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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ripple

~The continuing and spreading results of an event or action~

We have come to the time in our journey where we have acquired many experiences, witnessed some of the best and worst of humanity, spirits, and souls. We have taught, we have listened, we have learned, we have built, we have torn down, we have created, we have danced, we have laughed, we have shared. But have we made a difference??

There is just so much need.

We have seized opportunities to learn about development, successful and unsuccessful aid programs, charitable giving and handouts versus accountability and sustainability. Lately we have let ourselves become frustrated, so obssessed with the notion of sustainability, we often feel like we are not doing enough. It is times like these when I need to remind myself of…
The ripple.

We headed out on this trip knowing that we lack the skills to provide essential services like healthcare, but hoping to be able to make a difference simply as capable, open-minded, willing, able-bodied people. We headed out on this trip because…

We believed in the ripple.

Maybe we can't make someone’s life better in the short time we have here but I think we have made some days better. Maybe we can’t change the world, but maybe we can make it a little brighter. And sometimes, maybe that is enough?

I have to believe in the ripple.

Did painting a mural change a child’s life? Did it make a child laugh out loud? Did playing a game fill a tummy, heal a wound, or clothe a body? Did it bring joy to someone today? Sometimes we get so carried away and put so much pressure on justifying our time, judging our success based on the goal of achieving lasting, tangible change. While I ultimately agree with this measure of success…

I also still believe in the ripple.

Sometimes it is about the single, solitary interactions. And that has to be ok. Small acts of kindness (making a child laugh, listening to a grandmother talk, providing an outlet for a friend, teaching a lesson), no matter how small the acts, they do matter. I believe in the spreading results of solitary interactions.

I believe in the ripple.

I believe that taking great care in doing something, anything, will help make our world just a little bit brighter. In the face of the despair and the sense of hopelessness, I believe that what we are doing is worth it. Being surrounded by life here that seems impossible for some and difficult for most, we find ourselves hoping that we change someone’s day, someone’s hour, someone’s now.

Though sometimes I even need to remind myself,
I do still believe in the ripple.


We spent our final day at the Mercy Children's Centre on tuesday and headed to Nairobi to pick up our new passports before heading east to Tanzania. When we weren't dodging luggage flying off the overhead racks as we maneuvered the road between Kenya and Tanzania (for some reason I thought this route would amount to more than a dirt track...) the many, many, many hours on busses afforded us the opportunity to reflect on our time in Kenya.

We got our hands dirty (and not just with fingerpaint). Troy got his hands dirty practicing his cement mixing techniques as he helped with on-site construction.

And I got my hands dirty (and blistered if you can believe it!) removing maize from the cobb. It is funny how relationships are often fostered in the most unlikely ways. It was sitting on the floor, ankle deep in maize that I got to know the Class 4 students.

We explored artistic abilities with song, dance, art, and even culinary skills!

We rolled on the floor and played with stuffed animals, Troy called this session First Aid. Catchy title.

We ran during Phys. Ed. (I mostly just tried to keep up…), and cooled off with a dip in the river.

We marvelled at the football skills and gave them some pointers ‘American’-style.

We even made some mistakes.... We taught The Macarena....‘nuf said.

We were watched and studied by this small community and greeted at every turn. In turn, we also did our share of watching, especially on market days. Children carrying chickens in their arms or dangling them precariously by their feet, one in each hand, women carrying produce in huge baskets on their heads, and cyclists trying to keep their balance with their cargo of hog-tied goats attemptng to stand up in their baskets...

A colorful experience and time well spent.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Imagine never having thought about what you want to 'be' when you grow up. Here, not only does this question elicit blank stares and confused eyes but the question could just as easily be "What do you want to be 'if' you grow up?"

Even with the government's intervention with respect to making ARV drugs available, HIV, AIDS, and related illnesses continue to devastate individuals and families alike. In the far reaches of these rural communities, the stigma alone associated with the disease still results in denial and a reluctance to testing. Not surprising when a positive result could see you abandoned by your family or kicked off the ancestral land.

The impact of AIDS on children, both directly and indirectly, is obvious at the Mercy school, which is attended by orphans who have lost at least one parent. The impact and effects on community and family however, became increasingly clear to me this week as I visited the small subsistence farms of the members of a local widows group.

As the widows typically do not hold any sort of government identification like a birth certificate (heck, most of them can only give you a ballpark estimate of their age), they cannot apply for or receive social assistance or individual loans. Banding together and registering with the government as an official widows self-help group provides an I.D. of sorts for the executive members and qualifies the group to receive aid such as the World Food Programme, and the services of the Kenya Women's Finance Trust.

Amenah, another volunteer completing an internship here, has been working with this particular group of women to help them organize. We were invited to their farms as we wanted to learn more about their efforts and their challenges in order to gain some insight which could potentially help guide future assistance programs.
We were greeted at farm after farm by incredibly strong women.

Some were eager to show us their successful crops, while others showed us baron land whose crops had all but been destroyed by weeds and pests. Some had tiny plots of land, while others had an acre or two. Some invited us into their homes (which is where they store their harvests as thievery from their graineries has become a problem) to show us the fruits of their labour, while others suffered a weak harvest with little to show. Some had cash crops in addition to food crops which allowed them to sell their goods at the market, while others would have to ration what they had produced just to feed their families. Some were preparing for the August rains which signal the next planting season, while others were struggling to bring in this season's harvest in time. Some shared with us the prohibitive costs of hiring an ox and plow, explaining why the work instead had to be done by hand, while others pointed out their most prized possessions including fruit trees, goats, and ducks (that would bring home a tidy sum at Christmas!).

All had a story.

Some shared their stories with us, while others did not. Either way, you could almost read their stories through their eyes, see their stories on the lines in their faces, and feel their stories on their calloused hands.
Though I stood beside these women, sat in their homes, greeted their children, and their grandchildren and listened, I can't pretend to understand. For this is a life, though try as I might, I cannot fathom.

As much as we would like the kids at school to jump up and down and yell Firefighter! Policeman! Doctor! Teacher!...when asked what they want to be when they grow up, it is easy to see how the obstacles inherent to their lives and the future they can foresee often elicits blank stares and confused eyes when posed this very question.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hands up!

Thursday we declared as a get-your-hands-dirty kind of day and after a trip to a bookshop and a wedding store in the neighbouring town of Busia, we had had all the supplies we needed to create handprint masterpieces.

The kids rotated in ten at a time and chose two colours of paint. We painted their hands one at a time and encouraged them to put their hands to paper in whatever orientation they wanted.

It was fun to watch the kids’ reaction to the whole process. Some were stoich, not really sure what to make of this, others were intrigued by the feeling of the paint between their fingers, others giggled as the tickly bristles ran over their palms, some were excited to get their turn while others seemed stressed out having been burdened with the responsibility of complete creative liberty.

Some thought for a great deal of time before placing their hands just so and others squished all their fingers together and slapped their hands down quickly in a big beautiful mess. It was the ones who colored outside the lines so to speak, the ones who turned their pages upside down and backwards, the ones who wrote their names vertically, between their fingers, or up the side of the page, that kept me smiling all day. I have included many sample creations below because I think that they will make you smile too :).

In addition to putting handprints to paper, everyone added their handprint to a school banner. From the students, to the teachers, to the kitchen staff, everyone got in on the action!

Joanne, from the sewing/tailoring class, provided the finishing touch by hemming the sides and adding button holes to the corners to allow it to be hung proudly in the school’s front entry.

All filled up

What’s cool about the Mercy Children’s Centre is that not only do they fill the minds of the kids here, but their bellies as well. When it comes to food, the school is virtually self-sustaining and what’s even more impressive is that everyone gets involved.

The school day starts early here and the kids line up for tea each morning at 7:30. Milk for the tea is provided by the cows whom George tends to religiously. In addition to the three cows (and one calf), the school also has two goats, two sheep, several chickens and a rooster.

Lunchtime is at about 1:00 and the menu alternates between ugali with sukumawiki and ‘Mixture’. Ugali is the local staple food and is made from grinding maize into maize flour and cooking it together with water to make a sort of dough. The maize is grown on site and the kids help with the planting and harvesting of it.

The final harvest was recently completed in preparation for the August planting season. These boys were showing off and taking down the stalks with ninja-like prowess!

The maize is laid out to dry under the hot sun, is removed from the cobb, dried some more, and is stored so that it is always on hand to be used as needed. Sukumawiki, a green and leafy vegetable that looks like lettuce, or a close relative, is also grown on site. It is boiled and eaten together with ugali.

Mixture is just that, a mixture of maize and beans combined to make what can only be described as deliciousness. The maize crop alternates with the bean crop and planting and harvesting again involves the students.

Meals are prepared in the school’s kitchen by an amazing staff. They let Troy and I peer over their shoulders and taught us how to make ugali, even though we ran out of the kitchen everytime the smoke rejected the chimney and filled the room. I guess your eyes must develop a tolerance after a while. .. Most of the cooking is done in giant pots held on three rocks above a fire fuelled by the dry sticks that the kids bring in on their designated firewood-day.

Here, Seline is preparing the sukumawiki and Joseph, having returned from town with a gunny sack of freshly ground maize secured to his bicycle, is cheffing up ugali.

Bon Appetit!