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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.

1 comment:

  1. Troy and Nic......Wow. You guys are amazing. Your post on Africa brings back a lot of memories of being there. I had a hard time with Africa, it seemed like life was difficult for most and impossible for some....I couldn't handle the sadness of it all. It's awesome to see that you are enjoying your time there and finding some joy in the good things. I have been reading about your adventures for a while and glad to see that things are going well. Keep up the good work and as Red Green always says: "Keep your stick on the ice"...is it you Nic that always quotes that?

    Cody Out.