Sunday, December 31, 2000

Luanda and the Amazing Women

18 August

Florence, far right, and I went to Luanda to meet with the four sex ed team members there. (This was my seven-matatu day - a personal record!) I trained them exactly a year ago - August 2010.

Here we are in front of Priscilla's house (mother of Sarah, an early childhood development specialist and once the homeschool teacher for some of Rose's youngest orphans). From left, Dorcas, Priscilla, Lydia, Eddah, and Florence.

It's actually hard for me to do justice to how moved I was by the work these women are doing. We had to suspend payment to them in March, but, like the Kabras Vumilia team, they are still actively teaching sex ed in the community. For no pay. Not even covering their transport costs. The only venues they no longer teach in are schools, but that's because we have to renew our permission letter from the federal Education Ministry. But when they're invited by churches, chief's barazas, women's groups, etc., they go (in teams of two) if they can.

And they are constantly stopped on the path or in the market by principals and teachers begging them to get back into the schools, evidently. They are also asked for counseling and advice. People come to them in their homes, or pull them aside while they're shopping, and describe domestic abuse issues, weird smells and discharges, pregnant daughters, teens who won't listen, straying spouses. . .

When I asked about accomplishments, Eddah led off. She said she had a personal accomplishment - she never knew that she could actually talk in front of a group. (Florence, who was their on-the-ground supervisor, told me privately that she's an excellent teacher.) Lydia jumped in to say that "once a teacher always a teacher" - even though they don't go in to schools at the moment, and only did for about five months, now everyone greets her as "Madam", the term most used (in English) for female teachers here. Before this she was "just a farmer". I really love doing the teacher-training part of the workshops I run, and it's a great feeling to hear the pride in people's voices when they talk about the respect they now get from their community!

So, some of the information reported:

1. They're always invited back, and have never encountered any resistance to the teaching, though at the upper primary (6th, 7th, 8th grades) they don't introduce condoms but do answer all questions about them, including how to use them. They fear parent reaction if they bring it up themselves (though this has never been a problem in Kabras/Kakamega. Maybe a more conservative culture, maybe they are being overly cautious?)
2. Lydia and Dorcas both report that the schools in their area have already shown lower drop-out rates, which are mostly due to early pregnancy and "bad company", and increased performance, and the principals tell them that they attribute it directly to their sex ed lessons.
3. Lydia said that at one particularly poor school (which is really saying something around here!) it's hard to teach abstinence because of the pressures of poverty - some girls will have sex in order to buy panties, books, pens. . .She talked with a teacher and they came up with a suggestion that they took to the head teacher, who approved. They would begin a charitable club, and every child at the school is a member if they choose. The parents are asked to send one shilling (a bit more than a penny) to school with their child every Wednesday that they can afford it. That money goes into a pot, and teachers identify vulnerable children who desperately need some essential items. She said that most of the teachers are from the area and understand the families - they'll know which homes have really nothing, and which kids are vulnerable to the economic pressures. They haven't gone forward with it only because they've stopped going to schools while the permission letter is pending. She doesn't know whether the school has gone ahead and tried it.
4. In this area, the federal government has already started distributing the promised santary pads to upper primary girls every month. (This hasn't come to Kakamega yet.) There is finally recognition of the devasting effect missing school for want of sanitary products has had on girls' attendance and performance. She said even teachers sometimes complain that the girls smell bad! (I'm not convinced this is the right way to solve the problem, but at least while the politicians dick around for the next decade, trying to figure out how to enrich themselves personally through the project, the girls will benefit in the short term.)
5. At one school they taught at, the principal "commanded all the teachers to also attend the lesson." He said, "The owners of the information that you want are here." And he and they sat appreciatively though the entire lesson.
6. They report an increase in correct condom use, according to reports they get. Adults come back to them after the condom lesson and confess that they'd tried them before, but incorrectly.
7. Priscilla reported that there's a big increase in HIV+ people going to the hospital or clinic to be treated for opportunistic infections, and being compliant with their ARVs. She is positive herself, and says she knows every HIV positive person in the area. She says that the lessons on destigmatization, and living positively with HIV, have had a big impact on the understanding that it you are drug compliant, use protection, treat opportunistic infections immediately, and get the best nutrition you can, HIV is not the death sentence of the past.
8. Everyone agrees that stigma in the community is down, and many more people are going in for testing.
9. Despite that, people still prefer to go to a further away hospital where people are less likely to know them for their testing and treatment.
10. The chief of the Southwest Bunyore district invited Lydia to come to a baraza and speak to his "people". He told them that "somebody who values your children is sending us to school." He gave her a microphone, and she spoke to the crowd. Because she and Dorcas had already been in the local schools, one of the audience members called out: "Our children are already bringing it to the table at home." (meant in a good way)
11. They are also doing their best to get into as many churches as possible, because "the religion is all about abstinence".
12. They need more brochures, an STD chart and new reproductive anatomy flip chart, as theirs is in tatters, plus they live far from each other and incur transport costs just to pick up the teaching materials.
13. They're planning to keep on keeping on with the teaching for no money until the day that we can afford to compensate them again.
14. They want me to come back and run another training so that they have more teachers in their area, which is big.

We worked hard, it was emotional, and luckily Priscilla is a wonderful host. In fact, when I asked Florence if we shouldn't meet at a cafe so we could eat, given that we anticipated a long day, she told me not to worry - those Bunyore women can organize themselves! (Bunyore is both the location at Luanda, and also the tribe. I think.) From left, sukuma wiki, white ugali, and chicken. Later in the afternoon we had tea and boiled groundnuts, which I had never eaten before. Actually delicious, though I had a terrible time with the shells and Florence made fun of me while she shelled for me.

Priscilla in her living room.

Florence was definitely right that there was no cafe anywhere around. - this is the path to Priscilla's.

Raining when we left, so Priscilla escorted us to the road for our matatu (number four of the day) with an umbrella for Florence.

This is actually Priscilla's bottom hanging out of the matatu, next to the tout (collector). We drove for at least several kilometers with her hanging on for dear life, just to say goodbye to us at the Luanda station.

Luanda matatu stage in the rain.

A little roadside food stand along the way home. People make their livings from these little stalls. And locals rely on them, so they don't have to walk far or pay transport. This stall probably sells some fruit, maybe some onions or tomatoes or eggs, sugar, white bread, toilet paper, soap. Maybe paraffin for the lanterns. Matches. Seven-eleven!

A rewarding day for me.

Around Rose's Compound in Kabras

This is the typical iron in the rural areas. Here it's just cooling in the doorway. The bottom is hinged, and you put hot coals inside. As it cools, you swing it around a bit to fan the flames with extra oxygen, and if you have a lot of ironing you change the coals. I once ironed a girl's uniform shirt, and hot ash fell out of the air holes and singed it! I replaced the shirt, and that was the last time I tried ironing here.

My beloved pit latrine. I seem to spend more time in it than anyone else.

A great, very hygienic design by Kickstart. The weighted lid with handle completely closes off the hole when not in use. I see lots of spiders, ants, crickets. . .on the walls, but I've never seen a fly in here!

The roof of the latrine.

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Early one morning. So peaceful!

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Mama Alice is in the kitchen, heating water for my bath and making tea. See the smoke rise through the thatch?

Got a kick out of this. Rafael is charging Rose's solar flashlight on the roof of the goat hutch.

The side of the kitchen.

The solemn Rosie, awaiting the developments of the day.

Rosie at work with her new markers and paper.

The bringers of the goats! From left are Peter and his son James, a helper, and the owner of the matatu that transported the goats from their home in Molo. Peter is the father of Mary, whom I met at Lavenda in 2008 when the family were in an internally displaced persons camp (IDP) after the post-election violence. Bob and I sponsored her through high school and for a computer course, which Rose facilitated. They got to know each other, and Rose hired Peter to raise and fatten some goats for her, and also bring potatoes to plant and teach the local help to plant them.

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So exciting!!

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Things will never be the same in the pecking order around here, Mr. Rooster!

Inside my bedroom. I really like this larger style of mosquito net, which has the added benefit of keeping mysterious things in the thatch from sifting (or plopping - thanks for that image, Anyembe, when you said that sometimes maggots rain down on "revered' guests!) down onto your bed.

Rosie in our shared sitting area. My bedroom door is to the right, and she and her mom have the bedroom behind the door by the table.

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Mama Alice carrying maize to be dried in the sun. Have I mentioned that this is a hard hard life?

The chicken coop. RIGHT behind Rose's house, which I have now moved to since she is in Nairobi. I'm thinking of rooster soup soon!

There is one rooster kept (with chickens) at each end of the coop. They aren't let out at the same time!

A view of the huts from the chickens. Rose's just showing on the right, then the guest hut, the kitchen, and "mine".

The dishwashing area and drying rack.

Rosie (who loves to dart in front of the camera, even though she rarely seems particularly happy to be there when she arrives) standing in the shared "bath" room. You can't quite see that there's a drain hole in the back left corner. I bring in a small table, put a plastic basin on it, partially fill it with warm water (thanks, Mama Alice) and use a pitcher to pour water over myself. I always carry one of those toiletry bags with a hook for my shampoo, etc. Amazingly refreshing. Rose uses more water than I do, but she grew up here in the rainforest area and my first several years of experience in Kenya were in the semi-arid Central Province.

The outside of the bath room. I use the one on the right since it's a bit bigger.

The goat hutch.

Rose's visiting sister Esther in the kitchen. The cooker is new to me.

It's an energy-efficient style that uses less wood. The rounded section on the right is for the ugali pan, which is a distinctive shape.

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Boiling water. Still can't get anyone to listen to me about the fuel efficiencies of using a LID, people!!

The kitchen with gas cooker in Rose's hut. I cook eggs for everyone here, have made dinner once and dessert once for everyone at the compound. I've cooked over the fire in the traditional kitchen in the past, but just don't have that much time this trip.

The hand-washing station. Made by a jua kali (someone who works outside under the sun) in Kakamega. Rose's example motivated me to have some made for two schools that I piloted a sex ed curriculum at in 2009.

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Rosie has discovered that she loves eggs. She had three helpings this time.

Rosei looking charming in my sun hat.

Behind the curtain is Rose and Nick's bedroom, which I took over last night when Rose left. I love it because there's a bath room (not bathroom, sadly, we all share the one latrine down past Mwenyakiti and the cow stall), but it has lots of room and a shelf for my shampoo.

Rose's bedroom, taken over by me. Behind the curtain is the bath room.

Rose's bath room.

Enough for now. I'm sitting in a hotel in Kakamega with a good connection so I can post, but I have to get back before dark. The dirt road to Rose's is treacherous in the dark, and it nearly always rains in the late afternoon here, so it will be muddy as well.

A great meeting with the sex ed team today, will report later.

Magdaline's Sanitary Pad Workshop

written Friday, August 5

(Random photos have popped into this post from my next post, and they don't show up when I edit or preview so I can't get rid of them. Jessy or Julie, can you figure out how to fix this for me long-distance??)

Sanitary towel (as it is referred to here) workshop day! Magdaline and I start out at 8:30 so we have time to pick up Anastasia in Kiawara on the way. She's an old friend, mother of Dipo (now working in China!) and Joyce, two students of mine when I volunteered at nearby Lavenda Springs Academy. This is Anastasia with a nephew she has taken in. She's currently raising several relatives' orphaned children.

Here is Beatrice Ndiritu, who was sponsored for several years by Glenbard South High School teachers. She lives near Magdaline's church where the training was held.

Magdaline was trained last week in washable, re-usable sanitary towels by Susannah Henderson of Mwezi Project. We bought the fabric, needles, etc. yesterday at a fabric shop in Nyeri.

Here the women are measuring out the fabric which will become the moisture barrier and holder of the actual cloth sanitary pads.

They've cut using a template that Magdaline brought from the workshop she attended.

A number of the women brought their babies and toddlers, who were uniformly adorable and well-behaved.

The pieces are being lined with plastic.

Latecomers from another area.

It's cold and windy here in August, the winter season. The little ones wear balaclavas so their ears are always covered outside.

Magdaline always picks up babies if it looks like their moms need help.

The venue, Magdaline's Catholic church.

The kids were too much! They filled their shoes with sand and played happily the entire time.

These two kept trying to get in front of the camera.

Two of these women are old friends. Monika, on the left, is a teacher at the nearby school, married to Joseph, another teacher friend. They have three-year-old twins. Monika, who did her teacher training in Samburu, told us that the women there sit on the ground to absorb their menstrual blood. Shiro, second from the right, had her tell me her idea to get a group of women together to go to Samburu to teach the women there about reusable sanitary pads.

The church wasn't a perfect venue, but you can see here that the women just worked on a bench in front of them, and helped each other out.

Here is Magdaline working with Mumbi.

Such adorable kids.

Magdaline brought me outside to meet a couple of young men who coach/manage, along with Magdaline's son Simon, a local football (American soccer) club for disadvantaged and unemployed youth.

Monika on the left, who suggested the Samburu training, next to Shiro.

Joyce, on the left, was a teacher at the local school. She invited us to talk to a church group in a Nyeri slum after the workshop.

So much cuteness!

Magdaline's daughter Eunice took the lead in logistics, and is on the right helping.

Measuring the soft fabric for pads.

The kids seem to barely slow their moms down. Dedication.

On to a church in Nyeri that Joyce asked us to speak at. We talked from 4:00 until 6:00. I covered HIV and sex ed, Magdaline talked about the importance of support groups, and sanitary pads. She scored herself a return engagement to run a workshop.

Magdaline demonstrating the pad holder.

The pastor who invited us, outside his church.

Me, Joyce, the pastor and Magdaline.

On our way back, I told Magdaline it was my first time in a slum. She said it was hers, too. A very interesting experience.