#12 – A Visit with Catherine

My dear friend, Catherine Wanjohi, has been in Scotland, only returning a few days ago.  This afternoon has been our first opportunity to talk more than just a brief “Hi”.   As is always the case there is much, much more to talk about than time to do it.  Sigh! 

In Scotland, she attended the International Association of Community Developers (IACD).  She is the poster child for community development and was so recognized by being elected vice-president.  In 2016 she attended this conference for the first time in Minneapolis, where she was appointed Kenyan representative.  In 2018 she was unable to attend, but was appointed (in absentia) Sub-Saharan Director

This year she was elected vice president of the association, a MAJOR recognition of her as the founder and leader of Life Bloom and of the wonderful work Life Bloom has done.

For my readers who are not familiar with that stellar organization, let me give you a history. 

Catherine was the principal of a girls’ high school when she was moved to begin counselling sessions for commercial sex workers.  It’s a long story of how that came about, but it did and in time she saw the grinding need those women have for help, recognition, love, support, counselling—you name it.  Catherine, who has a master’s in counselling, along with many other degrees and trainings, established an organization which could grow exponentially, by training women with high potential, though not the educational documentation, to do counselling, help women set up small businesses, make sure they get regularly tested for STD’s and if positive, take the necessary medications.  “You will NOT leave any more AIDS orphans here.  You will be tested regularly, you will take the ARV’s, you will send your children to school (especially your girls) and you will love those children.” No one can know how many children still have their moms because of Catherine’s admonitions. 

I met her in 2005, my first year here, at the arrangement of Fr. Kiriti. We bonded almost immediately and have been like sisters ever since.  Although I am older than her mother and she is younger than my children, we have that sense of being sisters. 

There is much more to be said about Catherine and Life Bloom Services International (LBSI), some of which you will find at www.lifebloomservicesintl.org 

In addition to her loving service with the women of Naivasha, Gilgil, and Nairobi, Life Bloom has been in the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. She has designed and implemented educational programs over a very wide area, including programs to teach men how their promiscuous behavior spreads the disease to their wives.  Often the infected wives are accused of infidelity and abandoned by the husbands who infected them. 

In addition to the incredible gift of herself and LBSI she has taken into her home and her heart the 2 youngest Mji kids, 2 boys whose mother did not hear the message, did not get tested, did not take the ARV’s and left 2 wonderful boys orphaned at a very young age.  Because at one time she worked at Mji, the older one knew to bring his younger brother here when the mother passed.  Julia, the matron, took them in, fed them, clothed them, gave them warm beds, sent them to school and gave them the unlimited love she gave all the Mji kids. Slowly they adjusted to their new life situation.  A few years later, the then-parish priest decided to close Mji, Julia moved to the US, having accepted the marriage proposal of a Kenyan man living there. Another mother lost to these 2 boys, as well as all the other Mji kids.  Enter Catherine.

Initially she agreed to take them in for about 10 days between when I left here 3 years ago and when school took up.  Mji kids who had no place to be during school holidays would stay here as long as I was here, these 2 boys among them.  When I left, they went to live with Catherine and 2 her biological children + a Mji boy she had previously adopted.  Now she had 5 children, 3 who had experienced major losses. Only a heart as wide as Catherine’s could take them on.  As a tribute to how she has raised her other children, it was they who said, “Mom, we think the 2 boys should join our family.”

Mothering 5 children plus being the LBSI leader, and major fund raiser is taking its toll on Catherine.  The financial position of LB has always been fragile, which means her own salary is iffy. Not good for a mom with 5 children!!! One of our Kenya Help donors has taken on paying school fees and other financial needs of the 2 boys, but even at that, the drain, financially and emotionally is great.

Hence our meeting today.  We had only an hour.  The most compelling issues are the children, 4 of whom are teen-age boys.  We talked, shared, laughed and cried (at least inside) at how much the 3 who are orphans are going through.  The 2 boys who lost their biological mother and then Julia have expressed fear that somehow they will lose Catherine.  It’s very hard for them.

I’ve learned over the years here that at some point every one of the kids who either lost their moms to illness or were abandoned, have experienced great anger.  Many want to search for their fathers, find out why that man left them and their mothers. It’s raw and compelling.  I think it’s universal that we want to know our biological beginnings.

We plan to meet again to see whether we can set up ongoing, solid financial support for Life Bloom.  Are there foundations, federal or international bodies who would support this vital work?  We know the names of many, but how to get their attention?  It’s too important to let LB die, but that could happen if Catherine burns out. 

And so, dear readers, I’m not asking you to give financially to LB, although such would be welcome (I’ll include how you can do it at the bottom). What I’m really asking is do you have any connections with groups who can understand how vital this work is. With proper backing, this work can spread to other countries with still growing AIDS infection rates.  At least in Kenya, the infection rate is dropping, in no small measure due to the work of LBSI.  I know there are federal funds (or there were, pre-Trump) and I know there are churches, civic groups, individuals and foundations who would be grateful to find an organization all set up, ready to move out to address the AIDS crisis in ever growing circles.  The structure is there.  Isn’t it unbelievable that money is all that is stopping it. 

I know that this issue is a big part of the Gates Foundation program, but how to bring LBSI to their attention?  How about Face Book, Google…. I know there are 100’s of foundations, but I don’t know how to address them and I haven’t the time nor the energy to pursue this worthy goal. 

How to donate to Life Boom:

Umoja Presbyterian Churchin Tacoma, WA has agreed to be the fiduciary sponsor for Life Bloom.  Thus any donations made through them will be deductible to US donors.  They will send 100% of donations to Life Bloom, a very generous offer.

Donations will be booked and handled by Marlene Hayden.  Checks should be written to. Umoja Presbyterian Church, with “Life Bloom” entered on the memo line

This last part is vital, because like any church, Umoja receives many donations, so must know to direct donations to Life Bloom.

Checks can be sent to

LIFE BLOOM
        c/o  M. Hayden
        POB 44402
        Parkland, WA  98448

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