one of our favorite sights

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What Sticks

Kitale Children's home 

Dennis Juma on his 12th birthday

julius and paula

julius came in very malnourished but is doing better!

ngannga is Julius' brother. they are both abandoned.

Paula was abandoned at birth. she is 10 weeks now.

Lewa Children's home

Sally Test Pediatric Centre

Sally Test Pediatric Centre

Sally Test Pediatric Centre

Lewa's baby room

Paula at 6 weeks

Preface: I want to thank everyone who sent donations for children’s scholarships and water filters. The water filters will help impoverished people save on fuel costs as they won’t need to boil water, yet they will have clean water. Also, Many families cannot afford the fees for school here,  and there are children in homes who need sponsors. Education is the only way out of grinding poverty here. We hope to set up a 501 (c) 3 soon so that you can also get a tax deduction for your donation. Anyway, your generosity is appreciated and MUCH NEEDED. READ ON
What Sticks
It’s interesting after being here for several months and spending time with many different non Kenyan folks who are here for different reasons, what sticks for folks. There are many who are doing really important scientific and medical research, there are others who are doing sociological research, and others who are practicing medicine (although usually the docs are doing both).  There are others who are here on “missions” and are working in hospitals or schools or with youth.  Since I have no specific role I have found myself drawn to and pretty absorbed in the lives of the parentless children of western Kenya. I have been spending a lot of time with abandoned and orphaned babies/children in different settings. 
When I close my eyes at night, resting assured that my own children are safe and sound, I see the faces of these kids.  They are what stay with me. There are an estimated 2.5 million orphans and abandoned children in Kenya. They are little bitty babies, toddlers, small children, school aged children, and adolescents who have no one. Many children end up in the hospital abandoned, or in the dump, or on the street, and they are the kids I am working with here in a day care center and at a children’s home and a center for street kids. These children, with their beautiful smiles, little needy faces and hands, warm greetings and childish laughter run  to greet me, hold my hands, reach to be picked up,  always with a hopeful smile on their faces.
 Then there are the street children we see every time we are downtown; some of them are older, and this has become a way of life….however, many are young. They are all  barefoot, dirty, hungry, begging for coins and food,  or huffing glue on the street, walking through the trash piles looking for something to sell in order to buy a morsel of food. It’s a devastating sight even if you’ve seen it 100 times. It’s not one you easily get used to.
Poverty, as we all know, is tough on kids here and at home. I learned a lot about poverty when I became a CASA volunteer in Columbus several years ago. The facts are the facts and it doesn’t matter where you are. The results of severe poverty, disease, family dysfunction , drug and/or alcohol abuse, are even tougher on kids and ought not occur. It ought to be illegal. But, it is not and it happens all over the world.   All of these issues combined with a devastating pandemic like HIV/AIDS create the situation that you find in Kenya and all of the African countries now.  I have big hearted friends who work with AIDS babies and their families in other countries so I was plenty aware. I had even  done what little I could do as an activist raising funds for AIDS relief (Michael and I both). That’s how we got involved with IU Kenya in the first place. But I’ll tell you what; knowing it and thinking about it are TOTALLY different than living among it.
HIV/AIDS infection rates have gone down but Kenya lost millions of young adults as it cut its murderous swath across this country, leaving behind the children of those adults. Many of them are HIV positive as well, and hopefully, they are in the care of organizations like AMPATH which has made a huge difference to western Kenya in terms of treatment and sustaining families.
 I ask myself on a daily basis, “ What is going to happen to these kids?” The AIDS babies and all the others that are the result of desperate poverty.  The lucky ones are the ones who’ve been taken in somewhere. They at least have a bigger chance of survival, a bed, food, and possibly education.   You can question how desperate one must be to give up one’s child/ren. You can swear you can’t imagine. You can “pray” for them I guess.  But, for me, the key has been finding some way to DO something.
I began helping soon after my arrival and now I’m hooked.  I can’t NOT do it even though it is heartbreaking and physically difficult. Holding babies, changing diapers, rocking them to sleep, feeding them, singing to them, carrying them to and fro to get them to go back to sleep, or just laying them down and watching them kick and find their fingers are all a thrill to me. A smile from one of the little infants that has been abandoned and/or undernourished, and is on the road to good health, knocks me over. I am a little beside myself with it right now because I have been spending time with these same babies for some time  but I know that there will be hundreds of others before I leave Kenya.
I have met some incredible people here dedicated to helping the children and they are what gives me the least little bit of hope. People like SarahEllen Mamlin, who began the Sally Test Center at the public hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, because after going into the kids’ wards she couldn’t stand the fact that there was no place for sick or abandoned kids to be or play other than the wards. Some years ago an Indianapolis philanthropist put up the money to build Sally Test and it is such a great little oasis for the children who come in sick and/or are left behind by sick,dead , or desperate parents. Again, it is not an easy place, but the staff is SO awesome and loving and the facility is similar to an American daycare center without some of the fancier amenities. SarahEllen has managed to get a fair amount of support for clothing, toys, and books from friends and her church community in Indy. Sally Test also teaches sewing skills to women who come in with sick kids and has a “childlife” class for parents every week.  However, money is always an issue.
Many of the kids from Sally Test end up going to one of the many children’s homes here in Eldoret after some time there. There is a court system process and being new, I really had no idea what happened to some of the kids but I’ve been reassured that they are going to these registered “children’s homes.” I’ve met several of the families/individuals who run/own them as well. Many of them are funded by churches stateside and although my first reaction to missionaries is  usually a bit skeptical,  these people have some seriously big hearts. IF this is what their faith drives them to do then I say “Allelujah! Bring it on!”  I know people who wonder the slums looking for abandoned babes. I know a pastor who has successfully raised children in his home in Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi, and had them go on to college. I know others who foster 5-6  teenagers at a time…..again, money is always an issue.
 There are different qualities of homes and different forms but all of the folks I’ve met involved in this work so far have been high level loving people (I’ve met  5 couples who do this work so far). If the basic goal is to keep kids off the street, where safety, hygiene, and health issues abound, AND there’s no future there without some kind of help, then so be it. I often have to shake my “developed” country standards and realize, that even though I truly believe every child needs and deserves love and individual attention throughout his/her childhood, the solution here is all relative. A group home is better than the street. So is the hospital ward. At least there are some adults paying attention.
So , what does one do when one also has a thing for kids, can’t bear the thought of yet another kid living on the street, or ending up in a home where he or she may just be one of a crowd of underloved kids? Also, what about those street kids? Can you just walk away? Michael and I are in constant conversation about kids, I can tell you that.  It’s not unlike how we feel about global warming. It’s not acceptable and something must be done. But what?
As helpless as we feel sometimes, and as confounded by the extent of the poverty, we are working on some ideas:
1) we are trying to get a project going  with the local drop in center for street kids to help get some of the older kids off the street and make a little money 2) I spend time volunteering at Sally Test. They need the help. 3) I also go out to this Children’s home that now has 9 babies and not enough caretakers. I take them stuff…formula usually, and help with the littlest of the littles. There are babies there that are just 8 weeks old. 4) we are sending our neighbor boy,  Dennis Juma, who is being neglected by his family for many reasons,  to school  as he was not in school last term  and he needs to be in school. He has become  like  Liam’s “little brother”  and he spends a lot of time at our house…eating, showering, toting water,  and playing mostly.  He has been fatherless for all his life so he looks up greatly to Michael as well. He’s one fewer kids on the street, we figure.
So, I shut my eyes and have sleepless nights worrying about those babies. I cry a fair amount. I think about my own children and how blessed and privileged they and we are. I count my blessings everyday.  That’s about it. It’s all I can do at this point.
Here are some interesting links on this topic:                /our-programs/children’s-services/sally-test-pediatric-centre-(stpc)/              (children’s home near Eldoret)  (children’s home near Kitale) (street kids in Eldoret)

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