Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

Giving thanks for toilets

I sit here a week after Thanksgiving, and am giving thanks for so much.

Family, friends, face book acquaintances, people I  have never met.

I have to admit, that since sitting down to seriously start Ameena Project at the end of August that I have had some serious moments of DOUBT and FEAR and ANXIETY.

I knew  that Ameena Project  could commit to the people and community of Kiang’ombe.  But what I didn’t trust was whether we could rally the support and financial means to provide the resources to do so.

With faith even as small as a mustard seed, amazing things can still happen….

Not knowing if we would continue to draw in the financial support needed to cover subsequent monthly expenses, we wired funds to Kenya in November to buy all start up supplies and to begin paying staff salaries.

Mercy, our head teacher, emailed immediately with this response as the work began on the construction of necessary new toilets at the school location in Kiang’ombe:

“….we are avoiding expensive materials since the villagers are eager that the project commences and they don’t want the toilet to be a hindrance. They were even ready to construct and leave it uncemented so long as it starts…..The place [of the toilet]  is more of a quarry [heavy rocks ] and digging [down] feet is a task of it’s  own kind , but they are hard working I can’t complain.  We’ve opted to continue and know where  it will take  us .  Meanwhile, we are shopping on start ups , only priorities and the rest can wait, and also trying  to shop before the prices are affected due to the festive season.  Blessings to those of Ameena Project.”

There continues to be great excitement among the community of Kiang’ombe, and among the staff supported by Ameena Project.  Already, in this partnership, Hillary & Mercy are learning to work together, look for local solutions (rather than just  answers from us, the wazungu), and to problem solve and administrate within their means.  They are increasing in their ability to lead change in their community and in their own lives.

This is something to be incredibly thankful for!

And, to encourage it all, and to put my doubt, anxiety and fear at bay……support for Ameena Project came in this month in unexpected ways and amounts.  I hope to share more of those stories soon!

Ameena thoughts

Ian laughs every time he sees the picture of this little girl.  We wondered tonight what she might have been thinking when this picture was taken.  Do you think she was thinking, “Go away, I don’t want your help”?  I can’t imagine that she was.  I imagine that she was wondering what this white person was doing in her neighborhood/village, or what this white person was snapping at her OR whether this white person might be kind and help her?

Lucy, our 5 year old asked me today how to say Ameena’s name in Swahili.

I said, well, it already is Swahili.  It’s Ameena in Swahili and translated into English it would be “Amen” or it means honest and trustworthy.  She seemed so puzzled by my explanation.  In her mind, Ameena was just English and American like everything else she knows.

Using this name in our organization title has a history.  There is of course the whole bit about Ameena and the other babies all being born in the same place yet having different opportunities that I talked about here .  But there is also the drive of our Kenyan teachers pushing to use the name Ameena.  There is a deep connection between these staff and us.  In Kenya, as in other African cultures, relationship is everything.   The importance we  Americans place on doing, accomplishing, being efficient, and checking things off the list……it’s equivalent in Kenya….is how you treat and interact with others.   It is the highest honor and acknowledgement of relationship to name your child (or organization!) after another.  And then, there is the meaning of the name.  The fact that it means honest and trustworthy speaks to the values that we have in our relationships with the people we partner in country with, and with those of you who support us here at home.  We will work hard to be honest and trustworthy in the work we are carrying out.

With that being said….several of you have stepped in & have partnered with Ameena Project to support the Kiang’ombe preschool financially.  One family of teachers sent a donation to buy the educational supplies for the preschool program, another family used inheritance money to give a year’s worth of monthly support in honor of the grandparents who had passed away and yet another family gave a donation acknowledging that while they might never make it to Africa, it didn’t mean that they couldn’t be involved IN Africa.  Others of you have indicated that you are interested in supporting this project which is incredibly encouraging!  We are sending the first amount of funding for the teacher salaries and some of the basic supplies with the hopes that by the end of November we’ll have 50% of our annual budget pledged and received.  It really is important to those of us behind Ameena Project to know that we will be able to sustain this project for the next year.   If you’ve had the tugging at your heart that you would like to be involved in some way, please leave a comment or email one of us!  Your thoughts, words of encouragement, and financial gifts remind us that we are not crazy for embarking on this endeavor.

The nitty gritty of Ameena Project

It started the moment we arrived home from Kenya.  The usual calls from friends, former employees and acquaintances in Kenya.

“Can you help with school fees?  A new business?  Food for my family?  Building a  house on land that was gifted to me?”

And in our relative abundance, we have given, knowing all along that we desired something more structured and focused.

And then this summer, two teachers that we had worked with in Kenya were looking for work.  I told them to go ahead and look for work in a local school, that we had nothing for them.  I hated saying it, but these are persistent folk and they just need to hear it straight, the first time.

And then one of them emailed back and said she couldn’t go back to just teaching anyone.  That after working with these vulnerable kids and seeing the change in them….that this was her calling.

“Could we please help?”

I hated hearing that.  It stressed me out.  Didn’t she know work was unsteady for us, finances unsure, our life still in transition from returning home?  How could she possibly think that WE could help HER?  I think we must have said no a few more times.  I know I let a few calls from Kenya go to voice mail rather than having to say “no” yet again.

But she persisted.

And joined forces with another teacher we had employed and trained.

Ian being the person he is, called their bluff and told them to go find some vulnerable kids then.

They hunted.  They found.  They reconsidered.  And hunted some more.  And found.

The result is Kiang’ombe, an isolated slum village about 3km off the main road in Thika, Kenya.

Kiang'ombe

Community members and elders were thrilled to hear from these teachers.  Overjoyed with the fact that the idle school building they had built themselves within their community…might find life again through the funding of teachers and materials.

This is what we have hoped for all along in thinking again of how we might make a difference in Kenya.

Idle community school building in Kiang'ombe

Ameena Project will be a US based, 100% volunteer run organization made up of individuals who have been deeply and permanently impacted by encounters with extreme poverty.  We will come alongside talented and passionate individuals who have a demonstrated commitment to working with the neediest children within their communities.  We desire to work in developing and undeveloped countries.  Simple and focused, it is our goal to recognize that to whom much is given, much is required.

By carefully choosing opportunities that fulfill our mission we reduce the risk of financial mismanagement,  loss of community culture/knowledge, and dependence on outside leadership.  While our group grew out of the wish to partner with these Kenyan teachers and enable them to serve the community of Kiang’ombe, we also recognize that the future might bring other partnering opportunities.  But for now, this is how you can help.

We need people willing to fund this program for the 1 year trial we’ve committed to.  Village elders have offered the free use of the facilities and are ensuring community protection of any program supplies that are brought in.

Kiang’ombe Nursery school will provide full day preschool for 50 children ages 4-6 as well as a full feeding program for enrolled children.  We have seen from our previous work in Kenya the powerful effect this type of program can have on a struggling community.  The change in the children is profound when they get the combination of regular nourishment, academic instruction, and structured social activities.  Children in extreme poverty literally come alive when they are given these three basic elements of healthy development.  The effects of this type of program also impact the local community, sometimes in a dramatic way.  When parents know their children have a safe & nurturing place to spend their days, they are often freed up to seek employment themselves, multiplying the positive impact on family systems.  When the youngest & most vulnerable children in the community begin to do better it has a tremendous impact on the community as a whole.  Adult lives that were consumed with worry over their children who were malnourished and only just surviving are transformed when they hear the sounds of singing, see children playing together again (or maybe for the first time), and feel the relief that comes from seeing joy in their child’s eyes.

In order to maximize direct benefit to sponsored programs, Ameena Project values simplicity in all operations and management procedures.  This will allow us to operate programs at a lower cost than more elaborate American derived programs.  This will be a Kenyan preschool that looks like a Kenyan preschool.  No fancy American supplies and equipment.  But, because of this concept, we will be able to fund salaries for 2 teachers, a cook, and a security guard; and schooling and meals for 50 children 5 days/week for less than my monthly take home!  And I only work 2 days  a week!

Here are the specific ways in which you can choose to join this cause:

Make a one (1) time financial contribution towards the start-up program costs:

educational supplies – $555.00      toilet renovation & construction of chalk board – $278.00     cooking, food service & cleaning supplies – $445.00

55 student chairs, 4 adult chairs, and 10 tables – $834.00     1st month’s salaries & operation  costs – $1200.00

or, make a year-long commitment to the monthly costs of running this program.  We would LOVE to challenge you to commit to giving & joining in this project in exchange for the benefit of being uniquely connected to this community and 50 specific children.  You can send a check to us monthly, quarterly, or in a lump sum.

While we work on acquiring non-profit 501c3 status, we have a fiscal sponsorship contract with Nomad Charities out of Bend, Oregon to allow for tax deductible contributions.  If  you desire  a tax write-off, you would write checks to:  Nomad Charities with Ameena Project in the subject line.  If you don’t want to go through our fiscal sponsor, you can make checks out to Ian and/or Anne May with Ameena Project in the subject line.  All checks (including Nomad checks) can be mailed to:  Ameena Project, 1455 SW Huntington Ave, Portland OR 97225.  Your monies will go toward the program in Kenya, all members of Ameena Project volunteer their time/services.

We anticipate the launch of our website, with more specific Ameena Project information in the next couple of weeks, but also recognize the need that is immediately present in Kiang’ombe, and wish to begin funding the preschool & feeding program as soon as possible.

These children are waiting:

If you have more specific questions about our budget, financial arrangements, giving, and/or volunteering opportunities, please feel free to email any of the Ameena Project members directly:

iansmay00@yahoo.com;  ianandanne1@yahoo.com, altreead@easystreet.net or meganjsteele@yahoo.com

We also welcome those of you who wish to contribute through volunteering your professional skills. 

Ameena & Aurellio. One month & a world apart.

Ameena & Kenyan friend Aurellio in our Kenyan home

Ameena Project was born out of the heart-wrenching, true-life experience of seeing how 2 children, born just days or  months apart, both in Kenya, can have such a different outlook for life.

The stark reality is that Aurellio will struggle to make it past his 5th birthday living as he does in poverty–constantly exposed to rampant, life-threatening illnesses such as diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, malaria and meningitis.  While Ameena will grow and thrive up to and past the age of 5, certainly exposed to illness, but almost certain to overcome it easily with convenient and inexpensive medication.

Is Aurellio of less value than Ameena?  Does he have less potential than Ameena?

Am I of more value and worth than his mother?  Does my origin of birth, upbringing and opportunity REALLY justify that I should  have more than 99% of the world population (that’s if you made at least $52,000/year in 2009)?  And lest we feel sorry for ourselves, if you make $25,000/year you’re still doing better than 90% of the world’s population.

No.

The answer is that we truly feel that each child should have the opportunity for health, development and dignity regardless of the parents origin or residence.

We know we can do something about this,

and we’re going to.

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

Introducing……Kenya Part 2!

It hasn’t escaped our notice that our blog title has read: “Our journey to Kenya and back” and that the title has seemed awkward since we have been back home here in the United States.  Ian and I have discussed if I should change the title, but there has been something in me (and him) that has been unable to let the title (and the experience) go.  I think maybe a part of us still hasn’t made it back.

We have now been home for 15 months, the exact amount of time that we spent living and working among Kenyans in Thika, Kenya.  I reflect back and already cannot believe that the woman living and experiencing that life….was me.  I read back over blogs written while there and realize how much has slipped from my memory already.  Did I really sit on benches next to laboring women in 3rd world maternity wards, travel pregnant in a public vehicle with 20 Kenyans, and navigate Ian being held & questioned at a Kenyan police station?

Many of you know Ian.  He’s great & I am so thankful that I get him as a partner in this life.  You also would know that he can be really  intense.  He says stuff that makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears while mumbling, “La, la, la, la. I don’t hear you.”  He knows this.  So instead, he chooses carefully when to share these thoughts with me & I in turn try to listen without freaking out.  He hears intensely from what we call the Holy Spirit: that inner prompting of your deepest self to take action that can be scary, challenging, and humbling.   Ever since leaving Kenya he has struggled with  knowledge that he can do more for people living in chronic & serious need.  He struggles with balancing the safety and comfort we both want for our family & listening to the quiet yet growing call to use his talents in places that other people would rather only visit and take pictures of.

Can I just say that it is downright terrifying to think of giving up all of the wonderful comforts of Portland, Oregon AGAIN to go somewhere…..ELSE?  It wouldn’t be a short-term choice if it happened again.

I’m pretty darn sure that the Holy Spirit is working on both me and Ian.  There is definitely the knowledge that this Kenya Part 2 is probably just the gate to something else amazing & scary & perhaps downright crazy….but I am so pleased to share and announce to you all that for now, from Portland, Oregon, this desire to serve globally is being done through the launch of:

                                                Ameena Project

I am thankful that Ian called on some like-hearted friends, Megan Steele and Shari Altree, to listen to his desires to continue serving globally & that they whole-heartedly jumped in with us.

Tomorrow I’ll take you on a tour of Ameena Project:  What it is, How we’ll work, What it will take and so on!  We’re so happy to welcome you on this journey with us.

Ameena

Today we celebrate one wonderful year of having Ameena in our lives.  

What a full year this last one has been. 

Being pregnant while living in Africa was interesting.  I felt healthy, but had more physical symptoms than with any of my other children.  Crazy high blood sugar that I monitored much less than I should have—seriously, you think they have glucose meters and testing strips there?  I think the chemist laughed me right out of his pharmacy when I asked about it.  About 4 months into the pregnancy my in-laws were kind enough to bring a meter and strips…and I rationed those babies out til almost a month before the baby was born.   I perfected a pretty good routine of walking a brisk path from our house to the Centre office, around the playground and back to the house…generally before I started dinner as darkness falls quickly and routinely every night there by 7pm.  On some evenings if my sugar was especially high I’d lay on the thin rug covering our concrete floor in the living room and do the “bicycle” like I was escaping town.  I’m sure it looked humorous, but it was pretty effectively in bringing the sugar levels down.

I also dealt with some horrid lower back pain which was in no way helped by the fact that we did all of the washing by hand until mid November.  Unlike our Kenyan househelp who would come twice a week and stoop to do the laundry, I happily seated myself on our little green plastic stool to dunk the clothes in and out of the bin.  The laundry (aka shower room) was my home for good parts of the day.  Sometimes I’d go to stand, and would cry out in pain……it seemed like the only relief would come from going into the child pose.  Many a Kenyan walked into our home in the evenings and found me there in the middle of the room practicing some good ol’ yoga.

I also suffered a great deal more nausea than usual.  This was not helped by the schizophrenic driving conditions we navigated on a daily basis.  One day, when driving with Megan into Nairobi I had to pull over to vomit on the side of the road.  We had just passed through a rural town and I carefully picked the pullover spot to ensure that it would be free from the usual roadside gawkers.  I got out of our car, crossed in front of the car to the side of the road and bent down to vomit.  Out of no where  a group of school kids appeared and in broken English began to ask questions like, “Why the muzungu vomit?”  “Muzungu vomit?!?”  “What wrong pretty lady?” as they pointed at me.  Megan yelled from the car for the kids to go away.  They were unphased.  I quickly signaled for her to take the wheel and climbed into the car hoping to escape their curious stares and prying questions.  A staff member at the Centre later informed me that Kenyan’s have all sorts of beliefs about white people:  1)  We never vomit   2) If we are in the sun too long, our skin might melt  3) We can get anyone into the US and so on.

Even my delivery with Ameena was interesting and so Kenyan.  I was pretty determined to not have to have an epidural during this delivery…I mean I was at a nice hospital, but crazy stuff happens in a 3rd world country and I didn’t want first hand experience.   Having had my first two babies in the US, I was used to nurses coming in and out, checking the vitals, seeing how “far along” things had progressed, bringing in ice chips, wiping down your forehead, fluffing the pillows, telling you what a great job you were doing.  Pretty high standards.  While I did get a visit from my doctor at 9 am, I had labored all morning mostly alone and had walked my room (not a delivery room) wondering when someone might come to check on me.  I parked myself on that labor ball and counted the floor tiles in my room.  There were a good 30 tiles that I could count through on every contraction.

Same position for about 5 hours….and all I could get on t.v. was the election of a new Prime Minister in England. Torture.

Ian finally arrived back from breakfast (it’s never an easy trip in Kenya) at about 10am and after one good look at me went for a nurse.  She came back and decided we better MOVE!  We barely got into that Labor and Delivery room, had me on the ball and in a position to see a good 30 tiles when DANG that pain ramped up.  I started to panic and asked if we might put that sweet bathtub to use.  I’d always wanted to try it during labor.  True to Kenya again, the nurse indicated that it would take a while to get some hot water into it. I was willing to wait.

 
My body wasn’t.  My water popped like a good summer water balloon.  Ian and I later cringed over the thought of that birthing ball rolling over to the corner of the room without a second look from staff.  Gross.
 
I really started to panic.  No hot bath.  Was there anything else I could have?!?  PLEASE?  You know that moment.
 
The nurse started babbling about laughing gas, but that we would need a fetal heart rate first.  She got me up onto the delivery table, strapped that monitor on my belly and started to fiddle with the machine.
 
At that moment, I went a little CRAZY.  The pain was insane.  I starting that horrible writhing around and ripped the belt off of me.  The nurse (Yes, only one) was a little taken aback by my behavior and decided to check me.  “Just 7 cm” she pronounced.  I wanted to kill her.  7 freaking centimeters?  Was she high?
 
She proceeded to get on her cell phone (nope, no landlines, not even in the hospital) to call my doctor on over…..and as she did, I think I made some vulgar comment about either having a major bodily function happen or I was having this baby. 
 
“NO!” everyone (ok the nurse and Ian) yelled.
 
“Whatever” I thought….and you know what?  I pushed that freaking (sorry Ameena) baby out as that darn nurse about had a stroke (trying to hold the phone and put on her dang gloves) while yelling out into the hall and Ian jumped to keep this surprise from dropping on the floor.  The nurse  recovered, and quickly grabbed her goo basin to put at the end of the table and took over for Ian in holding Ameena.  Poor Ian slumped and an additional nurse who had just walked in grabbed his arm and a paper bag for him to breathe into.  Poor  guy.  Too much blood, too much gross, too much baby–all way too fast.
 
Not enough doctor.  She sauntered in 10 minutes later to check everything out.   All I could think was, “Man, I still have to pay her delivery fee and she didn’t even deliver the baby!  But then again, it’s a good thing we don’t pay them for how long they “attend” or some of us would have some ridiculous bills!
 
With all that said, it has been quite a ride Ms. Ameena.  The first 3 months of your life in Kenya have made these last 9 months in the US pale in drama, but I wouldn’t trade a second of it.  You are everything God intended you to be for our family.  Without a doubt I can say that we all adore you and are thankful for the gift that you are to all of us. 
 
Baby, you were worth the wait.
 

Dubai!

In our hunt to find the cheapest yet safest flight home from Kenya we happened upon a stay over in Dubai.

We as in Erika Lee mentioned it, it sounded like  a fabulous idea that saved thousands even with a 2 night hotel stay over, we booked it!

I didn’t know much about Dubai except that I’d seen it on t.v. on the greatest engineering feats of all time.  You know, where they show them dumping load after load of rocks and sand into the ocean to produce man-made islands shaped like palm trees and other random things.  

Here we are arriving:

The kids waiting patiently at midnight in the glistening Dubai airport

 Our Dubai plan involved arriving just before midnight, staying over a full day, and then flying out on the 2nd morning after leaving Nairobi.  We had booked a hotel within walking distance of a mall (they REALLY take shopping seriously there) in hopes of spending some leisure time in an air-conditioned space.

Why air conditioning?

Uh, because it was the height of summer in Dubai, where temperatures easily were reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our plane stewardess talked about her flip-flops melting on the sidewalk there.  I’ve heard of that happening in the US in Arizona and places like that when it gets really hot, but I wasn’t up for trying it out on this trip.

We started out the next morning after sleeping in and taking warm (hot water right from the tap!!!) baths.  We managed to walk across the street and one block down from our hotel before ditching that plan.  We were all melted and luckily there was a cab in sight who was more than happy to stop for our family.  We hopped in and asked him to take us to a mall.

He took us to the largest mall in Dubai.  Actually, it now holds the distinction I believe of being the largest mall in the world. I never thought that I could be overwhelmed by shopping, but I was.  If we had been coming from the consumer mentality of the US, it might have been manageable, but to step from a more rural area of Kenya straight into this….it was a bit much.

We managed to look around in 2 shops total, including the largest candy shop any of us had ever seen.  It was aptly named, Candylicious:

Perhaps this is why Eli now has a cavity

 We also decided to tour the aquarium that was housed in the mall.  We especially enjoyed the glass tunnel that allowed us to walk within a few inches of sharks and sting rays:

 

Checking out the rays

 After the aquarium, we sat down to a ridiculously priced lunch that would have cost half as much in the US and my first Starbucks latte in 15 months.  My latte cost 200 Dirham, which is about $7 here in the US.  It was good, but not that good!

We took pictures outside of the mall in front of the world’s tallest building.  This building has something like 165 stories and is 2717 feet tall:

It’s on the left there behind Ian and I.  It’s so big, you only see a portion of it, even in person because it disappears into the haze.  You can tell though that it dwarfs everything next to it.  Here is a picture of it from the web:

Later that evening, we went up to the roof of a sister hotel and Ian and the kids enjoyed some fun in the pool. It was wonderful to spend time outside after dusk.  This is something we were rarely able to do while in Kenya because of malaria and safety concerns.

A very happy girl!

Sitting by the pool sweating out the humid heat of the Sahara

 

A view of Dubai from our rooftop pool...there was a sandy haze all day

 We had a wonderful time together as a family in Dubai and were very thankful for the rest before our 16 hour flight to the US the next day.