Journey to Kenya

Follow along during a remarkable journey that promises to be life changing and eye opening.  

The countries of Kenya and Tanzania are rich in natural beauty and wildlife and a fascinating mixture of cultures, diverse history and warm, welcoming people. 

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 Nairobi on July 13 and traveled across Kenya and into Tanzania before returning to the U.S. on July 25. Check back daily to see photos and read traveler’s blogs as they progress! 


 

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.

Melissa


 

Friday morning July 24th, Nairobi

 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 Nairobi. WE did not get much of a taste of it last week with our whirlwind trip just getting here. But driving in last night I was impressed with all the contrasts of this big bustling city: rich and poor; satellite disks and shanty curio sellers on the side of the road; traffic jams and boys pulling donkey carts; women in suits and heels and women in traditional Masaii clothing; the latest technology and dirt bumpy roads.

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.

Melissa


 

July 22, 2009

As of yesterday, we changed gears and are on the holiday/vacation portion of our journey. We drove straight from Tanzania to the Masai Mara reserve, which took most of the day. It was a long, extraordinarily dusty drive on very bumpy dirt roads. However, we began seeing zebras and gazelles along the way and our excitement grew.

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 Nairobi. Already my thoughts are turning towards seeing Jim (my husband) and the boys. Though I have only been gone 10 days, it seems more a month in a wonderful, all engrossing way. As I suspected, I am feeling impatient with the idea of stopping over in London for a few days before I meet up with my family in Dublin (my husband’s home town.) I want to see Jim and my little ones! However, I am working hard to stay in the present, which has not been a problem at all until now.

Love to all, especially three little boys named Jamie, Cian and Liam!!!!!

Melissa


 

July 21, 2009

 Tanzania, WOW! Just crossing the border (which is a story within itself!) is like changing worlds in many ways. Tanzania ( they pronounce it Tan ZAN ia, like Tanzanian devil) is obviously poorer. Indeed they have a higher poverty index…..yet the people are more shy/yet friendlier in many ways. We stayed in and visited communities around Tarime, a small bustling shanty town (actually a bit scary at night.) Our hotel there reminded me of the Weasley’s house on Harry Potter, but bigger and with a nice garden and porch and balconies. The staff there was so nice and gracious and helpful and welcoming. The rooms were small and the bathrooms tiny and the shower in the bathroom went all over the bathroom! Economical and efficient! You did not need a wake up call because the roosters next door and the town itself woke you up at about 6am! So much for the accomadations, but the are definitely part of the journey!

The World Neighbors programs in Tanzania represent all aspects of World Neighbors work. Really great for me to see, having been learning about WN over the last 12 years. WN partners with a foundation and a local NGO. WN partners with a local NGO that then created a PIT ( program implementation team); WN encouraging local partner groups to create local groups…..and on and on at every level! So World Neighbors! Love it!

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:

  1. The HIV/AIDS rate is about 12%. All the local groups we met with have encouraged the PLWHA’s (people living with HIV AIDS) to organize, participate in support groups, and be part of the community society. It was amazing to me how “hush hush” HIV was in the communities in general; and how supportive the communities we met with were. They help them get to the clinics to get the ARV’s, they help them organize to help each other in support; if the women are orphans they help the family; they teach them about good nutrition so that they can stay healthier as they battle HIV; and on and on. AMAZING! I am not doing this justice to the power of hope and encouragement.   

Oops! It is getting late. We are back in Kenya today but will send more Tanzanian World Neighbors stories tomorrow. 


 

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 AFRICA! It is simply all-engrossing. By the end of the day – usually full of visits or long bumpy journeys on crazy roads—I am full up with emotion, sound, sights and thoughts.

The programs that we visited in the Lake Victoria Region of Tanzania (near Tarime) are young in the World Neighbors sense. They have only been operating for three years, with most of that period taken up by World Neighbors careful process of ensuring through surveys and analysis that this is one of the neediest districts and that the proposed community partner organization (think block watch group, pta group or neighborhood development cooperation in the U.S. sense) is the right one to work with, is on the same page in the sense of our help being in the form of training and not “stuff” and that the organizations and its leaders are truly out for the good of the community as well as their own families. We also move slowly to establish trust and build a relationship. (Think social work vs a food pantry.)

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 Chicago

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 Kenya may see a lot of them in the coming months. It is predicted that 10 million Kenyans will begin to starve as a result of the current drought.   

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 Nairobi (who ferries back and forth across the country checking in on the groups we are working with and their leaders) brought out candy. (This was the only time I saw this.) At first, they all rushed in. Then he told them to form a line, which they did. To see the solemn look on their faces as they lined up to receive this single candy and their joy was stunning. I had to leave and go around to the side of the van to have a good cry. It just hurt and I railed against the element of fate that made these children so desperate and my own so incredibly privileged. A piece of candy to my three (wonderful) boys is no big deal. To these children it was a very special treat. One tried to eat the wrapper.

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 Nairobi staff member who is the liasson with these groups for agriculture) if THERE WAS ANY POLITE WAY WE COULD GIVE THE FOOD TO THE CHILDREN INSTEAD. Ther was not. Protocol demanded that we eat it. So we did with heavy hearts and fake smiles. 

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 U.S. Melissa  


 

19/07/09

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 Tanzania. After a really long drive The Crew just arrived here this past evening. We are dining at our bungalow secluded from what it seems the outside world. The room that I am staying in is the honeymoon suite with a wonderful balcony. Maybe I will enjoy breakfast out there with John sometime. Lest we forget the fan of course. All I know is my actual honeymoon suite needs to be equipped with a shower stall in the least. Sorry, no honeymoon in Tanzania for me.

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 Africa so that’s another good thing, no food poisoning. The food here is very good… I was actually hoping that I would be picky enough to lose ten pounds on this trip but that’s definitely not happening… The people here are very friendly, they enjoy shaking hands and the children are really really adorable. No wonder why all of those celebs adopt these kids. So, I’ve found the fashions of Africa to be quite remarkable (for the women anyways). They love the bold color and very puffy, very chic shoulder sleeves. I definitely want a dress that is made with all of those elements. The people that have cars definitely shouldn’t. PERIOD. They all are wacky drivers and I fear for my life at certain points during road trips. But, I’m very optimistic that my driver won’t let me die here. I want to take the time to apologize for the length of this blog, I’m really just trying to stay awake long enough until my beef stew arrives for me to chomp on. Thus, that concludes this blog due to the discussion of the mission of World Neighbors in the communities around these countries and I’m very interested in listening. Until next time, you know you love me.. GG


 

 

Monday, July 19, 2009

 

Yesterday we crossed the border into Tanzania after a good deal of delays and “argy bargy” (as the Irish say) at the border. Interestingly, despite the Tanzanian website that clearly lists a visa at $50, U.S. and Irish citizens (how funny is that) have to pay $100 (double what we prepared our group for…so we wrangled over that for awhile. In the end we paid the $100 and asked for receipts. “Sawa, sawa”. (My favorite Swahili words so far, “it’s okay” or literally “okay, okay”. Or, you can go the Lion King route and say Akuna Matata (no worries)… Indeed it was interesting to me that it was okay to wrangle (politely), although it did make me a little nervous.   In my experience, even U.S. and Canadian border guards are not to be messed with.

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 Tanzania, the changes were immediate. There is far less commerce here along the side of the road. (In Kenya, the roads almost seem like one continuous belt of stalls, clothes with things spread on them and very small shops selling everything from clothes to fruit and vegetables to cell phones to “scratch cards” used to buy cell phone minutes (I thought they were lottery tickets for a long time…) It is one of the things that surprised me as commerce in Southeast Asia (in my memory) is much more centralized in small towns or very small stalls, where Kenya strikes me as a cacophony of trading on a very small scale.

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, Kenya has a lot of square brick houses (locally made brick), sometimes with the ruins of the old style home nearby. Clearly, it is also more rural and basic. People along the side of the road are carrying water, sugar cane, bananas and other non-manufactured items. Also, there seem to be less schools, clinics, etc. In a nutshell, the people here are poorer.

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.

Missy


 

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 U.S. burial societies.) It is the only way they can get capital. In time, they will begin to charge interest, and increase their income as they receive additional World Neighbors training.

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

Missy


 

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 Kenya and what World Neighbors work is about….what a moment!! I never dreamed that I would be sitting next to such a person trying to speak about WN! I don’t think I did any breathing for the next few minutes. Fortunately, everyone in our group had something to add, especially Qureish, who was able to detail the important work that is happening close by. At the end of our time together, Sue moved to present Mama Sarah with the gift we brought for her, a huge plastic bag full of 3 pound packages of sugar (which has a highly inflated price in Kenya). She received our gift graciously and offered her hand to each of us in friendship and kindness. 

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,

Emily  


 

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.

My conversation at lunch with the health workers was so fun.  Here are some of the highlights:  they wanted to know if we had mothers that are HIV positive in the US and if so how we handle them.  I told them that currently c-sections and no breast feeding and meds during pregnancy was the current thinking.  They agreed but here of course access to a c/s is hard so most HIV positive women (and there are thousands) deliver vaginally.  In World Neighbors communities they encourage exclusive breast feeding so that the baby is extra healthy. No supplements at all.  As I mentioned earlier, World Neighbors has helped programs access mobile clinics that come to these rural areas so that the retroviral drugs can be given to people.  There is a big concentration on keeping mothers healthy...........as they know that if mom isn't healthy the whole family suffers....and then the community.

The women also asked me about wife inheritance. I thought they meant do I inherit if my husband dies.  I said yes, of course. But what they really meant, and it is a big problem for them, the woman gets inherited by an in-law if her husband dies!  When I realized what they meant I said, oh no!  They do not like the system because for one they may not like or want to be a wife to their brother in law, and second the brother in law gets all their stuff...........business they have built, home , chickens the works.  They would like for this to change.

They also asked about how the pain is dealt with in labor.  They all thought that epidural sounded peachy.

Another interesting topic, that I thought was intriguing that they even asked me about.  In America when a woman does not want to have sex with her husband and he forces her to, is that rape?  They say that if that situations happens, and (it seems these women are too tired and uninterested sometimes to have sex) that the husband has every right to beat her to get her to do it.  They are working on laws to make the beating a crime.

It has been fun to observe John and Marisa taking in their first developing country visit.  They seem to be grasping the World Neighbors lingo and seem to really enjoy the people and sights.  World Neighbors journeys are interesting at the least, always a full day, and take time to digest and process..............the rides in the car (an adventure in itself to say the least) help with that time as well as time to talk and get to know our fellow travelers who are all amazing!  A great group to experience this all with.

Susan Chambers


 

7:72 PM July 18, 2009

Hey ALL: 

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:
1.  The people, men and women, who run the organization, are all volunteers, and work very hard at their "real jobs" as well as their roles as volunteers in their community.  Their vision (how long does it take many organizations to come up with a vision much less have their members remember it?) is "to eradicate poverty through small scale entrepreneurship."  And they are doing that. Now, families involved with World Neighbors here used to eat one meal a day and now eat 2-3 per day, their children go to school and they feel more stable and secure for the future.  This has not come without incredibly hard work and dedication EVERY day.

2.  We met two incredible women who have HIV and are still working hard to be as healthy as possible, create and income so that they can support their families (they are also widows), and take leading roles in the FOCODEP organization. They make all us hardworking women in the US look like wimps, really.  One, Marin, is 38 and has been a widow for three years.  She has two children.  She is a community health worker, raises hundreds of plants from seeds to sell and earn money, and raises goats and chickens to support her family and increase her income.  She understands that to live a longer healthier life she must take advantage of all of her opportunities including better nutrition and the antiretroviral drugs that are available thru the government.  World Neighbors and FOCODEP have helped organize mobile clinics on a regular basis that come to the village and treat lots of things but also make it possible for women like her to get the meds that keep them healthy.  She looks great, humble yet proud and a stong, strong woman.

3.  Another woman who is HIV positive is involved with the savings and credit program in the community.  What an amazing program. Here is how it works:  each participant puts in their share of 100 Kenyan schillings.  Then the organization can make loans.  To get a loan you have to be of good character and have a plan for how you are going to use the money. Examples of the small business that (mainly women) have created include: poultry, goats, buying a corn mill, sweet potatoes, etc.  You must pay back your loan in 1 month with 10% interest.  No one to date has defaulted on their loan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  They all make a profit and then reinvest it into a bigger better business.  They use the extra money to support their families, buy food, books, clothes for their children and keep the family stable.  This also keeps the community stable:  the stronger each family is the stronger the community is.  The savings and credit organization also benefits.  The organization every so often "empties" the bank if you will, pays dividends to the members then everyone re-ups and on they go.  They currently have 17,000 shillings in the bank which is a ton of money for them..........210 dollars!  Women, who used to be second class citizens, now with their own income are discussing family and community decisions.  The husbands are happy too: the wives are too busy to "gossip" and are so happy their lifestyles are improved and there is less stress in the household because there is more stability.

Obviously, I could go on and on.  I will tell yo tomorrow about my lunch conversation "as the doctor!" with the community health workers.  They were so open with questions and comments about women's health.  Lots of fun to talk "as the girls" but also as health care providers. 

We are trying to get the computers here to let us send some of our incredible pictures:  the life here in Kenya is busy busy busy whether in the city or the town or the village and the people are gracious, welcoming and so very friendly.  WE went to the Kachenga forest today and saw monkeys and birds an all sorts of cool medicinal plants that I actually ate!  More later!

Susan Chambers


 

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." 

But World Neighbors programs we visited yesterday (although linked to this more urban environment) are once again down yet another long road into the communities where World Neighbors works. Our travels took us to villages in the Lake Victoria basin area near Kisumu....the biggest town near there.  WE saw and spoke and ate with members of FOCODEP- the local organization that has been partnered with World Neighbors for the last 4 years.  OMG: amazing stories, amazing strength and hope!  WE are off now for another adventure today but will blog when I return to tell stories of these amazing Kenyans and their struggles that they call not challenges but opportunities .....their words not mine! WOW! 

Did I mention that our bags just got here this am?  Ha!  What a ride!  Susan



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. 

But to leave you on one very hard note: one stat that has just stuck to my mind:  there are 10 million Kenyans of the 36 million who live here that are currently faced with starvation........................s t a r v a t i o n. 

Susan Chambers


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 U.S., delivered as a fait accompli, and often administered by expatriate staff. Everyone feels good and the project can be checked off the list, but the failure rate is astonishing. A local Kenyan businessman told us at dinner one night that he was tasked with distributing beehives on behalf of a U.S. government agency. The sole requirement for him winning the contract was that he could handle a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His job was to distribute, nothing more. The beehives were all destroyed by termites as the short term; distributory nature of the project did not include training in beekeeping. Or, in another area of Kenya, when the donated water system breaks, the local community goes back to the international charity and says, “Your pump is broken.”  

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!
As they say it is all about the journey and this is really stretching out this part of the journey. At least we will say we have been to that part of Tanzania, if only for a few hours.  Still very excited to see World Neighbors at its best.....where the people are.  Susan

 


 

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 Nairobi and off we go on Thursday toward Lake Victoria.  Keep us all in your prayers for safe and life impacting travels.  Also for Coralee, my daughter, who we broke out of Kanakuk Colorado, quarantined for the flu along with 53 others!  My dear friend Gay Bernitsky drove from Albuquerque to get her yesterday evening and now she is safe and sound in their home and on Tamiflu!  And as one of my partners reminded me she will pray for my home and Ben while Kyle is in charge!!!!!!!

Susan Chambers


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 Kenya was, in theory, two hours. In practice, it was closer to three and a half. Much of it was paved roads, with frequent police checks which we sailed through. (The police checks are looking for Somali arms black marketers on this road that goes onto Somalia.) Towards the end the pavement was quite potholed and our driver swung from side to side to avoid them. Stones were piled in 2 rock high pylons along the shoulders so that impatient drivers wouldn’t drive on them. Later, the road ran out and became dirt, though a roadwork was in progress to pave it. We complemented our driver on a job well done on a bad road, and he said, “You think this road is bad – you should see (another road).

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. (Kenya has two rains a year, one in April, May and June and another in October, November and December)

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 U.S. southwest in many respects. None of this is new, of course, but it is striking to see it with your own eyes and wonder how anyone grows enough to eat in this climate. Of course, the children gathered round as we examined the sunflower press and met with the board and members of this coop. Barefoot all, dusty and some in ill-fitting worn clothes. All hoping that we would throw something there way – a coin, a piece of candy. However, we are on strict orders not to give things out – though the impulse to do so is nearly overwhelming. During the presentations, I found my attention caught between the presentation and the children outside. It is one thing to see very poor children running in the dirt on TV. It is entirely different to see them outside the door of the room that you are in, waiting for a smile or to see what is going on. Had I had a way to get privacy, I would have sobbed.   Nonetheless, a spirited game of soccer was going on in the square, which I tried to capture on video tape.

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. (Kenya has free primary education, but secondary school is paid by families with some government help.)

A draining day. More tomorrow.




July 13, 2009

I arrived in Nairobi this morning after a nine-hour Virgin Atlantic flight from London.  I was wide-eyed during the 15 minute trip to the hotel.  The physical structure did not surprise me much – in many ways, the roadways, vegetation and low-slung buildings reminded me of Brunei.  What I did notice was all of the people walking along the road or waiting by the side of the road.  There were also many people digging along the side of the road here and there and a large group of women swinging pick-axes to break up the soil.  After questioning our driver, I found that all of this activity was to beautify this roadway, which was new.  Through American eyes, it was surprising to not see machinery at work anywhere in this effort, just a person here and there with a shovel or pickax.

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 Kenya early and visited the Lewa Conservancy through him.) 

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. Europe.  (They attend boarding school in England.) 

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 Cleveland.  (7 hours ahead)  Tomorrow, we will begin visiting World Neighbors programs.

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 Kenya recently sent home 70% of its staff.  The silver lining is that World Neighbors is actually fairing better than many organizations because we are not dependent on expensive expatriate staff.

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 Nairobi, but that she was “from” a place in the country – and that this is how all Kenyans identify themselves, by their family homeland. 

More tomorrow.

Melissa Haley O'Leary


June 12, 2009 London Heathrow Airport Hilton

 The best $150 ever spent! I arrived, waiting to “land” in the UK for over an hour, had a very mediocre, cholesterol-laden breakfast and then climbed into bed for six hours. I didn’t sleep last night and have another overnight flight to Nairobi – butterflies in my stomach here. I am now catching up on a few last minute e-mails, then a quick stretch and back to Terminal 4 to check in for the next flight. 

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 Cleveland) – and a good cup of English tea. Already, I don’t know if it is morning, noon or night – when to be hungry and when to be sleepy. Have not seen London at all as I have stayed in the airport, but Jim and I will explore on my way back through.

Next stop, Kenya!


5:41PM CST   July 11, 2009

Well, I ate a guinea pig and a rabbit in Ecuador, got hooked on hibiscus tea (and ate goat) in Mali and my husband loved the Gallo (rooster) beer in Guatemala.  Wonder what I will eat/experience in East Africa? My friends that travel with me know I am famous for taking pictures of our food, as dining is such a fun part of a trip.  World Neighbors Journeys make for VERY interesting meals to say the least!  My guide book says there is a cholesterol lowering dish called mursik, made from milk fermented with grass ash and served in a smoking gourd.  Hmmmm.......may just stick with Lipitor but who knows!?!
Did you know that the huge tropical bugs that live in Kenya are called dudus? Seriously. There are huge golden orb spiders, golden starburst baboon spiders (only 12 cm in size!!!!), and of course there are several varieties of scorpions, millipedes and dung beetles.  The most famous bug, though, is the safari ant whose pincers are used by some local Africans as improvised stitches for wounds!  I may bring some back and see if it passes JACHO standards!


Susan Chambers


 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.

Melissa


 

2:48PM CST   July 10, 2009

Africa is on my mind!  The last few days before we leave, however, will be super busy, tying up things at work to be gone for 12 days, getting babies delivered and women cared for and leaving things hopefully settled for my partners and nurses before I am gone.  As excited as I am to go, my need to leave my practice in good shape is very important to me. The good news is I never worry about the hands I am leaving my practice in: they are all great. So, the next three days will be action packed for me. When I finally get on the plane I will be tired but ready to go! 

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 East Africa.  Some of the stats are astounding:  36 million people in the Kenya, 60% of those living on less than $2 per day, with an average annual income of just over $1000.  The life expectancy for males and females is 51 and 53 years, respectively, held down by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, drought, internal violence and environmental challenges.       

Armed with this knowledge from World Neighbors, (peruse the wn.org!), and other books on Kenya and Tanzania, I cannot wait, then, to see the grassroots work that is happening in the village we will visit. We will visit communities mainly in the Lake Victoria region.  Lake Victoria is the second largest lake in the world and the source of the White Nile. Even though it is impressive geographically, it attracts few tourists and is rampant with poverty, massive soil erosion and environmental degradation.  But WE get to see World Neighbors in action reversing these facts in the areas of sustainable agriculture, reproductive health (my favorite!) and natural resource management.  WE will definitely follow the road less traveled and we will find not sad statistics but hope for the future and courageous dignity in pursuing a better life for their communities.  

Susan Chambers


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.

Susan Chambers