MAKING DREAMS REAL
A ROTARIAN’S JOURNEY INTO THE WORLD OF HIV+ ORPHANS
It all started in 2004 with a call (which I answered without a second bidding) to join a Rotary Mission Challenge (No 1) to Sierra Leone working on an outreach project from the now decommissioned Mercy Ship Anastasis. How I loved working with and for these lovely kids with polio in the Leonard Cheshire home in Freetown. I had never in all my extensive travels been to Africa. I was hooked!
I spent the rest of that year doing umpteen talks and trying to get District 1010 to take on the project and I was thrilled when they did. Susan also raised awareness in Inner Wheel circles.
February 2007, I returned to Kenya, sadly without Susan (family commitments prevented her return that year) my trip overshadowed somewhat by Fr D’Ag’s demise. However the joy of being able to present Sr Mary with a cheque for £21000, the amount needed for three houses, made all the hard work worthwhile. Only £7000 to go now!
A three day stay in the Village was an eye opener, what an amazing place. Already lots of clusters had been built and a school, training centres, community hall, medical centre and even a police station. The only thing missing were shops but this is deliberate as our villagers are to be encouraged to start their own businesses. A working farm and a whole system of sand dams and shallow wells are in place. My club donated enough money for the first drip feed irrigation system and a solar pump which gives 4000 litres of free water per day.
Sadly, February 2008’s scheduled trip had to be postponed due to the post election violence in the resource poor communities. I had my £7000 just waiting to be taken with me along with another £2000 donated from a Trust Fund for more irrigation and solar pumps. Sr Mary wasn’t disappointed though as I sent the monies instead. Our four houses are built and now just awaiting their names and their families. I chose Montrose for obvious reasons and West Fife because their club gave an extremely generous donation of £7000 for one house. The other two are named The Sheiling and The Croft simply because those names seemed to fit.
Susan has been very busy too and District 1 Inner Wheel has managed to fund yet another house to be named The Wheelhouse.
I felt it was prudent to make a visit to Nyumbani in advance of the scheduled team visit in Oct/Nov. The team visit of course, was scuppered in February because of the political crisis at the time and now things have returned to normality I wanted to plan ahead.
It is so good to see how well the whole operation is working and this time I took another Rotarian, Frances Wilson, from my club with me and her comment after seeing it all was that I have been underselling it! We now care for over 4000 HIV+ orphans which is quite amazing.
We very proudly put up the plaques on our four houses and Sr Mary assures me they will be home to four more families by my return in November. The communal washing area is still to be finished but all in all the area looks fine.
Lea Toto is thriving and registering more and more children each week. Kibera clinic was spared from the havoc wreaked by the rioting thank goodness. The slums are being rebuilt but we could see the scars of the violence still visible all around Kibera.
Phew! It just doesn’t stop. We need eight more classrooms for the school in the village but that will have to wait!!!!
I was accompanied this time by Susan Coull a member of the Inner Wheel Club of Montrose who has been an amazing stalwart in my quest to raise money for various Nyumbani projects and Jenny Milne, retired head teacher and wife of one of my fellow Rotarians. We had several things to do. Our main objective was to meet the first occupants of the four houses in Nyumbani Village (a complete eco village in Kitui District about 4 hours east of Nairobi which will eventually house 1000 orphans and their 250 grandparents) funded by Rotary and friends and the one funded by Inner wheel. What a joy! I met Elizabeth (a grandmother of around 70 years old) and her eight grandchildren who had been in her house (The Sheiling) for just a week. She will be given another three children to foster to make the number up to twelve, the maximum for each house. All they had were the clothes they stood up in, bunk beds and a few pots and pans but she had already dug over her shamba (garden) so that she could begin planting maize. She was so grateful to have a proper roof over her head for the first time in her life. Seeing this made all the hard work to raise the funds so worthwhile We then met Susan’s grandmother Catherine in her house (The Wheelhouse) and she had only been there a couple of days. Catherine had five grandchildren with her and will also eventually be foster Granny to another six.
Our other accomplishments were the painting and restocking of a much larger pharmacy, the refurbishment and stocking of the Nyumbani gift shop, gifting a large number of books to the library and each cottage in the orphanage, the building of a covered waiting area at Leatoto Kawangare (one of the six slum clinics) and the distribution of a huge amount of goods such as clothes, shoes, pens, pencils, rubbers etc gifted by our many friends in Montrose.
One very pleasant occasion was my presentation of a Paul Harris Fellowship award to Sr Mary Owens who has been a tremendous brick in the building of Nyumbani and all its projects. Having been with Father D’Ag since its inception Sr Mary took over the reins (a huge task and not one to be undertaken lightly) of Nyumbani on his demise and has filled his shoes as no other could. Working morning to night, travelling abroad to fundraise, attending meetings, going back and forth to Nyumbani village regularly (on roads that are less than easy to negotiate especially in the rainy season as we found out) generally running and keeping tabs on everything and caring for each any every one of the children in the orphanage and in the Lea Toto programs. A strong lady of undoubted ability my Rotary Club was delighted to sponsor her award.
My last job was to visit The Rotary Club of Karen to renew friendships and to push forward the work of Rotarian Frances Wilson who has been instrumental in trying to gain a Rotary Foundation matching grant to help us raise the £50,000 necessary to purchase an analyser which will measure the amount of resistance building up in the children who have been on anti retroviral drugs long term. This is a vital piece of equipment which would further enhance the work taking place in Nyumbani Orphanage diagnostic laboratory.
I plan to return to Nyumbani with a completely Scottish team 6th – 20th March and have four places available. Any volunteers?
This was supposed to be a trip for as many Scots interested in all things Nyumbani as possible. We started off with a good team of seven and one by one they dropped out for various reasons until there were just the two of us, Jim Coull from my club and myself.
Because there were just two of us we were able to be housed in Nyumbani Home itself which proved to be a great advantage in that we had no transport problems and we really felt part of the family that is Nyumbani. Noel House is a block kept for volunteers and is basic but adequate and we were very happy there. My quest this time was to finish off the refurb of the gift shop which I couldn’t quite complete last November and to make the tiny guest house which is kept for VIP visitors habitable. Fran and I stayed in it last July and found it badly in need of an upgrade.
We put in a completely new bathroom with a shower instead of the old bath, tiled it all (Jim did), partitioned off the end of the verandah to make a second bedroom, repainted the whole place inside and out, bought new bedding and towels, a fridge, even a microwave oven, put flyscreens on the windows and felt very pleased with ourselves. A job well done.
The Gift Shop which I restocked last November has been making good money at last so we finished off varnishing the new counter and shelving and got a new glass door so that everyone can now see that we have a shop and what is in it. It should now be self sufficient and raise much needed revenue from all the many visitors who come along.
Our visit to Nyumbani Village was a real eye opener for Jim. We met the three new families who complete our cluster of four. It was wonderful and quite emotional to think that between Rotary and Inner Wheel and friends we have housed almost forty children and their five Susus (Grannies). These ladies and their grandchildren were so pleased to meet us. I took calendars of Montrose for each house and the children were incredulous when I tried to explain the concept of snow lying on the ground. They just couldn’t get the fact that it came down from the sky and was so cold it lay on the ground. Of course these children don’t even have fridges so they have never come across ice. Each cluster of four houses has a communal washing area in the middle and our Montrose Academy Interact Club along with the Royal High School in Edinburgh funded the one in our cluster (£655) so I was proud to put up a plaque for them. Sadly the village has been suffering from the drought of the last two seasons and much of the maize couldn’t be harvested. The next big project for the Village is the building of a secondary school and four more classrooms for the primary.
Very good news! Having set up the COGRI (Children of God Relief Institute)-Nyumbani (Scotland) Trust last year the monies raised over the year have been specifically targeted towards the purchase of a Genetic Analyser for the laboratory in Nyumbani Home. This machine will tell us when our children are building up resistance to the anti retroviral drugs they have to take daily to keep them well. It will surely be a life saver. My friend and fellow Rotarian, John Clemence, of the R/C of Uxbridge organised a whopping donation of just over £24,000 to the fund from his club for which I am eternally grateful. I planned to do a Rotary matching grant and to this end Frances Wilson has been doing a grand job with the paperwork (which is extensive incidentally) and we had partnered with the R/C of Karen in Nairobi which was to be our sponsor club but this was to take months to achieve and Rotary has closed the fund early for this year due to the economic downturn. Well, joy of joys, the Irish friends of Nyumbani have said they will match our money (almost £40,000) so that the purchase can go ahead (£78,000) almost immediately.
A couple of days safari to Amboseli National Park was a nice break and Jim vowed to return with Susan to Nyumbani sometime in the near future.
February 2010 update.
I have been waiting patiently to hear about the Analyser which actually cost a lot more than originally mooted and the last word from Sr Mary was that they are just waiting for exemption of duty and it should be in the lab at the end of this month. Wow! What an amazing feat, thank you so much friends and fellow Rotarians for your generosity in helping us make our target.
THE CARE OF CHILDREN WITH AN INCURABLE DISEASE MAY NOT SEEM LIKE A PROFITABLE ENTERPRISE BUT AS AN HUMANITARIAN ENDEAVOUR SURELY IT IS UNSURPASSABLE.
Charity no. for The COGRI - Nyumbani (Scotland) Trust Fund: SC039674