Monday, September 20, 2010

Africa Update #3

I was unable to get on the Internet yesterday, so a few days worth of updates.

Spent Wednesday morning working in the clinic. Sorted pills, did filling and watched a class being taught on how to correctly take your medication. Students were very attentive and the teacher was great. It was in Swahili, so I did not understand much but could tell by the way the class was responding that it was well done.

Bought an instant camera to bring with me and it has proven to be a good investment. Everyone wants pictures of themselves and they proudly pose for the camera. Explaining that it takes a while for the photo to show has been a challenge but we are somehow able to understand each other. Wish I had brought twice as much film, but will leave the camera at the center and try to send film for them to continue the picture taking.

Many of the clients also volunteer in the center. Very inspiring to see them work so hard helping in any way they can. They are grateful for the free medication and the kindness of the staff. Several of the men helped to repaint the center since I have been there. I tried to help, put painting is not my strong suit and it was pretty clear I was the weak link in the bunch.

Spent the afternoon at another AIDS Clinic in a smaller village. We had “kids club” where they did art therapy and talked about being responsible for taking their medication and taking care of themselves. Many of the participants will start Secondary School later in the year which is very rare. Apparently it costs money and most families cannot afford it. Exploring how I can help sponsor some of the children to go to school. Not much money to us; likely the cost of our weekly coffee. Gave them their own soccer balls (thank you Nike) to keep at the center and they were very happy.

Thursday was a day spent in the field going on client home visits. The poverty was worse than I could have ever imagined. We had to walk much to most of the homes because they were in remote areas. The clinic goes out to the homes to make sure the clients are taking their medicine properly and that they are doing well. Incredible work from the staff and the community volunteers. Truly amazing.

So many heart breaking stories from today. Many families where all the members are HIV positive. The children generally do well on the drugs, but the poverty is debilitating. Again, just going to school is a big effort financially. We brought food stables for them and some small gifts like crayons and pencils. Met Martin and his family. Martin is doing well but cannot afford to go to school much longer. I am working on paying (it is $100 per year) for his school. He wants to be a lawyer and is very bright and a wonderful boy. After we left, he walked two hours there and back to the clinic to get his medication.

During the walk to the last home we visited, I created quite a stir. Many of the children rarely, if ever, see a white person. Children started running around the village telling each other that a white person was there and pretty soon I had about 20 children following me saying “how are you”. It was really great and I took their pictures and they wanted to touch my hand. Heart warming and impressed that even in dire poverty, these children seemed happy.

Tomorrow is my last day and will do some more field visits in the morning and Senior Teen's Club in the afternoon before I leave. I will leave with mixed emotions. Very ready to come home and have a hot shower, sleep in my own bed and feel safe, but what I have seen and experienced will remain with me on many levels. Knowing all I have makes me feel a little guilty that by the luck of the draw I was born in the United States where for most people, things are much easier. I know I cannot let myself dwell on this because feeling guilty does not do any good. I will channel that energy in figuring out how I can continue to help and would like to focus on making sure some of the children I met can get their school fees paid. I am very glad I was able to have this experience and hope my pictures and stories will raise awareness for my friends and family.

And Now we Say Kwaheri

The question really is whether this is the beginning or the end. We started by beautifying a physical facade, which led to the further beautification of individuals, families and communties...and ended in our own beautification... me personally... as I feel I am leaving this wonderful corner of Kenya a much better person.

Our home visitations continued again this morning. We started with the home of Stephen, shared by his sister and their total of 4 children. Stephen was part of the crew the helped paint the medical centre earlier in the week.

At each of the next two stops, chairs, tables, empty water containers.. whatever could be had...was brought in for us to sit on. This is a true sign of respect and hospitality - what is means to have a visitor in your home.

We then attended the Teen's session in the afternoon at the centre. A remarkable group of children that participate in a facilitated session to discuss their circumstances, stigmas, medical treatments etc. They are a confident bunch, so it made for some very animated discussion.

Then it was off to an open patch to kick around a few new Nike soccer balls.

The memory of this trip will remain with me for a very long time. We must first start by acknowledging our good fortune, and then ask what we can offer to those that are less fortuneate... not needy... just a little less fortunate than us. As I have come to learn, what we do is not charity... these people have pride, confidence and the will to change... they just need compassion and an enabling environment.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Right from the Core... Wishing we Could do More

Today was a day of shedding.... shedding our preconceptions, perceptions and insecurities. 
We visited the homes of four of our clinic patients today, as part of the Home Visitation Program. And you'll see that the word "home" is used in the most generous sense...these we little more than mud, corrugated metal, dirt and string.

At its most basic level, this was about showing another family that we cared.... extending hand for hand, looking eye to eye and open heart for a needy heart.

There was Lucas - father of two - with ill child and wife, who prayed for us as we entered his home and as we left. Mariam gave us the perspective of the care-giving grandmother, with stories about how the ARV medication saved her grand-daughter's life.

All this we learned and experienced while treking through dirt, sewage, goats, chickens and filth. But each time we landed on a doormat, we were greeted with warmth, "karibu sana" (warm welcome), genuine thanks... showing us that common dignity prevails.

And this dignitiy of humanity persists regardless of circumstance.

I am a better person today. 


Day 2 - from Beth

Today I spent my second day in the AIDS Clinic. The staff is unbelievably good. The clients who come to the clinic are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. The grace of the nurses and the other clinic workers is something to behold.

The clinic had TB (tuberculosis) day today. Many, many patients came to get tested. There are several patients, including children, who have both AIDS and tuberculosis. I found out that you cannot get a very inexpensive drug, Streptomycin, in Kenya. This drug is crucial in treating TB and is readily available in most countries. A doctor from the US tells me that the Kenya Government is so unorganized that they did not order the drug even though it is free to get. I feel helpless to do anything, but will write to politicians all the same. Makes you appreciate our system in the US in spite of it's flaws.

Many shipments come in to the clinic from USAID. The boxes say “From the American People” and include water bottles, mosquito nets, condoms, and other essentials. Other boxes, including medicine has been arriving from the Clinton Foundation. Makes you proud that the US is trying to do something, but the poverty and disease are so vast, I am sure it does not put a dent into the problem. A valiant attempt, however and pleased that the US is trying to make an impact.

I had my first breakdown in the clinic today. Two girls were in the clinic yesterday and we had a bit of a connection (pencils seem to be a universal ice breaker with children). They were back today and I was trying to figure out who their mother was. One of the nurses told me the mother has to go to work so the older sister, age 12 or so, takes responsibility for the younger sister's heath treatment. She forgoes school so she can make sure her sister gets the care she needs. I asked why they were waiting around so long today ( 5 or 6 hours with no food) and the little girl who already has AIDS was being tested for TB as well. I tried to hold it together, but could not. The nurses told me that you quickly have to get over the individual situations to make it through the day. This is one of many situations I have heard about that are unfathomable to most people I will ever encounter.

I will spend the day tomorrow at a satellite clinic and then to the “kids club” where they have support groups for children with HIV/AIDS. They do art therapy and other activities as well as giving the children a warm meal. I will be giving out some soccer balls as well. They are a well received gift for the children. I have a few videos but I am not sure the Internet connection is strong enough to send so it may have to wait until I return to the States. One child told me I was a “very good visitor” which gave me tremendous joy. It is hard to feel any contribution one makes will have any impact on such a dire situation, but nonetheless I will not stop trying.

Thanks again for your support.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sitting Under a Shady Tree.... Using the Psychology of Art

Armed with a few supplies from the local Nakumatt (Kenya's Wal-Mart), a group of us made our way to the Mbugoni district of Mombasa today to conduct a Teen Couseling Session at the local clinic. These sessions are held monthly for adolescents who are enrolled with the clinic, as a way of supporting and reinforcing the importance of their treatment.  With children who might not have parents to help remind them to take their medicine or to drill into them the importance of taking their medications daily, the counselors at the clinic supported by AFCA take on this role, as we.  They are amazing women and men who work with the kids in various ways, with this remote teen counseling sessions being one of them.

So it was under a shady tree that a group of 10 youth, ages 13-17 years, introduced themselves to us and listed off the medications they were taking. For me this was the moment of reality - these chlidren are infected with HIV/AIDS, coping with their circumstances and here to attend a support session where two new foreigners are sitting and watching.. I'm sure it was daunting.

Lucy and Sister Regina took the children threw a drawing session to bring forward some of the emotions and feelings that were being kept deep inside. I must say that each child had considerable talent... very expressive in their piece and what they drew about. They were asked to explain the significance of what they drew.

And then a couple of new Nike soccer balls were brought out and we played with the children for a while. There was enough time for me to show a couple of the young boys the famous Ronoldo step--over move. They seemed pretty amazed that "mzee" (old man) still has some fuel in the tank.

A very gratifying day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Paint... and We Paint... and We Paint Some More

They say that beauty comes from within. This clinic in Mikindani has done some of its most beautiful work withiin its four walls.... treating those with little to no options related to HIV/AIDS, TB and a host of other infections. But this institution now needs a makeover of its own, so we embarked on a painting project this morning that would give back to this building some of the same shine that we find on the inside.

"Pole" (slow) is a word you come to appreciate and use quite a bit in Kenya.... but "pole sana" (very slow) is gernally the more apropos term. Took a while to get the troops all set up and ready to work this morning, but we quickly came together and put our minds to the one task of giving this old lady (our medicial centre) her day at the spa.

Some children and mothers waiting in queue for treatment or counseling were also introduced to our friendship bracelets. They say a smile is worth a thousand words... what they don't say is that it's worth 10 million shillings to these children in Kenya :-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

From Painting Walls to Soccer Balls

After being in Mombasa for a few days, you become accustomed to the sites and smells that are so uniqure to this part of Africa. It was my first time in the Mikindani part of town this morning. We were ready for a full day of work at the Volunteer Counseling and Testing Medical center.

We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with a local crew prepping the medical center's exterior facade for painting. Everyone chipped in equally, using "msasa" (sandpaper) and "fhagia" (broom), not to mention a variety to other tools, to get the exterior ready for painting. Unfortunately, painting must be a booming business in Mombasa, as our painter did not show up... but we will get to the fun part of the job tomorrow.

But this allowed us time to visit a couple of adjoining schools and surprise the young primary children with brand new Nike soccer balls. To see the action and excitement is something that cannot be put into words. A typical ho-hum recess was turned into complete euphoria.

We hope to do more of the same in the coming days.

Beth and Al in Mombasa, Kenya

Beth (Nike) and Al (Board of Directors, AFCA) arrived in Mombasa, Kenya on Saturday. They are working at the Mikindani slum -painting the clinic AFCA supports. They are also spending some time with the children in the program, playing and getting acquainted.

Here's some photos sent by Beth today.