9 December 2011

Julie's Latest Trip To Kenya

I am including a Newsletter which Julie sent out to her friends and donors. You may not have seen it.

Kenyan Kids News – November 2011

This newsletter aims to give an account of how some of your generous donations were used on my latest trip to Kenya. I apologise in advance for its length but I wanted to portray how seriously I take the stewardship of each and every one of your donations. Big or small, every centime does count and makes a huge difference to the life of one or many. Whether your money has been used for a small hand out or a larger hand up, the details are all below. Please accept a big personal, thank you and a warm hug from everyone mentioned in the newsletter.

Monday, 31st October

My plan today was to try and find a bank that would consider giving me an account – just as I had wanted to be legally registered in France I wanted to have similar ‘accountability’ in Kenya too. However, as we were waiting in the queue, Moses glanced down at my leg and remarked that the mozzies had made a meal of me last night. As I glanced down to look at my legs, the first thing that came to mind was a dot-to-dot page in a children's colouring book except these little red dots were too numerous to count. He looked at me - I looked at him. "It's bed bugs, isn't it?" I said. So, with all thoughts of banking forgotten, we returned back to Covenant Home and set about spraying my room with enough poison to kill a small elephant. In spite of being provided with a new mattress and even new sheets (thank you Pat), these little blighters hide in skirting boards and any dark little crevice during the day, only to come out at night, climb into bed with you and yum, you know the rest. Oh it's nice to be accepted – I feel like a proper visitor now, not just a tourist!

Tuesday, 1st November was spent visiting some of the Standard Eight (i.e. end of primary years) kids in schools who are getting ready to take their exams in a week’s time.

In the picture on the right is Jackson, one of the many kids the Isaiah Trust support, gratefully accepting a giant greetings card wishing everyone success in their forthcoming exams.

For those in boarding school, we took some ‘presents’ to help get them through until the end of term. Gifts ranged from toiletries for the girls, weetabix, bread, hot chocolate powder, soap, toothpaste and brushes, shoe polish, pencils and washing soap. It means a great deal to these kids that we take the time to visit them especially as most of their friends have parents who visit on a regular basis and they do not.

That evening, it was wonderful to see old friends again at the Isaiah Trust Kachok Outreach programme next to the rubbish tips. How I love cuddling the smallest children - their little hands full of bread (and biscuits if they are lucky) clutching on to a mug of sweet, milky African tea or juice. This always costs a little money but is so worthwhile as the photo below shows – thank you to all who donated.

We went back to Covenant (http://www.covenanthome.co.uk) to meet with Moses’s little daughter Vashni who had developed a serious case of malaria. Usually with Malaria, all that is needed is a three day course of tablets but whatever the strain of malaria poor Vashni got, it was not giving up easily.

Vashni is like any talkative 2-year-old, running around rather than walking, smiling, singing, reaching up your leg for a cuddle. It was obvious how poorly she was - she didn’t speak, she didn’t even whinge, she just flopped about, fell asleep anywhere she could, in a lap, a chair and refused even the slightest drink of water. As her mum gave her paracetamol to try and bring her temperature down, she just vomited it back up. Not responding to anything at home, she was taken to hospital where they diagnosed Malaria and also Septicaemia.

A 3-day course of intravenous injections was recommended and when she came back to the Covenant I was amazed to see my bedroom turned efficiently into a hospital room. Fortunately, we have a qualified Doctor who lives here. Collins is one of Pat’s original boys of whom she is enormously proud and with one phone call he agreed to come to help at the end of his usual fourteen hour day (of a 7 day week).

Collins prepared the vaccination and then hung the drip from the curtain rail while I held little Vashni and tried to calm her. Most of us know what hysterical 2 year olds can be like and for me it brought back memories from a long time ago. The crying is okay but it’s the sobs that upset me. Anyway, like any child of her age, exhaustion set in after approximately 60 seconds and she fell asleep across my lap. Still sitting on the edge of the chair, not daring to move in case I disturbed her, I recalled those days of nighttime childhood illnesses and how much mummies sacrifice their own sleep and wellbeing for the sake of their child.

As you can see Vashni (left) was one of the lucky ones – she has both parents and they were able to get the treatment she needed but, for the majority of families I see, any medication cost equates to approximately half a day’s salary and is unaffordable.
This wasn’t the only time I was able to help just during this short trip - one of the boys came to find me at Covenant Home, worried about his 10 year old sister who’d been ill and unresponsive for two days. We were able to get her medical help and a routine test for Typhoid, which, if left untreated could easily have caused her premature death.

Towards the end of the first week, we handed out the first batch of football shirts donated by my stepson Steve’s friends on his Face Book page, Footie Kits for Kenyan Kids. Fourteen year old Philip and Washington were delighted with their shirts. Philip in particular is football mad and Captain of the school team at the local Catholic run primary school. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos of them wearing the shirts as the nun drew the line at them getting undressed in her office. The rest of the shirts were put to one side to take up to the village children in Namatotoa as shown in the first photo in the newsletter. I hope those of you who donated clothes can recognise some of them in the first photo in this newsletter.

Home visits have always been an important part of my trip and this time I had been invited to visit Phoebe who is a widow living in one room in the Nyalenda slums. We visited her to see if we could help repair her roof as rainwater was streaming in. The side of the bed is just visible behind the curtain - she shares this space with three of her surviving children and her 7-year-old orphaned granddaughter. Phoebe lost another three of her children during infancy and her eldest daughter died of HIV when she was 28. Phoebe is only 51.

Ramanos was the next family on our list. Ramanos used to have a little business but he can no longer afford to purchase items of stock to sell out of this tiny room.

Constantly in arrears with his rent (the equivalent of £10 per month), he and his children are regular attendees at Kachok where they benefit from the bread and juice available. Widowed a few years ago, Ramanos searches to find any work he can but struggles to care for and feed his 5 children.

Saturday, 5th November saw us on our way to Siaya to visit Cosmas’s (an ex homeless tip dweller who is rehabilitated now) home village with a view to checking out his little land plot to see if we could put a little structure up for him so he could resettle there.
Whenever we head North West from Kisumu, we usually pass through Luanda and have the opportunity to stop off at its street market where we buy fresh pineapples, water melons, tiny bananas and some sesame seeds, which are mixed with brown sugar and shaped into small rounds - sticky burnt sugar flavour and delicious. Always on the lookout for a bargain, I stepped forward to see what was being sold by the cup full - it was that local delicacy, white ants (left). With no time to shout, 'I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here', I had little choice as some were poured into the palm of my hand to try them...salty, and a bit like tiny chewy potato chips. The wings do stick in your teeth though...

Sunday evening, 6th November and I need to write an overdue letter to my husband:

Darling Thomas, missing you like mad but just thought I’d let you know that I am going to do what I do best tomorrow – shopping! Now before you get too worried, I do have to say that it’s not the usual designer shopping spree of old, in fact, I could do with your help. Please advise where can I get 2 lorry loads of red soil? And then there is the rest; 2 wheelbarrows, 2 spades, 3 trowels, 1 broom, 2 watering cans, 1 oil can, 2 litres of lubricating oil, 2 hoe (what is the plural of hoe, hoes? – any more and it will sound like Christmas has come early, ho ho ho), 5 pairs of gum boots (non designer and men’s sizes), 5 protective helmets, 5 pairs of overalls, enough polythene roll to cover a small house (shall we get ever fashionable black or see thru?), 20 litres of ‘dirty’ oil (where is your brother Robert when we need a delivery) and last but not least 40 bags of cement. And if the shop even thinks of charging me for carrier bags, then I will throw a wobbly! Your ever loving wife xxx

This is the brick-making machine that has been funded by Kenyan Kids donors. You can see that all the guys were very excited about it and continued working on the bricks even as it grew dark. As I understand it, you mix a bit of cement with a bit of red soil, attach a lever (a bit like one half of a seesaw), then compress it and hey presto, a brick comes out the other end. This machine is our first big purchase. When I first saw it, I was keen to ask Moses, 'Do you really think it will build a house?' He looked at me, shook his head in his serious way and said, “No, Julie, it will not build a house.” I took a sharp intake of breath thinking about my donor’s hard-earned contributions. He continued: “I believe it will build a city”!

Wednesday 9th November

The saddest part of this trip was learning the news about Easter Lily. After my last visit, I shared with you the story of the abandoned Easter baby (left) that came to our notice whilst visiting the maternity unit of the District Hospital. At the time, I asked Pat who runs Covenant Home if she would be willing to take the baby in and she agreed immediately. However about two weeks later, I received an email from Pat telling me, "Baby Lily's parents turned up and claimed her. What the story was we don't know, we were just told it was a domestic problem which has now been sorted."

During those intervening weeks and touched by Lily's story Angela, of Le Petit Cabanon, knitted Lily the most beautiful blanket (right) which I had brought with me this trip. Moses was very keen that we should find Lily's parents and take the blanket (inscribed with her name) to her even though several weeks had passed. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be and as we sat in the Sister's office she explained that she checked her files and Easter Lily had again been admitted. "It seems the parents split up again but this time, the mother brought her in." There was a pause: "I am sorry, we lost her".

Perhaps we'll never know what really happened in Easter Lily's short life. I could only compare her to Moses’s daughter Vashni who had been desperately ill earlier on in the week. Some families can afford medication and some cannot. Easter Lily had slipped through the net. As we walked back to the car I not only wept for her, but for all the children whose lives are lost in situations that would be unthinkable to us within our ‘comfortable’ existence.

Shortly afterwards, Angela of Le Petit Cabanon (http://www.justgiving.com/kraftedforkenyankids2) apologised on Facebook that her Saturday Krafted for Kenyan Kids Fair fund raising had only secured a meagre amount. I had to remind her that it certainly wasn't meagre by African standards; just 50 centimes, 50 pence worth of medication could possibly have saved that child's life. In our Western world, losing a child becomes a statistic that we cannot/don't want to absorb. For me, the reality of losing that precious child drives me on to help the next one and the next one so please help where you can.

It’s impossible to stay sad for too long as one situation quickly moves into another. Immediately after hearing the sad news about Easter Lily, we visited Dorcas, an elderly grandmother who cares for seven orphaned grandchildren. It's always a pleasure to visit Dorcas who is always full of smiles. This woman usually has tremendous energy but since last time, I noticed that she appeared to be slowing down and getting more tired. One of the problems Dorcas faces is having to walk over 50 minutes, each way, to collect clean water. Perhaps to some that doesn’t sound all that bad but consider that the last 20 minutes of her road has the steepness of our road leading up to the Courmettes and that’s a difficult steep path for any of us to walk.

I regularly complain about the time my son spends in the shower but imagine when every drop of water for use in the house has to be carried. Dorcas can manage to carry around 10 litres of water at a time. Think how you struggle with a 6-pack of water bottles, transferring it from supermarket trolley to car boot yet Dorcas (aged 70+) manages to carry more than that and up a steep hill in 32 degree heat.

As we sat chatting, we wondered how we could help when the heavens suddenly opened. As if by magic, we were prompted to wonder if there was some way we could harvest the rainwater from the roof and channel it into gutters and on into the house. This huge amount of rainfall would more than provide her and her family with a source of clean water. We came away feeling pleased that we had managed to find and fund a solution that would be a huge help to Dorcas and her family in the future.

Thursday evening, 10th November was our regular trip to the Kachok Outreach programme and we were able to provide a nutritious meal of chapatis and beans to more than 50 children and adults. There is rarely a better sight than a hungry child with a plateful of nutritious food in front of them.
The rain stayed away and were concerned that so many of the little ones arrive barefoot so we also handed out more than twenty pairs of flip flops – everyone was so grateful and we are reminded yet again how the smallest item can help.

Friday, 11th November
Originally we were planning to leave for Namatotoa on Thursday but as Moses is always so busy we had to delay the trip to Friday giving me a few free hours. We eventually got on the road at 6:00 pm for the two hour journey, north to Namatotoa. The car was packed with Nakumat (supermarket) shopping, Moses’s guitar, my bedding, camping lights, mosquito repellent, disinfectant and microbe activators for the African loo, snacks for the journey, biscuits and sweeties for the many kids we would see in the tiny rural village and a defrosting chicken for our one-pan risotto supper.

The journey always takes me back to family holidays when so many are uncomfortably packed into the car but we sang and giggled and bumped along the uneven road surfaces until we eventually arrived and were greeted in pitch blackness by Pastor Pete and his wife, Moses’s sister Agneta and his half brother, Vincent who had both travelled 3 hours by Matatu (mini bus) from Kitale.

Happy faces on the road under Pat’s best new quilt
It must have been well after midnight by the time the ‘risotto’ had been prepared for all of us on the single ring gas stove. In the simple three-roomed house, the two girls shared the smallest room, Moses, Anton and Vincent slept on the living room floor and I shared the double bed with Agneta.

It was only during my second trip that I was invited to visit Moses’s home village. That first morning as I walked along the narrow, rutted paths through the sugar cane and maize fields, I felt a strong sense of ‘coming home’. It was a strange sensation to experience, especially to someone who loves her home comforts but I simply felt enveloped in a peace and tranquillity that I have rarely experienced before.

Each time I visit Namatotoa, I am struck by more details. This morning as I passed by the straw mud huts, I saw the smoke curling from charcoal being cured in mud bonfires and many barefoot ragged children, bare bottomed babies being carried by children who were 4 or maybe 5 years old themselves.

If a child cried, the mother would lift the child to her breast and anyone who has breast fed their own child could not fail to be moved by what I saw. In the Western developed world, the mother’s breast is full, rounded and nurturing to the child. The breasts these children were trying to latch on to resembled empty sacks yet still the child would grasp and pull at the nipple with both hands receiving little but a small amount of comfort.

The majority of the children hung back shyly hiding around corners or behind their mother’s legs in the doorway to the darkened interior. Maybe this kind of poverty does exist in Kisumu town but I hadn’t noticed it. Here the poverty of a whole village was presented to me in bright sunlight. A 2 year old’s feet hardened through lack of shoes having learnt to walk on maize and sugar cane husks, strange markings on their scalps which I later found out to be ring worm. Swollen bellies and distended tummy buttons, skin rashes and ingrained dirt on both mothers and their children.

Still, they came outside to see who the Mzungu (foreigner) was. For many, there appears to be no hope in their spirit. Their eyes were glassy as if fixed on something (or nothing) a long way off in the distance.
On my last Sunday as I sat amongst these villagers and we shared a meal of meat and rice, I knew the time was perfect to begin our project. We shouldn’t wait a minute longer.

Before my departure the next day, I stood amongst the sugar cane and spread out the blue print of our nursery. I was joined by some small children whose mother had no choice but to leave them alone for the whole day whilst she’d gone in search of work. Who was feeding these children while she was away? I thought of 7 year old Rosa who had lost the sight of one eye whilst play fighting in the sugar cane fields. Who was looking after these little ones in the absence of any adults?

Rosa (left) still has a happy smile following the operation which Kenyan Kids helped to fund.

The trip from which I returned on the 17th November had been my fourth visit to Kenya in just over 18 months. During those visits my time has been spent exploring the different areas with an objective of trying to get an understanding of the impact poverty has on this particular region. To me the challenge of Africa is its diversity of problems and trying to get to the root causes is confusing. All too easily, you can become so overwhelmed that you then, quite probably, decide to do nothing. For me, each visit unearthed yet another issue. It could be street boys living rough and high on glue, young girls being trafficked at bus stations - having little choice but to turn to prostitution, families destroyed and decimated by HIV/Aids which has taken away a generation of young parents. No education, no care and certainly not a glimmer of hope in this wasted society. All too often, it is the elderly grandparents, barely able to look after themselves, who attempt to become the carers of orphan children.

Sickness is rife everywhere. I remember the first time I came across a child with malaria. I was shocked but became even more horrified when I realised the pittance it would cost to actually cure that child simply by administering a three-day course of tablets. Illnesses we rarely hear about in our world, like Typhoid and TB, lost some of their fear to me as they are a daily and commonplace reality for the people around me.
I felt the ‘root’ cause of all problems could be positively impacted with education.

When I was introduced to the inhabitants of Namatotoa, it soon became apparent that children were being left by the wayside, both physically in terms of abandonment and neglect through lack of schooling. It is these children who, uneducated, run away to the big towns. There they arrive at the bus depots and end up on the streets either victims of trafficking or addicted to glue (because this takes away the pain of hunger and cold).
A previous attempt to start a nursery school in the village was thwarted because funds were too scarce but that was before I met Moses and before Kenyan Kids came into existence, Now, if we can provide a simple structure of a school building these village kids can start to be educated and their carers can go out and find local employment.

Coincidentally I met a pastor friend of our Moses, a Bishop Sebastian who lives close by Namatotoa. As he was speaking to me he showed me a small, wispy seedling and said: "Julie, this is like your ministry. Things start small." Then he took his shovel and carefully unearthed the huge heart of the plant below (right). “I want you to transplant this in your village and always remember, as this seedling grows so will your ministry.” At the time, I was too choked up to make any kind of response other than a hurried thank you.

The next day, as I poured over the blueprints for the nursery school, I knew that what we were looking at was real and achievable so the school is now our top priority. How we will raise funds for the school is still a bit of a mystery but then isn’t that the fun of it? Thanks to your generosity we already have purchased a brick-making machine. Now I know we can progress brick by brick and when we have enough bricks, we will buy a door or a window. 

Local labour will be used to build it, parents who can’t pay towards school fees will be asked to prepare food for the children or bring in wood for the kitchen fire. It’s not all about money but bringing a community together – both the African community and the community of people here in the South of France, in Cyprus, the UK and anywhere caring people, who really want to make a difference are located. The vision is there. Help us by being part of it, whether by buying one brick at a time or by providing one mug of porridge for a malnourished child. Let’s try and give these children what we give our own children - ‘A chance for a lifetime’. With heartfelt thanks - Julie

Standing in the small sugar cane field I know our dreams can become a reality if we all work together.

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