My Trip to Kenya
The adventure began on Monday the 6th January. We travelled up to Dublin on the bus and met the other volunteers at the airport. We were in the queue, about to check in when I realised that I had my sisters passport! I wasn't able to fly that night and stayed with friends in Dublin. Everyone was saying that it must have happened for a reason and that something good would come out of it. Although it was hard to believe them at the time, they were right. Flying to Kenya on my own was a great experience and now gives me confidence knowing that I can fly half way around the world on my own.
Nyumbani was founded in the early 1990s when Father Angelo D’Agostino discovered that orphanages in Kenya were turning away infants with HIV/AIDS. He took matters into his own hands, adopting three abandoned HIV-positive infants.With the help of an Irish Sister, Mary Owens, soon the three children became six, and the six became twelve. Nyumbani now serves more than 4,000 children every year. Though Nyumbani’s beginnings were humble, Father D’Agostino and Sister Mary saw from the start the great need to help not only those children suffering from HIV/AIDS but children and elderly left vulnerable in the disease’s wake. They long planned to build Nyumbani Village to provide high quality care and education, and to build self-reliance and hope in communities laid bare by HIV/AIDS.
On the first day, we went to Nyumbani Children’s Home. Nyumbani provides life-saving care and a loving home to more than 120 HIV-positive children in Kenya. They age from newborn to 23. The children live at Nyumbani Children’s Home until they are healthy and self-reliant. Children and babies often arrive in desperate malnourished condition, many abandoned by their families because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS. They come from as close as Nairobi to as far as Mombasa and represent every ethnicity in Kenya.The most severely malnourished are brought to the Nyumbani Respite Centre, where they are brought back to health and returned to their families, who first are trained in the children’s unique nutritional needs.
At Nyumbani Children’s Home, first we went to the lab. Through generous support from donors around the world, they opened their world-class Nyumbani Diagnostic Laboratory in 2011. The on-site laboratory allows more accurate and faster HIV/AIDS diagnosis and testing. Then we played with the children. Some of the money we raised paid for a fun day at the children's home. There were bouncy castles, clowns, a puppet show and a magic show. The children absolutely loved it. We spent the day there. Some of us played with the younger children on the bouncy castle while others played a game of soccer with the older boys.We took the younger children on a day out to an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary. The next day we took the older children on a day out. Then we left for the village.
On more than 1,000 acres, Nyumbani Village is their most ambitious project yet. Up to 1,000 children and 100 grandparents displaced by the Kenya AIDS epidemic live in small cottage units. Nyumbani Village provides a stable home for the most vulnerable. The village was completed in 2006. Villagers receive comprehensive medical care, education, vocational education, psychosocial support, shelter, and food. The emphasis is on nutrition, parenting, and economic self-sufficiency while respecting local cultural traditions.
We spent a week in the village. We were split into little groups and helped out around the village each day. We cleaned chicken coops by sweeping them out using leaves on the farm. Some people sorted pills in the medical centre. In the greenhouses we sieved twenty litres of honey into jars and then labeled them so they were ready to sell. We also helped sorting the maringa. Maringa is a medicinal herb. They pick it off the trees, then they must remove all the twigs, crush the leaves, sieve them twice and then put it in jars ready to sell. We also tidied the school library. The polyptych were making over fifty new desks for the secondary school as there were more first years this year than last year. We sanded them all and then varnished them. Some of us also helped with the distribution. Certain food was given out to the Susus (the grandmothers) each day.
One afternoon, we went to the hall along with the 700 primary school children. As they were all coming in, we stood at the top of the hall. Trying to talk to each other was difficult over the noise of seven hundred excited children. We each took a group of about twenty and talked to them about dental hygiene and showed them how to brush their teeth properly. It was a challenge for myself and one of the other girls as we took all the younger ones and they didn't really understand us, but some older boys came over and translated what we were saying for them. Then their faces lit up and they started to interact with us and answer our questions. At the end we gave them all a new toothbrush.
On one of the mornings we were shown how to weave baskets by the Susus. Most of the Susus couldn't speak english, the one showing me couldn’t but somehow we were still able to communicate. We didn’t finish the baskets that day so we came again the next morning. My Susu gave me a little basket she had made as a present. I was so touched because I had seen how long it took to make them and they sold them in a little shop but instead of selling this one she gave it to me.
We went to mass in the village and when we arrived there were no seats left and there was already a lot of people standing. As soon as they saw us though they got up to give us seats. It felt a little strange but I guess it was a way of showing their appreciation for what we had done. The mass was so different from mass in Ireland. They had loads of singing and drums and a group of girls dancing. I really loved it.
On our last day in the village we were given a list with the number of girls and boys in each house and their ages. Then we were able to
sort through the clothes we brought with us for the village and put together a bag for each house. It had an outfit for each of the children in the house. In the village, the houses were in clusters of
four. We took turns going around to the different clusters and delivering the clothes. It was heart warming to see the children's excitement as the little truck stopped at their cluster. They were delighted with their new clothes. I can only compare the atmosphere to that on christmas morning. It was so lovely to know that I was making a difference. That day we gave 540 children new clothes.
Each group of us also got to go around the village with one of the social workers. They would be checking that everything was ok as sometimes if there was a house where some of the children were the Susus grandchildren and some of them weren’t, sometimes it could cause arguments. We talked to all the Susus we met through the social worker who translated for us. They were all delighted that we had come to see them. One offered us some food that she was cooking, others were proud to show us their room and gave us a tour of the house and garden. Many of them had chickens and were growing vegetables and grains. Most of the children were in school but the first years hadn't started yet so some of them were home too.
When we saw inside the houses I was shocked at how dark and bare they were. Each house had a kitchen with a big wooden table in it, a tiny toilet, the Susu’s room, one bedroom for the girls and one for the boys. Each of the children’s rooms were very small with eight beds in each room, two bunkbeds with four beds in each. In most houses the top bunks weren't used as there was rarely more than six girls or six boys in one house. This was where they put their clothes.
Though I was shocked at how small, dark and bare there houses were, I then realised that it didn't matter, they were all happy. We describe these countries as third world countries and undeveloped, as if we are superior. Yes we have a better medical system than they do and everyone here gets to go to school but are we happy? As countries become more and more developed and as technology improves, we distance ourselves from each other. We spend more time alone with our phones than talking to actual people, we become lonely. Our developing is causing the meanings of words to change. The meaning of the word community has changed from people who call into and look out for each other to people who live near each other and happiness has become a goal rather than common way to feel. “I’ll be happy when I go there” “I’ll be happy when I get this”. I’m sure you will be but don't wait until then to be happy. Somewhere along the way we were too busy developing and we lost sight of what is really important! In that village all one thousand children had lost both their parents, all one hundred grandparents had lost a child and around eighty children had HIV, but they were happy. It was one big family. The children walked around with their arms around each other and holding hands. The Susu’s would smile and laugh with each other whenever we replied to their getting. When you come back from a place like Kenya people always ask “do you appreciate everything more now?”, and somethings I definitely do, I am going to school and I have both my parents, but when people say that they are thinking of things. Yes I have a bigger house and more clothes than the people in the village but does that make me appreciate them more? No. Things don't matter. I think what has stuck with me the most is not how lucky we are, but how lucky they are.
The money we raised paid for the fun day at the Children’s Home and the two outings, the rest bought chickens half of the village (the other half already had chickens) and paid for ten children to go to school secondary school. This trip was such an incredible experience! It really opened my eyes to the world around me. I got to experience a whole new culture and spend time with people I will remember forever. I will never forget those amazing two weeks and I'm so glad that we've made a difference however big or small in the lives of the people we met.