Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts on leaving...

As we get ready to go back to the states this week it is occurring to me that while I am at peace with the need to do so, that I have only had a small sampling of what I feel I've waited 33 years to do. While I'm not sure how, when, or where I will be working in this capacity again, I know I will. Something refreshing about the ability to provide hope and opportunities to people who already possess a strength, determination, and will to survive that far surpasses most of us in the western world, and the gifts I have received in the forms of human interaction and connectedness far beyond anything I have ever experienced has hooked me. My conversations with Beatrice and Naomi over stirring steaming pots has given me more insight than any worldly travel experience could provide. I would trade every opportunity for 5 star vacations, beautiful beaches in Lamu, Jamaica, Mexico and Hawaii to sit in the kitchen stirring a pot of Mokimo, singing along to loud crackly African music, while looking out over thousands of miles of rolling jungle and tea fields listening to the insight and questions about our modernized culture from those who possess so little in material wealth but so much in heart. While the curious queries come across rather blunt in nature with the limited English, they are humorously to the point without all the BS that usually glosses conversations. One thing that comes to mind is a simple statement from Beatrice the other day in which she seems like you Americans have more money, more worries and we have less money but less problems....She almost said it as if she might be saying something WAY from left field. Ha! As I listen to her singing to the radio in the kitchen as she does the same thing day in and day out and laughing a laugh that you can hear for a mile at least 5 times a day, it occurs to me that she is exactly right. I bet if I asked an American the last time they laughed until they cried it wouldn't be at least once a day and probably not once a month. Naomi asked me one day if I thought that maybe Americans get so many divorces because they have lost contact with their 'tribes' and especially that the women don't seem to have the women in their families to help and support on a daily basis. When I told her that it is more common for the women to "visit" their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, etc., on holidays rather than spending every day gathering food, taking tea, washing clothes, and raising children together, she was sadened by the prospect that the majority of family support that we have is from our husbands! :))) hee. I tried multiple ways to explain that American husbands are different from African husbands in that they help with the children, wash clothes, clean, talk to the women when they are upset and even when they cry! (They both think it's ridiculous how much american women cry and swear they would be "sent away" back to their families for acting like that). I told her that American men even attend the births of their children. That was it....she looked at me wrinkled her nose and looked at me like I had just grown 2 heads and said....'well I would get tired of him then and get a divorce too...but until then I would cry every 2 days to make sure that he did my housework!' I started laughing so hard that I almost fell off my stool at this surprisingly accurate analysis of the 'games' that are played in our culture that aren't even an option here where survival fills 95% of the brain and taking tea with your friends and family fills the other 5% :)). By the way, taking tea is very serious business. It's served sweet, milky, and scaldingly hot! If you are asked to take tea or invited later to take tea it is not a "maybe" kind of thing. There is no such thing as a day to busy or a brain to stressed to stop and take tea with your neighbor. We have been in the middle of a long day, 3 matatu rides, carrying about 100 pounds in goods (the trips are like costco bulk buying without a costco cart or car to load it all into!) and almost home when we have run into a neigbor and were asked to 'take tea'. It took about 3 invitations to figure out that saying that you are busy, tired, almost home, blah blah blah, is a ridiculous answer when obviously sitting and taking tea with would alleviate all of those things-in their mind. Why would we continue to rush and hurry and stress if we are already rushed and hurried and stressed!?!? We have also been on the invititing end of this when we had passed through a neighbors property on the way to town and asked her if, when we returned from town she would like to have tea. She said yes, and upon returning 4 hours later, while descending the trail into the valley we spotted her a good 1/4 mile and about 700 vertical feet below her house barefoot and strenuously planting everything she could since the "rains had just come" and this was the one and only time for success for this round of crops. Instead of being rushed, stressed, or aware of the fact that she had 3 more daylight hours, 300 more vertical feet to plant and 4 hours had passed since we had last seen her, she stood up and waved to us with a beaming smile and began to head back up the 700 feet to her house as we, in our westerized way begin to apologize for the long delay and tell her that if she is too busy or in the middle of.....blah blah...she just wagged her hand in front of us, smiled and headed up the trail-all 60 years of her barefoot and moving faster than my specialized "hiking" boots could carry me. :)) The logic is so simple yet so lost on our busy, anxiety ridden westernized minds that we hadn't even thought that stopping and going through the ritual of taking tea, talking mindlessly and enjoying the moment might leave us relaxed and even refreshed when we left and picked up our heavy sacks to continue the journey home. Of course it did and that's when I started to feel the change. The change in accepting that when the transport breaks down 2 hours from your destination and you are carrying piles of goods wrapped in twine that you patiently pick your stuff up and even pay the driver half (for half of the journey completed!?!?)...grateful that he got you this far as he points off into the horizon in the direction you should start walking along with the other 9 people that were crammed into the 4 door sedan. I could only imagine in America how this scene would have played out. The change in accepting that time and agendas are relative and pointless and that relationships are the cornerstones to success. The change in realizing that interactions are meaningles and shallow when they are filled with people's projections and agendas rather than authentic interest and support. On this note, when we were at the Mayfield hotel in Nairobi last week for 2 nights, I found myself almost suffocated by western missionaries and tourists and the conciously or unconciously agenda driven, projection littered, probing conversations that seemed to dominate each family style mealtime. I wasn't even aware of what exactly the feelings were until a guy named Thomas arrived with his parents, a Kenyan family, visiting from Nakuru(??), a town a few hours away. Suddenly, the sparkling eyes, and jovial laughs returned to our table and conversation was ignitied out of genuine interest rather the need to exhange pleasantries, war stories, and individual goals. In fact, the term "individual" as far as success, happiness, goals, and anything that we hope to attain as individuals is almost laughable here in a culture where the individual would never succeed without the whole. Isn't it interesting that this is the way every creature on earth operates- plant, animal, and human except those of us from the western world? I know that this interconnectedness is what makes sense to me now that I have had the opportunity to be part of it. Not interconnectedness out of principle, religion, common goals and interests or personal need but because there is absolutely no other way to survive with a full heart and spirit and it would be unthinkable to do otherwise. As I get ready to leave I'm refusing to take souveneirs and momentos, as it seems that these items imply a finality that I know is not the case. Instead I am treating it like a quick goodbye and "see you soon" situation becasue I know I will, in one way or another and will just wait for the chance to arrive.

"It may seem absurd to believe that a 'primitive' culture has anything to teach our industrialized society. But our search for a future that works keeps spiraling back to an ancient connection between ourselves and the earth, an interconnectedness that ancient cultures have never abandoned" -Helena Norberg-Hodge

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New playground, new shamba plan and getting ready to come home

Hi All,

I am sad to say officially but as most of you know we have been forced to come home early due to a unreliable renter in our house and a sloooowww housing market. Without the income from the lease/option to purchase our home we are unable to stay in a volunteering situation as our real life bills continue to need to be paid. I think after realizing that there was no choice in the matter after hours of painstaking "deals" (mostly done by my parents) with the person who was leasing to own our home I have settled into the idea that rolling with life's twists and turns is part of the excitment as you never know what's around the corner. So for now we are spending our last week working as hard as we can to secure some things that will help the progress of the orphanage and definitely plan to come back.

New Playground: The new playground is almost complete. The surprisingly asthetic retaining wall complete with vegetation and the leveled area above holding the new equipment is ready to go other than a few adds and painting of the equipment in cheery colors. The kids look patiently at it every day and are so excited.

Shamba plan: One of the short term goals that we had wanted to accomplish, not realizing that it would have to be done really "short term" was to organize the 9 acres of farm land into two sections. 1 section that sustains the staple food for the kids and 1 section that operates as a production farm selling high quality staples to the community that will in turn support the financial needs of the farm so that it will not be an expense reliant on donations. With MAJOR assistance for Njeroge, the shamba manager that we brought with us from WWB we devised a plan in 3 month increments that will be able to show objective growth and progress. I am thrilled about this for the obvious reasons but also because of the amount of work and pride that Njeroge put into the report that details every aspect of the shambas for the owners that live in Texas, making it easy for them to continue and grow this part of the operation without our assistance. We will use the rest of our fundraised money for this purpose and I will attach the plan here and on facebook for those of you who donated money to orphanage projects. I think you will find that it will be well used and will contribute to the long term success of the orphanage and the health of the children. That's all for now! Hugs to all. Ann

1. Potatoes - 10% of the land - Upper Shamba
2. Cabbages - 10% of the land (growing cabbages) - Upper Shamba
3. Cabbages - 15% of the land (ready cabbages) - Upper Shamba
4. Kales - 5% of the land - Upper Shamba
5. Maize - 20% of the land - Upper Shamba
6. Maize - 10% of the land - Lower Shamba
7. Carrots - 2% of the land - Upper Shamba
8. Pineapples - 20% of the land - Lower Shamba
9. Tea - 20% of the land - Lower Shamba
10. Napier Grass - 15% of the land - Upper Shamba
11. Napier Grass - 15% of the land - Lower Shamba

1. Sufficient seeds for all crops
- Potatoes: introducing of high yield and resistant variety called "Shangi" which is available locally...1 bag required
- Maize: variety 614 or 626 available locally
2. Introduction of mixed cropping i.e. growing different varieties of vegetables
- In addition to current crops add eggplants, squashes, spring onions, cogets, corrianders, amaranthus, green peppers
- Also plant more tea on lower shamba
- Establish an orchard nursery on the farm
3. Manure - need more manure as present manure will not be enough for next three months
4. Fertilizer - If not organic farming then will require D.A.P. for planting and C.A.N. for "top dressing"
5. Completion of bore hole irrigation so farming can be done year-round (i.e. dry or rainy season)
6. Proper keeping of all farm records and animal unit records so we can calculate the profits/losses and to trace all farm tools and equipment show all activities done daily on the farm.

1. Farming as a business requires crops that grow fast and give a high yield, i.e. cabbages, kales, corrianders, spinach, tomatoes. Using this horticulture style farming for the three month plan Njoroge wold like to plant the following:
1. Cabbages - 50% of the upper shamba (one half acre). Minimum yield of 4,000 cabbages with a minimum cost of 20ksh per cabbage when produced well. Total sales for cabbage would be 80,000 ksh.
2. Tomatoes - 30% of the upper shamba. Total tomatoes would be 2,000 plants minimum, which would equal 20 boxes of harvested tomatoes. Total sales at 2000ksh per box would be 40,000 ksh.
3. Spinach and Kales - 10% of the upper shamba which would equal 1500 plants. Total harvest per week would average 100 Kgs. 1 kg would sell for 20ksh, so total sales per week would be 2000ksh per week, or 8000ksh per month, for a net profit of 24,000 Ksh over three months
4. Others - 10% of the upper shamba. Various crops such as corrianders, onions, eggplants, green peppers, pumpkins/squash, amaranthus, and cogets - depending on price and availability

LOWER SHAMBA - Plant maize, beans, tea, pineapple, and napier grass/fodder. Utilize all of the lower shamba to grow these crops only.
* The main idea is to plant fast growing and expensive goods. It is also good to avoid planting maize and other tall crops around the home. Large scale growing in both shambas will be good as it will yield high profits.

-Based on his knowledge, observations, and experience in this area (it is similar to his home area) he makes the following recommendations to help increase production on the shambas and have great excess to sell:
1. Use of both manure and fertilizer when planting crops - This soil needs a lot of fertilizer to produce the best crops
2. Encouraging crops that are nutritious for the kids...i.e. pumpkins, amaranthus, spinach, as minor crops in the farm
3. If possible have funds available for the farm to cover any urgent needs

-After identifying all the tools in the storage area and speaking with the other shamba workers the following tools are needed for farming:
1. 1 rake
2. 2 hoes
3. 3 medium jembes
4. 2 sprinklers
5. A pump sprayer - for spraying fertilizer, etc.
6. 10 large sacks for introducing portable gardens
*** Pesticides will be purchased depending on the plants' needs during the growth period.

Currently Beatrice is selling cabbages for 5ksh per cabbage because the cabbages are small and of poor quality. This is because the cabbages did not receive proper management i.e. watering, weeding, etc.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The gamble may have paid off...

While the last couple of weeks has been difficult we received an email today (attached below) that was sent to us as well as all of the short term volunteers that stood beside us embarking on their own missions of exposure and pressure. The email is from the Kenyan director of WWB-essentially the "owner" of the business and the only person that was in charge of all of the decisions, finances, staff, child welfare, etc.

The decision we made has been heavy on my heart since we left not knowing if the gamble of exposure and pressure would force him to retreat or change things for the good. If he had retreated it would've meant turning the children out to unfit homes or to split them up into other orphanages. Instead, for now, he has chosen to make the organization immediately accountable and transparent, I hope recognizing that volunteers from developed countries would not continue to volunteer or financially support his organization otherwise. For once, the internet has been a wonderful thing! We personally managed to send all of the information to the Nairobi NGO headquarters, Child Wefare office, U.S. Embassy and consolate, and past and future volunteers who canceled their placements and/or support of WWB. I know the short term volunteers contacted many people as well including their placement organizations and colleges and hope that he received questioning phone calls from them as well.

In the end I am sorry that we had to take these serious steps and move to another NGO for this to happen but feel so happy that the kids will have a better life because of it. It doesn't matter what Geoff's motivation for this change is, only that it is a significant change in major foundational issues to which he will eventually (if not already) see the benefit of. The first big change and most serious issue that we pressed him on while we were there was that he terminate the social worker named Dona who was in charge of the kids and slept in the girls dorm. He has just done this according to the email and that move alone will improve their lives. We are so happy and grateful that Aaron and Kaitlin (the past development managers) will be consulting with him via email and phone on rebuilding the foundations to begin creating the orphanage as a best practices development project. If we ever had to be the "bad guys" I'm glad it was for this cause. Please see the email below. Thanks for all of the support during this stressful time. Ann, Devin, Naya, and Kai :))

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your great contribution towards making WWB the best practiced community project. Your grievances, good guidance and steadfast love for WWB has helped us immediately take the following steps:

1. Firing the social worker (Dona) who was found guilty of abusing children.

2. Employing an additional staff to be responsible with all WWB finances (sponsorship, women, sanitary, volunteer) books and financial records. The director will no longer keep the books.

3. To maintain highest financial accountability

4. To review the policy of WWB and implement it strictly – Aaron & Kaitlin to help on this.

5. To make a clear breakdown of the volunteer fees – Aaron & Kaitlin to help on this.

6. To maintain the number of volunteers under 10.

7. To operate WWB with highest values, transparency, accountability, honesty, morality and others for the good of children, volunteers and staff.

8. Review the child sponsorship and make it clear to all the sponsors where money is going.

9. To form an international board – under discussion

10. To keep the children at the forefront of everything.

Finally I sincerely ask for forgiveness. I urge you to be of assistance to me as I implement these new changes. Any positive criticism, advice and comment are greatly appreciated.

Yours Sincerely,

Geoffrey Ndungu

WWB Director

+254 724 935 324

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back to work: quick update...

Hello from our new post in the middle of a beautiful nowhere!

Just a quick update to let family and friends know that we are settling in, back to work, and happy to be doing so.

New playstructure: We are starting the retaining wall for the new play structure area for the kids. It has been leveled and the wall started yesterday. Probably ready for the play equipment by next week.

Girls Dorm: Just getting estimates to build a new girls dorm so that we can begin to take girls as well. It will be similar to the large house you see our pictures, like a duplex. Each side as 1 or 2 "moms" depending on how many girls will be there. The vision is to keep the orphanage more like a family home as it grows and less like an institution. There are 9 acres available so this is a possibility.

Water lines: There is a new well and pump and it is ready to begin pumping water for the entire property. We are working with the plumber this week to pipe the perimeter including taps along the way to prepare for the addition of more duplexes as the orphanage grows. Janice and Phil have also put in the plans a community water tap that is regulated and will allow the people in the community to get fresh drinking water. There is plenty of water here but none potable.

Milking goat: The goat pen is finished and we will be buying a milking goat in the next couple weeks. The longer term goal will be to build a zero graze cow enclosure to accommodate a milking cow as well. This may be in the next couple months.

New pics are on facebook as well.

Ann, Devin, Naya, and Kai

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Decision...change of plans...

Hi All!
By now I'm sure most of you have gotten our email. This is SUCH a TIA (this is africa) moment! We have learned in the last months to go with the flow here as anything else is impossible. The above being our mode of operation we packed up secretly on Friday night called for a driver with a single cab little toyota (about the biggest trucks here except for industrial trucks) and threw everything we owned into the back of his truck on Saturday. We looked like an authentic African family in transit complete with machete, plastic grocery bags full of our things little stools all tied in a heap with twine. We stopped for gas, made it through a police "check" and were dropped of 2 hours later in the middle of another "nowhere". :))

In all seriousness however, we had to make some quick decisions regarding our safety, specifically and most urgently the safety of our children after exposing corruption and abuse within the Kenyan owned orphanage we were at. We have learned since being here that this is common and several projects a year are shut down by authorities due to poor living conditions, disease, and abuse. It's a sad prospect but a reality here where Kenya is still one of the countries with the most corrupt governments and one of the main reasons Obama changed his plans and refused to visit last month, going to Ghana instead. We have learned that internationally owned projects are generally "above board" with finances, staff, policies and procedures and thus made our decision to follow a wonderful lady we met in Nairobi to her orphanage. While she lives in Texas, she visits frequently and the children here are fed, clothed and loved the way that we would all expect.

Our plans: As I said above TIA..means no solid plans. We feel that perhaps we were brought here to expose the orphanage and hopefully provide a better life for the 24 angels that live there. Maybe if he is under investigation he will be forced to provide better food, living conditions and maybe even schooling as this was one of our battles with him. There is a private school only 15 minutes away that would cost less that 10 dollars per month per child for tuition. The education is excellent, they are fed during the day, and best of all are not beaten there as they have been at the public school that they were attending for free. At 90 dollars per week per regular volunteer and 200 dollars per week per A Broader View volunteer he is taking in A LOT of money considering that we held steady at 18 volunteers on average.

We continue to pray and look for guidance as to what our next move should be. For now we are safely nestled in the tea fields at this orphange with 6 new little angels, all with there own stories, and our own kids are happy. If we decide to stay here, we will be able to do a lot of good and know that our money will be spent well. If we decide to come home we will have lived an excellent adventure and know that our lives and values and those of our children will be permanently changed for the good.

We will continue to update as conditions change. We have learned that we are able to make quick, good judgment calls and will continue to do so, so no worries... :))) Hakuna Matataa!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

still waiting...

Hi All, I know many are waiting for decision regarding my last post. I'm sorry to say that there has been no word since that night. Wading through the cultural differences in how westerners handle matters and how Kenyans handle matters is something that we're trying to be patient with. From what I have seen there is no such thing as "zero tolerance" policy for ANYTHING. This means that all matters are granted a lengthy discussion (seriously like 3 hour meetings or more), several interviews of the various people who may have a stake in the issue, and then a "final decision" that will be made by the individual in power. The decision, in the end, is a result of leaders opinion of the severity of the offense and his opinion on the resulting discussion(s).

Cultural Differences: A funny story from the other day as a lighter example of this problem solving process: I am on the matatu, 3 guys get in at Thika and don't pay for the ride to Pundamilia (about 45 minutes). Starting about 5 minutes into the ride when the money guy is collecting for the driver- they start to argue. As luck would have it, 1 of the drunken, pot smelling, glue bottle hooked to his teeth, but otherwise fine example of a young man :)), is sitting next to me. Really, half ON me as is the case with these cozy transport systems. In between yelling at the money taker and bantering back and forth with his friend behind him he managed to bury his nose in my arm and inhale deeply, each time a little longer until finally he has just decided to fight and yell AND lay is head on me breathing in my "coconut smell" (lotion)...simultaneously. What a multitasker...:) Anyhooo, I digress, regarding my discussion above on how everyone who may have a stake is granted a say, it isn't long before the entire matatu is shouting their opinions of the situation in Kikuyu. I understood in context that 2 were mad that the guys had hit up some old ladies for some money, 1 was telling him to get the hell off, the money taker was arguing with the driver to stop and kick them off, the driver was telling them to stop yelling, and I think there may have been a live chicken joining in as well.... The end result was to trick one of the guys out to let someone else on, pop the clutch, spin the dirt in his face, leaving him in the middle of nowhere and speed away with everyone either yelling or clapping (depending on their view). Upon reflection of this incident which seems to repeat itself in some way every day, in positive and negative ways, I decided that beyond the stressors of whatever the problem in question is, the overall sense of being ALIVE is overwhelmingly good. People talk, fight, greet, yell, bargain, snap and whoop at their cattle, tssst at each other ( a surpisingly effective way of getting immediate attention from Kenyans), blare crazy music from broken speakers, beat on drums and sing begging for money. The smell of cut pineapple selling for 10 shillings a piece, sweat, fresh chapati and cow dung all hang heavy in the air together in a very alive scene. One that I know I've been missing in my sterile, polite, and very American middle class world.
While the means, lengths, and syles of communicating and problem solving are frustrating in serious situations I have recognized that they are not personal attacks on me or my values but rather a reflection of a society that, while it does have it's problems, is in many ways more alive, awake, and invested than I have witnessed before.

New Brahma Bull: Doug, one of our long term volunteers (here for 6 months) purchased a working bull and cart in order to help us to carry the material we will need to build the huge new animal enclosures. If we did not have this option we woudl have to utilize the expensive option of paying someone to transport, paying someone with a donkey or bull to help transport, or carrying it on our backs!?!? You may laugh but this could seriously be an option. I see 4'1" 90 year olds carrying loads bigger than me on their backs and holding the machete that they used to chop whatever it is they're carrying! I carried part of a bed frame on my head down to the shamba last week (about a mile), helping one of our staff members move to a new living area. I've decided that carrying anything on top of your head or strapped to your forehead are under-rated and really quite useful! :)) The strap mark on my forhead is less attractive than I would hope however... :)))

Fresh Eggs: I have been granted the "blessing" as is believed in the Kikuyu culture of having a hen decide that my pillow is a good place for laying her eggs. As soon as I realized that she wouldn't poop on my bed I started to enjoy that I get to come home to fresh eggs each day! Last night as I crawled into bed I almost laid on an egg that was slightly under the corner of my blanket. I moved the egg, smiled and crawled into bed with my book. Good way to end the day :))

HIV/AIDS meeting: We had a record 20 people attend the HIV/AIDS training that was held on Saturday. Doug, I, and Cassandra ran the training and were pleased with the outcome. We had several attendees ask if we would come to their village to do the training with people who are too poor or too sick to make it to our site. This is a great success considering it is those people who need the education the most and are at the greatest risk of infecting people around them. One man spoke of a family in his village who has a disease that requires intraveneous medication and they are sharing the needles. About half of the family is positive and half negative. Obviously this is a great opportunity to possible change the outcome of someones life immediately if they are not already positive. Another younger guy asked if we could test him and if he could recieve free condoms. This is HUGE considering the stigma around even being tested for HIV. I was SOOO happy to hear this one guy ask me this since I had taught about 20 minutes straight just on stigmas and how they contribute to ignorance and the continued spreading of the virus.

New Play Structure: 2 of our volunteers, Danny and John, purchased and helped to build a new swing set for the kids. They have been loving it and having so much fun. I'll post pictures on FB as soon as I can.

New Well: The 2nd well is finished, hopefully putting an end to daily water shortages and fights with the supplementary water guy. The pump is working well and the water clean. I haven't had worms or ameobas for 2 weeks! Now that, I consider a success. Laying on the concrete floor barfing into my laundry bucket and having nothing but a wet wipe to clean up with was seriously a lowlight to my week 2 weeks ago. :))

Volunteer story: I'll keep it brief due to the personal nature of the conversation but would like to say that I have had an opportunity to live with a person who was born, orphaned, and adopted out of Rwanda. His mother Tutsi and father Hutu, a no win situation for anyone in that area at the time. His extended family surived the genocide living in a hole built below the neighbors house for 2 months. He was adopted out to a Belgium couple, moved to Spain and has become a shining example of what all of these children, even in the worst of circumstances could be, if given the chance. He has come back to volunteer his time here and in Rwanda, saying that he needed to go back after visiting 2 years after the genocide and still seeing skeletons laying in abandon schools, churches, bushes, etc. I can't believe that I was 17 years old during the genocide and knew so little about the details until later. Until last week I was not aware that 2 years later skeletons of children and teachers still draped the desks, and people littered the bushes. I feel so blessed for this and many opportunities for growth and understanding that I've had thus far. Every day feels like I'm living half of a lifetime compared the easy days that came and went before.

Now that I have given you, yet another installment into my jumbled, chaotic brain I think I am done for today. :)) Thank you as always for your support, prayers, and good thoughts. I will keep you updated on the incident from last week. Ann

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The good and the bad...

It seems by the time I sit down to write so much has happened that it's impossible to cover it all in one blog. While we had a great vacation weekend for Kai's birthday we also came home to a pretty bad situation that is yet to be resolved. In the midst of the of the good and the bad it seems a million other crazy things happen as well such as purchasing a working bull and cart today, falling a 100 ft. tree from the roots with machete's and 2 hoes, having a hen take to laying fresh eggs on our beds each morning :)), setting a new record for 32 people in our 14 maximum person matatu, and meeting a 10 year old girl missing 1/4 of a toe bleeding all over the dirt, all by herself, with no shoes and waiting for a matatu to take her to the Dr. Amongst all this I had the amazing opportunity to sit, mostly in tears by candlelight hearing the life story of one of our volunteers who was born in Rwanda and actually lived to tell about it. So, I guess I will just begin and hopefully not ramble too much.

The good: Kai's birthday! It was amazing and beautiful just as we had seen on television. We took an unguided mountain bike safari through the vast savannahs and straight "out of Africa" Fever Trees (literally and figuratively :)) We saw hippos and heard them gnashing and fighting viciously, saw giraffe, gazelle, zebra, warthog, impala, baboon, ostrich, various monkeys, bush cats and heard even more. While we will be taking an official safari soon to see the big predators we decided that hearing the sounds of fighting baboon troops, feeling the rumble of the ground as 50 spooked impalas bound across the road in front of our bikes, and smelling the dust from the skittish wart hogs as they pretended to challenge us if we got too close was by far the thrill of nature we were hoping for. Beyond that, we stayed in a beautiful spot full of avacodo trees that the monkeys preferred to raid and dined at an open air restaurant each night looking over the lake. It felt like a true "vacation" by anyone's standards.

The bad: While it would be easy and comforting to talk only about the amazing children(which they are), the beautiful scenery, and the loads of amazing development projects we are hoping will make an impact on this impoverished area it would be a disservice to those who really want to help and learn about this experience. Devin and I had arrived home mid afternoon from our trip when we heard screaming coming from the girls dorm area. Devin walked in to find one of our female workers beating--not spanking--beating the SHIT out of one of our girls with a large, heavy stick. He stopped the beating and got into an argument with a female staff member who said that she was allowed to "cane" the girls and was not going to stop. To give perspective, but not that the reason REMOTELY matters, the girl had placed her school uniform sweater in her backpack rather than carrying it home in her arms as instructed. We called our boss in Nairobi and informed him since only he has the power to fire staff and he said he would come this morning and "take care of it once and for all" since this was not the first time we had reported but the first time we had witnessed it ourselves. We had scheduled an all staff/volunteer meeting for that night at 8:30 p.m. to discuss this issue as well as other logistics when we heard another girl screaming from the dorm. This time the female staff was beating a different girl. I walked straight in to an older girl who I knew would tell me the truth and asked what happened. She said that "autie dona was beating her". This was confirmed again to me by a second girl. When the femal staff was confronted she yelled in Kikuyu at the 2 girls who had told me the truth and made them come to the door. Knowing that I didn't know what she had said to the girls she smirked and smiled and made flippent comments in Kikuyu as both girls retracted their stories to me. As they talked, they both looked at me with desperate, sad eyes knowing that I knew they were lying to me. What they didn't know is that I understood and my heart was actually breaking for them because they were threatened to stand there and lie to me out of fear or risk being beaten themselves later. I stopped them short of their retraction, put my hands on them, gave a wink that the female staff member couldn't see and told them I would keep them safe, it would be ok, and that they could trust me. This last sentence, the promise I made to them, has tortured me all night and day. If I am not supported by our executive director in this matter then we are left with the decision of staying in a reactive state of response stopping beatings as we hear the screaming?!? We talked today of threatening to remove our leadership from the orphanage if the staff member is not fired as we cannot stay and support a practice that further diminishes the small bit of dignitiy that these girls have left. But really what does this accomplish? In principle, a lot, but in reality here in this small corner of nowhere...not much. What it would do for sure is leave these girls alone with no one to hear them scream and no one to make it stop. Is that a success? A success because a decision is made on principle? Is it a failure if we stay and can't stop it? These are all questions I have been asking myself since last night and throughout today. As it would happen (TIA), the morning meeting with our director to "solve the problem" has still not happened and it is 7:00p.m. so I have no idea how this will be resolved. My concern, simplified, is that I have 15 girls (our 9 boys and male staff are terrific), depending on my word, and if I dont' have my word what do I have left? How can I look at Damaris, who only survived the Rift Valley massacre because, in her words.."God wanted her to" as whe watched her entire family be slain, beheaded, and disrepected-moving their heads to wrong gendered bodies and "tricking her" into thinking it was her family-live one more second where she is beaten and disrespected? As I mentioned in the beginning I have a lot to write but feel pretty worn out now and am going to have to wait until later to write the rest. Love to all.