July 11, 2017
It seems I am dealing with a time crunch all the time. Alison leaves a week from today and will take home an empty suitcase if we don’t find some craft items for her to take. We have not been to the Maasai market for our usual goodies. When I finally go I’ll have too much stuff to bring home. ARGH!!!
In an effort to fill that empty suitcase, we went with Joyce to the small fabric store here in Naivasha. The fabric choices for the shopping bags are limited, but Joyce offered to go to Nairobi where there are many shops and a wide variety. She knows what I like and is very willing to go. I offered to pay her for her time, but she didn’t seem to understand that idea. I had to explain that if she goes to Nairobi for me, she’s not in her shop earning money. Oh. Now she gets it.
I met Joyce Muthoni in 2006. At that time a local lady had offered to teach women to sew and Joyce was one of the first to sign up. She wanted another way to support herself and her 2 children. In time she was able to save enough to purchase her own machine, which she plied in her very small “house”. Several years ago she opened her own shop, small, but her own. If you have a shopping bag or tote from Kenya Help, you’ve been part of Joyce’s success story, because every year I buy bags from her. Over the time she had improved the original design, learned to make them very strong and easy to carry. I use them here and I use them in the US. Here is the picture I took yesterday in her shop. Next to it is Milka’s shop, where she sells used clothing, jewelry, do-dads and stuff. They met in Life Bloom and remain very good friends, each minding the other’s shop when one needs to be gone. I took several pix of them in their shops but my photo program is misbehaving and has evidently eaten them.
Leaving Joyce, we drove out to St. Theresa’s children’s center, established by Fr. Makarios to help badly abused children recover and eventually move on with their lives. He’s an Egyptian priest, from a Canadian order that must have some deep pockets because the buildings are wonderfully designed and built. The best architect/contractor in town has done all his work and it is top drawer. I so wish we could have afforded him for SFG. I wanted to talk to Fr. M because a friend of mine in the US has connections with a group of US dentists who want to come to Kenya to do pro bono dental work. Would you believe that Kenyan dentists don’t want free dental work done, even for people too poor to ever afford their services? They get backed up for weeks, until sometimes a problem that could have been quickly solved becomes a case of dental extraction because it wasn’t treated promptly. So public facilities a problematic, but St. Theresa’s has a clinic, available to local people in addition to the children and in it one room is dedicated to dental work. It looks like any dental office in the US, with the reclining chair, pull down light, spitting bowl, x-rays, electric drills—the works. (Again, my photo program ate the pix) I wanted to see whether he was interested (he is very much) and to discuss how it might work. My hope is not to be the middle man (woman), but to connect Fr. M with my friend and eventually with the dentists themselves.
Mission accomplished, we move on to the Life Bloom One Stop Center (OSC), which is near St. Theresa’s, but maybe 5 miles from Naivasha proper and way, way off the road. Oh, my, what a road. Wanjiru (Catherine’s co-worker) was directing me, but all I saw was a bunch of cow trails, leading off in all directions.
We came here so Alison could see the One Stop Center and to deliver gifts from Betsy Rose, who came here last year to visit and sing with the ladies of Life Bloom. She happened to be present at the birth of a baby girl, whose mother, Julia, named the baby Betsy.
Betsy Rose had sent several really cute outfits to Baby Betsy, plus a toy and some earrings and 2 necklaces to Julia. Julia was overcome. Here she is trying very hard to compose herself after seeing the jewelry. I had the impression that she has received few gifts in her life. I don’t know a lot about Julia, except it’s that same old story of abuse, pregnancy, abandonment, despair. Baby Betsy is small, but at 1 year + she is standing up, ready to walk any day. She has big brown eyes with which she carefully surveys her world. (right: Betsy models her new duds.)
With the help of Life Bloom, Julia and baby Betsy will somehow survive, but that story repeats itself endlessly the world over and it has from time immemorial. I ask myself, when will we put a stop to it? When will we help women so they give birth only to the children they want and can care for, teach them skills to support themselves, help them regain their dignity and self-respect, instead of vilifying them for accepting the last resort—selling their bodies to survive?
Back at St. Francis it is lunchtime and soon we are surrounded with questioners. At one point I had 8 form 1’s all wanting help with various topics. Neither of us have visited the form 1 classes yet, but right after lunch we visited to 2 form 1 classes, where Alison presented each girl with a mechanical pencil—a tradition I began the first year of SFG in 2007.
That was yesterday. Today, (Tuesday) we went to visit and teach at Ndingi, where the staff had prepared a schedule, 3 classes for each of us. We had time to chat with the principal, tour the grounds (much more extensive than SFG, but so rundown. It was fun to teach the boys—their energy is very different from the girls. Of course the SFG girls are used to our being there, but to the Ndingi boys, we were pretty much of an anomaly. I do love going there. It was where I had my first experiences of teaching in Kenya. Today brought back many memories.
And now we have a visitor, Sr. Irene Loina, whom I met some 5 years ago in East Pokot, where she directed a mobile medical unit going far out into the bush to educate women, especially midwives, about safe birthing practices, do immunizations, pre- and post-natal checks, and distribute meager rations of food to new moms and the elderly. Her major accomplishment and her passion is the coming-of-age program she designed for Pokot girls that didn’t include FGM. Three years ago, 135 girls became women without the circumcision—an amazing accomplishment because she was able to enlist the cooperation of the families (steeped in their own traditions and totally out of touch with the rest of the world), the chief (who is a woman!! And very supportive of this program), Fr. Kiriti, also a big supporter and many others. But there was a spoiler, an old Irish priest who resented her success with the people, somehow felt she had infringed on his little fiefdom and caused her nothing but grief. He went to the bishop and to her mother superior, making untrue accusations, which eventually backfired on him, but Irene’s order pulled her from East Pokot after that and broke her heart. On her way back to the motherhouse in Nairobi, she stayed a night with me and cried her heart out, sitting at my table.
The silver lining is that one of our Kenya Help donors has supported her to do a master’s degree in Project Planning and Management. She will finish soon and hopes to expand her coming of age program to all of the young women of the Pokot community, a pastoralist tribe living over a large part of northwestern Kenya, as well as to other tribes still practicing FGM. Her order does not want her to move to East Pokot, but to do her organizing from Nairobi, perhaps teach some classes in Catholic University of East Africa. There is a lot of unrest in East Pokot and her safety could not be assured. Those deaths not attributable to the violence that’s common there, come from starvation due to climate change causing drought. No rain in 2 years. None!
Tonight we discussed the possibility of her coming to the US to speak about the needs in that poor, rural area and to educate us. If any of my readers knows of organizations or groups who would be interested in hearing this really moving story told so passionately by Sr. Irene, please let me know. She’ll come sometime in the spring for about 1 month. She is a force to be reckoned with, all 5 feet of her!