Kawangware, 27 June 2012
On Tuesday, getting a late start, we met Dcs. Caren at her home in the second slum, Kawangware. There is a difference between these two slums (and I haven’t been to the other slums surrounding Nairobi, including the one close to the main airport, where people basically live in a dump site, making their living by picking through the trash for recycling and reselling. Truth be told, I am not sure I have the capacity to witness that). Kibera seems to be the more crowded slum with narrower, darker passageways. Kawangware seems a bit more open, although the same smells and pollution and overcrowding assaults my senses.
Dcs. Caren, is married to a pastor, so they have a modest home on the church grounds.
One of her daughters, Daisy, was home after being hospitalized with an amoeba. We had a short visit with her, and Dcs. Mary led us in prayer before our visits into this community.
There is a feeding program, sponsored by Heart to Heart, one of Dcs. Mary’s projects. This program provides lunch for those children who are lucky enough to have a sponsor. They come to the church to eat perhaps the only meal they will have all day. On Tuesday it was rice and red beans. Here we met, Sarah, a preschooler in teacher Zilpa’s classroom. Sarah is only about 3 years old and was recently diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Her mother, Elizabeth, was present and we walked to her home not far from the school. She showed us the insulin she has to give Sarah twice daily. She also has the monitor for testing Sarah’s blood glucose levels, but lacks the money to buy the test strips. Not surprising, she lacks adequate funds for appropriate foods for the diabetic diet. (Sarah’s lunch that day was boiled potatoes, she is on the waiting list for a sponsorship for a lunch provided by Heart to Heart). She did have a good understanding of the diabetic diet, although did not understand the disease process of diabetes—nor did the deaconesses. I spent some time doing basic instruction and then urging the deaconesses to talk to a social worker about possible programs available for children with diabetes so Elizabeth, the mother can obtain insulin and test strips for Sarah. Once we have a clearer understanding of what services might be available for Sarah, we might look for sponsors to cover her diabetic care needs.
Our next stop was a little neighborhood familiar to me from my work with Dcs. Caren two years ago. Salmone and her children were still there, as were Evelyn and her children. It was good to revisit and see how things were going. Dcs. Caren is faithful in her care of these families. Salome continues to barely make ends meet. She, like Evelyn, will wash other people’s clothes for some money or food. Salome suffers from high blood pressure and when I took her BP it was elevated. She had run out of her BP medicine, but after stops at several “chemists” we were able to find Aldomet and purchase a 3-month supply for her. It is amazing what you can walk in and buy without a prescription at these little shops. And I am pretty sure they are no “chemists” or pharmacists involved.
When I had met Evelyn two years ago, her daughter had broken her arm several days prior to my visit in 2010 and spent some time in horrific pain until they could get the money to get her medical care. Evelyn was very depressed about her situation as a widow, her HIV+ status and life in general. Dcs. Caren visited her, brought her into a widow’s support group at church, and showed her that she was not alone. While her situation may not be that much better economically, Evelyn now has a smile on her face and seems a bit more animated.
The disturbing news she told was this: her 17 year old daughter had gone out to look for food, and one of the ways young girls are lured into “getting food” is by being promised things by men. The girls are then taken advantage of—and this goes on quite often from what I am told. Evelyn’s daughter got pregnant and recently delivered her baby. Unfortunately, she required a C-Section and had to go to the major hospital in Nairobi to have this surgery. Since the family has no money, they cannot pay for the C-Section, and hence, the girl and her baby are forced to stay at the hospital until fees are paid. And, they are not given a bed, but are forced to sleep on the floor, with their fees rising each day they stay. When I first heard this, I thought, “There is no way this is true”. But as I talked with the other deaconesses, they verified that this was the case for many, many people. The conditions in which they were kept at the hospital were almost prison-like. Of course, I thought we ought to drive right over to the hospital then and there and “fix this”. (I am sure the officials would have really listened to me!) But common sense, and the fact that visiting hours weren’t until 6 at night and it would be dark, told me to calm down, get more information and then work with the deaconesses and the church to see what might be done. At this point in time, I am waiting to hear what has transpired.
We did buy food for the families (and for Dcs. Caren) as well. As Caren and I were saying good-bye, we both hugged each other tight and cried. We cried tears of joy at being able to see each other once again, and tears of sorrow for all that she faces each and every day in trying to help people. I told her that she brings Christ to each person she visits. That her presence is a light in the darkness for so many people, and her courage and strength in the midst of such need inspires others and me. (and then I got in the car and wept like a baby for Caren and all the other deaconesses who provide mercy to those in need. I cried tears of anger for young girls who were taken advantage of and ended up pregnant because they wanted food for their families. I cried tears of frustration because I am limited in what I can do).
But my tears dried up and we made a “surprise” stop at Dcs. Susan’s apartment in Kawangware. Dcs. Susan is from the Masai tribe (the ones who live on the Masa Mara). One of her areas of work is helping rescue young girls from the ritual of FMG or female genital mutilation that has been a “rite of passage” in Susan’s own tribe. Dcs. Susan was so happy to have us at her house and had prepared a modest, but very tasty lunch (it was now 3:30) of rice and goat. She also called her other Masai friend, Paulina, who I had met two years ago and had her come over. Paulina speaks no English, but we communicate via smile and holding hands. She does amazing beadwork and I am the proud receiver of much of her handiwork.
As I reflect on these two days of making visits, the relationships I have with these people are gifts of trust and love. It is remarkable that these friendships continue even though we haven’t seen each other in a year or sometimes two years. I am grateful to be in the presence of such beautiful people who continue to teach me “the essential things of life”. I am also grateful to everyone who has generously given of your money, prayers and support. With the money, I am able to buy food and medicine for people. Your prayers and support sustain me.
I am now in Tanzania. It is another beautiful country, but more on that later.
Always mercy and lots of love,