Monday, June 18, 2007

Love in Action

In Kipkaren, we often say that we wake up with a plan for the day, but we must leave space for God to interrupt our plans. This morning I traveled to a neighboring town to attend the opening ceremony of an income-generating project for people living with HIV/AIDS. On my way, I stopped by the nearby AIDS clinic and learned of a young woman named Monica who was HIV+.

Monica’s story quickly threw me back into the harsh reality of what it looks like to be poor and to live with AIDS. The 31-year-old mother of two was under treatment for tuberculosis and had woken up critically ill. Without access to a car, or means to take a cab, she was forced to travel on the back of an open truck and then walk to reach the clinic. Her mother supported her weak body, but by the time they arrived at the clinic, Monica was gasping for air. She passed away before she could be treated.

If this were not traumatic enough, Monica’s mother had no way to transport her daughter’s body home to be buried.

As I stood in the examination room with this grieving mother, these words ran through my head: “If any of you has possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but in action and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). I chose to listen to the Voice that was calling me to love. With the help of several of my Kenyan friends, we bought a blanket and a mattress and carried Monica’s lifeless body to our car. We drove her home to be buried. We grieved with a family over the loss of their daughter, their sister, and—for two precious children—the loss of their mother. Once again, I was struck today by the cruelty of HIV/AIDS. It seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy life—and not from the infected alone. But I was also reminded of an even greater truth: God is love. He has entrusted us, His children, to extend Him, through compassion, to the oppressed and broken-hearted.

This alone is the hope for this broken world.

(Be sure to read Davis and Jen's entries to learn what happened with the two children orphaned by Monica's death.)

~ Juli McGowan
ELI Family Nurse Practitioner

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Life in Kenya

There are some things about life in Kenya that I know to be true, yet I am still surprised when I am confronted by them. For example, I know that the pace of life is slower, the concept of personal space disappears when riding in a car or sitting in church and the idea of “safety” isn’t the god it is in the U.S., but it’s so easy to forget when you’re used to doing things your way.

This was illustrated during my second week in Kipkaren, when I asked to catch a ride to the market with the ELI vehicle. No problem! The truck would be leaving at about 9am, they said, and there was plenty of room for me. I scurried around that morning getting the girls and myself ready for what would be our first time without each other since we’d arrived in Kenya.

I checked in at the office at 9:07-ish and Cosmos, the driver, said we just had to wait for Betty and we’d go. I hopped into the car, put my seatbelt on and waited. One hour, 2 more goodbyes to the girls, and 10 passengers-in-a-cab-meant-for-5 later, I was laughing at myself for thinking I’d be wearing (or needing) a seatbelt.

Another part of life here that always startles me, though it’s a common enough occurrence, is when people ask for money. Sometimes this request is demanded belligerently by drunk young men on the side of the road – Mzungu, give me 10 shillings!” This type of solicitation is ignorable. Sometimes it comes from glassy-eyed street kids in Eldoret, high from whiffing glue, hungry for so much more than bread. More often, though, the requests come from earnest strangers who know that if you don’t ask, you definitely won’t receive.

One day when Lillian, Elami and I walked into Kipkaren town, a woman asked Lillian in Swahili if it was OK to ask me for her daughter’s school fees. Lillian said no, but the woman asked anyway. I said, "Welcome to my home and we can talk more about a good way for us to help," but she never came.

Recently, Elami, Tovah and I were playing outside our compound, when a very pregnant woman came by. We exchanged the usual greetings and then she asked for Bishop Tarus. “Bishop” is our director here and his name gets passed around for miles as someone who can help people. He often talks to us at staff meetings about the fact that ELI helps people in ways that are empowering, but that many people still just want a handout. From the time he wakes up in the morning till late at night, he talks with people who have traveled from far to ask him for money or jobs. It’s exhausting for him, but he still tries – and urges us staff – to treat these people with compassion and to at least be ready to listen.

“Bishop is in America right now,” I told the woman.

She asked “Where do you live?” Ugh! Dreading where this conversation was going, I pointed down the road a short piece – just there.

Tuende,” she said – let’s go.

My mind shouted “NO!” and raced with lame excuses. The familiar feeling of extreme discomfort over money issues reared its ugly head. Empowerment is tricky. It’s a distant notion when a young mom, pregnant, without obvious resources is telling you she’s hungry and she wants to come to your house. But a handout is not helpful in the long run either.

I hesitated, but God said “Relax – just start with a cup of tea.” A cup of tea I can do, so I said “Karibu, tuende.” Welcome, let’s go.

Over our cup of tea, I learned that this young woman has two other small children at home and that she had indeed planned to ask Bishop for money. We talked about family planning and child spacing – a little too late, I’m afraid. Then I struggled in Swahili through a story from 2 Kings 4. A widow cried out to Elisha for help – her family was in debt and a creditor was coming to take her two sons as slaves if she couldn’t pay. Elisha asked two questions – "How can I help?" And "What do you have in your house?" The woman said she had nothing, except for a little olive oil. Elisha asked her to go and gather as many jars as she could, then to go back to her house and pour oil from her jar into all the jars. When there were no more jars, there was no more oil to pour. She sold the oil and paid off her debts and had more for her and her sons to live off of.

This story is the ultimate model for empowerment. What if she had thought, “Whatever! That’s too much work”? And what if she had gone to ask someone else for help? Maybe she would have gotten some money, but probably not enough to get her out of her trouble completely, and almost certainly not enough to sustain her and her sons. What if Elisha had simply given her money because he didn’t want the discomfort of saying no? She would have missed an opportunity to grow in faith and confidence.

The woman in my living room needed such an opportunity. The trick for us is finding ways for people to bring the jars, so to speak. Coincidentally, an acquaintance of mine had arranged to come later the same afternoon to talk about options for her children’s school fees. Davis and I had talked over possibilities ahead of time – a micro loan? Or could we sponsor her for an ELI empowerment training weekend Ilula to learn about bread ovens and small business management? Maybe I could buy some of the crafts this woman makes…

There are ways for people to bring their jars; ways to chip away at poverty one story at a time. These ways take time and require effort and faith - on both sides of the equation.

So, after a cup of chai and a chat, I gave the woman a few bananas to take home, from my children to hers. She left with a broad grin and promised to come to the clinic for prenatal care. I escorted her up our path, wondering what I had accomplished. Was that an effective interaction? Had I done the right thing? Was it the right mix of being open and willing, but not giving a handout?

Like I said, empowerment is tricky. But people like the Marus prove that these things are attainable. The Marus are not wealthy, lofty people, unable to identify with those touched by poverty. They are an average Kenyan family, themselves empowered to break free from unemployment and poverty, who are turning around and empowering others.

Yesterday, I told Emily Maru how blessed I was that she and Mr. Maru had been so willing to open their homes. I wish you all could meet the Marus. Kelvine and Ivine have not just found a secure roof over their heads–the Marus will love them thoroughly and unconditionally.

There’s no easy way to wrap up this message, like there’s no easy way to wrap up each request for help. We’re all just people. We need your prayers that we’ll be willing to listen and ready with wise answers that have the right mix of “How can I help?” and “What do you have in your house?”

Jen Davis

ELI Maternal/Child Health Nurse

The Other Side of Empowerment

Last Tuesday Juli, an ELI staff member who heads up the HIV/AIDS home-based care program was on her way to an event when she stopped at our cooperating AIDS clinic. Upon arrival, Juli learned that a young woman had also just arrived, and died soon thereafter. The woman was accompanied by her elderly mother, who had neither the support nor the resources to face burying her now dead daughter. (Read more of this story here.)

Seeing the need, Juli and two of our Kenyan staff dropped their plans for the day and drove the body home to a remote area 30 kilometers away. Once there, they learned more of the story—that the woman had been the wage earner for the entire family, and a single mother leaving behind two children. God moved the hearts of these two Kenyan men, who realized their own wealth in contrast to the 9 people living under a leaking thatch-roofed, single room home, and decided they must do something.

This was truly empowerment. It was not done with foreign sponsorship, or because it was some organization’s duty. This was done because two men who understand the call of Jesus to love others saw a need, and chose to meet it. Maru, a driver for ELI, and the head of a family himself, volunteered to take the children into his home. This has not been done here before, but since there was a need and a solution, ELI proceeded with the screening and case study that is done to ensure we have followed the best process in transitioning orphans, and yesterday a blue Toyota brought the two orphans to their new home.

They were greeted by a gathering of singing children and teachers who sang for them, greeted them, and prayed for them upon their arrival. All their possessions fit in a plastic bag, but the smiles on their faces filled the sky.

Today I taught both of them in class. Kelvine, the elder brother in math and science, and Ivine, the sister in PE. It reminded me that this is why I’m here: to participate in giving hope to those who did not have it. I sometimes forget that 100 of my students are AIDS orphans—in the same place just one year ago, but now healthy, thriving kids with families and futures.

Pray for the same for Kelvine and Ivine, and also for their new family, the Marus. Praise God too, for the work he is doing through empowered Kenyans.

~ D. Davis
ELI Teacher

Friday, June 15, 2007

Get a Goat

In a village region in Eastern D.R. Congo, three hours south of the country's second largest city of Bukavu, is an area called Chihonga. This 60-square-mile area contains 11 villages that roughly 22,000 people call home. Suffering from the wake of Interahamwe rebels fleeing the ’94 Rwandan genocide as well as from the Congo’s own instability and war, family life in Chihonga has been hit hard.

During the last 15 years of conflict, this area has been wrecked by rebels moving into the village raping women, killing families, and stealing crops and livestock. A culture that is completely dependent on cows and livestock has been completely stripped of its most important asset, and the landscape in the beautiful hilly region is almost completely void of any livestock. It is an eerie sight to behold.

ELI Congo moved into this area in 2005 with a micro-loan project that included co-op training groups which focused on gaining new skills in sustainable agriculture and replenishing the soil of much-needed nutrients. With the absence of life stock manure combined with already-low yield staple foods such as cassava, Chihonga residence have not even been able to eat once a day on a regular basis.

In November 2006, Mirhima M’Muyahula, a 25-year-old widow with four children, was one of the 105 recipients of the goat-loan program. Using her new goat combined with the training she received, she used a zero-grazing unit for the goat, bringing the food to the goat. This does not only fatten up the goat, but it also enables her to collect the manure and use it for her crops. Mirhima is, “…thankful for the training [she] received and [for] the goat.” Before she only had enough beans to feed her children maybe once a day, and now, only seven months later, she “has more beans than she knows what to do with.”

How will she repay the loan? By giving back the first baby of the goat. If she gets six more goats, she will be able to purchase a cow benefiting even more and having the opportunity to sell milk in the market.

Not even one year into the loan program, these 105 recipients lives have been changed through something as simple as a single goat. The true joy on Mirhima’s face is undeniable; she can now feel confident in her family’s future and her means to support them.

Text and photo by Micah Albert

Rebuilding a Life in War-torn Congo

On November 1, 2006, Angeline Balungwe was a recipient of the ELI Congo micro-loan in Chihonga, D.R. Congo, a remote village in the South Kivu province in Eastern Congo. Angeline a 30 year-old widow. Her husband was killed in the war in 2002, and she has been farming the local cassava root, the staple food in this region, to feed her and her five children.

Because of the war, rebel activity has taken out livestock of any kind, leaving people no manure to put back vital nutrients into the soil. The result is an extremely low yield crop, producing tubers the size of ones thumb, leaving the families like Angeline’s with very little food. Ten roots from the local cassava produces one kilo of cassava flour, and one kilo will produce two loaves of cassava bread, enough to feed three people for one day.

Formerly: Ten roots = 1 kg flour = 2 loaves of bread
Now: One root = 1 kg flour = 2 loaves of bread

ELI has introduced a new Nigerian-hybrid cassava that produces roots that are one kilo each, with up to six of these roots per plant. It starts producing these in less than nine months - less than half the time of the local version.

Only eight months after planting, Angeline has now begun to harvest her first cassava roots. After pulling up her very first plant from the ground, she could hardly believe her eyes. With the roots from one plant, she exclaimed, she could feed her family twice a day and would have enough left over at the end of the day. And with this harvest, she will have up to 10 cassava seedlings to replant the next year, sell them in the community or give them away to friends and family.

The idea is spreading through out this 100-square-kilometer region of 11 villages, and people are on their way to rebuilding a life in this war-torn part of the nation.

Text and photo by Micah Albert

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What are your fears related to HIV?

What are your fears related to HIV?

This is the question asked to open a three-day training on what it means to be a caregiver. After an hour of people sharing their responses, the room grows quiet. The realities of HIV, the fears surrounding it are realized.

Then a second question is posed: Is there hope? Once again, silence fills the room. It is a sobering moment; but I have seen it again and again, with fears identified, they lose their power. Space for hope to rise is given. Now, we can begin the training.

This week, 23 trainees have traveled from their homes, from various churches in surrounding villages. These individuals may not know the horrifying statistic that says in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 25 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. But they know their neighbor who keeps being diagnosed with malaria but never recovers. They have attended the burial of their brother and then their sister-in-law. They now have four more children to feed. To these, HIV is not a statistic. It is a nightmare.

Over the past two and a half years, ELI’s Tumaini na Afya (Hope & Health), have trained nearly 300 people the art of caregiving by increasing their knowledge surrounding HIV, proper nutrition, the importance of HIV testing, how to connect the sick with testing and then treatment. For all who are willing, the opportunity for them to learn their HIV status is provided. The last day of the course has been termed “Loving Day” provides the trainees practical experience. They go with members of our team to visit clients within our community. They go to encourage, to assist. They practice what they have learned with the goal that they will take this to their communities.

As I was teaching this morning, I was convinced again: There is hope. There is hope, because there is a God who has not, who cannot, forget his children. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to be His hands, His feet. The need is great. The opportunities are limitless.

~ Juli McGowan
ELI Family Nurse Practitioner

Saturday, June 02, 2007

News from the Congo

We received this message from Terry in the Congo:

"It has been a great day in Bukavu, Congo. We spent 7 hours visiting the ELI school. It is located in the heart of a slum. During the war in 2000, the slum was essentially in the crossfire of the conflict. People were killed and children had nowhere to run. Today, the ELI school sits like a beacon on the hillside. The community believes it was 'dropped from heaven' as one mother told us today.

"When we arrived, we were greeted by 350 singing children. They danced for us, read poems of thanks, enacted a drama written by the students to express what life was like before and after the school was created. We spent over an hour listening to the teachers, encouraging them, and
sharing together. We then visited the 6 classrooms (grade 1-6) with children ranging from 5 to 15. A typical classroom had 4 children per bench with 45-55 students per grade. They are served 1 meal each day...for many it is their only meal of the day. The feeding program was created because children would start crying after being in school for a few hours due to hunger pains. Upon completion of grade 6, the students take a national test and for the last 3 years have had a 100% passing rate. Amazing.

"At 1:30, the children leave the school and the 2nd shift comes in . . . they call them the Orientation Classes. Normally a child would continue with school but we do not have the classrooms or teachers to offer a secondary school. This limits the students' future . . . they cannot go on to a university. But the 2-year orientation program prepares them to attend a future vocational school where they learn sewing, mechanics, agriculture, etc. At the end of the program, one very sharp young boy asked what was next for him. He wanted to become a doctor . . . others wanted to be journalists, nurses, pastors, teachers. It was difficult to say that right now, we have nothing more to offer. We walked away desperately wanting to find a way to bring these kids to reality.

"On Saturday, Lindsey, Terry, and Estelle will be traveling by boat from Goma to Bukavu. They will be accompanied by an immigration officer to help minimize the bribes and expedite their journey. Micah, Kierra, Ron and Julius will be travelling to Chihonga, a remote village 2 hours away. ELI has a 'goat loan/giving' project which is transforming the region. More on this another time. Please pray for safe journeys. This land is not easy; the wars have done damage and caused suffering beyond belief."

Please pray . . .

  • for continued safety for the team
  • that God will use this time to bless to Congolese as well as to speak to the hearts of each person on the team
  • that God will continue to show ELI how we can minister to the Congolese, to bring hope, and to establish his Kingdom in their midst