Community Outreach

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A child outside the Village that was born with a physical disability.  He treks more than one mile each day to fetch water.

Home Visit
I recently attended two home visits with the homecare psychologist, Lillian. A home visit consists of picking up a family of children from their school in the outside community, driving them to their home so the social worker can see the conditions they are living in and then documenting information about the visit. The purpose of the visit is to identify if the children and the grandparent, if one is alive, have reached a level of destitution warranting an invitation to move into the village.

Children of my first Home Visit.  They are sitting on their 5′ x 4′ bed that they share.

The house of the first Home Visit.

Miambani Hills

 The first case involved four siblings whose father died of AIDS in 2008 and the mother in 2009. The oldest was 13 years and they had been living on their own for over a year (they have no one willing to take care of them). Only one of the children had a school uniform and the younger children were suffering from malnourishment (Lillian took a quick look at the children’s heads and immediately knew they were malnourished, although it was not so easy for me to recognize). They were living in a home that was 10’ by 15’ and all four sleeping on a bed 5’long by 4’wide. I have no idea how they got food at night. As we were driving them back to school, I noticed that they had picked up a plastic water bottle from the back seat floor and were scheming how to take it for use at home. They will surely be admitted into the village sometime soon.

The grave of the parents of the first Home Visit with the homes in back.

 The other case was not as dire as the first. The parents had died in ’98 and 05’ from AIDS and the grandfather in 09’ from natural causes. Three children were left with their grandmother who possessed little to no skills to survive. They may also be candidates for the village, including the grandmother. Their home area of Miambani resides in a valley of hills that resemble small mountains. It possessed a pretty beautiful landscape.
We took a picture of the burial places of the parents at both home visits. Because people in the area can not afford grave stones, they bury loved ones near the home and let the grass grow undisturbed.

Rescue Visit
A week after the home visits, I went on a Rescue Visit. A Rescue Visit occurs when the Village is informed about a situation inflicting irreversible physical and emotional damage to the children. Homecare staff must visit the home to confirm that the situation is as dire as described by the informing organization. If the situation is as dire as described, Nyumbani will relocate the children to the Village that day.  This particular organization, managed by a congregation of nuns, sent two Sisters to the Village to explain the situation. The next day Lillian and I went to assess the home environment and determine whether the circumstances warranted an immediate relocation into the Village.

The home of the children of the Rescue Visit.

 First, we met with the nuns that referred the case and the principal of the children’s school. They accompanied us to the children’s home where we were greeted by the area chief and neighbors. As Lillian conducted the visit by asking questions to the chief and neighbor and also answering their questions, I took pictures of the home, burial site and children. Because the language spoken during the visit was Kikamba, I did not gather much information about the case. All Lillian told me as we were leaving is that the situation was very bad and the children must be taken to the Village immediately. The family consisted of children ages 13 years, 11 years, 9 years, 3 years, and 10 months. The children aged 13 years, 11 years, and 10 months old are females and the 9 and 3 year old are males.

Four of the Five children inside their home.  They slept on the dirt floor.

Dokas after chugging several ounces of milk.
I took a banana from Benson, the three year old, and fed him small pieces after he devoured half of the banana in one bite.  He was literally “starving” of hunger.
Four of the Five children, the principal of their school, neighbors, and the chief of the area (in the back right).

The Sisters invited us to lunch at their home before departing for our 1.5 hour journey to the Village. The children devoured the food that was given and the 10 month old chugged several ounces of milk. Lillian explained the situation to me as we waited for lunch to be cooked. An older woman, ashamed of being infertile, adopted two young women to live in her home and have children for her. The two young women had relations with different men and ultimately birthed these five children (probably all having different fathers). Within the last year, the older woman died of natural causes and the two young women died of AIDS. It is uncertain if the children have HIV but will be tested soon. The last death occurred a few months ago, leaving the children to survive on their own. A man claiming to be the father of one of the younger children was living in the home. He was a drug dealer that had sold all the children’s land and was suspected of “inappropriate” behavior (putting it lightly) toward the eldest daughter. That child had been moved to a safe home away from the man. Consequently, the 11 and 9 year old were sharing the responsibility of taking care of the two younger children. The 11 year old would stay home from school one day to take care of the youngsters, while the 9 year old would go to school. They would rotate going to school every day. The 3 year old was born with Cerebral Palsy (my diagnosis according to my work at United Cerebral Palsy of St. Louis) and requires special assistance to thrive. Furthermore, they had no means of food and the neighbors had difficulty supplying food because the man living in their house would eat it and sell it. The neighbors were forced to visit periodically and serve meals directly to the children. These neighbors had little food to feed themselves, let alone the children.

Dokas’ malnourished body.

 As we entered the car, I realized that the 10 month old named “Dokas” was so malnourished that she was the size of a 2 or 3 month old. My two hands covered her entire 12lb frame. I, as many of you know, can be an emotionally guarded person. Not this day! I found myself filled will sorrow and frustration as emotional vulnerability overpowered my emotional armor. I could not take my eyes off of the two youngsters, especially Dokas. I held her in my arms (which were engulfing her body) the entire drive home. The stench coming off of Dokas and the 3 year old’s body and cloths was foul beyond words. While displaying facial expressions of shock and awe as the tiny child lay in my arms, Lillian became concerned of my emotional state. I immediately assured her that I was stable, although very moved by what I was seeing and experiencing.
Upon arriving at the Village, we move the children’s possessions, packed in two Wal-Mart size plastic bags, into their new home. They were welcomed into a home of 7 children governed by a grandmother (now there are 12 children in the home). I accompanied the children to the home and spent the rest of the night with them, mostly holding Dokas. Because I have continued to check on the children each day, especially Dokas, Lillian has begun to jokingly refer to Dokas as my first born child.

Dokas and I after reaching the Village.

How are the children doing now? Dokas and the three year old are gaining weight as their bodies are accepting a healthy amount of food each day. The three older children are now smiling and making friend, whereas before they were guarded and scared. For the first time I truly appreciate the value of Nyumbani Village. I am seeing the effect that the Village is having on these children. Without the services provided by the Village, the two younger children would surely have died in the matter of months. The children are now afforded the opportunity to have dreams and aspire to have a better life. Having personally seen the desperation and pain endured by these orphans before relocation and the emotional progress and change in personality after living in the Village for a few weeks, I genuinely appreciate the power and importance of this place. I have now experienced the emotions that drove Fr. Dag to spend so many sleepless nights planning and fundraising to build this Village.

Guest House Cat

The Guest House Kittens

A cat that hangs around the Guest House has been designated our house cat. The other evening I put a visitor in one of the guest house rooms. He came and knocked on my door with a perplexed look. He explained that kittens were curled up on the bed. Me, being the animal-lover that I am, called the village veterinarian because I had no idea what to do. The vet. put the kittens in a box and placed them inside the guest home. People that frequent the guest house have realized that our cat is overly friendly, considering this is the second time she has given birth in six months.

Other Information
The grandmothers have given me the Akamba name “Matiso” meaning “bright”. I am unsure if they are saying that my personality brings light to a room or that I am intelligent. Either way I consider it a compliment. Add Matiso to the list of names people call me: Dag, John Mike, John, Mike, John Mark, Dagger, smart-ass, etc.

I decided to make Karubu (a Kenyan beer that is popular in this area because of how cheap it is to make) for a party we had in the guest house. I bought the ingredients, sugar and pure honey, and mixed them in a five gallon bucket with water. A fermenting component found on a tree is then added to produce the alcohol. I made the concoction three day ahead of time and put it out in the sun to ferment each day. The day of the party I left the village early in the morning for a home visit. As the vehicle was driving me and others back to the village, something in the engine exploded. By the time I arrived in the village, the Karubu was gone (except for a liter that they put aside for me). I really wanted to take a picture for you all to see. I will make sure to get a picture next time.

The remnants of the Village fire.

 We had a fire in the Village this week. A child from outside the Village was playing with a match and lit a small section of the Village on fire. The circumstances could have proved disastrous. It is now very dry in the Village, it was the windiest day since I have been here and the water pump for the Village was broken. Luckily, the section of land was undeveloped and the fire did not skip over the road and enter the main section of the Village. Admittedly, I did absolutely nothing to contribute to the situation. Everyone was speaking Kikamba and there was little water to fight the fire. I felt like I was in California or something.

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Posted on: December 8, 2010 | Categories: Economic Opportunity, Education, Health Care, Kenya, Poverty, Well for HIV+ Village- Kenya


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