Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hi! Today is our last full day at Neema and, while I’m so sad about leaving the kids, I’m also getting really excited for our next adventure. This week we’ve been very busy with last-minute projects. We’ve been trying to let the kids draw as much as possible and we’ve also been taking as many pictures and videos as we can. We feel bad for taking a lot of the kids’ art home with us so we’re also making pictures for every kid. There’s also the small detail of packing…not sure when we’ll fit that in. Since nothing extremely new and exciting has happened, I’m going to use this blog to introduce you to more of the children I’ve grown to love at Neema.

Tana- This little girl is the cutest thing in the world. She is almost three years old and Miriam’s nickname for her is “cheeky baby. Her nose always crinkles when she smiles and laughs, she likes shouting and growling, and she often bothers the other children and then slowly turns to me wearing the sweetest expression that makes it nearly impossible for me to scold her. She also has a sweet side though. I’ve watched her share toys with the babies and wag her finger at a misbehaving child and shout “bad manners!”

Manna Namma- When we first came to Neema Manna was constantly pushing a small plastic chair all over the house. She would often be found by the doors and in the bedrooms always with her little chair. When we returned from our trip to Makueni we were so excited to see that Manna was still wandering the halls but no longer needed the help of a chair. Of course, this means that she can now explore more places and we can’t use the sound of scraping chair legs to track her down. Yesterday we looked out the window to see Manna taking a stroll outside with one of the other girl’s shoes swinging from her hand. Manna has eyes as big as golf balls and likes to bounce up and down while listening to music. When you hear her laugh and watch her waddle it’s impossible not to love her.

Johnstone- We’ve always liked Johnstone. He’s seven years old and likes drawing and playing football. He was really shy at first and has continued to be fairly quiet and serious throughout our stay. That’s why we were so surprised to discover that quiet little Johnstone is the greatest, craziest dancer ever. One night we brought the ipod into the sitting room to have a group dance party (which was a huge success) and without any encouragement he started whipping out moves that I have never seen before. Pure talent. I’m thinking of bringing him back home with us and entering him in “So you think you can dance. I like that we found him an outlet for letting the bottled up craziness come out.

Lochang’a- Oh, where to start? This child is one of the most entertaining two-year olds I’ve ever met. He’s pretty short. He has thin little eye-brows, a tiny mouth, small eyes, a button nose, and massive cheeks. When my sister was little her nickname was chubby cheeks. I now know that she did not deserve the title. Apart from his amusing looks and funny name, Lochang’a also has a bizarre personality. His dance moves rival those of Johnstone and he is constantly blabbering in Swahili while making grand hand gestures. Once when Callie asked a caretaker what he was talking about she said that he was describing how Callie and him went to the hospital in a train and ate biscuits and soda (this did not actually happen).

Ruth- I have never seen anyone who laughs more than Ruth. All you have to do is look at her and she’ll crack up. We can’t really talk to her much (every time she tries to speak English she ends up laughing instead) but she’s done some really great art. Ruth is 10 years old and a lot of the younger kids look up to her. They are constantly yelling “Rootoo!” I think she often goes off into her own little world. Sometimes during games she just stands in the middle of the field and spins around and kicks the dirt.  When we’re in the house I catch her staring off into space (when she sees me looking she always laughs) and I always wonder what she is thinking about.

Susan- Although she lives at Neema and does everything that every other child here does; Susan actually has two loving parents. Susan’s actual parents are also the house parents to all of the other Neema children. It would have to be really strange and sometimes annoying, to share your parents with 39 other children. They don’t really treat her any different than the rest of the children, though she is seen sitting on Baba’s lap more often than the others. She is a really sweet girl and seems very happy. Even though she’s not as outgoing as a lot of the other kids, she’s always sure to give me a hug and ask when she can dance and do art. Although she doesn’t realize it (she’s only 8 years old) she’s making a really admirable sacrifice by sharing her parents with the kids who didn’t have anyone.

I could write so much about every child but I probably shouldn’t write a 100 page blog. I’ve been thinking about which is worse: staying at home and being blissfully ignorant of the lovable children living so far away or getting to know and love each and every one of them and then having to leave with only memories and lessons that have helped change my outlook on life. I decided that while it is literally painful for me to think about leaving them, I wouldn’t trade the past six weeks for anything.

Love and miss everyone!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Succeeding at Failing

I had a rather scarring church camp experience when I was young and have never been a fan of church camp songs. However today I loved those songs of Jesus, shields, and jungles. After church, all of the kids went out to the playground and field to play before lunch. After a while, all of the kids migrated from the usually-popular playground to the new, cool hang-out spot on the field where Annie was beating the kids in basketball. I have never been one for physical activity, especially that which involves balls and hand-eye coordination. Had they put a ballet bar or a small dance floor in the middle of the field, I may have partaken in the games. However, this was not the case so I walked back towards the playground to see if there were any other low-life children who were anti-exercise like me.
I looked up into the little tree house and there was Margaret, who is about seven, lying in the shade amongst a pile of sweaters, big and small, that had been cast off in the heat of the sun. I climbed the tree house and sat next to little Maggie, who looked up and said “Callie!” as she so often does. “Maggie!” I replied. Maggie was one of the children who accompanied us to Makueni and has become a dear friend to me. Though the language barrier between is pretty large, she only being in Class 1, we always manage to make each other smile.
In Makueni, Annie and I taught the kids “He’s my rock, my sword, my shield” in a desperate attempt to contain the insanity that Annie described in her last blog posting. The kids loved singing along and making the hand gestures with us, especially during the “flubba hubba, flubba hubba, flubba hubba” portion of the song. So, as Maggie crawled onto my lap up in the little tree house, we began to sing “He’s my rock”. It’s a beautiful day today; the sun is shining and there’s a cool breeze that doesn’t blow you over, but is enough to cool you down and make your hair tickle at your neck. We could hear some 30 children laughing and playing in the field nearby.
After about our 5th time through the song, I attempted to start new tunes but Maggie only let me sing a few words before it was back to flubba hubba. Eventually a little boy, Kennedy, climbed into the tree house as well, lying down next to me and falling asleep within minutes. Then Kevin also came and layed down in the shade. So there the four of us were, taking solace and comfort in the shade of the little house, piled on top of one another, listening to Maggie stumble joyously through words about Jesus’ return and lilies of the valley.
In those moments I was utterly grateful for my lack of athletic talent and inability to catch a ball without covering my face in terror. I was grateful for my not-so-lovely church camp experience. I was even grateful that there weren’t little girls in tutus amidst the cows waiting for me to do pirouettes with them.
This is when our plan for this trip fails miserably: our reason for coming was to build relationships and make friends, we never thought about what consequences might come with this. Now that we have all of these wonderful friendships, it’s time for us to leave Neema. It will be a bittersweet goodbye on Friday; painful departures come with loving friendships. Yet I would go through a hundred farewells before giving up what we now have with these kids. As the number of ringworms on us grows (I believe I just discovered another on my wrist), our love for those who initially gave us the worms grows.
I suppose if that’s a failure then I’m alright with not succeeding.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Hi! Sorry that we haven’t posted a blog recently.  We have been on a little adventure. On Friday morning we left Neema accompanied by Joshua, Miriam, a guard, and a caretaker, as well as Boniface, Diana, Margaret, Paul, and Sharron to go to a different area of Kenya called Makueni. Makueni is Joshua and Miriam’s home town. Joshua’s parents live there and they have a couple outreach programs there as well. It is a loooong journey. We woke up at four in the morning (bleh) and arrived at the Mbithi homestead at around two in the afternoon.

Makueni has a different environment as well as a different culture than Eldoret. It is much more rural area and very poor. One of the large reasons for this poverty is the lack of water in the area. It is extremely dry there. The land is covered in sand-like dirt and brittle leafless trees. Most of the people we drove by on the road were hauling jugs of water. Even though it is so dry, the land is also very beautiful. Wherever we were during our stay, we always had a breathtaking view of the mountain range. There were also many bright flowered trees randomly found in the sea of brown. The contrast made them even more stunning.

The first day there we didn’t really do much except play with the kids in the dirt. How can I describe the children during this trip?....CRAZY. I don’t know what it was about Makueni. Maybe it’s something in the air or possibly just the excitement of being in a new place without the rest of the Neema kids that made all five of the children practically explode with energy and excitement. Seriously, they were more like blurs than children. Callie and I took to hiding in our rooms when they were particularly hyper.

The next day we accompanied Joshua and Miriam to check up on their land. They own a fairly large piece of land there and they plan on using it for an exciting project: Neema Makueni. They hope that this new Neema will be larger than the Neema in Eldoret (corresponding to the poverty there vs. that of Eldoret). It’s a fairly large property; about 40 acres. Miriam told us that the climate there makes it possible to produce good fruit year round (that is, if you can find enough water) and she wants to plant many fruit trees to go along with the lemon trees that are already there. The Mbithis would still live at Eldoret’s Neema and hire people to help run the new Neema. I’m not sure how Joshua sleeps at night with all this planning going on in his head. Actually, I’m pretty positive he doesn’t sleep at all. That’s the only way to explain how he gets everything done.

Another reason that the Mbithis come to Makueni is to check on the children they sponsor and their families as well as meet with people who have applied for their help. After inspecting the property, Joshua told us that we would be paying a visit to a very bright little girl named Roslyn who they’ve been sponsoring for some time. The last time Joshua visited this family, he had believed that the girl’s mother was going to die very soon. The mother is infected with AIDS and Roslyn is HIV positive. We were happy to discover that she has improved and will be able to take care of her kids for at least a little bit longer. When we arrived we were greeted by seven children as well as Roslyn who immediately asked if she could recite a poem for us. She began: “Ladies and Gentlemen, The young student who stands before you is called Roslyn. I have prepared a poem for you to listen to so sit back, relax, and please enjoy.” She went on to recite a poem, in perfect English, about the difficulties she has with school. The poem told us of how hard it was to get to school on time because of the distance she had to run. It also described her problems concentrating on an empty stomach. She told us that when her mother couldn’t pay the school fees she was sent home and when she was finally able to return the rest of the class was already four topics ahead. At the end of the poem she discussed how even with an education, her older relatives were still unable to find work and it probably won’t be different for her after she graduates. She performed the piece in a loud clear voice along with motions and hand gestures. Callie and I were surprised and amazed (we had not been expecting that) and we raced back to the van to get the camera and asked her to do it again.

We went on more home visits as the trip went on. Sunday was a sunny day, but not too hot, and Joshua decided that we would walk to visit a family he hadn’t been able to see in a while. It was good to get some exercise and be able to appreciate our surroundings instead of just whooshing by them. Another benefit of walking was that we got to talk to more people. We mostly saw children on the path. Even though Joshua didn’t know the children specifically, he knows pretty much every family in the area and always chatted with the kids for a few minutes. The sense of community and belonging was nice. We could tell that Joshua was ecstatic to be home with his people, in his favored climate, and speaking his own language.

When we arrived at the homestead tons of children, and some teens, gathered to stare at us while Joshua talked to the grandma. The grandmother was very shaky and didn’t look well but she seemed really happy to see Joshua and have someone to listen to her problems. Throughout the weekend Joshua kept reminding us that people really love and appreciate being listened to and knowing that someone cares about them. He said that even when he can’t give anything to help their physical state, he always listens.

Joshua doesn’t continuously support this family because there are so many children and he can’t afford to help all of them. He has, however, provided support for one of the boys who needs special attention. When this boy was six years old he fell out of a tree and landed with a thorn in his ankle. His parents have both died (his guardian is his grandmother) and his family doesn’t believe in the use of modern medicine. Because of this, the puncture became infected and eventually started emitting puss and blood. The infection spread to the rest of the foot and, three years after he had fallen, part of the boy’s ankle bone fell out. When this happened it became too painful for him to walk to school and he was forced to drop out. Now, five years after he initially received the injury, his foot is still painful and infected. His grandmother would take him to the hospital but she is too ill and the visit would be too expensive.

It is difficult to see these things. I feel so overwhelmed by their problems and my inability to do anything. I can’t even listen to them like Joshua! Before we left for Kenya I was talking to my youth minister (Anne!) about the trip and how I feared that Callie and I wouldn’t be able to do much to help the people we saw. She told me that just being present would help. I thought about that conversation on these visits; hopefully it’s true.

Even though I visited these homes, shook the family’s hands, saw their injuries, and was told of their stories, I still don’t know them. I can’t talk to them. I don’t know their quirks and their likes and dislikes. I still can’t really think of them as people because I just know them as faces and stories. I am touched by their stories and appreciate the opportunity to meet them, but It really made me appreciate the relationships I’ve formed at Neema and the reason that Callie and I came back to Kenya in the first place: to really get to know the people and culture. When you get to know the personalities behind the stories; that’s when they feel real and I think we (and maybe the people we meet) get so much more from the experience.

P.S. I was horrified to notice an odd-looking bump on my arm while driving back to Eldoret Yup, I have ringworm. I suppose I shouldn’t have mocked Callie…

P.P.S. Sorry I couldn't post pictures last time. Our internet is a bit fussy. We'll try to get them up eventually

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fungus-y Wormness


So, yesterday, September 14, at 2:47 PM changed just about everything. At 2:47 yesterday, Annie and I went to the main house to steal mandazi, as per usual, when Miriam saw what I believed to be a bug bite on my arm. To my alarm, she quite calmly pronounced that I have ring worm. Then the bread man came and suddenly she disappeared, leaving me to freak myself out and Annie to make fun of me. At 3:08, Miriam showed us a nursing book and medical dictionary, which told us that there is a worm burrowing in my arm and that ring worm is usually only a risk to those who have AIDS. Annie and I were completely unaware that the white spots, now known to us as ring worm, on the children’s heads are highly contagious. Putting this things together, at 3:11 Annie, always the positive comforter, decided that in the past 4 days I managed to not only acquire ring worm, but also AIDS. My freak out level at this point was only slightly less than what it was during my AP Chemistry test. Those who took that dreadful test with me will understand the severity of the freak out that I was having.

At around 3:13 I convinced myself that there were worms crawling throughout my body and that I would probably die, having eaten ugali as my last meal. I sent a text message to Sarah Ellen Mamlin saying something along the lines of “So apparently I got ring worm… what should I do?” Miriam, who was the one who had just told me that I had worms burrowing underneath my skin, was worried that I was too concerned so called us to her house. She proceeded to give us more mandazi which calmed me down immensely. At 8:43 PM, I got a call from the IU pediatrician who told me that ring worm isn’t actually a worm, but merely a fungus. Ring worm, with the proper ointment, will also go away within 7 days. Ringworm is still highly contagious. My freak out level went down to around the level it was at before I had to recite a sonnet in Lineweaver’s class last year. For those who don’t know, that’s still fairly intense. If I remember correctly -- Lineweaver could clarify -- I said approximately one word before I was called in front of the class that day and, after reciting my sonnet, mumbled something about Simon and Garfunkel before quickly returning to the safety of my desk.
However, after a skype conversation with my parents, who were looking up ring worms on the internet, I became reassured that I may live through this ordeal. By 10:09, when my computer died, my freak out level was minimal, probably around the level it was when we found out Annie and I were to cook an authentic American meal for the Mbithi’s on this very Tuesday, September 15. This dinner was postponed at around 3:12 yesterday, when Miriam saw my face post-AIDS diagnosis and decided it would be better for us all if she cooked the pasta that night.

As of 11:54 AM today, I’m now on my medicine and seem to be in the clear from my near-death experience. My ring worms and I have become the best of pals but, because of their fungus-y worm-ness and the like, I will not be sad to see them go. Also, between 4:25, when I got pity mandazi, and 8:43, when the medical official discarded my belief of my imminent death, Annie and I learned how to cross stitch. So not only did I get some new buddies, I also got a new crafty skill to show off on my return home. Overall, I’d say that’s a pretty fulfilling day. Can anyone else say they got two ringworms AND learned how to cross stitch in the same day? I don’t think so.
Love and miss everyone! At this point, after I’ve just shared about my new fungus in great detail, you probably don’t miss me so much. I quite understand… but they really do make great companions if you’d like me to pass you some worms -- just a kind gesture from a wormed girl in Kenya.



P.S. Annie and I are leaving on our trip to Makueni, originally scheduled for the 24th, this Friday morning at 4 AM. The area is one of the poorest in Kenya and where Joshua Mbithi is from. We will be visiting his family and students in the area whom the Mbithi’s support. We won’t be bringing the computer so will be out of touch until Tuesday. We’re really excited for the adventure and I’m sure we’ll have many stories to share when we get back. So, goodbye blog family for a few days… we’ll miss you dearly!

Monday, September 13, 2010

more art!

Week days are usually very busy at Neema House. The children have school then games then study hall and homework. All of this is followed by baths for every child and dinner and then tutoring. Because of all of this we usually do not find time to do longer art projects until the weekends.

On Saturday we were feeling very ambitious and decided to attempt splatter painting with the thirteen oldest children. For those who don’t know, splatter painting is simply the art of flinging paint onto paper. We decided to paint with two children at a time so that each child could have either Callie’s or my full attention. The kids were naturals at the splatter painting. Callie compared them to Jackson Pollock. They loved hitting the paint brushes and watching the colors form splotches and lines across the paper. The younger kids were surprisingly better at it than the older ones because of their unreserved style. By the end of the project each child’s face and hands were almost as colorful as their papers.

As the paintings dried, the children came back to the classroom. We cut each child’s painting into two, three, or four pieces. We then had them choose words (one word for every piece of their painting) from a list that Anne and Stephen had created for us earlier that day. The list was made up of words like imani, umoja,rafiki (faith, unity, friend) and other words that would be meaningful to the kids. They wrote a word on every piece of their painting and then used a note card to write why they chose that word. They all turned out really well!

Yesterday we went to the Mbithi’s church accompanied by ten of the younger children. When we got home we went on a walk with some of the kids. We walked through some corn fields and to their old teacher’s house and we also visited their friends from school. When we got back to the house we started our first group project. We had almost every child (including baby Lydia and five month old Michael) come into our room. We painted one of their hands in the color of their choice. The expressions on the kids’ faces when we started painting were hilarious. I’m pretty sure some of the younger ones thought that we were permanently painting their hands because they started crying until we showed them that it could be wiped off. We placed all of the kids’ hands on the paper and made a peace sign. It looks great, but none of the kids know what it means so they don’t think it’s as cool as we do. To finish it off Stephen painted the word “amani” (peace) on the side.

Overall it was a very successful weekend. The kids are getting so much better at free-draw and I think they are really enjoying the art projects. I’m posting pictures of some of their drawings and paintings. Enjoy!

Miss and love everyone!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Baby Love

Tonight I got a call from Joseph’s family, whom I call my “Kenyan family.” The call, which was to make sure that we were OK and enjoying our life, reminded me again of how at home I feel in Kenya. It is a strange yet wonderful thing to me that I feel so comfortable here, so happy.
Tonight Annie and I were videotaping our thoughts on life at Neema and began discussing the comfort we feel here. We realized that our goal for coming to Kenya, our reason for returning, has already been completed. On Monday (our day off) we returned to Neema from downtown Eldoret to a mob of screaming children, ecstatic that we had returned. Interestingly, it wasn’t the mob we found when we first got to Neema: the kids were no longer screaming “wangeni!” (visitors!), but were screaming our names and instead of our initial hellos to strangers, we were greeting each child by name. It was a wonderful moment realizing how well we know these kids now, and how much we love them all.
We love cheeky Tana for giggling and growling to herself constantly. We love watching her turn a porridge cup upside-down and shake it, trying to make more magically appear. We even love her when she starts hitting other children with sticks because they have tried to share our laps with her.
We love Justus who has possibly the biggest teeth I’ve ever seen on a 3-year-old. We love that he mimics our facial expressions and loves testing just how wide he can possible open his mouth. We love that he likes watching wrestling, and enjoys reenacting the fights even though he’s about 2 ½ feet tall.
We love Bonface, who is so small but can eat so much. We love that despite the huge language barrier we can still make each other laugh. We love that he silently smiles and makes fun of us at dinner when we’re so tired that we start talking nonsense.
We love Agnes, who just laughs and laughs. We love that you can simply look in her direction and she’ll laugh for 5 minutes. We love looking over in the corner of the room and seeing Agnes just laughing to herself.
We love Michael, who usually throws up on us at least once a day. We love that he has long and skinny arms and legs but a massive little potbelly. We love watching the other children take care of him and make him smile. We love his constant happiness.
We love Enock, who was so small when he arrived at Neema. We love that he’s strong and healthy. We love that no matter how far away he is from us, he will run to hug us. We love his giggle when we tickle him and that at the end of the day, he just wants to be cuddled.
We love Boaz, whose diaper is so big that he walks bow-legged. We love that he’s a miniature adult who stays up later than most of the kids and would rather attempt to help with laundry than play. We love that when you tickle him, he smiles and rubs his tummy.
We love Patience, who takes her time warming up to visitors. We love that she smiles when she sees us, instead of screams as she used to. We love that she wants no business with crawling but would rather scoot around everywhere she goes. We love her loud cackle when someone says her name and listening to her sing to herself when you put her to bed.

We love all of them, for having a story, for a having a place at Neema. It’s hard to believe that we’ll be leaving them in 2 ½ weeks. It will be sad to leave them, but we are happy as each individual child has something about them that we will remember. We’ll remember Manna, who tries to drink her bottle upside down and always looks surprised. We’ll remember Brian, whose PJ pants always fall down and who covers his mouth as if in shock whenever he giggles, which happens all the time. We’ll remember Ann, who loves dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and coming into our room to hit us at 6:50 in the morning.
In a way, I believe these memories are the best way we can support Neema. We’ll share these kids’ stories and unique personality traits when we get home and on this blog so that there is always someone thinking about Ruth dancing, Kennedy tackling us, or Grace’s squeaky voice.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


We are now very well settled at Neema House, it really does feel like a home to us and I can’t believe we only have two and a half weeks left here. The past two days have been interesting because we have been spending the mornings at the AMPATH (American Model Providing Access To Healthcare) clinic with a few of the children who are HIV positive. Living at Neema, I’ve gotten to know all of the kids pretty well. They are all so active and healthy that I rarely think about HIV. It’s hard to remember that a lot of these kids are going to struggle so much because of it for the rest of their lives. The clinic visits aren’t very dramatic. They are made up of three stages. First the kids get weighed, measured, and have their blood pressure taken. Then they are each inspected by the doctors and the caretakers are asked about how the children eat and behave. The third stage of the visit is when the hospital checks to see how regularly the kids have been taking their medicine. The caps of the medicine bottles actually have a device in them that, when plugged into the computer, reports all of the times the bottle was opened. I thought this was pretty cool.

During our stay we are trying to learn as much as we can about the various stories that brought the children to Neema. We’ve already shared some of these, but the one that I am going to tell tonight is probably the most heartbreaking story Neema has to offer. Since it is such a personal story I am understandably going to change the child’s name.

Natalie is a really sweet girl. She laughs often, loves talking, playing, and learning, and the only clues to her having a past different than any other child are the large scars on her legs and the slight limp when she walks. When Natalie was five years old her own aunt attempted to murder her by throwing her down a well. The aunt pulled her up to find that she was alive, but terribly misshaped with a broken back and broken legs. She then proceeded to take Natalie into the house and keep her hidden. She provided no medical care whatsoever and Natalie’s broken bones began to set in the completely wrong way and her wounds became infected. Joshua told us that Natalie would not have survived if the neighbors hadn’t forced entry into the aunt’s house to rescue the child and take her to the hospital. Five-year old Natalie required immediate surgery resulting in the large scars on her legs. She was kept in the hospital for two months. The police never found her aunt or uncle, though the uncle has tried to visit Natalie at Neema two times. With such a terrible past, it’s amazing that Natalie has become such an amicable and normal girl. I’ve been wondering about whether or not she remembers the incident and, if not, how/if Joshua and Miriam plan to tell her. It is questions like these that I’m sure are the hardest part of the Mbithi’s job.

Every child at Neema has a story to tell. Almost all of them are heartbreaking, but each one has a similar happy ending at Neema. “Neema” means grace in Swahili. It is really an appropriate name for a place that provides children who have nowhere else to go with a home, a family, an education, and a future. I’m so happy to be involved in some small way.

Love and miss everyone!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Art Art Art


This weekend was an art-filled two days.  Besides a few simple crafts and a lot of coloring book pages, these were our first big art projects with the kids. On Saturday, we started out with painting for the older kids.  First, the kids put tape and shapes onto the paper. They then painted the paper with many colors. Our only rule for the kids is that there isn't allowed to be any white space on the paper when they are finished.  Once the paint was dry, we peeled off the shapes and tape from the paper to reveal the negative white space. 
After lunch, we did ripped paper collages with the class 1 students.  The kids first colored the entire paper with crayons in different shapes and colors.  Then, to their great astonishment and, eventually, great pleasure, they ripped the paper into little pieces.  They then glued these pieces to a piece of construction paper in a collage.
 On Sunday, we opened up a classroom at the school for the kids to come in and draw. Eight kids were allowed in the room at one time and were given two pieces of paper for the day.  If needed, we gave simple suggestions about what the kids could draw. Once again, our only rule was "no white", or "hapana color white".  At first, the kids all drew tiny pictures with labels like "hat", "girl", and "house".  All of the pictures were the same and it took a lot of work to get them to think outside of what their teachers had told them about how to draw. Eventually though, we got them to fill the entire page and be creative about what they were drawing and how they were drawing it.  It was a very fun day of coloring that made us really excited for what else the kids can do.  We've already gotten more ideas and will probably be pretty busy the next 3-4 weeks we're at Neema. Well, more busy than we already are.  Sleeping will probably stop happening.
We're exhausted, but happy and can't wait for more.

Below are pictures of the kids doing art and the art itself.  If you have any other project ideas, we'd love to hear them! Especially if they're good for doing with toddlers and a massive language barrier!

Ann and Ruth painting
Neema Puzzle: there are 40 pieces - one for each child. Those who could wrote their names and colored their piece.
A free drawing of a family by Ruth
A free drawing of Kennedy and his friends playing football
Nancy with her negative space painting
Stephen's negative space painting
Diana coloring for her ripped paper collage
Ripped paper collage by Margaret
Ann's self-portrait
A free drawing by Ann about what she loves

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An interview with Stephen

For tonight’s blog post I interviewed the oldest Neema House resident, Stephen. He is such a friendly person and even from these questions it’s easy to see that he is very selfless, optimistic, and an amazing role model for everyone here.

What is your name and how old are you?
My name is Stephen Mbugua. I am 15 years old.
What are your favorite subjects in school?
Kishwahilli, English, Science, and French
What are your hobbies?
I like football, reading, and watching movies like The Hulk.
What is your favorite thing about living at Neema?
I like reading storybooks, cooking, helping clean the house, and playing with the kids.
What is the hardest thing about living at Neema?
Everything is okay.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself what would it be?
How old were you when you came to Neema?
9, It didn’t take long to adjust. There were 4 kids living here and I was the oldest. I am still the oldest and it makes me feel good and happy. I like being the big brother to everyone. I tell them to do good things and tell them to obey. I like doing good things so that they can follow.
What are your plans for secondary school?
I’m in class 6. I would like to learn in a high school. I would like to go to another school outside for secondary school so that I can have more friends.
What part of Neema would you change if you had a lot of money?
I would buy a bus for the school so that the children could go to Dubai because in Dubai there are goods that cannot be bought here. I would buy chips, chicken, and lots of beef. If I had a lot of money for myself I would like to buy cars (a Hummer, Landrover, Double Kebin) and have a home in Mombasa because the climate is high and also there is a lot of rain fall. I like rain because it helps germination and farming.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
An engineer
If you become an engineer you know how to make engines and vehicles. You get a lot of knowledge and a lot of money. I am not scared of getting into university because I just want to learn and not look at how other people do their work. I only focus on my own work.
How long is your school day?
We start at 8 and have classes until five, sometimes 5:30. I like school because they teach subjects that help us in the future and also change our lives. I never get bored.
How much time do you spend doing homework?
Sometimes I spend 2 hours doing homework and studying. I am in grade 6.
If you had three wishes what would they be?
I wish I could have 5 children. Four boys and one girl.
I wish I could have a big house
I wish I could have 8 vehicles
I wish I could have animals like sheep and pigs
I wish I could have 2 wives so that if one of them dies, I can still have a wife
I wish I could have airplanes so that I could fly to other countries like USA so that I can visit other visitors who come to Neema

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Irene and Manu

One of the many amazing aspects of Neema House is that they take on challenges that many others would shy away from. Not only is their acceptance of HIV + children commendable, they have also recently taken in a little girl, Irene, who is severely mentally handicapped, and her brother, Emmanuel, who has many behavioral issues. It is unclear the specifics of Irene’s disability and I believe this is what makes her such a challenge for the Mbithi’s and for the Neema caretakers. It seems that they simply don’t know what to do with Irene -- as much as they want to love and help her, they don’t know how. Emmanuel, or Manu, seems to struggle with similar things that Irene does, although in a much milder form. He can be a real sweetheart and is very smart but, as if a switch is turned on, he often switches over to a very aggressive and mean little boy. The house mom seems to believe that Manu’s aggression is not simply a toddler acting out but a serious problem as Irene’s is.
Interestingly, Irene and Manu’s father, who is living in Eldoret and is HIV +, wants the children back. He is very poor but has promised that the children will be fed and will go to school. The Mbithi’s would like for them to go back to their father as they believe he is a good man and, ultimately, if possible, want the children to be at their homes. They are still waiting for evaluations from the social workers to determine if Irene and Manu will be able to return home. Unfortunately, Kenyan government doesn’t give disability money like ours does and Irene gets no support for schooling and care. A daily dose of Irene’s medicine is 7,000 shillings (about $100 US). This is extraordinarily expensive for Kenyan standards and is very hard for the Mbithi’s to pay. While they want her to go to school, whether she stays at Neema or returns home, the tuition is impossible for them to pay. The first term alone would cost 70,000 shillings and each consecutive term costs an additional 40,000 shillings.
Currently, Irene spends almost all of her days in a high chair. She has hit children before and has knocked over one of the caretakers so, for the safety of her and the children, they must restrain her in the chair. Irene is very strong and because she, understandably, doesn’t like being in the chair, she stands up and rocks the chair back and forth with great force. It is terrifying to watch and Joshua believes that if she were to fall, which could happen at any moment, she would die on impact. Upon seeing this the first time, Annie and I have been wondering and discussing a safer place for Irene to spend her days that would also allow her a little more freedom. When she is allowed out of the chair, which requires one-on-one care, Irene seems to be so happy. She dances around and has a big smile on her face. She loves Phillip, the house dad, and has the cutest giggle when he tickles her back.
Irene needs somewhere where she can giggle and be happy but remain safe. Do you have any suggestions? We’ve been looking into play pens but they are very hard to come by here. We want to talk to a builder but need to make sure the structure is as safe as possible for both Irene and the other children. We would also like to try to have Irene, and possibly Manu, assessed by a psychiatrist, as her last diagnosis was autism. I am no psychologist, but it seems to me that Irene’s disability is much more than autism. Do you have any suggestions or questions that we should ask the doctors? It seems that with the proper diagnosis, and consequently training for the caretakers about her specific needs, Irene could lead a much happier, healthier life.
Suggestions, ideas, and thoughts for Irene and Manu would be much appreciated. Joshua and Miriam, and the caretakers, worry constantly about Irene’s safety and, ultimately, her future. Annie and I are hoping to figure out a way to do our small part to give the caretakers some peace of mind and Irene a small portion of happiness.