September 13, 2010

KIWAKKUKI Hang On to Your Hats!

Some of the KIWAKKUKI staff at lunch with John and me.
KIWAKKUKI is always a “hold your breath” moment. Something is always happening, but you don’t know what it will be until you walk in the door. Will there be workshops and everyone gone? Will there be people on leave? Will there be a grant deadline and you are suddenly the one who has to edit and send? What will it be? This visit was a mixture. All the bags of shoes and clothes that we dragged through Europe, overweight as they were, made it in tact to our A-5 home. Once five bags were divvied up, it seemed so small! As my dada (sister) Verynice made piles for the 7 districts I thought—well every district will get at least 4 T-shirts, 1 hoodie, 3 pair of tennis shoes, ½ pr of boys shoes, 3 pair of girls shoes, 2 pair of jeans, 2 small dresses, 2 large dresses. Wow-I think. How did those huge bags become so small? As I was unpacking the bags, I learn that one of my favorite projects is coming to a stunning grinding halt. The economy has caused the Spanish Government to pull the plug on Life and Living. This was a program that moved KIWAKKUKI beyond HIV alone towards helping young people learn about how to have sustainable work, the value of work, clean water, growing food, while at the same time teaching prevention and issues about delaying sex and HIV/TB. Yet, this program suddenly ends and all the staff will be given notices. These guys are dedicated, top notch young people who loaded up the car with materials day after day, and went to schools and meeting places to work with clubs and district and ward leaders to bring groups and clubs together to plan sustainable, healthy lives, pulled whoosh! Did I see tears from these workers? No, they are hopeful that something will happen. Surely it will, because they have really given their hearts to this project. Yet there is something distinctly East African in saying, “If God wills it”.

My dada and I headed out to the rural hills to find sweet Jacinta and the head master of her school who had taken her into his family to live. It was a dusty day as usual & we had near death experiences with speeding trucks and dala dalas.

It is Wednesday afternoon school sports day in Kirua and "football" is the place to be.

It is Market day in Kirua and people have been drinking mbege (banana beer) as they sell their corn and bananas and millet.
(I had never seen millet on the plant)
We tread carefully. We arrive at the school hopeful to find Jacinta and the headmaster with whom she lives, but we find that his wife had died just this morning, and he had gone home with Jacinta. After pondering carefully, we decided that we knew the headmaster well enough to pay respects.

What did I expect of this headmaster’s house. He runs a small private school. He always looks immaculately dressed. I expected a Shantytown fancy house. What we found was a small house down a long steep path (only on foot) that was mostly sticks and mud that had one small cinderblock area with a small living room, two rooms off from that. Outdoor toilets, some other living rooms with stick and mud. Our headmaster looked as if he had lost 20 lbs. He sat with another friend on the traditional stools outside. From inside came the wails of his oldest daughter who had stayed at KCMC for the last night with her mother. Dada Monyo and I did our best to express our condolences. We heard the story of the death of a dear wife and mother. We heard from this wonderful man, the conversation with the KCMC doctor who offered the family the possibility of letting the wife go without pain. For many families, agreeing to pain management rather than treatment is impossible. This man loved his wife enough to let her go. Wow. We brought Jacinta up the hill to talk to her. She looked great. She was sad, but said that she loved school and loved being with new friends and being able to be a teenager, not a wife. (You might remember from previous blogs, that Jacinta had run away from her grandfather’s home after she found that as soon as she graduated from Primary School at the age of 12, she had been sold to be married to an old man.) The whole trip was one of sadness and hope.

As we moved down the mountain to visit Judith, we found another situation altogether. We met with Judy’s grandmother, an aunt and two children in a desolated area of immense poverty down another long footpath. Judith had just left and her grandmother didn’t know where. When we reached her mother, we learned that Judy had been sick repeatedly and had to stop going to school because she was getting so far behind. Now it will be impossible for her to pass her exams, she will have to repeat. Additionally, her CD4 count has dropped below 200 and she has been sick off and on. Their house fell during the rainy season, and they have been allowed to live in one small room with the grandmother-4 of them while her mother tries to support the family by selling used clothes and shoes.

Judy had gone to Arusha to stay for a short while with a relative who could offer her a warmer place to stay, but she could only be there for a week or two at the most and would return. She waited for us to come until the last dala dala left for Arusha and thought we wouldn’t be coming. Of course, she couldn’t have known about the tragedy just above her in Kirua. We talked to Judy’s mother about the need for Judy to start going to the Child Centered Family Care Center at KCMC and to return to school even for catch up. We made a plan that she should repeat her grade so that she could pass her exams, and have faith that she is cared for by her donors Kathy and Candy. Her mother sent her huge thanks for our visit, even though we weren’t able to talk to Judy. We were unable to take any pictures because we were right beside the mosque, and would give a bad perception to the worshipers.

(Judith in better days)
We returned from our trip, weary, sad, disappointed, and worried. Will Jacinta be able to remain at the headmaster’s now that his wife has died or will it “look” bad. Will the headmaster return to his position? This happy joyful young woman has no idea of the potential pain lying ahead. Will Judy’s family get a new roof for their sticks and mud house? Will Judy actually go to KCMC? How can she improve her CD4 count, go to school and stay healthy?

KIWAKKUKI has hundreds of these children, each with their own stories. I can only be involved with a few. It is a privilege and a curse. As a social worker for more than 30 years, I have seen my share of misery and tragedy, what KIWAKKUKI adds to my portfolio, is a little more understanding of the human condition.

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