Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Life at Neema House

So since we’re at Neema full time now, there probably won’t be a lot of new and exciting adventures to report. For my blog tonight I’ll just give you some fun facts about life at Neema house:
1.Sing Maria is a game that I have literally played one million times. Basically what happens is you play patty-cake while singing a song. When you sing the word ten, you try and hit the other player’s hand before they can pull it away. Clearly this would get a little boring. We’ve been trying our hardest to introduce the children to new games. They seem to enjoy them but eventually we return to Sing Maria. Any game suggestions would be much appreciated.
2.We drink tea all the time. Today we drank it at breakfast, had a 10 o’clock tea break, a 4 o’clock tea break, and then we also drink it after dinner.
3.Callie and I are going to be ridiculously strong by the end of this month. Whenever we walk anywhere in the vicinity of a child they ask us to pick them up. They are just so adorable that I can never refuse. After I pick up one kid, the rest of them see that I’ve given in and mob me. I usually end up swinging kids around for the next hour.
4.Today I changed clothes three times because of throw-up, mud, and boogers. We’re going to be doing laundry a bit more often than we planned.
5. School is taken very seriously. Almost all of the kids had homework even though it was the very first day of term three.
6.The children are adorable when they drink porridge. Callie and I just sit and photograph them as they chug and then tip over their cups to make sure there isn’t any more left.
7.When I asked Anne (the oldest girl at Neema, she’s 12) to describe life at Neema House in one sentence she said, “We enjoy it.”
8.During the recreational time after dinner, I went to see what the oldest Neema student, Stephen, was reading. Turns out he was studying the different postal service prices from around the world. The children here find odd ways of entertaining themselves.
9.We have started having a lot of dance parties. The kids have learned disco, the tango, some swing dancing moves, the grocery-store, the monkey, and more! They are getting pretty good. We are trying to get them to memorize “Lean on Me” and The Jackson 5’s “A.B.C.” Hopefully by the time we leave they will know all the words. Anne’s favorite song is “Dancing Queen.”
10.Neema House is definitely one big family. The three year olds are already taking care of the babies and the primary school students put the toddlers to bed every night. All the kids have so much respect for Stephen and they always listen to Anne. I love seeing how each child has a spot to fill. Margaret is always with the babies, Ruth is the comedian, Kennedy is the social butterfly, Tawna is the cheeky one. At first I thought that with so many kids, some of them would have to feel neglected or unimportant. I’ve learned that it’s actually very obvious when a child isn’t present because each one of them has such a distinct personality and presence. I’ve loved getting to know them all.

Love and miss everyone!

Pictures: Neema House

Surrounded by some of the 39 Neema House children!
Neema House
Neema House primary school

Monday, August 30, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The past two days have been the beginning of our job at Neema Children’s Home. Technically, we were supposed to start Friday morning, but we escaped for a short time to go to a support group for teens who are HIV positive at Moi Hospital. However, after waiting for about an hour and a half (a shocking thing to do in Kenya… haha), it was apparent that the teens weren’t going to show up. Friday was an interesting day to be in Kenya as it was a new national holiday for the signing of the new constitution. It was interesting to be here in that it was much like Obama’s inauguration in the states – everyone gathered around the hospital televisions to watch the huge celebration taking place in Nairobi. It was all anyone could talk about.
With some time to kill before our lovely driver, Michael, came to get us, we headed to Sally Test to spend some time with the babies. While Sally Test is primarily a place for admitted pediatric patients to spend the day, it is also home to children who have been abandoned at the hospital. Currently they have five abandoned kids – Peter, 12, who is severely disabled with Cerebral Palsey, Sydney, 2, who is a major fan of attention and corn on the cob, Alex, 4 months, and Samuel, 3 weeks. While we were at Sally Test on Friday, they found out that a baby had been abandoned that morning at the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital. However, the baby was premature, and can’t move into Sally Test until he weighs over 2 kilograms. When he is older and stronger, he will be tested for HIV as it is clear he has been exposed to the virus. Many of these abandoned children will go to a children’s home. If they are HIV positive, it is increasingly likely that they will end up at Neema, as it is one of few homes to accept kids with the virus.
After a shopping trip to Nakumatt (the Kenyan version of Walmart) and a few Curios (small souvenir kiosks on the side of the road) to grow our new Hippo collection that resides on the top of our toilet, we headed back to Neema to start our work. To sum up our work, I’ll just say that last night at 8:00, Annie and I were so tired we could barely eat our dinner and were in bed by 9:00.
Today the real work began. Though the screaming children usually wake us up around 6 or 6:15, we don’t usually have to get out of bed until 7:30. This morning, we were expected to be bathing and changing babies at 7:30. It was a difficult task, made more difficult by our sudden lack of hot water. I opted out of a full sponge bath and instead stood beside the shower and just stuck my head in. Even so, I ended the makeshift “shower” with a brain freeze and chattering teeth. We’re really hoping the repairman is here by tomorrow morning.
The day was spent running after kids, giving twenty-too-many piggy-back rides, making little adorable Tana laugh, attempting to understand about 30 toddlers talking to us in Swahili at once, and finally, teaching the primary students how to tango. All in all, it was a pretty excellent day. We’re hoping our Swahili improves so that we can maybe answer one of the five million questions we’re asked by the kids. On the art front: the past few nights we’ve been teaching the older kids how to make embroidery floss “sister bracelets”. Tonight we became adventurous and made paper beads with 25 of the children. Though a little daunting, with our handy-dandy Swahili words (ngojea = wait, hapana = no, engoda = go) we managed to create some excellent looking necklaces that the kids seemed to really enjoy.
After a 16-hour day of babies, I’m about ready to pass out. So, I’ll leave you with a story: Mwania. Mwania is about six years old and in class 1. Joshua and Miriam found him, his four brothers, and his sister, living under a bush in Makueni, where Joshua grew up. Before this, Mwania’s fifth brother died from being attacked by a rabid squirrel. His mother abandoned the children, leaving them in the bush, for a second husband and children. The father, an alcoholic, took them in for a short while but then abandoned them again. It was at this time the Joshua and Miriam found the children. His brothers and sisters were placed in children’s homes around Makueni and Mwania, the youngest, came to Neema. Recently, Mwania’s father died; the Mbithi’s haven’t told Mwania yet and are unsure how to do so. Informing children of the struggles they have gone through is one of the biggest problems the Mbithi’s must face when raising 39 orphaned and abandoned children. They constantly worry what will happen when the children begin to realize that some have to take a lot of medicine every night while some don’t. Fortunately and unfortunately, 29 of the children are HIV positive; when they do find out about their status, they will, at least, have others going through the same thing and won’t be alone. While they want the children to know where they came from, they don’t know how to tell the children some of the horrible things they’ve been through but were too young to remember.
It’s something to think about… how would you tell a child that their HIV positive, or that their mother has died, or that they were abandoned they day they were born? It’s an impossible task.

Love to all,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

We’ve had two more eventful days here in Eldoret. We’re still doing a kind of orientation since my mom is still here. We wanted her to see as much as possible in the short two weeks. She’s leaving tomorrow and I’m going to miss her so much.

Anyways, we no longer need to set alarms on our phones. We have another alarm clock in the form of thirty-nine children running around and yelling outside our door. After waking up yesterday, we had breakfast with the Mbithi family and went with Sarah Ellen (and of course her always-present pal Javan) to the Amani Shelter. Callie and I had both visited this same place last summer to help paint the living room. The Amani Shelter is a transitional home for HIV-positive women and children who have been kicked out of their homes because of their status. There are also kids living there who just have no where else to go. When we visited yesterday there were only five kids there because the rest are in boarding school. They were all really sweet and they seemed excited when we suggested coming back to do some art projects with them.

After the Amani House we went to Tumaini Children’s Home. There are 20 babies and toddlers living there, many of whom came from Sally Test Pediatric Center. It was very interesting because the woman who runs the home (Phyllis) is from Idaho and she has made a very American-like environment for the kids. They don’t even have Kenyan accents. It was interesting to compare the Tumaini approach to Neema’s. We’re curious about how the children will learn about their culture when they have been raised American while still living in Kenya. I think it will be very confusing for them.

We had lunch at IU house and then went to Tumaini Street Kid Center. This place is not at all related to the Children’s Home. It is a place for street kids, 90% of whom are addicted to sniffing glue (for hunger pains), to come and receive breakfast, lunch, lessons, counseling, clothes, medication, and more. It is really an amazing program. One of my clearest memories from my trip last summer is when my group was followed by two boys holding bottles of glue. I was so shocked when we pulled into the center and I immediately recognized the exact same boy who had followed us last summer. It was so strange for me and it put that memory in a whole new light. Those kids have so many problems and haven’t had anyone to turn to or trust. I can’t even describe how difficult it must be to run this program.

After the center we went back to Neema. The kids are a handful but they are unbelievably adorable and nice. I’m so so excited to be able to spend such a long period of time with them.

Today was not especially busy. After breakfast we went to Imani Workshop again. Callie and I had designed skirts and picked out fabrics for the women to make. They are so pretty! After picking up the skirts we went to Sally Test Center to spend time with the kids. We played games and sang songs. I spent most of the time with a boy who has a problem with his liver. He was really frail and looked really scared. It was the most amazing thing when I could get him to smile. Hopefully I’ll get to know him better during our stay in November.
We ate lunch at IU House and then drove to yet another Children’s Home. This one was founded by the famous Kenyan runner Kip Keino (my dad was really excited when he heard this). This children’s home is really big. Right now it houses 114 children of all ages. It is partly funded by a corn, vegetable, and dairy farm. Callie and I purchased a wheel of Gouda cheese weighing 5.6 kilos. Mmmm

We taught some of the older kids how to make friendship bracelets when we got back to the house. We ate a delicious dinner at the Mbithi’s house and then Anne (age 12) helped me learn some new Swahili words. I’m sad that my mom is leaving but I’m also excited to start spending more time with the Neema kids and start working on the art projects.

Love and miss everyone!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Beginning at Home #1

It’s been a busy two days in Eldoret! Monday morning, we left Kakamega at around 7:30 to head to Eldoret with Joseph and our lovely driver, Michael. On the way out, we made a stop at Anneh’s (Joseph’s wife and my second mama) new nursery school. The school property used to be a dumping spot but Anneh cleared the space, planted grass, and built the entire school by herself; she’s very impressive! Annie and I can’t wait to go back to visit again and spend time with the little ones.
Once we got to Eldoret, we went straight to the Sally Test Pediatric Center. STPC is a place in the hospital where children who are either patients, siblings/children of patients, or abandoned children can go to play and learn during the day. Joseph, a nurse, gives preventative health talks to the parents and guardians of the children who come to Sally Test every Monday. After listening to his talk about the lungs and how to protect them, we had lunch at the IU house with Sarah Ellen Mamlin. Guess what we had? Hot dogs again! Annie and I are both pretty sure we’ve had more hot dogs in the past 4 days than in the past 5 years of our lives. Yum.
Then it was back to the hospital for what I think was the most difficult part of our trip so far: a full tour of the hospital with Sarah Ellen. Though Annie and I have both been on short, condensed tours of the hospital before, we had never been through every area of the hospital. We went through almost every ward, except for the surgery wards and the emergency trauma rooms. Our stops included the rape center (where they receive 100 patients a month with an average age of 12), the pediatric wards, the gynecology wards, the pediatric emergency room, the pediatric burn unit, and so much more. It was unbelievably challenging to see 3 or 4 children to a bed, hearing them crying and moaning. It is very interesting that we were just allowed to walk through the wards, invading all privacy the patients can try to salvage in the crowded hospital. We immediately got to work wheeling and walking the sick kids, mostly burn victims, to and from Sally Test. I was unsure Annie and I were going to hold it together as we walked into the burn unit and saw a little boy, probably about 3 years old, and his older brother, both of whose faces were completely burned. Both had other severe burns on their bodies. The brother was doing all he could to console the screaming boy but I’ve never seen such pain and anguish on a person’s face. The picture is burned into my mind.
To our great excitement, after we left STPC, Annie and I got to move into our permanent room at Neema Children’s Home where we will be living for the next 6 weeks. We had a lovely nesting party where we finally got to unpack from our suitcases and make our room homey and pretty. There are now pictures of our family and friends on our wall and everything looks like home.

Today we went to Imani Workshop for a tour and, of course, shopping. Imani is a workshop for HIV positive AMPATH clients that, much like Kazuri Beads, is an effort to provide income and training to those in need. The ladies there are all so friendly and we’re both thrilled that they agreed to specially make skirts for Annie and I. Yay!
We then did some farming. You know, the usual for Annie and I. Those who know us know how skilled we are at the manual labor stuff, especially when it comes to yardwork. We weeded with a man named David at a local AMPATH farm. The farm gives vegetables to AMPATH clients in need of food security. The AMPATH farms now feed almost 40,000 people. We did our small part taking out weeds (and only a couple plants on accident) and ‘scratching’ which is basically hoeing.
Then it was time for some Neema House fun. Annie and I entered the mob of children at about 4 and didn’t escape until around 9 for dinner. Even after those 5 short hours, where we weren’t even doing our full jobs yet, we were exhausted. We understand the need for a day off and regular rest times. However, we love being with the kids and can’t wait for our full internship to start on Friday.
We both love it here and are so excited for the next 3 and a half months. Please keep emailing (Callie: calliedanielshowell@gmail.com and Annie: scissors246@aol.com) and commenting on the posts, we love hearing from you!

Sunday, August 22, 2010