Walking up the dusty red path I realized how tiny she was, bewitching with her black and white plaid dress, her silhouette dancing in the sun as it started to go down. Elizabeth, the 9-year old daughter of Pastor John Kiroka was my companion on the path as we followed her father up towards the water tank above the AIC church in Bissil, Kenya. I was here with Sol Garcia of project X to visit the community. At the water tank Elizabeth and her 2 brothers played swinging on the iron gates of the enclosure, and we could see the entire valley that comprised Bissil. The beauty of Kenya is astounding, and as I gaze at the epic view I wonder at life here.
Sol Garcia began her work here a couple of years ago with Help A Child Africa, a Kenyan NGO. She helped to raise part of the money to fund a badly needed well that now services over 1500 people on the north side of Bissel, 900 at the boarding school across the highway, and many others in the surrounding part of the community. Project X helps to fund different projects by partnering with in-country organizations. I have joined her here in Bissil to meet the community and follow another story of many of the rescued girls in this part of Kenya. We had met 9 girls this afternoon that have been rescued by a group of volunteer Kenyan women, saving them from child marriage and FGM/C, a common theme in the land of the Masai. FGM/C is a huge problem in many parts of Africa and specifically in areas where the Masai
Pastor Kiroka is a Masai that became a Christian community leader and pastor in Bissil. He advocates for change and is well respected. John has 3 children with his wife Mary but is also helping with the upbringing of 5 children of his father, who was recently murdered in a near by town, the case is currently in the courts. Life can be harsh here under the African sun.
As we walk down the path towards the pastors home, a concrete and corrugated steel 3 room home, one of his dogs erupts past us chasing a white and brown rabbit. His dogs, although friendly and ready to receive a pat, are extra lean and hungry. I secretly wish for the rabbits escape, but know it would be a much-needed meal for the dogs. In the next 2 days I will be hearing the stories of 9 young girls who have experienced too much trauma in their young lives. Life can be harsh here under the African sun, and I sometimes feel like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, so much to do, what to do first?
In the upcoming weeks I will be working and developing this story further, please look for more posts.
Meet Momma Margret, a vibrant 72 year old HIV+ grandmother who is the caretaker for 5 of her orphaned grandchildren. Margret lives in the Ting'Wang'I, a small village in Siaya near Kisumu Kenya. Despite making the decision not to remarry after her husband died, she worked to put her children through secondary school. She did not want to invite HIV into her life through another marriage, but when her children needed to build their own homes, culture prevailed and Margret was forced to be "inherited", a term used to describe a marriage after you have been widowed. Unfortunately her new husband and his 2 wives did not disclose that he was already HIV+, so when Margret was given the news it was devastating. This story is unfortunate and not uncommon in the Siaya, an area with a high prevalence of HIV. To hear her voice in her own words was sad enough, she was adamant to let us know that she had deliberately tried to avoid this very scenario. When we left the interview and walked out of Mama Margret's home I saw one of her grandchildren standing alone, with her hands in her mouth to comfort herself. I took some photos, and then one of our guides said "hello Jennifer, Jennifer is such a beautiful little girl, she is standing in front of her Mother's home, when you have an adult child that dies, it is the culture to build a small home to represent them, so that their children can say their mother had her own home, it is considered a disgrace if you can not say your mother had a home" As Jennifer listened to her grandmother talk about her mother, she ran to stand in front of her mother's house, to grieve. I wondered of all the HIV orphans in Siaya, in Kenya, in Africa, in the world and have been holding that in my heart.
With love to Jennifer, her family and all the others afflicted by HIV/AIDs
On December 1st, SWAP, an organization in Kisumu will hold it's annual HIV/AIDs marathon and runners will come to run through the streets of Kisumu to raise money for HIV/AIDs.
Today I witnessed a miracle, at least thats what it felt like, the kind that brings your emotions right to the surface and makes you tingle. We were visiting communities about an hour and a half outside of Mombasa Kenya with Greg Algood of P&G's Children's Safe Drinking Water. CSDW is also turning their attention to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and we had been talking about that all week as I have also seen the big connection between water, women and HIV/AIDS. Hearing the story first hand from Greg was cool enough, but "seeing it" embodied made my soul explode. Conversation enroute to Gotani turned to talking about a woman they had met last May while in this region working with World Vision. We were attempting to visit her but she had left to go to St Lukes hospital to get her medications; so we made our way along the bumpy red dirt roads of Gotani. Upon arrival the world vision crew found Zeineb Karissa, a 38 year old woman who was diagnosed with HIV 4 years ago. Since that time she had been on anti-retros for treatment, but when they met her last May, Zeineb was not looking good. Water born disease in the form of diarrhea and vomiting is a scourge to those with HIV, not only are they more susceptable, but the symptioms can be magnified and ravage them, starving them of much needed nutrients and meds. Zeineb was underweight, not eating due to the diarrhea, had open lesions on her face and no energy. Greg and the others despaired at her chances but introduced PUR to her.
The transformation was immediate and amazing. Within a month she was feeling better, had more energy and no diarrhea, and was able to find employment as a home help. She has put on weight, and due to her new income was able to eat better food. This in 6 months! Greg and the others were jubilant at her transformation and I could tell by talking with her that life had been put before her again. She was the last person I was to interview in Mombasa before we left for Nairobi and then on to Kisumu this afternoon, but I can't get her smile out of my mind, and I will never forget her.
"IT TAKES" safe water to transform the life of Zeineb Karissa in Gotani Kenya
When I heard that I was going to go to Mombasa, imagery of sitting beachside sipping a long tall cool drink with pool dipping came to mind. But that was my preconceived idea of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city which is nestled alongside the Indian ocean. I am having a great time here working on Give Health, the P&G initiative for CSDW (Children’s Safe Drinking Water), but it is completely different from relaxing poolside.
Instead I have been working 14 hour days in a convoy winding our way through some of the most challenged villages in this part of Kenya with Dr Greg Algood, Pam Crane of Blood Water Mission. It is hot and humid here, and I think my clothes could walk away on their own accord at the end of these days as there is so much of my DNA in them. Working in a team we arrive at households in communities that have been using PUR as part of their household water treatment and management. Most of the people living in these areas have to walk to get their water, and when they bring it back home it is really not ready to drink. That’s where PUR comes in.
Greg Algood has been working with several in country partners including World Vision, the Agha Khan Foundation, and SWAP. I am here to bear witness to that and to meet and speak with more people about water and life – they do go hand in hand. I am continually amazed at the challenges and the resilience that humans have. I have seen some difficult lives lived but also the grace and joy that also co-exists.
Signing off after an amazing day.