Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coming Home

            As we got out of our packed “matatu” taxi and into the streets of Mumias, it felt like we had arrived home. Having been to the East Africa Forum and experienced Kampala, I was ready to return to our own community and begin to put what we had learned into practice. Most importantly, I was excited to see the people with whom we already know we are going to form incredible friendships with, and be the faces of this experience.
            In our first moments back at the compound we were greeted by our family of Luyhia children and their parents. Immediately after passing through the heavy reddish, rusted, wrought iron gate, we were surrounded by questions of how we liked Kampala and the common, “How are you, I am fine.”—both question and answer in the same greeting. To this, I could genuinely respond that I was fine too, and thrilled to see all of them again. Completely exhausted from the weekend, we spent the afternoon lounging on the ten overstuffed sofas and arm chairs that fill the living room of our house, every so often welcoming a visitor from the family and telling them about our trip.
            Between visitors, I worked on my precarious attempt to keep a journal, and found myself thinking a lot about our role here in Africa. Not necessarily just at WOPLAH, but in Mumias and with everyone we meet. Of course we are here for a partnership with the Ambassadors of Hope and to support their initiatives, but perhaps more fundamentally to support other people. Whether working with Edwin, our boss, or playing with the children of our adoptive family, it’s their welcoming spirits and our enthusiasm that is building the strongest foundation for both our GlobeMed team here in Mumias and the development of us as people. Thus, the following day, as we traveled to the neighboring village of Khaunga with Edwin, I was most excited about who we were going to meet and our combined ability to inspire confidence in one another.
            In Khaunga, we met with 25 members of one of WOPLAH’s community outreach programs- an HIV/AIDS-positive community support group. Beneath the trees in the courtyard of their community health center, we sat on benches in a big circle and began the meeting with introductions, a traditional welcome us, and then a translated question-answer session for the next couple hours. As the conversations began, I was pleasantly surprised by the success of the Kitchen Garden initiative that we’ve been funding throughout the year, and began to understand the relevance of such a project. Furthermore, I felt truly excited to know that our presence is really going to help by innovative suggestions and further exploration of their community needs.
            The Kitchen Garden initiative was started to provide supplemental income and healthy food to families affected by HIV/AIDs. Through hearing their stories, we learned that getting such healthy food is crucial in maintaining their strength, thus enabling them to make enough money to feed their families, and recourses to pay for basic expenses such as school fees. This said, despite the initial success of the project, there is a lot of room for growth. In response to being asked about stories of personal challenge, one woman answered with the story of her discovering that she was HIV positive and being left by her husband, his other wife, and ignored by the rest of her family. Hearing this woman share that, “even when I have a sickness as simple as Malaria they stay away from me because they want me to die.... But this is my only problem”, I could not help but be amazed by her strength. In fact, I was shocked by the determination of people throughout the group. At the close of our discussion one of the Ambassadors of Hope, Joseph, stood up to say, “I love your life so you have to make sure your love your life...On behalf of the Ambassadors of Hope, we have hope. You will live. We want to make your life feel like you have life. We hope when these visitors leave and return again later they will find you healthier that today.... Ambassadors of Hope, we are together with you, and care for you, and love you.”
            After hearing this kind of inspiring leadership, and Joseph’s honesty about the severity of this life-threatening disease and the hardship faced by those infected, I was even more affected by their ability to find such hope. I was also impressed by their joy in the face of such struggle. For example, students from the local orphanage joined us at the close of our meeting to present a dance that included educational skits on HIV/AIDs prevention. As they performed, many of those who had just been telling us their stories joined in with the kids, yelling out in accompaniment and dancing into their group. We gradually realized this was not just a tradition of tapping the lead singer on the head and returning to their seat, but that they were placing a coin as they did this. We followed the example and each of us danced into the circle, attempting to keep rhythm and place a coin on the singers’ head as well, being laughed at the whole time. Being able to connect with this community so previously foreign from our own was exactly what I hope to continue to experience in the coming weeks.
            I’m going to hand the floor over to Sarah for the next post, but we are thinking of all of you here in our Kenyan cottage (plus the goat that just ran through the living room!).

- Rory
The health clinic where the HIV support group took place

Edwin speaking at the HIV support group

The lead singer of the children

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