Progress Report from 2009 August Service Trip

    
To see this report with photos, click here

We are home safe & sound, after a busy 3 weeks in Kenya.   I will be washing the red dust of Africa from my hair & clothes for a long time.  The itinerary was very full, tiring just to think of it. We have great stories of progress that wouldn't mean much at the United Nations, but each small triumph is a very big deal in the lives of individual families.  Dr. John McNulty, friend & former colleague at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, accompanied me on this trip. We hit the ground running, traveling to UpendoVillage in Naivasha the morning after our arrival: a short visit there, reviewing our projects & purchasing craft items. However, we visited the IDP (internally displaced persons) camp being helped by Sister Florence. There we saw need truly desperate…and touching. Little can be done for immediate help, but we put it in the think tank for future work. These camps were begun by the government nearly 2 years ago after the post-election strife. Tents built to last 6 months are threadbare, with no electricity or running water. People are carrying on as best they can, with a makeshift school and kids…well, just being kids. We’ve scheduled a solar cooking workshop there in October, which will offer some help.

      Then on to Egerton University—a branch in Njoro and one in Nakuru, where John McNulty and I first presented our proposal for collaboration involving Kenyan medical schools, Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, & HARAMBEE. We made this proposal at 4 Kenyan universities and it was met with great enthusiasm. In a nutshell, Stritch would share computer-based medical education tools. In return, visiting U.S & Kenyan medical students would partner & provide volunteer service to villages and IDP camps that have no access to health care. Also, Kenyan medical schools would partner with HARAMBEE for scholarships helping bright & motivated students from rural areas who currently have almost no chance for a productive future. Want to help? We sure hope you do—stay tuned for more on our “GROW A DOC” project representing a new model for medical education in Africa.
 
     We hurried to our next engagement: graduation celebrations for the Maasai we sponsored at BarakaAgriculturalCollege, run by Irish Franciscans. The enterprising Maasai have worked hard to improve their communities. A well-intentioned donor gave them two dozen Langstroth beehives—and the Maasai had no idea what to do with them! They do now, you betcha, learning to improve honey production five-fold. You also have sponsored a Maasai in a course teaching how to build beehives, a smart investment. 
 
     We rode many hours with the Maasai home to western Kenya in a (gulp!) matatu (aka suicide sloop) & taught them “Old McDonald” with Swahili names of the farm animals. I can’t remember ever having more fun—& we all survived to tell about it. In the Maasai village, where last year we saw fly-covered babies crawling in 6 inches of cattle manure, I am excited to report improvement. Cows are now sleeping outside the home enclosure, and a bio-gas converter is being installed. This will capture methane frommanure and fuel homes for light & fire, contributing to improved community health & environment (no more smoky fires or deforestation). This is only a beginning, but the first step has been taken, and we expect more.
   
     When you visit Maasai on the great romantic western Mara, you enjoy thrills of the wild—sometimes a little too close for comfort. We were picnicking under an acacia tree (beautiful flat-topped trees seen in "Out of Africa") when our guide Haroun jumped up shouting "Into the van!  QUICK!  NOW!"  We moved fast, locked the doors, rolled up the windows--& looked out to see a mother lioness with three cubs peering at us through the tall grass.  I guess she also was thinking of a picnic --white meatYUM! 
 
     Three big adventures awaited us later in KaluokiVillage. The porridge program continues, & we are trying to get the school included in UNICEF’s food program. I brought letters & photos from children at CSOP in Berwyn who want to know more about kids in Kenya. We distributed them & the children wrote letters back as I took photos. Both will be given to CSOP kids on a return visit soon. Two hopes for the future fuel this project: If children learn respect for others far away & very different, maybe they’ll be more likely to share resources & less likely to pick up a gun to shoot that “different” person when ordered. Secondly, we have a wonderful web-based children’s literature exchange curriculum that we are hoping to institute soon between American & Kenyan classes. Teachers: interested? Contact HARAMBEE!     
 
     The second adventure: Our chicken co-op program. We met with the 11 who received a pair of   chickens in April. Each now had a flock of chickens, & it was time to discuss progress & hand off 11 donated pairs of chicks to new members. This project is working well—funded by YOUR dollars—helping development economically & socially. The only drawback: they wanted me to distribute the chickens. Words can’t describe this experience.  I am a city person. ‘Do not like chickens.
  
     That night we stayed in the home of one of the teachers & I have a new definition of faithful friendship inspired by John McNulty: A true friend is someone who’ll walk with you to an outhouse in Africa at 3 a.m. 
 
     The next tale is very personal, & if you feel I’ve violated good corporate practice, let me know. In our spring visit we were taken to see a baby with a severe birth defect on her face, an enlarging growth beginning to affect her eyes. Everyone wanted me to do something. However, HARAMBEE’s mission is not to help individual families, but communities.  I didn’t even take a photo of the baby, because I was sure that if I responded, 50 other families would be at my doorstep the next morning wanting me to solve their problems. As luck (?) would have it, in Nairobi the next day I met the head nurse from a hospital pediatric unit. She said to send the family to her. The hospital could perform surgery free of charge, but an x-ray was critical. Total cost: $175, far beyond the means of this family. Suddenly, out went logic; I led with my heart and sent the cash. Baby Priscah underwent a complex surgery on the day we arrived in Nairobi in August. The entire family gathered, with Priscah, to see us when we came to Kaluoki 2 weeks later. Her prognosis is good, although the surgical wounds are formidable.  But I have never seen a more tranquil, happy mother The grandfather approached me, wanting to cite a scripture passage. He had no glasses or bible. I just happened to have both, whipped them out, and found the verses he cited: 1st John 3:16-18, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives.... Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”          
     
     Reading that, it was hard not to choke up. I snapped out of it fast when Priscah’s grandmother came at me with…another chicken! I did my best to accept it graciously. This was the finest gift they had to give. Into the car it went, & ended up in someone’s dinner pot that night, but not mine.   I don’t like chickens.
 
How many other Priscah’s are waiting out there…?  
 
     There are more wonderful stories & photos to share.  We brought 2 more sewing machines and large converters for Sister Little's tailoring project.  This is right on the edge of Kibera slum, which will make it possible for teenage girl students to walk to the project.  They'll be learning skills enabling them to earn a living. 
 
      Please come back to see a new page for photos from this trip soon.
 
   We visited with our fair trade craft people all around Nairobi and brought back things that will make your mouth water! So please contact me if you are interested in quality items reasonably priced & keeping families fed—no kidding. Four suitcases of crafts are still all spread out on my living room floor like an exotic African bazaar.   Thanks for your good thoughts and prayers.  This was a successful trip without serious misadventure, thank goodness.  There are always many, many frustrations, but they are bearable. After all…we get to go home….
 
     You make this good work possible; you are acting as God’s hands, changing the world. And the Africans know that God understands Swahili…because you are an answer to their prayers. 
prayers.     God love you all,              
                                                                              Keen

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