Why I am on Shower Strike

I am on Day 6 of vowing not to shower until I raise my pledge to Well Aware as part of their annual Shower Strike fundraiser. This explains why..

Why Africa?

I have felt a connection to the great continent and loved all things African for as long as I can remember. I don’t know where it came from, but since I was a little girl, I have had a knowing deep inside of myself that one day I would go. So, when life at home wore on me so heavily that I didn’t want to go on, I turned to that inner knowing and it led me to Kenya.

It was  Kenya because I came across VICDA’s website and read about the founder Irene. Irene was my grandmother’s name, so again I trusted that a sign had been presented to me and followed. Little did I know that in the middle of following my destiny, I would fall in love. The people, the food, the lifestyle, and the culture all drew me in and wouldn’t let go. So, preparations began to return with my daughter for an extended stay.

Our 5 month stay was more difficult than we could have imagined, but also more rewarding and life-changing than we ever could have dreamed. Our bond strengthened, we redefined our priorities and we became more grounded in our true selves. Most importantly, we learned about true happiness and built friendships that feel like life-long family bonds. I told the people of Shalom many times that they had given me much more than I could ever give them.

That was the good side of Africa; the other side is war, hunger and death. When you go to the home of a single mother that is your friend, hear the story of her loss in war, and see her children with only maize porridge to eat; it is something you will never forget. Then you go back to visit and find her oldest child has passed away, and you know that you must do something.  I recognize that there is no easy fix for the difficulties faced by developing countries, and I don’t claim to be a global expert. But I believe every drop in the bucket counts, and I am determined to help however I can.

Why Water?

The next question was how.  When I boiled down my experience in Kenya, I felt that all needs could be traced back to water. It was the first necessity. You couldn’t have health, education or a thriving economy without having clean water first. Plus, I wanted to help save lives immediately and water related illnesses are the leading cause of disease and death in the world.

Then there is my experience of living in the treehouse without running water for 7 years which left me with a unending appreciation for water. I have first hand experience of hauling water and knowing exactly how much your family uses per day. When our vacations included staying somewhere with a hot shower, I would marvel at the genius of it and insist it was the greatest invention! Then I met people like Margaret in Kenya, who was pregnant and hauling water over two kilometers for her entire family. I could barely lift the full water container. It struck a very deep chord in me.

Why Well Aware? 

I met Sarah Evans before my first trip to Kenya and could tell right away that her mission was focused and her heart pure. I began to volunteer with the organization and respected the integrity I witnessed within. My involvement grew and they displayed a true commitment to the communities they served by allowing me to create an internal impact measurement project to identify the actual results of the work they were doing.

Finally, this year I was able to see some of Well Aware’s work on the ground in Kenya with my own eyes. I can only try to describe to you the hope and joy on the faces of villagers when you tell them that you are there to help them find a water solution. Well Aware is an organization that has the dedication and humility to make a long lasting improvement and ultimately save many, many lives.

So, now you know why this cause means so much to me and why I am asking for your donation here. http://showerstrike.org/goodwater  Thank you all for your support over the years. It is because of you that I am able to fulfill what I know is my destiny. Be Blessed!

Faith at Dirty Water

Tearful Reunion

100_1340I made it out to GIWA (now known as Shalom) for a short visit over the weekend. It was like going back home. We cried, we laughed, we danced, had meetings, played with babies and visited goats.

In the two years that have passed, there have been some big improvements and some things have remained the same. A few of my friends or children have passed away, so I am all the more grateful for those that I can embrace once again.

Overall the community is growing in health and strength. I am still completely in awe of the difficulty of rural life in Kenya. After only two days, I am exhausted, very dirty and a little sick. The shower back in town is very welcomed.

You know how difficult circumstances can bring people together? That is what happened to me at Shalom. My time there built some very deep bonds and my friends here are like family.

Once again I will have to delay writing a long update because I am on the move to the next project. But I have more pictures to share and stories to tell because you all are a part of this community too. The people of Shalom wanted to make sure that I tell you “Thank You”!

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Meet Theresa

The road to find Theresa is neither speedy nor smooth. It is more than an hour drive from the pavement over the vast and dry high plains. But if you make the trek, you will find her at a place called Exroc, manning the small two room clinic which sits among the remnants of the colonial homestead from long ago.  Alongside the clinic are a small home, empty water tanks and a broken windmill. It is the work of Well Aware, on a mission to fix the broken windmill, which has led me to this place. Theresa tells me that if there is water here again, the nomadic people forced to leave in search of water will return.

Even with its limited resources, this little clinic offers the only source of medical care for many miles. The clinic is clean and organized, showing that Theresa takes pride in her work as the sole medical staff  in the government funded clinic. She tells me it is only open during the day, but we have a good laugh about how babies prefer to come into the world at night and what it is like to receive a knock on your window by the light of the moon. She delivers 1-2 babies a month here and sees up to 10 patients a day. Her supervisor comes regularly to inspect and hand out the rationed medicines, but there are no provisions for the broken solar system, disposable medical supplies or laboratory testing.

The deepest part of my soul is touched when I swap stories with Theresa. We understand each other. The blessings, the sleepless nights, the stress, the need, the prayers, the miracles.  

As the Well Aware technical team wraps up their assessment on water solution possibilities, I hand over my head lamp to Theresa. I know what a valuable tool it can be during a birth in the dark without electricity. I knew God told me to bring that headlamp for some reason, and I leave hoping that life will bring me back to see Theresa again someday. 

Theresa Exrock

Africa has been calling

I cannot believe it has been two years since I left Africa and since my last post. I meant to share all of my stories, but somehow time seems to move at lightening speed in the western world. I am finally back in Kenya and so the urge to write is here again.

I have come for a short volunteer trip with a remarkable organization that provides water solutions in Kenya, Well Aware.  I started volunteering with the Austin based non-profit after my last trip. With my decision to close my midwifery practice and my first hand experience with the hardships caused by a lack of water; I felt it was the perfect fit.

I have been working with the community team of Well Aware to develop field household and facility surveys that will help the organization measure the health, education, environmental and econFaith Portrait by kidsomic impact that their projects have on a community. The impact measurement project displays the organization’s commitment to their mission, and I am proud to be a part of it. My work this trip also includes the assessment of community needs regarding water quality, health, hygiene and sanitation training.  

It is strange to be here without my beautiful daughter and a medical kit in hand, but I am greatly inspired by the idea of facilitating community development and just plain giddy to finally be back among these people that have taught me so much. I have already visited the FreMo clinic in Kawangware and will make a quick visit out to GIWA. So, I will be able to update you all on the previous projects you helped to support.

Someday I will publish my story in it’s entirety. For now, I will strive for small tidbits and a few good pics from the field. Love to you all!

Life is Short

I have been in shock since the phone call I received yesterday from Shalom. It was David’s father letting me know that he had suddenly passed away the day before. Even now, trying to write, I can hardly put my feelings into words. Grace and I are mourning and all I can think is how much I wish I was there at GIWA. It is proving to be very difficult to have those you consider family on two different continents.

For those of you who have not been able to get my “in-person” updates, we did find a placement for David before we left. It took many days, a lot of traveling and even more waiting; but we finally found the only school in Kenya specifically for children with cerebral palsy that was willing to accept David as a boarding student even though he would require more attention than most of the other children there. We were overjoyed as we watched the donations come in for the exact amount need for his tuition. When we left, all things were in place for David to begin school in January. We had delivered the long list of supplies he would need including a mattress and diapers for the year, as well as the costs for one of the parents to travel to the school on the monthly visitation days. Through the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, he was supplied a properly fitted wheelchair, which we hoped would enable him to propel himself one day.

We and his parents were all so excited by the opportunities we hoped this would give to him and we shared our hopes for his future over the rare dinner of rabbit they prepared for the occasion. At 11 years old, this would be his first time to receive any schooling or therapy. David’s father told me that there had been many mzungu over the years to take his picture and make promises, but this time help was really happening.

The parents are handling the loss with courage and faith as Kenyans always do. Contrary to what many westerners seem to say and think, death is not easier for people of Africa. Yes, they experience it more often and they have a magnificent way of rising above their difficulties, but when a mother looses a child in Africa, she is no less broken. From what I can understand, he died from malaria.

The family hopes to bury him tomorrow. I am trying to contact the school for a refund of the year’s tuition in order to help with the hospital bill and cost of transporting him to Shalom.

I am sad. All I can do is try to help however I can from here. I am so grateful for knowing David. His smile, his warmth, his laugh.. we will never forget you.

 

Merry Christmas!

True Thanks in Giving

Grace and I have safely returned home! Just in time for Thanksgiving and I don’t know if I have ever spent the day so truly thankful for my friends, family, and all the blessings in my life. The trip home began with a 12 hour wait in the Nairobi airport and continued with inconveniences and delays. At one point we both cried, our hearts so anxious to see friends and family, but we knew, ultimately, it would be just another lesson in patience and endurance. Africa was abundant in lessons, the greatest classroom I have ever known.

When people ask me, “How was It?”

I find myself saying, “Harder than I thought it would be.”

The other side is that it was also more life changing than I ever thought it would be. The difficulties that I experienced in Africa were many… physical discomfort, physical labor, lack of access to resources, overwhelm at so many needs, and most of all isolation. But what I gained in return is the most pure form of gratitude and joy that I have ever known. I understand a new depth of how blessed I am and how much my happiness in life depends on my appreciation of that fact. The people of Shalom know this and showed me what life is like when you make the best of what you have. I have made a promise to myself and my friends in Kenya that I will never forget them and what they have taught me.

Over the next few months, I will take time to tell some of the stories from Africa to keep me connected as I also prepare to embark on my next chapter in life. I have decided to close my midwifery practice because my heart tells me that it is time to do other things. I am not sure what that will be yet, though I do have a strong suspicion that women, birth, volunteering and Africa will all somehow be involved. Those things are a part of me that will never leave.  

Again I have to give the most sincere “Thank You” to all of you for your prayers, friendship and support. May you also be filled with incredible joy that comes through Thanks and Giving!

Grace and Mary

Final Days

Well, I could not stay away from the computer for long. Things have remained peaceful in our area and the initial fear we felt has subsided. However, we remain very careful and are still planning to come back home early.

We made the long journey to purchase the goats. What a trip it was. I will never forget the smell of traveling almost four hours in a matatu (the public transportation vehicles which are the size of a VW bus) with 10 goats and 7 people! But we made it all the way back to the other side of Kenya with pedigree Kenya Alpine Dairy goats for both projects. Some of the females were already producing milk and some are already pregnant, which means that they are already benefiting the members. One mother cried when we delivered her goat. We have set up training for the group which will be ten 2-hour lessons to start this week. I pray that these projects are a success and that one day it can be replicated to eventually result in health and income for the entire community.

Now our focus is on placement for David, pictured below with his family. He is 10 years old and has Cerebral Palsy, likely due to his birth which was unassisted. He cannot speak but is very responsive to sounds and touch and he has the most beautiful smile. He spends most of the day inside and I have found that some of his neighbors do not even know of him. This is probably due to the fact that disabilities are still often viewed as a curse here. There are almost no government services and very little general understanding or acceptance. I was able to bring him and his family to get an assessment. Now I am heading to the social worker again today to try and get him a placement in a small home for the disabled which I am hoping will also provide his first opportunity for any type of therapy or learning. So far, each time I have been to the social worker’s office, she is not in and they tell me that she is the only person in this area that can place him. I have learned that the cost for such a home will be somewhere around $300 – 400 per year and I have told the family that I will find sponsorship.

The cost of the goat projects were more than we expected and totaled $2,500, but thanks to the generosity of many of you, we had the funds to complete it. I have $150 in contributions left and need to complete the home for Agnes, a single mother of four still living in a tent, and sponsor David.

So, I am asking again for you to donate if you feel led or pass this on to anyone you may know.

As Grace and I prepare to come home, we are already reflecting on the things we have learned here. We know that we are forever changed by this experience and will never take so many of the blessings we have at home for granted. We also talk daily on how we might continue this work once we return because our extended time here has taught us a lot about what we feel the people really need.

We cannot say thank you enough for all of the love and support we have received. I hope each of you do understand the very real difference you have made for the people of Shalom and Kawangware. This mission was only possible because of you. May you all be richly blessed in return!

We go with Love until we see you again on our home soil!

Praying for Peace

From the time I first felt led to come to Africa, I have tried to remain open to spiritual guidance. I have watched God open doors and have felt angels protecting us. Now with the escalating war here and threat to westerners, I cannot ignore the feeling pressing on me that it is time to finish our work  and return home. I have decided we will leave in just a few more weeks since our last month was meant for traveling anyway.

We feel very safe out at Shalom, but from now on I will avoid coming into the city and so will likely not be able to post again until we are safe at the airport. Today we carry back almost 20kgs of nails and other materials for the goat pens which are already being built. From now on our food supplies and other materials will come from the nearest small town.

We are going to work double time to complete the following projects before we leave:

  • Build 11 goat pens for the single mother’s group
  • Complete purchase of materials for 10 goat pens for the HIV group
  • Finish bylaws and registration of groups
  • Travel with livestock officer to other side of Kenya for purchase of goats
  • Mud houses for two single mothers who are still in tents
  • Complete building of kitchen example structure
  • Find placement for two handicap children at Shalom who cannot attend the regular school
  • Deliver fruit and visit with CTC International/ Malaika Kids school
  • Organize and begin training with livestock officer for care of goats

All the while we will also be continuing the clinic as we have a mother due now and more sick people to tend to.

So, with that said, I have to go get back to work. My love and gratitude to all of you. Please keep us and all of Kenya in your prayers.

Shalom. May Peace be with You.

 

 

 

Ups and Downs

It has been quite a week for us. The clinic is in full swing. We try to limit visitors to Wednesday and Fridays, but we still have people knocking on our door day and night. We assisted with another beautiful birth on Tuesday. A baby girl to a couple that we have grown very close to after the father was in a motorbike accident for which we provided emergency care. Grace remains my faithful assistant, she has become so knowledgeable and continues on even when tired or ill. When I get home to computers that work, I plan to devote a post to her.  There will be so many stories to tell and pictures to share when we return.

Friday I traveled with the Chairman of Shalom to visit with the District Livestock Officer and look for supplies  regarding our goat projects. Things take much more time and effort here in Kenya it seems. There is no “Home Depot” where you can shop, order and schedule delivery in one trip. Instead, we traveled to two different towns by motorbike, matatu and alot of walking. Business is done in a matter of referral and negotiation. Luckily, I have learned some of the tricks to avoid being overcharged but I admit I will be so happy to return to a land where the item’s price is just marked and everyone charged the same.

We have other hoops to jump through now to make our single parent and HIV groups official and registered so that they may receive benefits from the government agricultural department such as training. But at the end of the day we were unloading timber for 21 goat pens and promised to be allowed to purchase 6 purebred milking goats and 1 purebred buck. If this project is successful, it will mean a life change for some of the most vulnerable members of this community. One pure breed goat will sell for about half the annual wage of a middle class worker in Kenya. We have alot of work yet to see it complete, but we are determined!

Today there was a change in mood as we visited with two families in wake. One older couple, Nyaga and Beatrice, have been our friends since my first visit in January. We see Nyaga almost every day as he passes by our house on his way to the “shamba” (farm) to work. He carries only his “panga” or machete, no water, no food, and always wears his same sports coat. He has shared his story of the conflict with us, when his home and vehicle (which was also his income) were taken. He has  showed me pictures of his youngest child who died at a young age from some sort of accident as best I can understand. Now, his oldest son has passed after being attacked by thieves and left for dead. He was in a coma for three days before dying. We donated money for them to travel to the far town, pay for the hospital bill and bring the boy back for burial. We sat and cried in their home as neighbors came by to offer condolences and their own donations. It is wonderful to be part of such a large community but also means you experience more loss.

As much as we miss home, we know a part of our hearts will remain in GIWA.

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