Saturday, April 23, 2005

More news from Nairobi

Life continues to be quite hectic here in Kenya. Last week, Florence (a BOH social worker) and I went to a two day conference on caring for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). The conference was sponsored by a local AIDS ministry and was for people in our region that are involved in organizations that address that needs of OVCs. It was very encouraging to meet so many Kenyans (I was the only mzungu) who are actively engaged in responding to the needs of OVCs and hearing about the different programs and ideas that the other organizations are using. It was a really good time of networking and learning more about the challenges that AIDS is creating for children.
I returned to Beacon after to the conference to sad news - Winfred, the woman I had mentioned in my last email who I visited with the support group members, had passed away just four days after our visit. Although I was sorry to hear that she had died, I was so grateful that we had been able to visit her as a sign of our love and support before she passed away.
Early the next week, I went on a home visit with one of the women in our program to Juliana's house, a woman that I have visited many times before. We had not visited her in a while because she had TB and was refusing to take the medicine. However, when we arrived at her house, we found that she had died the Friday before. I was very saddened by this news and disappointed that I hadn't been able to see her again before she passed away.
On a lighter note, we had a really fun week this past week with the sponsorship kids, There is church here called Karen Community Church that is very close to where I stay. Jane knows many people in this church and the youth pastor approached her about forming a partnership with BOH. So she intorduced him to me and we had been working together to put together an outreach opportunity. I visited their church a few times to encourage the youth (high school, college, and young adult) to volunteer to spend time helping out with our holiday program for the sponsored children.
Karen Community Church is a wealthy church - oftentimes I feel like there are two worlds in Nairobi. One is life in the slums which I encounter every day at Beacon. But there are also many, many Kenyans who are wealthy, live in nice houses, drive nice cars, have many servants, go to country clubs, and send their kids to exclusive private schools. A lot of the kids in this church have been raised in environments like this and so have been very sheltered. For many of them, this was the first time they had been to a slum area. So they led devotionals, tutoring, arts, and music for the kids but we also took them on home visits to visit houses in the slums and pray with people who have been affected by AIDS. I think it was a great experience for the youth that came and they are interested in making this a regular thing so that each holiday they will send some of their youth to interact with the kids. We are also hoping some mentorship relationships will form through these interactions.
Personally, this past month has been the most challenging for me since I've arrived in Kenya. Emotionally, work has been the most intense and I've still been dealing with the inevitable challenges of adjusting to life in another country and another culture (and of course missing all of you back home!).
But I think my biggest struggle has been relationships - Although my relationships at work are very good and I'm really enjoying the atmosphere and interactions with my coworkers, I know very few people my age outside of Beacon and live far from the few that I do know (and I also live far from my coworkers). Therefore, the emotional challenges are that much harder since I don't have many opportunities to just relax and hang out with friends. There are a few options I am considering right now to address this issue, so please pray that God will give me wisdom as I make these decisions in the upcoming weeks.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A very challenging week

This past week has been by far the busiest and most emotionally challenging week I have had since I arrived. It started on Monday when a 14 year old named Tony came into the office. He is an orphan and both parents died from AIDS. He is the grandson of the one of the women we support and the nephew of one of the boys we sponsor in secondary school. He has been living on the streets for several months now, and in January there was a rehabilitation center that agreed to take him, and he was eager to go. However, they cancelled the pick up date saying that they would reschedule. They never did, so after two month we went to visit them. The director was out but talked to Jane the next day, and said they would no longer take him unless we paid for his upkeep, which we could not afford to do. So he came into the center on Monday to talk to us – he was very dirty and appeared to be high. He admitted that he uses drugs often (sniffing glue) and was staying in a place notorious for the drug activity. He had he had been getting some work to pay for the drugs but more likely he has been stealing. We spoke with him and he agreed to move back in with his grandmother and come back to Beacon the next day, but he never returned home and has not come back to the center.

Then, on Monday, I also found out that the aunt who is caring for four orphans we are supporting had been in the hospital the week before. These four orphans (ages 12, 14, 16, and 18) had lost their father to AIDS several years ago and had just lost their mother last year. They have an aunt who agreed to be their guardian until they become adults, and we found sponsors who are paying school fees for the three younger ones in a boarding school. Now that they are on school holiday, they are staying with their aunt in a TINY two room house – a bed literally takes up one entire room and the other room there are two couches and a coffee table with almost no room between the couches and table because the room is so small. They have a mattress they lay across the table and couches in order to have enough room for everyone to sleep. There is also another 20 year old relative staying with them – I honestly don’t know how 6 people can sleep in that house.

But the aunt had been very sick last week and in the hospital found out that she too is HIV positive. The kids were crying the whole night when they found out and the aunt is not taking the news well at all. Then, on Tuesday, the kids were late to Beacon because they had to take the aunt back to the hospital, she was admitted, and is still there now. We think she might have meningitis which is not a good sign at all. She spent all the money she had on hospital bills and could not pay the rent or buy food to feed the six people in her house. We are helping her where we can but it is a very difficult situation, especially for the orphans.

Then, on Wednesday, I went with one of the women from the weaving class in Beacon to visit her neighbor who is in the support group at Beacon. She is HIV positive, has not been feeling well, and has a very abusive husband. When we arrived, we found out that her husband had locked her and two of her daughters, ages 18 and 20 out of the house the night before. It is the rainy season so it was very cold and there were very heavy rains. The two girls got a ride with somebody at 11 pm to find a place to sleep which is very dangerous where they live because the girls were very vulnerable for rape. The wife slept under covering by her home but left early in the morning before the husband woke and found her there. She has tried to register with two different agencies for domestic abuse but has not made progress. Her husband has threatened to pay somebody to kill one of the children if she leaves. She and her children are all very afraid but don’t know what to do. The husband works but spends all his money on alcohol and they had very little food in the house (there are 5 children total).

Then, on Thursday, the social worker and I had arranged for our van to take the members of the HIV support group to visit a women who had been part of the group but was very sick. In order to get to Beacon, she had to walk 5 km each way so she hadn’t come in 7 weeks. So we all piled into the van and set off for her house. When we arrived, we were told that she was not there because she had been taken to the hospital. So we went to the hospital to see her there. I was absolutely speechless when I saw her – seven weeks ago she had been only 88 pounds and now she was much, much thinner. I have never seen a person so thin before. She could not walk anymore, and couldn’t speak above a whisper, and even that took a lot of effort. But she was able to recognize the members of the support group, and was so grateful that we had come to visit her.

But I did receive one piece of good news on Thursday – there was a 4 ½ year old boy who is in our day care who had been admitted to the hospital three weeks ago for what appeared to be polio. His mother is only 20 years old and has two other small children and his father is HIV positive. They boy was discharged after a week but the parents could not afford to pay his hospital bill so they kept the boy at the hospital for three weeks. There are no extra beds for parents to sleep in (in fact there are three or four children in one bed), the hospital is far from where they stay, and finding money for bus fare was a challenge so this young boy stayed in the hospital for three weeks by himself most of the time because of a mere $200 dollar hospital bill that they couldn’t pay, which is several months wages for them. However, we found out on Thursday that he was finally discharged after working out a payment plan of $4.50 each month which is all they can afford. And, they realized it was not polio but something that can be cured with medication. Our nurse was able to provide medication for him and we are very grateful he is finally at home and that he will recover.

So every day this week there was a new crisis. In addition, we started the holiday program for the kids this week so all of the kids in the sponsorship program come to the center from 9-3:30 every day and I have been very involved with that as well, although I wasn’t able to spend very much time with the kids this week because of all of these other issues. In my work at Beacon, I’ve come across so many people who are in need and have constantly been challenged by the verses, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18). I am also learning the importance of prayer and bringing all of these needs and burdens before the Lord so that I do not get hard hearted or burned out. The faith of many of the women and staff at Beacon is so strong that it has been a inspiration and encouragement to me. Please pray for all of the situations that I’ve mentioned above, and pray that I’ll have better things to report in my next update.