for a Nairobi company in an enormous party room adjacent to where we were sitting, so we were treated to a full compliment of Kenyan and other dance music throbbing in the background towards the end of the evening. Towards the end of the evening the curtain was pulled back from this private party, the security guards stepped back and John and Marisa, our ‘youngsters” who are college students in Oklahoma (John’s mother, an ardent supporter and former board chair was also on this trip), dashed onto the dance floor. I went to take a picture of them and soon found myself dancing, dancing, dancing. I can be very shy about dancing, but when else was I going to be able to dance in a disco in Nairobi!! Great fun.
At any rate, back to the hotel, a short sleep, packing up (followed by my repeating ‘packing dream’ of course, and off this morning to the airport. It is like leaving summer camp when you are a kid – our group has been so harmonious, fun, relaxed and engaging, that it is sad to leave them. Lots of hugs all the way around. Of course, we have all pledged to get home and introduce more people to World Neighbors work and raise funds. As one participant told me this morning, “I don’t have a choice…” her commitment is so strong.
So, goodbye to friends, Emily, thank you for your steady leadership, an ever present supply of bananas and for keeping track of our rooms each night. Susan, thank you for your quiet patience and zinging understated humor. (However, I will perhaps never forgive you for so slyly loading up my plate with donuts you did not want to eat at the large banquet given in our honor in Tarime….(our second lunch within an hour) and for the ensuing fit of giggles that nearly sent me into an unrecoverable fit of giggles. Edward, thank you for your eloquent words, African worldliness, hilarious jokes, intense conversations and general karma. What a dry time we would have had without you! Mama Edward (Alice) thank you for your passion, your huge heart, your subtle mothering of us all and for your ability to tell it like it was when needed. I will never look at a bag of frozen peas the same way again!! Susan, thank you for your quick smile, your calm, joyous presence and your absolutely contagious enthusiasm for World Neighbors work. I am so glad that you straightened out that wife inheritance thing with the women in Kisumu….it might have taken years to undo the damage!
John and Marisa, thank you for being such good sports about a very rough start. (Marisa, please let me know when it is okay to laugh about your sunglasses falling in the most unpleasant latrine we ran across!) Also, thank you for showing us Kenya through a young persons eyes, for keeping the fun in our journey with music, dance and the simple pleasures – including Tusker and ugali! A special thanks also Marisa for serving as our technological expert on the trip…our cameras, phones and all other electronics thank you. It was a joy to be with all of you. Thank you for giving yourselves so fully to this experience and for all you have already done and perhaps will do to help World Neighbors reach into the far corners of our world – including our friends in Tarime and Kisumu. Safe journey and much regard to all.
Friday morning July 24th,
One more story from the Tanzanian programs :
Kenda: this is a village group in the Uganja? Area that is extra poor (is that possible? Yes) They organized slightly and then after training from World Neighbors and their local partner have trained this group of women ( and there is a men’s group too) who in turn have supported a new PLWHA group called Ishikwana which means “living with hope.” DID ya hear that? It is a group of women in the beyond poor community already that HAVE HOPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So, both groups have benefitted from World Neighbors training, education, knowledge, etc. Three women in the NON-AIDS) group really stood out: Margaret, chair; Felista, secretary who was accompanied the whole time by her one-year-old hydrocephalic baby; and Jane Mary, treasurer and also a CHW, community health worker. Also present at this meeting was a young woman who had “made application” to be part of the group as she had seen such amazing success with these women in such a short period of time. They have organized and begun food storage and distribution for enhanced food security during the short rains, poultry production, making baskets, hats and pots to sell to generate income (we bought some of course. They insisted on selling us these well done weavings for less than 50 cents each…..but we gave them a bit more.) They are proud and dignified and charity does nothing more than decrease ones dignity. WE were so very proud of them. As I said this community was the ultimate of poor yet they fixed a “snack” for us of rice and chicken………….we were a blessing to them being their and sharing a meal with them. That blessing would last them a lifetime, know they had partners around the world also working to make their lives better via World Neighbors. SO much more, but we are off to the World Neighbors Nairoibi office to meet with Queresh and Lila to process and have a final feedback with each other about the trip.
Just a note about
Oops we are late! More later; Susan
July 24, 2009
Exited my Out of Africa tent at 6:15 to go on a 6:30 safari (animal drive)…. It was freezing but I was almost glad so that I could where the windbreaker that I have dragged all over kingdom come! What a glorious way to start the day…the wide open spaces in every direction and the enormous red sun cresting over the horizon.
Then, we came upon three female lions walking along the road and past our van! I sneezed and the one a few feet from our van looked up. Needless to say, we shrank back quickly. However, in actuality, the lion was afraid of us and wandered off into the bush to make a wide circle around us. Then all the vans turned around and tailed the three lions which was comical. They had made already made a “kill” and eaten and we were able to follow them to the watering hole where they drank – very politely on their haunches like delicate kitties!
We also saw a rhino that ran away as fast as it could go (they are rather shy) and other lion eating a zebra and paired off resting male and female as it is mating season here. One somnolent couple got busy while we were a few feet away, which sent Susan and I into a fit of repressed girlish giggles. It was too funny with the male lion pulling roaring loudly and biting her ear as they finished up. Then, we laughed even harder when our guide said (rather quickly), “Okay, lets go home.” Love to all.
July 22, 2009
As of yesterday, we changed gears and are on the holiday/vacation portion of our journey. We drove straight from
When we arrived at our hotel, we were greeted by a Masai man in full warrior attire and a tray of wet washcloths delivered into our hands with tongs. The amount of dust that came off of our faces and neck was hilarious. In fact, I spent the day wearing a cowboy bandana and totally get why they wore them in the old days!!!!!!!!! We were then given a delicious glass of oj and shown to our rooms which are very large tents spread out over the grounds. It is Out of Africa all the way and very romantic!!!
Today we spent 8 hours on the road driving around in our safari vehicle stalking lions, hyenas, vultures, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, ostriches, hippos and others. WOW! We saw a momma cheetah and her three cubs feeding on a downed Thompson gazelle,which was fascinating. Once their bellies were full, the cheetahs moseyed over to our van and laid under it and against the tires for shade. What a rush and an overwhelming urge to reach out and touch them. We also saw a large group of vultures and a hyena share a zebra carcass left behind by a lion (our guide supposed). The vultures were having a field day squabbling amongst themselves until the hyena chased them away. Apparently noone messes with hyenas. Then he would slink away, wary of being the target of a lion and the hyenas would go in again. The swapped several times.
We had our lunch out in the open under a tree where our guides could see far to in case something came along. I could not stop scanning the horizon while we ate our box lunches….although our guide promises he has never lost a client, I reminded him that I was the mother of three, he assured me and I finally relaxed.
Of course, Zadok (our guide) also has stories of some of the crazy and tragic things that have happened in the park over the years, including a women who got out of her vehicle to “pet the kitties” and was eaten while her husband filmed.
The landscape is grass plains dotted by Acacia trees and the outlines of herds of animals..the giraffes making the most striking outlines. It is vast and wide in all directions. It was an absolute joy to stand in our van (the top pops up so you can stand and look around) and cruise around under the sun and blue skies.
Tomorrow we will safari in the morning and then drive back to
Love to all, especially three little boys named Jamie, Cian and Liam!!!!!
July 21, 2009
The World Neighbors programs in
WE met with LOTS of people in several groups…………..all gracious hosts, welcoming us into their communities and homes with a smile and a handshake from them all! And they served us FOOD………..these amazing people that are working their butts off to increase from living on one meal a day………….giving us food………..it was courtesy for guests who are blessing to them.
There are so many stories from our visits so I will try to highlight a few:
Oops! It is getting late. We are back in
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
We are definitely in a vacation/time and space bubble. Our group keeps asking each other what day it is. Yesterday often feels like a week ago and the time we have been here at least a month. It is so all engrossing – watching landscapes, people, structures, animals; meeting with the local people one group after another – welcoming speeches, introductions, a talk on their projects and the way they have organized themselves with World Neighbors training; a tour of their farms and chicken coops and water points (public water taps). And then there is the splendor, joy and excitement of being in
The programs that we visited in the Lake Victoria Region of
In addition, the slow start includes one or two trainings and boosts to begin the work and show a quick return that will excite the participants to go forward. In the case of the Tarime, much of this initial pilot work involved seed banking – in which World Neighbors distributed high yield seeds for groundnuts, improved corn and sunflower seeds and trained the community to save most of the yields as seeds for the future. These seeds are then combined and mixed from all the individual farmers to strengthen the seed stock and passed on to others in the community. The farmers keep banking each season and will not have to buy seed again. Some of the crops are new to this particular area, so the volunteer demonstration farmers planted half the seeds to see how it would work. They deemed it a success and will plant a full field the next season (this fall).
Of course, at this early stage, the community is only beginning to move forward and away from hunger and a kind of quiet desperation. Thus, while the groups in Kitui where our former partner organization is now independent and has been operating for over a decade, the joy, confidence, satisfaction and lack of hunger was obvious. In Tarime, their was hope, but no radical changes had occurred yet.
Indeed, in the lower region of Tarime, we were visiting a village in which around a quarter of the children showed obvious signs of malnutrition, not to mention rags for clothing. As World Neighbors does not generally give out food (teach a man to fish) and is also not financially or otherwise equipped to deliver food aid, our slow and careful (which makes it sustainable and successful in the medium to long run) approach is difficult to watch. Though World Neighbors will train this community in preparing a special porridge for malnourished children of ground nuts, sorghum and other ingredients, this training will not occur until after the next harvest when the community has grown all of the necessary ingredients. “People not stuff” can be very tough love in the short term. But this is our expertise and focus. There are other organizations that give food and this area may well receive some if the drought continues and extreme hunger (are their really levels of hunger?) becomes widespread.
Did all of us want to run out and buy these children food? YES! Did we. NO. Unfortunately, it would have upended the change in mindset that World Neighbors has worked so hard over the last few years to lay the groundwork for, eg. You can do it yourself, we will walk with you while you do it and we will boost you with knowledge a small inputs (like seeds) that you can keep going yourself now and into the future. We cannot change your situation quickly, but you can slowly but surely. Also, we would have created a rush of need that we could not, in all reality, meet.
This is the polar opposite of much of the help that these communities have seen over the years, i.e. very short-term influxes of food, animals or infrastructure projects that are often unsuccessful or do not actually end up in the hands of the poorest, but instead are coopted by the marginally to greatly better elites in the community. (Think “jobs fo for the boys” or Tammany (sp?) Hall in
Training and true partnership and empowerment takes time, trust and “tough love” to use this word again. For instance, World Neighbors will not supply improved goats or (new to the area) dairy goats until the community has planted a source of nearby fodder and has built enclosures to keep the goats apart from the less productive meat goats. Also, the goat is given on loan and the local group must have a plan in place to repay its price. This is the same with the roosters that World Neighbors is providing. For instance, after a participating farmer’s hen has a new brood and they are grown, the farmer will sell a hen or two to help repay the cost of the rooster. (These roosters are very busy moving from farm to farm if you get my drift!!) In contrast, an international, U.S.-based nonprofit recently gave out 10 goats in this same area and then left. Only a few of the goats survived.
Finally, other organizations specialize in feeding the hungry and
I say all of this to defend the stories that I am about to tell you. I have had two very difficult moments here that will never, ever leave my heart or mind. The first was in the area we first visited near Kitui, where visited the local school. During the lunch break, many of the children (from 3-8 or 9 yrs old) hung around the school yard because they either lived to far or did not have lunch to go home to. (Almost all of this community eats only 1 meal a day.) They were adorable, though very quiet and shy and terribly, terribly obedient – especially compared to American children and certainly my three raucous boys!)
I had shown them a photo of my boys and sat with them a while on my own while we were waiting for something to be finished. We had trouble communicating, but they were terribly sweet. A few minutes later, our staff person from
Indeed, I have only seen one or two store bought toys since we arrived and only a handful of homemade ones. Children play with the simplest things. Today I saw a child playing with a plastic hanger from a store. Boys can sometimes be seen rolling an old bicycle tire with a stick. If you think my boys are tired of the “you are so lucky talk” now, wait until I get ahold of them when I get back!…..(poor Jamie one time asked me to stop talking about my work because it was sad). (Really, I will not overload them or even talk with them about it much, but the contrasts are indescribably enlightening and vivid.)
Which brings me to my second story, which is tattooed in my being forever more. In the same village with the severely malnourished children (bloated bellies), the local women’s group (that shares money, knowledge and seeds) prepared lunch for us despite the fact that we were headed to the leader of this organization’s house for a large lunch that he (as a retired major in the airforce) could afford. This community COULD NOT afford to feed us, but they wanted to as we were their guests. I asked Querish (our
It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done in addition to trying not to cry while doing it. We took just enough to not be insulting, but not a normal portion. The meal could not be over fast enough for me. When we finished, the platters went back into the kitchen to the women. I am not sure what filtered out to the children. I know that this community will improve in leaps and bounds as the years go by with World Neighbors help (and malnourished children will be addressed using the community’s own crops from seeds we have shared in the near future. However, what about THAT child TONIGHT.
Now that I have depressed you all, I will get on my soapbox and say (strongly and perhaps inappropriately), count your blessings for they are many and they run deep. You are among the most privileged, healthy, well-fed, and comfortable people on earth.
Much love to family and friends and hello to all my World Neighbors friends around the eastern
Hello, to whoever is interested in reading my first blog. Most likely my family…
Spotted… S, S, A, E, M, J, K, and E sitting and enjoying the wonderful cool weather of
Pretty sure the visa that I needed to acquire to be here was one hundred dollars. . . That’s pretty much a happy shopping trip to J.Crew, or almost a pair of Ray Ban’s that I dropped in a latrine at a village that we visited awhile back. Just in case that you don’t know what a latrine is, it’s pretty much one of those bathrooms on Slumdog Millionaire that the little boy jumps into a pile of poop to get an autograph from his favorite celebrity. Only, it’s much worse than that really, it’s just a hole in the ground where swarms of flies live and you can’t really jump down into… Nor was I about to reach my hand down into G-d knows what and retrieve them not to mention that I was on the verge of taking a big whiff of D E A T H by not being able to hold my breath long enough. After telling my Mom the sad sad story, she just laughed in my face... But, anyways all is well besides that, I haven’t been bitten by a mosquito yet (crossing the fingers). I’ve thrown up once so far and I wasn’t even in
Monday, July 19, 2009
Yesterday we crossed the border into
The other difficulty was that our two vans took awhile to clear customs because we are using a Kenyan tour company rather than a Tanzanian one, which is discouraged. (They prefer that tourists switch to a Tanzanian company at the border.) The slowness is a form of pressure…Even without that element, our drivers had to pay private “agents” to assist in getting our vehicles through…otherwise we would have been delayed 5+ hours rather than the hour and half we were. Apparently, the back door story is that the “agents” then split with the customs officials. Even the bathrooms were a business and cost 20 Tanzanian shillings ( a few cents), so by the end, we were a bit ruffled and grumpy.
Once we crossed into
The landscape is also very different just after the border– many hues of brown and traditional “bandah” (houses) also brown (round made with mud and clay and with peaked thatched roofs. In contrast,
Our hotel is very nice, four stories like a small guest house and an outdoor restaurant. We have moved on from the Kenyan “Tusker” beer to the Tanzanian “Safari” one which is also terrific! It is louder here with dogs.
Monday, July 20, 2009
We spent a long day visiting World Neighbors programs that operate in this area through a partnership with the local Terime Rural Development Trust Fund (TRDTF).
We met with several women’s and men’s groups, composed of 15-20ish people each. Almost all serve as a cooperative bank collecting a set amount from themselves weekly and then disbursing it out as working capital to each in turn (“merry-go-round”) one at a time – generally by a lottery system decided in advance. The money is used for school, medical, food, poultry etc. Most also collect an additional smaller weekly fee that serves as a reserve for the group. They also take up a 1000 Tanzinian Shillings (about $.75) and give it to anyone that needs it for a medical emergency. (Picture the old
In addition, a select few of the group members have also been trained as health outreach workers or paraveterinarians. Finally, the 10 groups (one composed entirely of PLWA – people living with aids) share a cockerel (rooster) that rotates between their individual flock of hens and are building the structures and food needed to add goats once they are available.
What was interesting about today was that these groups are really just in the infancy of their World Neighbors development and as such quite
July 19, 2009
Greetings to all who are following the progress of our World Neighbors Kenya/Tanzania Journey!
One of the things I have always enjoyed on the WN journeys I have made is the element of surprise. One can never be completely sure when there will be a small or not so small change of plan. We just had one yesterday that was especially exciting for me!
Several of us were able to make a courtesy call on the respected and revered Kenyan grandmother of our new president, Barack Obama. What a thrill it was to travel to Mama Sarah’s compound in the rural countryside near Kisimu! We did not know for sure that she would be available to see anyone, as she attended a funeral earlier in the day, but we decided to press on with the idea that we might just get to peek into her yard.
With Qureish on his cell phone numerous times, we made our way over bouncy roads in the late afternoon of a beautiful, warm day. When we pulled up in the drive, we saw an open gate and people there to greet visitors. We still did not know if we could meet Mama Sarah…..and then we saw her sitting outside under trees in a small group of people.
After a few moments we found ourselves sitting with Mama Sarah and her friends who translate English into Luo for her. My heart was full of excitement to be in the presence of such a dignified and renowned lady. After brief formal greetings, we were asked to describe why we had come to
I left Mama Sarah’s home with memories that will last a lifetime and the hope that our world can be a better place when people come together.
This may be my favorite WN Journey……EVER!!
With love to friends and family and fond regards to all,
9:20AM July 19, 2009
Good morning! WE are packing up to leave the Maseno University Hotel in Kisumu where we have had our home base the last three days. It has been quite comfortable, yet very basic. Mosquito nets around the bed however look rather exotic to me....kind of Casablancaish so thought that made it really cool! (lame, huh?) The people here have been very accomodating. Kisumu is a young town with lots of activity yet still very poor, especially for being somewhat of hub city for the region. Off to Tanzania today after we visit the chairman of FOCODEP's water tanks nearby. Water tanks are an incredible invention as they allow people to collect rain water and use clean water as opposed to mud puddles or dirty streams where everyone wahes everything.
7:72 PM July 18, 2009
Wow! another amazingly adventuresome day! But to catch up on yesterday: So much to tell. The local organization that World Neighbors works with, FOCODEP, although only 4 years into its association with World Neighbors is progressing amazingly. There are so many high spots to comment on but to try to be succinct here are a few:
8:05AM EAT July 18, 2009
Life in western Kenya happens on the side of the road.........almost all of life: bicyclists, walkers, people having a conversation, school children in uniforms, lovers, boys pulling wagons of goods, women with pots or water or wood on their heads, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, other cars, trucks, motorcycles......all vying for their piece of the edge of the road. And just outside that stream of life are hanty shops, people cooking things to sell, tiny tin markets, hotels that are really just one room with a bar, some schools and an occasional health clinic........or of course nothing at all but stretches of land. Truly you see life in all its chaos as you go barreling down the "wrong side of the road."
11:23PM EAT July 16, 2009
Hey all: Well good news! John,Marisa and I made it to Kenya an long last! Originally scheduled to go from OKC to DFW to London to Nairobi changed into: broken plane in Dallas can't get to OKC, so fly form OKC to Chicago and connnect with a BA flight to London and then connect with a BA flight to Nairobi. Perfect? Not! Due to circling around the London air and a bus being late to get us to the gate we missed the connection in London (thanks to security rules) We then got put on a flight, BA through Dar es Salaam on the coast of Tanzania followed by a regional jet to Nairoibi. Somehow though my travel agent Susie Archbald convinced Virgin Atlantic to honor my BA ticket and let us gett on their ten pm flight direct to Nairobi........which we did. Arrived here about 9am and off we went with our faithful driver, Farouk, to catch up with the other half of our team already en route to villages around the Lake Victoria area. WE did catch them and had lunch and then an exciting ride (going the wrong way down the road!) dodging traaffic, goats, sheep, pigs, school childen in uniform, motrocyclists and whatever else on a very bumpy road, All that leads to lots of people watching and listening to Querish, a local World Neighbors employee, tell all about Kenya and the World Neighbors programs all doing amazing work. We are now in Kisumu on the cost of Lake Victoria where we will visit several World Neighbors communities tomorrow. Our united group is great and quite compatible and already loads of fun. When I am more wide awake I will fascinate you with loads of fun facts about Kenya and what World Neighbors is doing and has done to improve the lives of people here.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
A stupendous day! Today we spent the day visiting some of the work being done by a Kenyan nonprofit (ngo) in Kitui. This nonprofit, Kitui Development Centre, or KDC, is run by Janet Syombua Mumo, a woman who started as a World Neighbors volunteer community facilitator (outreach worker) many years ago, eventually joined the World Neighbors Kenyan staff, and then became CEO of the KDC when World Neighbors transitioned out of the area after 12 years. (World Neighbors model is to find and “walk with” local organizations for 10-15 years while they both work with the local community to solve water, health and hunger issues and build the organization to a point where they can carry on the work independently.) KDC is the ultimate success story of this kind the end product of World Neighbors “people not stuff” approach.
Janet and her staff of eight at KDC have taken the World Neighbors model and run with! Their projects – all undertaken at the community by the community -- include a bore hole (a deep, deep well operated with a pump) that is now bringing water to the entire district in this time of drought, and which is sold for 20 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) per 20 liter ‘jerry can”. The bore hole is the only source of clean water in the area and is sold as an income-generating activity for the organization, for those who are kiosk (tap) attendants and for maintenance of the bore hole. The organization has also inspired, trained and helped with capital costs for the community to begin a sunflower seed oil milling operation, a food bank that sells food on loan in lean times – especially to HIV/AIDS patients who can’t take their antivirals on an empty stomach-- a new business of keeping milk goats and cows (which was previously thought impossible in this area), support of 524 HIV/AIDS orphans or ‘vulnerable’ children who would otherwise be sent to work instead of school and 23 “self-help” (savings and credit) groups.
All of these activities are ones that KVC offered and provided training for, but that were chosen by, are now run by and owned by the local community. It is difficult to capture the empowerment that these self-managed projects and programs create – especially when compared to the usual forms of development help that is “parachuted in” in the form of aid (giving away stuff) or quick projects conceived in Europe or the
In contrast, the projects we saw today were all decidedly theirs. Indeed, the borehole was drilled using monies originally offered to purchase food for the hungry. Janet asked the community if they wanted to accept the food aid, or, if they would rather use the same money to drill the borehole (about USD $15,000). The community tightened their belts (literally) and said, lets drill. It was great fun to receive a tour of this borehole, the water tanks and taps it supplies and hear their plans to maintain it, increase those it serves and perhaps bottle their own brand of water someday.
I go on too much! However, I must tell you about the afternoon. This afternoon we spent several hours with the self-help groups as we were lucky enough to arrive on their normal meeting day (Wednesday). 22 of the groups are made up of women – because the women are often left in the villages while the men go to town to look for work; because the women are the ones who generally respond to the invitation to learn about these groups; because the women have been wildly successful with this kind of microfinance; because it is a boost to women in a society where they are beneath men; and because the woman is key to the health and wellbeing of the entire family. The single male group consists of a group of extraordinarily down and out men whose clothes were mainly tattered, and who had oblivious alcohol or other troubles. However, courageously, these men who are held in low esteem in their community, asked to form a group after they saw the gains the women in the groups were making.
So, in these groups, women in groups of 15-20 pay into a common fund, which they then lend out to each other in turn for school fees, for food in lean times and to earn income by reselling items purchased elsewhere, purchasing livestock, etc. This so-called “table banking” allows them to generate capital and to borrow it. (Traditional banks will not loan to them because the amount of deposits they have and loan they need are deemed to small.) The loans are repaid with interest and the process continues.
Although it is a slow process building capital, with the typical group contributing 20 Ksh at their weekly meetings (a little over a nickel), the changes wrought by access to capital are huge. The more established groups said that no one in their group goes to bed hungry any more – because they have increased their income using the loans to get ahead and because in lean times the group members help each other out. They also talked about being able to keep their children in school (because they can pay the fees). One group I met with purchased a chicken and then a goat for every member of the group – an investment (that will yield a profit when brought to market) that they would not have been able to make otherwise.
Most striking is that these women are glowing – with power, with pride, with economic wherewithal and with belief in themselves. It is very atypical for poor, rural Kenyan women to take the lead, to earn income, to meet and make decisions and to feel that they can improve their lives. They are different, in themselves, in the community and in the eyes of their husbands.
I hope some of the photos (coming soon) convey at least some of their hope, empowerment, belief in themselves -- or whatever you want to call it. These women are going places! It was an honor to visit with them. In fact, I did not want to leave! They, in turn, were thrilled that we journeyed so far to see them.
4:30PM EAT July 15, 2009
Well, our great new reroute thru Chicago was perfect and even early to London until they put us in a holding pattern over London. So we arrived 10 minutes late, and then the bus that picks you up from the airplane to take you to the terminal did not get there for 20 minutes and by the time we got to the airport terminal they had closed our gate and we could not get on the plane.(Much begging ensued but to no avail) So (another) really nice British Air agent helped us get to Nairobi the fastest we can which is thru Dar es Salaam in Tanzania then on Precision Air (!) to Nairobi. WE are hoping the second van of our traveling group can swoop by and fetch us at the Kenyatta Airport and we will just be a few hours behind the first van en route to Western Kenya. So, a rather interesting start to the trip but we are determined to make the best of it: John and Marisa both got sick (puke) from the circling over London so they have appreciated a few hours in a bed in a day hotel they gave us waiting on our next plane. Neither of them have ever been to London and had fun on the drive over here looking at double decker buses and driving on the wwrong side of the rode! John also looks foward to his first real English mug of ale!
6:13PM CST July 14, 2009
Well, already off to an exciting start. our flight from okc to dfw was cancelled when we got to the airport. after an hour at the desk and an angel of am aa attendant we got rerouted thru chicago. hopefully and by the grace of god we will get to london in time for our connection to nairobi. -Susan
9:28AM CST July 14, 2009
YEEEEEEHAWWWWWWWWW! We are leaving today and I am so excited! We will catch up with the rest of our group who arrived last night. I was on call this weekend and worked yesterday thus our late arrival. We will miss one brief visit tomorrow to one WN community but that is all. Will catch up with everyone in
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
What a day. After a quick breakfast, we piled into the van and began our journey to Kitui. First, we stopped at a pricey shopping mall to exchange money (each in a private booth) and to try to get ice for women in the group who is having a back problem. In the end, only one large block of ice was available, so we bought two packs of frozen peas instead at my suggestion. I figure if frozen vegetables work as an ice pack at home in a pinch, why not here?
The journey to Kitui, in eastern
Once in Kitui, a medium sized town and roughly one of the larger 100 in the country, we visited the office and projects of the Kitui Development Centre, the end product of a process World Neighbors began in this community years ago. It is run by Janet X, who began as a volunteer in a World Neighbors program, ultimately became WN staff and then CEO of this organization. World Neighbors no longer supports the Kitui Development Centre as it is deemed self-sustainable. Indeed, the Centre has a larger staff of five to six people and actively competes for and wins grants from international, European and American organizations.
The program we saw today is an OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) support program that consists of 23 groups of 20 people organized into a self-help group, which pays into a common fund and lends to each other. The group also started a sunflower seed oil business, using a diesel machine Janet and KDC helped them to get. Now the group mills two days a week, charging 5% in cash or in sunflower oil. The production of the oil has meant a savings in not having to purchase this oil, but also oil and its byproducts to sell (seedcake for animals and cold press remains for pets). Unfortunately – and this is the big story here in Kitui – the rains have not come this season. Thus, the sunflower crop – and all other crops have failed, leaving the mill still and the people increasingly hungry. (
Indeed this whole area is semi-desert with very little rainfall and either dusty red soil or black clay soil. It is akin to the
As I suspected, I am overwhelmed by the need and the cruelties of nature that the lives of these communities live by. The rains come or they do not. Help from outside comes, or it does not. Help from the government comes or it does not. Visitors like us come in a water bottle driven bubble and go to bed under our mosquito nets safe from harm and hunger.
There are 542 vulnerable children in the community – 280 orphans and 245 destitute or vulnerable children who may be trafficked or placed in child labor without support? AIDS orphans in this community. The OVC has opened a food bank/store that the orphans or other in the community can purchase and pay back slowly. It is there way to ensure that those on antiviral medication will live, as you must take your medicine on a full stomach. The bank was a case with small sacks of grain. When asked if the food was grown locally, the answer was, “no, no food grows here, we buy it”.
Yet, when there are sunflowers, the mill creates a profit for farmers that is used for school fees, to purchase animals, etc. One of the 23 self-help groups is composed solely of people living with HIV/AIDS in a society where those with the disease is stigmatized. In addition, 4 starter cattle and 2 goats have now become 52 and 8 respectively, producing nutritious milk and income for farmers. Overall, the average income has Ksh20 to Ksh150. The OVC CBO held its own fundraiser (harabee) recently and raised over $1000 dollars which it used to purchase school uniforms for 52 children and to pay school fees for 17 secondary school students. (
A draining day. More tomorrow.
July 13, 2009
I arrived in
We are staying tonight at the Silver Springs hotel, which caters to tourists. Meals are fancy buffets and there is a swimming pool. We shared before dinner drinks with a third generation Kenyan who is a descendant of British colonialists and who runs a safari company for the wealthy and well-connected. (Two of the World Neighbors supporters on this trip came to
Steve explained that the small community of descendants of British colonialists is around 5,000 families and that live both beautiful and tragic lives. Half of his classmates from school are now dead from car accidents, malaria or other diseases, car jackings, snake bites and hippopotamus attacks. (Apparently hippos are a big problem on farms and people get hurt and killed trying to chase them off their farms. Yesterday, he attended the funeral of an 18 year old that had been killed by a hippo. I will never look at a seemingly placed hippo in the zoo the same way again.) Many of their friends have lost children and he has mixed feelings about his teenaged children living here vs.
Shorter lives, of course, are also the norm for Kenyans in general. As a result, Steve said that they have a saying, “Fill your days with life, not your life with days”. (In his opinion, Americans do the latter.) A very good philosophy for life, but an alarming one when you have just arrived in the country!
Earlier today, myself and Emily (my co-leader and former Chair of the Board of Trustees) toured the World Neighbors office here and had lunch with the staff. The office is in a very new building a few minutes ride from the hotel. I have been wondering how it would be to be a minority. As we passed by the swanky glass-enclosed offices of different companies and ngos (nonprofits) on the way through the building, I found myself surprised at how everyone was….well…African. I surprised myself with my surprise – realizing that I culturally conditioned to envision whites – and whites only – in suits, behind desks, etc.
Half of the group is now here, so we are now 5. We had a nice dinner together in the hotel tonight. Finished up about 10:30 pm – which is 3:30 pm in
I am very excited to be here, but even now more ‘guilty’ to be on this trip which feels, in a way, like a tour of poverty. So far, we have learned that this is a particularly difficult time as the annual rains did not come causing crop failure and hunger and the economic crisis has hit many ngos hard. Care
I have also learned that for Kenyans, their primary identification is their tribal group, and that each group has its stereotypes. At lunch, the World Neighbors staff playfully explained which groups they are -- for instance Michael, the accountant is a Luo as is Barack Obama’s father. They are known for being boastful and full of themselves, so Michael was teased that he must be related to Obama as every Luo is now boasting. Queiresh, who will travel with us the entire journey, is from the coast and a Muslim. His ‘community’ is known for talking a lot, so we all laughed about how he is the best person to accompany us and answer our many questions. Lila, World Neighbors office manager here, told me that she was born and raised in
Melissa Haley O'Leary
June 12, 2009
The best $150 ever spent! I arrived, waiting to “land” in the
Like any good Haley, I have broken into my trip snacks and am having them for lunch/dinner – not sure which (it is 7 pm here and 2 pm in
5:41PM CST July 11, 2009
Well, I ate a guinea pig and a rabbit in
Day One (July 11)
7pm at Cleveland Hopkins waiting. Terrific to be finished with all of the preparations – packing, trip to the drugstore, etc., etc. – which drives me crazy! Only one meltdown, well maybe one and a half.
Very hard to say goodbye to the boys and Jim. This is the longest that I have ever been away from them. I wanted to turn around and go home really. Wondering quietly, am I sacrificing my children for others’ children? Poor Liam fell asleep on the way to the airport. I kissed him in his car seat. Cian was unhappy not to come in with me and gave me long hugs and multiple kisses, asking why I couldn’t go “tomorrow”. Jamie hugged me hard and grudgingly gave me a kiss with a long face. I feel guilty that they have a mommy that goes away (and this time so far)…but daddies go away all the time, right?
Somewhere in there I started crying, but trying not too for the boys. A hug and an admonition to “Take care of myself” (and have fun) from Jim. (Why does everyone say that!?!) More tears and in to check in with watery eyes.
It is not that I am not excited for this adventure and the chance to see for myself the ‘good’ I am trying to do in the world, but this evening feels all about goodbyes. -- Temporary goodbyes with god’s grace. Though I am not a praying women, I have said my prayer that god will see me safe home to my family and my very privileged life again. Undoubtedly, I will do so again on take-offs, landing and along the way.
2:48PM CST July 10, 2009
I will, of course, miss my family. However, they will be a-ok, and excited to follow the blog. My daughter is still off at camps, my youngest busy with church and pre-football activities, and my husband working away. My mom is staying with us for awhile so she can also keep the homestead intact! My oldest son, John, will be with me. Can’t wait to see him see World Neighbors where they work. He has been influenced by World Neighbors through all of my work over the last 12 years. But for him to experience it first hand is a real gift to me. I know it will be life impacting to him.
I’m trying to get as updated and knowledgeable as possible about the World Neighbors programs in
Armed with this knowledge from World Neighbors, (peruse the wn.org!), and other books on
11:05PM CST July 8, 2009
Packing, unpacking. Packing, unpacking..............like it matters what I wear. But I am an American and I will pack too much, even though I have been told many times: "if you can't carry all your stuff...you got too much stuff!" So, I have decided that the most important things I will take, besides my 20 year-old son and his girlfriend, will be extra bags to bring home tangible memories of our trip. But there will not, I know, be a bag big enough for all the intangible memories I will acquire. It is always like that with World Neighbors Journeys. The people, the countries, the culture, the dreams, the hope that embody a World Neighbors community all leave an indelible mark on your heart and mind. I can't wait to experience that...and come back to tell whoever will listen.