A Few Parting Words

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Just days before this photo was taken, these smiling faces were dropped off on Flying Kites property by the police with nowhere else to go.  Their eyes were wide with terror and grief.  Their clothes were ratty and dirty; they hadn’t been bathed in days or weeks.  The second youngest had a swollen welt and bruise under her right eye, both eyes were bloodshot.

I was on the way home from school when I had heard there were 5 new children at the house.  I was anxious to meet them.  Seeing them was overwhelming (not just because there were 5 of them!).  I wanted to take them all in and protect them and make them feel loved, as it was obvious these sentiments were lacking in their lives.  So how do they look so happy only days later?  All I did was give them lollipops!  If I knew parenthood was that easy…Just kidding!  Just kidding, mom.

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Flying Kites has once again shown how amazing it is as an organization.  From the matrons, to the cook, to the laundresses, to the guards, to Leila and Mike and the rest of the board, to the sponsors, it’s thanks to everyone that these children have transformed so much.  They were cared for immediately; bathed, clothed, fed, given beds to sleep on, loved, adored (they are ridiculously cute), shown affection, and spoiled.  They were given a sense of security and belonging.

After a couple of days we started to gather their story from them.  Their mother had run away a few months prior because she was pregnant and their father was abusive to her.  The father was neglectful and abusive to the children as well.  They were caring for themselves and eating a diet that consisted of ugali (a tasteless, filler of corn flour and water) and occasionally potatoes.  They had left their home on a Friday night because after their father beat them, he told them he was going to kill them if they were still home when he returned from being out.  The kids walked miles from their village to the nearest town and wandered the streets for the weekend, when the police finally brought them to Flying Kites on Monday.

Upon further assessment of the children’s bodies, multiple (more than 20) scars were found on the bodies of the 2 youngest girls.  The oldest girl has a massive scar on the back of her head.  The abdomens on the youngest girls were severely distended, significant of untreated worms and malnutrition.  That Friday, the head matron and I brought the 5 five of them to the local health clinic where it was found the 3 youngest had worms, and thankfully all are HIV negative.  These facts, along with a doctor’s assessment, were presented to the court.  The father admitted to abusing the children.  He was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and a large fine.

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So, here we have Tabitha aged 12, Stanley aged 9, Samuel aged 6, Ziporah aged 4, and Cecelia aged 2!  These are our newest children.  We have placed them all in school, except for Cecelia who gets to stay home and be doted on.  Stanley is excelling quickly in school.  Everyday he is becoming more confident and impressing his teachers.  Tabitha is a great older sister.  Samuel loves to play football.  Ziporah has a big personality and is hilarious.  It doesn’t get any cuter than watching Cecelia dance.  The children are all blending in wonderfully at the home.  They already have best friends at the house and are learning to speak English.  I am amazed at their progress.  And they need sponsors!  Please help them and the other children at the home shine and succeed in life.  The money you give will help feed, clothe, educate, and provide medical care.  At Flying Kites, they are raising future leaders.  Be a part of it!

http://www.flyingkites.org

In closing, I have to say how thankful I am for the experience I had and for everyone involved.  I couldn’t be more grateful for the boda boda drivers who picked me up on their King Birds even in the worst weather, the teachers who gave me the classroom time and encouragement, the welcoming and loving staff, the children for being their amazing selves, the friendships I made and enhanced there, and everyone who supported me-financially and emotionally-on this journey.  Flying Kites is a dreamlike place.  I can’t wait for my next visit!

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Here is where I sat for most of my writing and emails

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Going to miss these runs

When I tell people I teach sex ed, the most common question I get is: Do the kids ask some questions just to be funny and make you laugh?  Well the answer is yes.  Beyond my most recent surprising/challenging questions of “what do I do if I’m ready for sex?” and “Because human desire is so strong, what do you do if you want to have sex with someone who isn’t your partner?”, here are few of the questions that made me laugh/blush:

“Why is the penis shaped like a pencil?”

“How many centimeters is a large penis?”

“If a woman wants to have sex when her husband is not home, can she have sex with a sheep? A chicken?”

“Is it healthy to eat paper and pencils?”

“What will happen to you if you eat ink?” (From the student with the exploded ink all over her face, hands, clothes)

“Because Rhianna is having sex all the time, does she wear condoms?”

“How many shillings is a condom?”

“For how many days do you do sex?”

“What time of day do you do sex?”

“Why do some men have big bellies?”

“Can the men with big bellies have babies?”

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Thank you class 6!

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Final Days

This past month at Flying Kites has flown by.  Each day has been full of events and surprises.  Even right now in this moment as I’m trying to write, I’m having to stand up and run away from my computer as I keep getting visited by a group of bees from the honey farm next door.  Granted, I am sitting under a bamboo hut in the middle of a garden full of vegetables and flowers, sipping coffee I’ve sweetened with cinnamon and sugar out of a bright yellow cup.  This just so happens to be the best spot in the house for Internet connection (hence the building of the hut in this exact spot).

At the beginning of October, I was out of the classroom as the kids were taking their exams.  This gave me some spare time to do educational sessions with the community health workers and to do a bit of exploring.  I have had the opportunity to go on multiple jungle hikes, searching for elephants and chasing monkeys, camping in bamboo forests, and runs I will never forget.  It’s not everyday your runs consist of detours of taking tours of peoples’ shambas (farms), learning about crops, forced cups of tea, piggy-back rides over muddy rivers, climbing eucalyptus trees, and incredible dusty, mountainous sunset views, running by wooden carts pulled by donkeys and women carrying stacks of firewood on their backs.

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Elephant prints!

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I also attempted to take a long weekend on the coast with some friends, however that same weekend there was the murder of an Islamic leader on the coastal city we were headed to.  This was followed by days of riots in the streets, and the US Embassy restricting any travel to that area.  The other option was to go to coastline farther north, which is frequented by Somali pirates.  After the Westgate attack, we thought it would be safer to avoid that area as well and to at least stay in a hotel in Nairobi.  Instead of pristine white sand beaches and fresh seafood on the Indian Ocean, we settled for massages, gym workouts, hot showers (this is a luxury we do not yet have at the house) and drinks by the pool in a classic African hotel.

The end of that weekend led to a great introduction to the decision-making lesson in my class 6.  Previously we had reviewed stress, anger, conflict, gender and gender stereotypes, sexuality and behavior, self-esteem, and being assertive.  The kids did a really great job being engaged and interactive with these topics.  One of my favorite moments was when I told them it IS possible for women to hunt.  This was responded with gasps and shouts of disbelief (obviously the Hunger Games series hasn’t made it to Kenya).  As a bit of a feminist, I can’t say I was completely unbiased in the lessons on gender and assertiveness.  Whoops!

The decision-making class was probably one of my most challenging.  I introduced the lesson to them by explaining how my friends and I had used an active decision-making process for our vacation weekend.  We considered our options and thought of the positive and negative consequences of each option.  After reviewing the basics of passive and active decisions, I had each student write a challenge they were facing.  These were kept confidential and I chose two to share with the class and use the active decision making process to help solve the issue.  I received multiple statements saying they or someone they know is being pressured into having sex; one about a friend who is HIV positive and suicidal; one student wrote that she has been physically and sexually abused and lacks basic needs at her grandmother’s and always goes to sleep hungry; another student wrote he wants to help his family become rich so he can pay his younger siblings school fees and buy his parents a car; another student wrote a story about a girl who was punished so badly, her leg was broken and she is now lame.

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Initially when I read these to myself at the front of the room, I felt overwhelmed with emotion that the kids are dealing with these problems.  The third situation I believe was written by one of the orphans at Flying Kites home, in reference to when she visits her guardian.  This I felt I could deal with outside of the classroom.  I triaged the most important current scenarios, so chose the first two situations, pressure to have sex and being suicidal related to the positive HIV status, to consider as a class.  We discussed the many options and consequences of each situation.  I can only hope the discussions were effective enough to help those who needed it.

The subsequent lessons were on goal setting, abstinence, resisting peer pressure, drug use, HIV and AIDS, voluntary counseling and testing, care and support for people with HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and YES condoms and contraceptives!  The most hysterical class was that on resisting peer pressure.  I split the kids into groups and had them role-play scenarios of peer pressure.  They did amazing.  I think I laughed for an hour straight.  It was even funnier than the day I brought in condoms for demonstration (the unopened spares were of course sneaked into the teachers’ hands).  All of my classes did a jeopardy review day, followed by exams.  I was really proud of how well they all did.  Teaching these classes was not only incredibly fun and humorous, but an experience I will never forget.  I adore each one of my students.  I hope I was able to mentor and guide them into adulthood with the tools they will need to face the challenges and joys ahead.

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Classes 4 & 5

Beyond the classroom, I involved myself with the community health workers.  They had been taught about breast and cervical cancers by the public health Peace Corps worker that is living in this area.  She asked that I continue and teach a lesson on prostate cancer.  After my assessment of the area and reading that cardiac disease is the second leading cause of death in Kenya (the first being infectious diseases), I then taught lessons on heart disease and stroke.  They were great students as well.  They love learning, asked lots of great questions, and I can’t say I didn’t appreciate the clapping and songs they sang in thanks for the sessions.  A few of them have even volunteered to continue the sex education classes at the school next year.

On Sunday October 19th, the Peace Corps worker, two women from the local health clinic, and I posted signs and set up a booth at a football stadium in town.  We HIV tested and pre and post counseled over 60 members from the community.  Stigma around HIV is a major problem in Kenya, so we were ecstatic at the number of people who came to us to be tested.  I would love to stay here for a greater amount of time to continue teaching and improving the healthcare in this area.  In the short time I have been here, I have recognized many issues.  Some of the issues are related to tradition, the fact that doctors used to be “medicine men” so there is no patient education and patients don’t ask questions.  They blindly take whatever pills doctors give them.  Some community members have reported to me, “people just die, you might not know what is wrong, people just die in their homes.”  Other issues are related to the poverty of the area.  At the local clinic there is no running water—to my nurses: CAN YOU IMAGINE?  No soap and no Purell?!  Gloves are also a luxury (cringe).

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Prescriptions from the doctor for treatment of worms

Monday and Tuesday of next week are my wrap up days at Flying Kites.  After over 2 months, it will finally have come to a close.  Although I am finished my courses, I am not yet done here.  Monday I will be spending the day in court as a result of another surprise: on October 7th the police dropped off 5 new kids.  As we are fighting for custody and imprisonment of their father, I will hold off on their story until after the proceedings.   Wish us luck!

Safe Haven

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Okay, I admit, it has been far too long since I’ve blogged and you may be wondering what has been going on in the past couple of weeks.  It has been a wild ride since the Kenya Dig It crew (film and photography group) has arrived.  They have been interviewing everyone and filming everything, so schedules have been a bit crazy.  I have continued to teach most days of the school week.

As a class we have had a blast learning about the reproductive systems, puberty changes, pregnancy and birth, and healthy relationships and communication.  I was able to get my art on and draw huge poster sized pictures of the male and female reproductive systems and a pregnant woman’s uterus.  When taping these posters to the chalkboard, I’m always assured a “GUY, GUY, GUY!” response from the kids.  This is the American equivalent to “OMG!”  The kids had a lot of great questions about the body changes and the details on pregnancy and birth, including how twins happen and how or why a woman can die during childbirth.

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After discussing healthy relationships, their questions were led to “why do people rape, especially babies?”, “why are healthy relationships good?”, “what do you do if you are in an unhealthy marriage?”, “what do you do if someone is trying to force sex on you?”, and “what do you do to feel happy if you are sad?”.  This final question had the student’s name written on it, but then crossed out.  This led to discussions on good communication, love and respect for your self and others, as well as defining pedophiles.  I emphasized the rights one has over their own body, fighting someone who is trying to force sex, and if unsuccessful, the steps one should take after the rape has occurred.  I answered these questions to the best of my ability to the class and plan to have a private discussion with the teenager who reported feeling sad and not knowing how to deal with it.  It should be interesting to continue with lessons on stress management, dealing with anger, and conflict resolution.

Class days have also slowed down due to the weather.  The rainy season has begun, and so has the mud.  Riding on the back of a motorbike taxi for the ten kilometers to school has been its own adventure.  Coming from New England, I thought I knew bad weather roads and driving, but I have to say nothing compares to walking, let alone driving on these muddy roads.  One of the days I missed school because I was caught in a downpour in town center.  On this day, I ended up having a meeting with the district public health officer and the director of the local health clinic.  I was able to introduce myself, my project at the school, as well as my other skills as a nurse.  I plan to meet with the local public health and clinic nurses about what their needs are in terms of their education, patient education, or other needs of the community or clinic.  I am really looking forward to meeting with everyone and partnering up for the remainder of my stay in Kenya.

Amongst my schedule of classes and meetings in town, I have been able to witness the remarkable things Flying Kites continues to do on a daily basis outside of the home or school.  A neighbor of ours recently had his entire house with all of his belongings completely burn down.  He was living in this home with multiple grandchildren.  The community pulled together to raise money, building supplies, clothing, and home essentials.  Flying Kites was able to facilitate this as well as to assist financially.  Everyone here at the home, including the Kenya Dig It crew volunteered to chip in.  Soon after, a staff member’s daughter was kicked out of high school because they were behind on school fees.  High schools are boarding schools with uniforms and books.  These costs can be as high as thousands of US dollars.  This would be difficult to keep up with for any average American family, let alone those living in abject poverty.  They had fallen so far behind on their payments because this student had a brain tumor last year that needed to be operated on.  She also happened to score amongst the highest in the country on national exams.  Her goal is to be a doctor.  Through the volunteers living here and Flying Kites fundraising at home, the money was raised overnight, allowing her to be sent back to school the next day.  The work and aid this establishment provides is incredible and never ceases to amaze me.  It is a constant reminder of why I love this organization.

This past weekend was a rollercoaster.  As I’m sure you’ve seen in the news, a group of terrorists attacked a very popular, upscale mall in Nairobi.  Many innocent people were injured or died. We are lucky to be in a small, safe town, hidden away in the beautiful mountains.  That Saturday night, we had a huge bonfire with all the kids.  We sat around the fire conversing, laughing, and roasting marshmallows.  When everyone’s bellies were sufficiently stuffed, we quieted down and each said something he or she is grateful for.  We expressed we were grateful for our health, our safety, and for each other.  We prayed for the hostages, the lives lost or suffered, and their families.

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The next morning was my birthday.  A group of us woke up early and traveled to the town of Naivasha where we had a delicious lunch on the lake, followed by a boat safari.  We saw hippos, giraffes, zebras, and pelicans.  We celebrated that night with singing, dancing, and chocolate covered chapatis.  All at the same time frequently checking our phones for updates on the terrorist attack and contacting those we know in the area.

For many of the volunteers, Westgate Mall was a place that was often visited.  It has been terrifying to think that any one of us could have been there, or had been there recently.  Our hearts break for those who died as we continue to wonder and ask each other, why?  How?  Trying, but failing to understand the answers to these questions.  Tonight Kenya’s president declared a “victory”.  What are we victorious over?  Lives have been lost, traumatized, changed forever.  Westgate will never be what it once was.  This felt like the Boston Marathon bombing all over again.  All we can do is pull together as a community, as a home, and continue to live peaceful and compassionate lives.  We need to remember to be grateful, to be loving, and to continue to hope for a better future.

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Difficult Questions

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As some of you may know, I was asked to teach sex ed to the kids at Flying Kites.  Many of the children are nearing puberty, currently in puberty, or have passed it.  Sex ed doesn’t currently exist in the village’s school curriculums, period.  Pun intended.  According to the matrons it is traditionally the father’s job to talk to their sons while mothers talk to their daughters.  These conversations tend to be awkward, sensitive and lacking in accurate medical knowledge. They are therefore vague or misinformed when they happen at all.

As a nurse, my education experience is one-on-one patient education with adults on topics such as diabetes, heart failure, pneumonia, and COPD.  I have never taught a group of young students, and never addressed such a sensitive topic. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.  To ease into it, I taught the first few lessons of the curriculum to the kids at Flying Kites home over the weekend.  We focused on self-esteem, families, gender roles, friendships, and decision-making.

Those first lessons included the introduction of the now infamous “question box”.  The kids loved it immediately.  When asked to submit one question they each put in about four or five.  Considering there were 19 of them, this was mildly overwhelming.

They all did a fantastic job of participating.  We made lists of family and friendship values, which included love, peace, kindness, joy, laughter, patience, faith, and trust.   I felt so proud.  The children not only verbalize these values, but also have an understanding of them, as they were able to describe resultant behavior as well as show this in daily life.

The strong enthusiasm and engagement I experienced while teaching that first weekend at Flying Kites bolstered my hopes of reaching even more students. On Monday I attended a PTA meeting held at the Feinstein Junior Scholars’ Academy, where the 6 to 13 year-olds from Flying Kites attend.   With the help of a translator, I described my curriculum, intentions, and the importance of this education to the students’ conservative parents.  I was quickly granted permission to teach, and given time to do so.  I was surprised that the parents responded with gratitude that someone would teach these topics to their children, as they were unsure of how to discuss them.

The next day I taught my first class at school.  The reception was very positive.  I felt supported by many of the teachers, particularly the head teacher.  The students had been prepped for my arrival, and like myself, were a little excited and nervous.  For the ages 10-12 kids (standards 4-5), I picked up where I had left off at Flying Kites: sexual exploitation.

This was a very powerful couple of sessions for both the teachers and students.  In Kenya, sex abuse and exploitation is a prevalent issue. Previously, I learned that in some schools teachers trade grades for sex.  By the end we were all shouting “I AM SPECIAL”, “I DESERVE GOOD TOUCH”, and “MY BODY BELONGS TO ME”.  The sexual exploitation lessons will hopefully decrease the chance of the children being sexually abused at any point, and if they are, they will have the tools to know how to react.

With the aged 12-13 year olds (standard 6), I started with a values lesson.  They did a great job of listing what was valuable to them, describing where they learned those values, and reflecting on how behavior is influenced by values.  In the following lesson, I taught them about life cycles from birth to death.  They were very engaged, but each day it was clear that what they were really waiting for was the question box.

I start each session with an introduction to the topic and then have each student write a question to drop in the box.  For standards 4-6 this is obviously everyone’s favorite part.  I am guaranteed a smirk on every face, and a steady stream of students walking to the front to submit their questions.  When it comes time to answer the questions at the end of class the kids are on the edge of their seats.  They don’t want me to end class (even if 90 minutes have gone by) until I have finished all of the questions.  The questions are often funny, and even I am unable to keep a straight face reading or answering, to very serious.  After sorting through all of the questions on menstruation and ejaculation, the questions range from “what is gender?”, “what does privacy mean?”, “where do babies come from?”, “why do people have sex?”, and “does sex feel sweet?”, to “is sex painful?”, “how do you know if you have HIV/AIDS?”, “what do you do if you have HIV/AIDS?”, “is sex abuse harmful?”, and “how do you react if you have been sexually abused?”.

The lessons and question box have been so much fun, yet so exhausting.  It is an entertaining curriculum, but also very important.  It is moving to see them reach out for answers to such difficult questions for even adults to cope with.  I only hope that I can guide them the best way possible and that they eventually feel comfortable enough to approach me for private discussions.

Gratitude and Inspiration

As I sit here reflecting on my first few days in Kenya, I’m reminded of what inspired me the most to return: the people.  Knowing the children’s stories of tragedy and trauma, I am blown away by their candor and joy.  After listening to the matrons tell their own stories of suffering before they came to Flying Kites, I am humbled.  There are daily expressions of gratitude and love for what they have as well as each other.

My arrival into Kenya started with stepping off the plane, smelling the familiar air, which brought feelings of nostalgia.  After a long drive to Njabini, my cab was unable to make it up the road to the Flying Kites home.  It just so happened to be the same time the kids were on their way back from school in the big Land Rover.  Their smiling faces popped out of the windows, and I’m not sure who was more excited: them or me.  I hopped in with the 20 or something kids and driver, and headed up the hill blasting Mariah Carey and Philip Philips.

Everyone was incredibly welcoming.  I immediately felt at home.  That evening at family meeting, after the kids expressed how their day was and what they learned, many conveyed how happy and thankful they were for my arrival.  They were all happy for Mach that his sponsor came to visit.  It was so sweet it brought me to tears.

The next few days consisted of getting acclimated to the home (and elevation), the routines, meetings about the logistics of my project, and getting myself organized to teach.  Most important of all was the quality time spent creating relationships with the staff and kids, who will be my family the next couple of months.

This home is an oasis, a dream, a magical place.  It is full of love and laughter.  The matrons have me in stitches on a regular basis.  The kids support, mentor, and love each other.  They love to dance and play music (this includes Justin Bieber, as loud as possible, on repeat).  I couldn’t be more grateful or happy for the opportunity to come here, be welcomed into their home, and to give what I can.  I know I am gaining life experience and wisdom from them, but also lasting relationships and bonds.  They inspire me to love, hope, learn, grow, teach, and give.