Monday, March 29, 2010

TIme flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

So, after a frustrating week I am trying to take inventory of all the good things I have to experience here. I have plenty of bananas, mangos, passion fruit, avocados, macadamia (emphasis on the da-mia part of the word), pineapples, etc…

I think the most frustrating thing about working in development is mitigating the well intended mistakes of the past. People have come to assume if they wait long enough, sooner or later some NGO will take pity on them and shower them with money. This is a phenomenon I experienced a lot more in West Africa but I am certainly seeing it here as well. As the coordinator of the Public Health Program I am conducting Malaria Awareness trainings and distributing treated mosquito nets to the greater Village Hopecore Community. Many of these groups have been connected with VHI for up to three years and have never been funded due to limited resources. In fact part of the Public Health Program’s goal through the Malaria trainings and net distribution is to bolster morale and keep connected with our groups as well as conduct preventative health trainings. Recently we went to do a training and distribute nets with an unfunded group. One member complained about the event and needed to convinced about the importance of the training. His reasons were because he was upset with not being funded and it seemed as though he felt VHI owed him something.

As part of our mosquito net distribution we follow-up with home health visits to continue the education and emphasize that the nets should be used. It’s a great way to know people and as I’ve mentioned in past blogs, a great way for people in our groups to spend time together. This man who felt we owed him something disappeared on the day we were scheduled to visit his home. His wife refused to leave her business or confirm that he in fact brought the nets home or that the family is using them. I have to question whether this person took the nets somewhere to sell them and I am disappointed. This is not something that happens regularly but when it does I am reminded of how so many years of charitable donations have caused apathy among people to take responsibility for their own livelihoods and increased the sense of entitlement to things they have been given.

This brings me to another interesting observation about myself. One might think I am an insensitive conservative who doesn’t believe in welfare or public services. That is very far from true and I think my actions certainly speak to that. I do think that when charity is given we tend to be irresponsible. The work we are doing here is a struggle because of the amount of follow-up, which is sometimes more important than the initial tasks. Follow-up informs us when things are working and guides us to make progress and in turn help others make progress. Good investments are well researched and closely followed and in the case of development will eventually empower the population and strengthen a sensible system for growth and development. Good investments rarely come from a haphazard distribution of funds. Remember the saying if you give a man a fish he eats for a day, if you teach him to fish he eats for life. This takes time and sometimes a lot of manpower.

But on a lighter note I went for another walk this weekend and made friends with a dog named Sivi. I am also looking forward to a trip to Mombassa for Easter Weekend. And the sun is shining!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My first nature walk.

So I went for my first nature walk on Sunday. Apparently going up Mount Kenya is just too much money for one volunteer Muzungu and I'll have to wait until some folks around here want to go with to share the cost... In the meantime I went for a walk to a little mountain, called Kalima in Kimeru and the one we went to is called Kalima Karima. This is a little bluff I've noticed each time I'm on the road to Meru and I was pleased to climb it and get a different perspective. We passed through many farms to get to this Kalima and it is in an area called Thigaa within the Chogoria Location. It was a nice change from riding around in the Land Rover as we followed a well worn path up and down the valleys and across small rivers that the residents use for their daily commute.My guide/friend, Gitonga knows a lot about local plants and which ones are used for various illnesses. This outing was nice but I was a little disappointed by the lack of indigenous plants. In fact the trees on top of Kalima are all Blue Gum trees imported from Australia. Apparently nothing else ever grew there. We hope to venture to other areas where more local vegetation can be found aside from the Mountain and surrounding forest. I asked if there are traditional relationships with the forest here. Apparently outside the medicinal value of certain plants there are no other sacred purposes. Here you'll find pictures of Chogoria from the Kalima, Mount Kenya or at least the base, the road to Meru with quarries on the side, and a nice place to live.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are.”

Nothing describes this better than my past week here. Starting last Sunday morning as I awoke to what seemed like a giant bucket being dumped down on us, knocking out the electricity for three days and preventing me from having a decent conversation with my dear nieces and nephew. The rains ebbed and came back with full force over the next thee days making roads impassable for vehicles and pedestrians alike. The mud became a sticky, slippery mess unpleasant and somewhat perilous to trudge through. My team found it difficult to come into the office on these days and in turn we had difficulty going out to meet my quota of 25 home health visits per week. As the weather improved the vehicle broke and poor cell phone service to intended visit prevented us from reaching the goal. In short, it was a frustrating week.

The rains came early this year and as 100% of the people we are working with are farmers, they are scrambling to harvest their corn and till their fields to plant anew. We are all dealing with unforeseen events, obstacles, and challenges. I am learning to roll with the punches even more and taking every experience as a lesson. I see the determination on the faces of the people here and know they will do what they can. It’s so easy to assume that when life has dealt you a bad hand the best thing to do is give up and fold. If you’re playing poker, you probably should. But life is not so linear and I believe even those who have the least can achieve the most, if they believe in themself.

The other day I remember seeing a man driving a very nice new truck, he looked like some kind of government official. He looked as though someone stuffed a very sour lemon in his mouth and looked annoyed that anyone else existed in the world. Meanwhile visiting the very poor home of a young mother I saw joy in her eyes and the outpouring of gifts in appreciation for the visit of someone to her home. I tell myself to remember to see the sun when it shines and love the rain when it falls. When you have a little extra rejoice by sharing it with others. When plans don’t work out, then laugh and start again.

I was accepted into Harvard this last week for a masters program in Mental Health Counseling. I didn't believe this could happen after a summer and fall of rejection letters. Now I'll make the best of it and try not to make too many plans and just see what happens.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010


So yesterday as I was walking home I noticed a crowed of people and wondered what was happening. I then noticed that there was a truck in the ditch that carries water off the side of the road in the rainy season. Apparently a mechanic was backing the truck up and misjudged things and well fell in the ditch. I thought for sure it was over for that poor truck. But after a few moments of gawking about 25 men got underneath the truck and proceeded to push it out of the ditch. There were a few people yelling at them to direct too. I guess they exist in every culture. ;) I was amazed.

I live right behind a primary boarding school for girls. They are up at 4am and usually don't go to bed until 9pm. They are loud and whenever I climb onto the roof to hang my laundry they gather at the window and stare. I don't mind so much but I am reluctant to encourage them by acknowledging them as they should be studying and not looking at the muzungu. Other than that the kids here are interesting they are either terrified by me or feel that they can take liberties with me that they would not do with adults from their own culture. I still love them though.

Here is a rainbow I woke up to the other day. The camera cannot do it justice, it was so clear and colorful. It really made the rest of my day seem good...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


So, as the Community Health Coordinator for Village Hopecore International (VHI) I am conducting trainings for our partner and associate groups in malaria prevention and proper treatment as well as distributing mosquito nets. To ensure that people are using their nets properly and actually using them on all the beds in their households I have been visiting them. These visits are a wonderful way to connect with people and as our associate groups have not been funded it’s a great way to keep connected. I am learning a lot about the general health and well being of people through these visits and a survey. It’s interesting to visit a home that may have dirt floor and a non cemented pit latrine but they have a variety of crops and many different animals, on the other hand you visit homes with flush toilets inside and cemented floors but little in terms of crops and animals. Wealth is not always apparent.

The past several days I have been visiting the homes of four groups (48people) in a village called Munga. This area is farther down the valley from Chogoria and too hot for tea so many of them grow coffee. We have also had some heavy rains the past few days making it a bit treacherous driving. Nevertheless, I have been given so much food not just during our visits but to take home I feel like I should have a party. I was given a rabbit yesterday, which I had to cook today. This is my first time cooking rabbit so I hope it tastes good. J

I am especially impressed with these people I am visiting and each day I am with them, I visit about 8 homes. Generally, I am greeted by the chairperson for the group and as we visit each home an entourage develops so that by the time for lunch there might as well be a party. I don’t feel entirely deserving of all the gifts of appreciation, but I am happy to be a part of something that brings people together to enjoy fellowship and recognize how much they mean to each other. I was serenaded by the group today and at the last house was compelled to dance with its owner as she and her friends sang.

I am constantly reminded of the good work that VHI is doing in terms of community education. Last week I read an article in the newspaper about a man who committed suicide after visiting an HIV clinic. One can presume his HIV test came back positive and he could not bear the disease, which to so many seems to be a death sentence. VHI funds groups of people who are all HIV positive. The only stipulation we have is that people who are HIV positive working with us, must be taking Anti-Retro Viral drugs. I read a story about one man in one of these groups who lives with his wife and two dependants and through a Village Hopecore loan has been able to grow a business of breeding bulls. He is well respected and has been able to maintain his health to provide for his family.

Today, I met a woman who left her husband and children to live with her parents. As I asked her more questions and if she has been tested for HIV she seemed quite nervous. Eventually she confided that she is HIV positive. When she told us she left her husband because of problems I wonder if he cast her out because of her being HIV positive. This is a common practice here where men ask their wives to go to the clinics to be tested. When their wives come back positive them men throw them out and ignore the fact that they are probably also positive. This woman is not much younger than my own mother. You can imagine what a strong impression this made on me. But I am hopeful. She has united with people in her community through the Village Hopecore group and I believe she will be encouraged by their support and that of VHI. The work here in the words of KK Mugambe is to eradicate poverty both physically as well as mentally. When one does not have an idea of hope, no matter how much material wealth they may come by means nothing in the long run…

Monday, March 1, 2010

Well, the rainy season I think has started. We got stuck yesterday in the vehicle while out doing home visits and had to walk around in the mud. It's not so bad if you have appropriate footwear but I finally gained the inches I've always wanted with the amount of mud that cakes on the bottom of my boots. :) More to come...