Hello again! I haven’t done very well with my promise of regular updates, lakini nitajaribu (but I’ll try)!!
So, we are now almost finished with our second week of classes in Nairobi. As we get more and more into our health and development curriculum, things are definitely becoming more “real”. In some cases, this means harder.
Last Friday, we went on a visit to an organization called Women Fighting AIDS In Kenya (WOFAK). It was a really great organization. being introduced to it, we briefly visited their lunch program, which feeds many children who are HIV positive, or affected by HIV and talked with some primary school boys as they ate. We then divided into small groups and each group went with a member of the staff on a house call.
My group went with a staff member who was bringing some groceries to an HIV positive woman who has been too sick to leave. Her name was Helen, and until recently she had been paralyzed (we were kind of unclear why, but we think it was because of the ARV’s she was taking) and very, very ill. Since becoming a patient with WOFAK and getting new ARV’s (antiretrovirals—the drugs used to treat HIV patients), she said she has been feeling much stronger, which was great to hear. Other things she had to say were more difficult to hear. Her husband had left her (and her two young children, with whom she lives in her one-room house, which was absolutely no bigger than 10’x10’) after she was diagnosed with HIV. She hasn’t told her children she is HIV positive (though they know she’s sick with something), and keeps her drugs in a suitcase in the corner of the room so no one will see them. The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is a major problem here, and a big barrier to prevention and treatment. I think the most uncomfortable part of this day was being in Helen’s house talking to her, but at the same time knowing that our presence was not helping her at all. Though she seemed happy to meet us, and we were certainly happy to meet her, many of us still felt like we were just gawking. This is a feeling we’ll definitely have to come to terms with over the course of our program.
On Saturday, we visited a fantastic organization called Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). Mathare is the second largest slum in Nairobi, and MYSA is an organization that has been serving the residents of Mathare since the 1980’s. In fact, the MYSA employees who showed us around had all grown up as children in their programs. MYSA’s programs are incredibly comprehensive, as we saw by visiting a service project, a library, the arts center (dance, music and visual arts), and many other buildings in different parts of the slum and surrounding areas.
The day started with us helping some of the kids clear trash from the narrow dirt roads in the slum, where people just dump it. MYSA has a huge soccer league for youth (I think it ranges from U-10 teams to U-21 teams), and the service projects are a big part of the competition. In soccer, when a team wins a match, they receive three points. For each service project a MYSA team completes, they receive six additional points. They can’t compete in the season championship, regardless of points, if they haven’t participated in the service projects. We were all blown away by the scope of MYSA’s programs, and it was a really uplifting visit.
Today (Wednesday), we visited Carolina for Kibera, which is a well-known NGO in Nairobi’s largest slum, Kibera. It was also incredibly impressive. We visited the headquarters and heard about the organization from several of its directors and workers. They also have several different major undertakings including Binti Pamoja (“Daughters Together”), a girls’ empowerment program, a sport for social development program, a peace promotion program (Kibera was one of the worst-affected areas during the ethnic-based post-election violence in 2007) and a really good clinic, among others. We visited the clinic, which is the only real/permanent structure in its area, and seems like it’s a great resource. What really stood out to me about this organization was how adamant they are that the community be a partner of the organization, and not just a beneficiary. I think this is a mindset that all organizations serving communities like Kibera should adopt.
More and more we’re seeing that there is no replacement for grassroots knowledge, and that partnering with communities is absolutely essential to creating sustainable initiatives. I was also very interested in CFK’s efforts at promoting post-2007 reconciliation among all of the ethnic groups that reside in Kibera. They said that in their soccer league, teams are required to have players from several different tribes so that people from different backgrounds can foster dedication to a common cause instead of dividing. For my Independent Study Project, I’m really interested in exploring soccer’s significance in ethnic and/or national expression.
Phew, that was a lot of writing. Hopefully you’re still with me! I’ve thought of some other Kenyan things to note like I did in my first entry, so I think I’ll write once more before the end of the week. On Friday, we’re taking an overnight bus to Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, to spend two weeks on the coast! For most of that time, we’ll be in our rural homestay in a village called Shirazi, a couple hours south of Mombasa. We’ll then spend four or five days in Mombasa proper before returning to Nairobi on March 5th. During this time we’ll have limited internet, if any, so my blog will be quiet for a while. But I hope you’ll all have a great end of February/beginning of March! Tutaonana baadaye!