Thursday, September 4, 2008

Western Kenya

We just returned to Nairobi this morning from Western Kenya. We flew in early Monday morning to Kisumu, which is along Lake Victoria, close to the Ugandan border. We then drove to Kakamega, about an hour away and spent time with the leadership of the Western Region Christian Community Services (CCS) They are doing amazing work in Western Kenya with HIV/AIDS, Food Security, Income Generating Activities and Capacity Building. They have very little monetary resources in that area, but believe that capacity building and leadership training is the way to work in community development. After three days of visiting their programs, I have to agree that they are doing amazing work!

Our time in Western Kenya was spent traveling in the rural areas,
mainly the lake area, and visiting differing Community Based Organizations (CBO's). CCS begins by going into a community and spending time with the villagers, getting to know them and discovering what needs they feel need to be met. One of the CBO's we visited was a group of widows. Many of them had lost their husbands to HIV/AIDS and were now caring for themselves and their children, many of which are also infected. The widows in this village gave testimonies about how when they first lost their husbands all they did was stay at home and cry because they didn't know how they would provide for themselves. It can be dangerous for a widow in this area to remarry. Often times, men will marry a widow just for the little money or land she may own and as soon as he has used it up, he will kick her out/leave her with nothing. Another problem in this area is wife inheritance - when a man dies, his brother will "inherit" his wife, and if she is infected with HIV, it will then spread to the new husband and his other wives. On top of all of this, when a woman loses her husband to AIDS, she is often blamed by the community for killing him; accused of witchcraft and bringing HIV to the family. If a woman chooses not to be inherited or remarry, often times the only way to provide for herself is to work as a commercial sex worker.

The widows in the CBO we met with gave their testimonies about how CCS has helped them change their lives. When I asked one woman what she thought her life would be like today if CCS had not found her said "If CCS had not come, I would be dead from prostitution." CCS goes out into the field, finds the widows and starts to counsel them. They provide free testing and counseling for HIV and then get them involved with a support group. In the group, they are trained in Income Generating Activities (IGA's) such as handcrafts, and are also taught the basics of business and marketing. The woman who said she would have died a prostitute told the story about how CCS taught her to farm in a new way - digging holes and line planting instead of broadcasting seeds. They introduced her to new
crops and to seeds that had been bulked (these seeds you only plant once and they will grow three years in a row instead of having to re-plant and re-purchase seeds each year.) From the vegetables she grew, she was able to buy a chicken. She sold the chicks, and was able to buy a goat. She was able to sell the goat milk, and then bought a cow. Now she has a business where she raises and sells goats and cows, is providing for herself and her children and in her own words told us "I am free to not be afraid anymore." She's not only healthy, but is also able to pay the school fees for her five children to attend school.

Overall, it was amazing. We met with groups that had been organized for years, and some that were brand new. They were all in different places of the development process, but what I found amazing was how CCS had helped all these people, trained so many volunteers and touched so many lives all with very little monetary resources. The pastors and workers we spent time with were wonderful and taught us so much. One of the pastors we met with on the first day talked to us about serving people - how they serve people of all faiths, network people together to help one another, all for the purpose of loving people like God loves us. He said "Just because we touch your life does not mean we expect you to come to God, but if we touch your life, know that God is there." Amen.

Some fun things from the trip - we encountered a friendly mob on the road in one of the villages. They were running along and chanting things like "Don't be afraid! Do not shake!" as they waved branches and leaves and ran along side a group of pre-teen boys. They were a circumcision party! They were taking the boys of the village into the forest to be circumcised
and we met them during their pre-party parade. Definitely not something I expected to see! Also, on the last day, everyone in the village we visited were so excited to hear that I am from California. They kept telling me they do their shopping there. It took me a little while to figure out they have a market/store in the village called "California." They insisted I go and visit it, so if you look close enough at the photo, you can see the sign over my head says "California." (BTW, sorry the photos are so small - the internet here is slow and this is as big as I can get the photos to be and upload before I'm kicked offline.)

This next week, I'll be in Limuru at a conference with CRWRC. Hopefully we'll have internet access there so I can post some more. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers!



Anonymous said...

Hey, your trip sounds amazing and you are the perfect person to write those stories. I almost feel like I am there when I am reading it.
Deep and I are praying for you and can not wait to hear everything in the way that only Kristen can tell it. WE miss you!


Anonymous said...

Hey Kristen,

It seems that you are a perfect match for this assignment. Know that me and my "tribe" are praying for you...when we put the little ones to bed at night, they ask God to bless you. We miss you and can't wait to see you upon your return. I am still trying to figure this whole blog thing out...but I will continue to read what you post.