Thursday, 28 June 2012

Into the Community


Today was the first day that I got sunburned... yeah, go figure. You'd think a redhead in Africa would get sunburned on day one ... well, I guess I'm the exception to the rule.

After a couple of hours at the school, I had the extreme pleasure of going out and seeing what Omwabini is doing in the surrounding communities. Moses (one of the directors of the Omwabini's community outreach branch) and I left on piki pikis. (The piki piki is the Kenyan version of the Ugandan boda boda and both are the African versions of the North American motorcycle). Now, Moses introduces himself as the tallest man in Africa. I'm not so sure about that. He apologized about walking so fast; I was pleased to inform him that I am used to walking with tall people (thanks brothers).

After riding for awhile, we arrived at our first site. Moses showed me what an unprotected water source looks like. We stood on the shore of this small stream and I listened to a short biology lesson on water cleanliness. So here goes ... this particular water source had algae growing in it. This algae, allows for waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. People bathe here, drink the water, use it as a toilet, water livestock ... you name it. While I was chatting with Moses, two women came to fetch water. It kind of brought everything Moses had just said into perspective.


True to form, the roads we traveled were typical of Africa- basically eroded dirt. Thankfully, I have had much experience riding a motorbike on such roads and was confident in my ability to stay aboard despite the pitching, swerving, etc. that occurred. Sitting astride a motorbike in a skirt is difficult. Not only do you have only one handhold, you have to attempt some semblance of modesty as you fly down the road. On your first ride on such a contraption you will hang on for dear life with both hands. My first time riding one, I held on so tight that I drew blood. After awhile, you will be able to pry one hand off the handle to wave at the surrounding children staring open-mouthed at the mzungu. And finally, you will become an African, able to sit astride and not need to use your hands. I am proud to say that today I was a true African.

From the unprotected water source we drove to a protected one. It was constructed in 2009 and is a beautiful piece of work. Hundreds of community members fetch water here, as well as two local schools. Not only do they protect the water, often a fish pond will be constructed nearby that collects water from the source. Omwabini provides fingerlings (baby fish), and the community is able to sell the fish for profit. I was impressed at the thought put in it all.

Sorry, this picture is sideways...
Next, we visited Omwabini's farm land. Here they grow maize, cassava, kale, potatoes, bananas, and groundnuts. Not only do the crops feed the orphans that are housed here at Omwabini but they also provide food for multiple widows. Again, I was impressed.

As a side note, I was blown away at the amount of water that we came across during our travels today. After so long in Tata where there are few bodies of water, the multiple streams, rivers, and ponds that we passed today blew my mind. On our journey we came across a particularly wet section of road. The splashing through puddles and the fishtailing through the mud reminded me of Tata, but the bridge across the river did not. It consisted of four logs. Moses and I dismounted and proceeded to help wheel the motorcycles across. From there, the skill the drivers needed to avoid obstacles, go up and down bumps, through ditches, mud, and small streams... amazed me yet again.



Now, I am sorry that I have not posted pictures of the housing situation here in Africa. To show a picture is nothing like entering such a structure in person. In Uganda I had seen these mud and thatch houses everywhere, but had never had the opportunity to step inside one. Well, today was my initiation. Omwabini has established committees in each little community. Their job is to identify those with the greatest needs- often orphans and widows. As such, Omwabini has been able to motivate people to come to the aid of their fellow man. A community will come together to build a house or to protect a water source. The problem however is resources. While Omwabini has the capability and the passion, the necessary resources are limited. As such, they help as many as they can but there is always more to do.

Over the course of the day I met four widows, each of them with a minimum of 7 children. Keep this in mind as you look at the following pictures of their living quarters ... Below, you will see the old house of the family of 9 that currently lives in their new home next door.



Once you step over the threshold into such a house, you enter a cool and very dark space. Sometimes a window is available for light, but often that window is stuck shut by the shifting of the walls. These houses are capable of maintaining a cool temperature inside and, when well built and well maintained, they also keep out the elements. But these houses are not well maintained. The mothers have no resources nor the time to do so. The thatch is rotting. The supporting branches show signs of mold. Plastic has been thrust between the thatch and the occupants inside to keep the rain out. Standing inside you can see patches of light streaming through. The rafters are homes to all kinds of insects and small creatures. Chickens have free reign to enter and exit as they please.

The available furniture consists of a couple of chairs (maybe), a stove, and a bed. All of the homes are divided into two rooms. One for sleeping and one for everything else. Each room is no larger than 7 feet by 7 feet. The bedroom has a bed frame but, the wooden slats are not covered with a comfy mattress. Instead, a few ragged blankets allow some comfort. I still do not know how all 8 of the family members manage to fit on that bed frame made for one. I'm sure that the rest simply curl up on the dirt floor.

From the ceiling, string is strung from one end of the room to the other. Sometimes this acts as the clothes closet for family. Other times it holds up the single mosquito net designed to protect 8 people from contracting malaria...

The walls are made of mud packed in between branch supports. Since they are made of simple mud, the walls dissolve in the rain. As it is currently the rainy/winter season in Kenya, it pretty much rains every day. In the week and a half that I have been here I can certainly attest to that fact. To keep the walls strong, new mud has to be added to the exterior every so often.

The struggles that I saw today were expected. One does not live in Africa for two months and not hear such stories and experiences. The pain, guilt and sympathy however, hits home each time someone tells their story


Like Gladys. She looks to be about 50 years old. About 5 feet tall. Heavier set. She has bare feet, wears a ragged and faded skirt, and a large grey T-shirt that advertises World Vaccination Day. Her hair is cropped close to her head; you can see the grey coming through. She wears no bra and you cannot tell where her breasts end and her stomach begins. And yet, when she looks up from her work and sees Moses and I picking our way across the field towards her, her face lights up like a little girls'. She grabs my hand, shakes it and touches each of her cheeks to mine. Her smile is huge. Her front tooth is missing and when she smiles, it is so enormous that the force of it pushes her tongue through the gap. Gladys has 8 children. She's a widow. Two years ago her thatch hut burned down and, since then, she has been living in a rented house and walks each day to her land to manage her crops. She has taken the initiative and has begun to collect building materials for a new home however, because she lives so far away from her land, the materials are being stolen. Gladys' story is just one of thousands' and what little help we can give seems like just a drop in a bucket. 

I sometimes feel discouraged and ask, “then what's the point of helping at all?” But I know that whatever we do will help at least one person- and that is enough.

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