"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Building Futures, Inc.

Building Futures, Inc.

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 16, 2010

The medical screening is today, and when I woke up this morning, I was exhausted. The alarm went off at 5am to give me time to shower, then start waking up the group at 5:30 for a 6am/6:30am breakfast. The group eats at staggered times so that the staff here doesn’t get overwhelmed with people-both for cooking and seating. It worked out well, despite my falling back asleep. I rolled over, shut off my alarm, and took a deep breath. The next thing I knew, it was an hour later! No worries, everyone was ready at 7:15am.

Everyone was very excited for the day to begin. We couldn’t get to the Mbaka Oromo Primary School (MOPS) fast enough. Everyone was in constant motion gathering supplies that included not only medicine, but candy as well. They wisely brought some lollipops to help keep the attention of the younger students. We wouldn’t be walking the entire way this time, instead we hired matatus to make two trips that will get us within a couple miles of the school. The morning was once again overcast, so things were relatively cool. It was greatly appreciated because most of us were carrying 20 lbs in our packs. It doesn’t sound like much when you realize that most of the Kenyan women passing us have 70lbs of water on their head!

Jim had called, and was on his way to the Guest House after picking up Jessica and Steve, with additional medicine. The matatu had arrived, however, so we sent the first group to get dropped off. The matatu would return 15 minutes later to pick up the second group. Well, at least that’s what I thought. While we were waiting, I went across the street to get some more minutes for the internet and cell phone. When I got back, those that were remaining were walking toward the entrance to Maseno U. Jim had arrived, and instructed them to go there to save a little time. It took closer to 30 minutes for the matatu to return, and when it did, Noel emerged with muddy shoes. The van got stuck in the mud left behind from the heavy rains overnight. The only way to get unstuck is for everyone to get out and push. It happens all the time here, so it was another experience to talk about later.

We filled the matatu pretty quickly, and Tim and I ended up getting in Jim’s car to give them a little more space. The matatu got there quicker than we did, because when we arrived, sure enough, everyone was outside of the van walking ahead of it. They, too, got stuck in the mud, but this group didn’t have to push, the driver just kept manipulating the wheel until the back end freed itself. We managed to pass them on some harder ground, and soon after stopped. We got to a point where normal vehicle do not dare travel. Much to our surprise, the first group was nowhere in sight! Despite given strict instructions to wait for us, the other group was nowhere in sight. We knew that they didn’t know where they were going, so Jim and I were a bit nervous. Noel calmed us down by saying that some MBO students were there to help carry things, and they were the ones that took them the rest of the way. Because we were at a fork in the road, we asked some women in a small kiosk which way the mzungos went. She pointed left. Not good. Although both these roads intersected about ¾ of a mile later, the routes were vastly different. We followed here instructions, though, and 10 minutes later we were trying to traverse a 5’ wide stream. Steve and I tried to position rocks so that people wouldn’t get wet, and it worked well. This is part of everyday life here, and normally if you had to cross this water, you’d merely take of your shoes, and maybe even your pants if the water was deep enough, then walk through it. Thankfully we didn’t have to do either. Although the rocks we dropped in the water were a bit unsteady, we got everyone across without too much trouble. The path down to the stream and back up the other side was very steep, and everyone was sliding getting up and down. This path, as opposed to the other one, was badly damaged by water erosion due to the heavy rains. We forged ahead, passing small farms with children that would run out to greet us, while their parents who were working in the field would smile and wave. We finally got to the school where we learned that the first group didn’t take the path we were told they did. Perhaps the woman that gave us that direction had a sense of humor. I wondered if she followed us laughing as we struggled. Who knows? All that mattered was that we arrived.

Everyone was greeted by students in uniform shaking hands and slapping low 5’s (as opposed to high 5’s). The courtyard between the classrooms was a beehive of activity with groups of children scattered everywhere. We walked past the leaning basketball hoop, which made me smile as I thought about the prior day’s events. Then I saw Alex again, standing up by the administration block, still wearing his Spider-man sweater. I introduced Katie to some of the faculty and friends that came to greet us. Each one had the same reaction. “Why are you so small?” they would say as they hugged her and laughed.

I was greatful that Naomi was here. She is the head teacher at the school, and the secretary for a local Catholic church. When Andrea brought Katie back from school, they also brought 500 rosaries donated by the Peyton Center. It’s an organization on Stonehill’s campus that donates rosaries to countries all around the world. We had gone there one day while we were visiting Katie, and Andrea thought it would be neat if we could bring some over on our trip. We asked for 50, and got 500! I knew the perfect person to give them to… Naomi! She was elated as she looked into the box to see the different collors packaged into individual bags along with instructions on how to pray. Ashley and Harriett came over with excitement, and asked if they could have one. We obliged, and Katie told them the story of how the package made its way from Boston to Maseno. Naomi talked about how she would use them with the small Christian communities in their church, and the young people that they teach. She went on to talk about how new people are constantly joining the church. I got the hint. “Would you like me to bring more the next time I come?” “That would be wonderful!” she exclaimed, as she hugged me again. Katie got another one, too. After a photograph, she took the box back to her office, and I turned to see the three girls talking softly about their families and faith.

After a little bit, we went outside. It’s time to get organized. We sat in the hall, and discussed what would be happening today. William wanted to make some comments, and Jim insisted that he keep it short. William likes to talk, and although I love to listen to him, we had much to do.

Initial screening and triage would remain here, in the hall. The library would be used for teaching about malaria and handing out mosquito nets, while classroom 8 would be used for vision care and classroom 5 for teaching general health and nutrition. We set up a small table under a tree outside to handout toothbrushes and toothpaste. They started with the youngest children first, and we would work our way through to grade 4. A doctor from the University Hospital, who had today off, accompanied Jessica, and everyone was thankful for his presence. He, along with some other locals helped when there were translation problems. Jactun was one of those individuals. He is our painter, who draws the logos on the outside of the new classrooms built through the fundraising efforts back home. The Fairport Red Raider, and East Ridge Knight adorned the building we were currently working in. Marilyn, Nancy, Peter, and two Nurse Practitioners Denise and Karen, were handling the screening and triage. Also in the hall were Mark, Rick, Alex, Katie L, Ashley and Kara who were doing everything from handing out meds to checking heights and weights. It was running like a well oiled machine. Liz, Tim and Steve were handling the optical exams and giving out reading glasses when necessary. The Masco sisters and Lillian were handling the general health and nutrition, and Katie J, Brent and Allie were on malaria/mosquito net duty. Teachers from MOPS were scattered throughout, too. They were also here working on their day off.

The students passed from room to room, and everyone marveled at how well they all behaved. They would emerge from the screening with a lollipop in their mouths, then they’d get a mosquito net as they left the library. Some of the packaged nets were bigger than the children! Then they’d get their eyes checked, and move on for some additional learning before being rewarded with a toothbrush * toothpaste. I’ll add that the majority of these supplies were donated. The only thing that we really paid for was the mosquito nets. Everything else (for the most part) was donated from dentists, doctors, stores and friends back home. I’m willing to bet that the nurses paid for the Dum Dums.

The children waited patiently in two lines outside of every room. Sprinkled among them were some other members of the community, like mothers with infants and toddlers. Slowly, some of the elderly also arrived, and they were given seats in front of the administration block. Many of these people waited 6 hours to be seen, and not one complaint about the waiting time was raised.

Jessica, Jim and I moved from room to room taking pictures and helping in whatever capacity was necessary. Sometimes it was crowd control because students wanted to cut in the line or too many were crowding the staff. Other times it was handing out items, but most of it was being a gopher… “Can you take this over to Monica,” “Can you get me a power bar out of my backpack?” “We need a translator?” Dan and Erin moved about filming and taking still pictures for the video.

It rained on and off most of the day, but the children weren’t bothered by it. This is Kenya. We worked from 9 until 3 without much of a break. Some people paused for a moment for tea and peanuts, but that was about it. When we did finally stop for the day, although we don’t have an exact count yet, I would bet that we saw over 500 children/students/adults. The only time anyone stopped was to move to a different station to break up the monotony. The only ones who were unable to switch were those doing the screenings. For the most part, they stood/sat in a 3’x3’ area the entire time. Amazing.

Everyone that was still in line waiting returned home with instructions to come back next week when the second group of nurses/students/faculty arrived. Again, nobody griped about it, they just left. We cleaned up, and entered the Administration Block for lunch. Two long table accommodated the group, and it time to eat. Kuku, ugali, skumawiki, stewed bananas, rice, chipati, beefm and dengu was passed around until everyone had their fill. William brought the cooks in to have them recognized for the work they had done. There’s no school on Sunday, so not only did the children put on their uniforms, but these women came in to cook for 3 hours! The conversation was lively and quite humorous as people talked about what they saw during the day. After lunch, and yes, it was a late one, we went back to the hall for a brief review. Suggestions were thrown out on how to make it easier on the group coming next week, as well as improvements for coming years. That was wonderful to hear. Just about everyone had something to say, and it was interesting to listen to everyone’s perspectives… both here and during lunch. Four very young boys sat quietly between Monica and Jim. Monica handed them some stickers that they immediately stuck on their foreheads. They didn’t make a sound as people spoke. Jim then began, thanking everyone for their participation, and reiterating how this group has changed the lives of these children. His voice began to crack, and he sought refuge in directing his attention to the four little boys as he fought back tears. “You’ve greatly enriched these children’s lives, and we can’t thank you enough for doing it. These kids are better because you are here. Isn’t that right?” he said, as he rubbed the head of one of the boys. He then gently hugged one of them. You could hear a pin drop. Marilyn broke the silence with some comments, then Jim had everyone move into another room. Charles, the choir director, had a special treat for everyone.

Even though he was missing many of the older students, the choir performed two songs, and I watched as everyone stood spellbound in front of the classroom. These kids have angelic voices, and it’s easy to see how they are able to win 1st place in national competitions. Listening to them, while birds are chirping in the trees and the local farm animals are making their customary moo’s and baaah’s is always moving for me. Looking over the landscape as their voices fill the air is absolutely breathtaking. This is Kenya.

We the walk home, then split into two groups. The majority went the long way – a walk all the way back to Maseno. The others went with Jim and took the shorter route to Chuolembo, then got a matatu back to the Guest House. Somehow, we got their first. When it’s just Jim and I, we talk the entire way. Larger groups did the same thing. Tim, Kara, Karen, Jessica & Steven, Alex, Nancy and Mark, Allie, Brent and I talked about a myriad of subjects, and we laughed most of the 1+ hour walk. The only time we stopped was because Karen really needed to go to the bathroom. She asked, “Is there a long drop close?” A “long drop” is another name for a latrine… it means exactly what it sounds like. Tim gave her some toilet paper, and I informed her that there isn’t one on this path, at least not until we get to Maseno University in a mile or so. She’d grin and bear it, because she just couldn’t bring herself to go into the bush. We laughed a lot for that next mile. Who knew you could talk about bladder control for that long? We made it to the university, and I pointed her toward some outhouses. “Can you please check to make sure there are no animals in there?” she said. “Seriously?” “You have to! Please?” I looked in the first one, but it was no longer usable. The second one was the same. Now Karen was really in trouble, and she began walking somewhat awkwardly as she tried to keep it together. We moved to the next set of shelters, but they were shower stalls. “Oh no! Come on!” she shouted. I was laughing my ass off. We finally found one, and after peering in I told her it was all clear. We waited outside for her to emerge. She came out with a big smile and a heavy sigh. She then perked up and said, “There was a huge lizard in there!” I said, “Oh please! Was it a huge 5” lizard?” She laughed we continued on. Her next question was, “Are we going to stop for a beer?” That made everyone laugh. She just emptied her tank, now she wants to fill it up again.

We got back to the Guest House before the other group. We were walking pretty briskly, but I didn’t think we’d get there first. I’m only just now realizing that Jess and Steve must have made a turn to go back to their home when we went through the gate towards the dormitories. I feel bad that we didn’t say, “See you tomorrow.” Most of us showered, and when everyone was finally together, we wandered over to the Green Park for a light snack and something to drink. One group went first, and a smaller one followed. I was hoping to get some more 5liter bottles of water, but the petrol station was closed. When we arrived at the restaurant, we placed our order. Shortly thereafter, the other group received two huge plates of chips (fries). When they brought us some dengu and kuku, they informed us that they were out of chips. Alex went to the other table to ask them if they’d share, and although they said no, they relented after she shipped out the “guilt” card. We laughed and told stories long after the other table left. I’m still laughing about some of them.

I think we’ve made a good impression on everyone. Many of them want to go back to the school, and I believe many will. It’s going to be a busy day today (yes, now it’s 6am Monday). I woke up at 3am, tried to skype Andrea and Karen, but the connection was terrible. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t work well, so we’ll have to try again tomorrow. The nurses are going to make rounds at a Hospital, while the “other” venture back to MOPS. In the morning we’ll stop to help a partially disable teacher with some construction at his home. That should give them some time to get the bricks delivered at MOPS. They were supposed to be there yesterday, but they didn’t make it. In any event, it’s time to get up and get everyone going.

Talk to you soon.

Oh, I almost forgot. When we got back to the Guest House, I needed a shower. The water in the morning's been cold for the last two days, so I thought maybe there'd be some at night. There wasn't. That wasn't the funny part though. Outside the shower, there's a window sill that you can set your items on... there's just no other place to put them. Above the sill is an iron grate for additional safety. Anyway, I finished washing my hair and reached through the curtain to put the travel sized shampoo away. I would normally balance on the iron gate and lean it against the window. This time it fell. I heard thud... thud... ploink! "Oh my God," was the only thing I could say. I finished my shower, and, "Holy crap!" was the only thing I could say. "What's wrong?" Katie asked. "Nothing," I said, and started to giggle. Every thirty seconds, I couldn't help but laugh, and every time I did, Katie would ask, "What's going on? Is everything ok?" "Yes," I would reply, accompanied by a snicker. "Did something fall in the toilet?" "Don't worry," I said, "everything will be ok." "Did my toothbrush fall in the toilet?" she asked. "Yes, it did." This time I just burst out laughing. Katie went screaming out of the room. Everyone in the hall wanted to know what the comotion was. So I showed them this picture. If you get grossed out with gross things,don't scroll down. I'm purposely posting this picture well below this paragraph to protect the feint of heart. I still think it's funny, and yes, I had extra tooth brushes. Yes, it's gross, but it's not like I didn't tell her... ok, now that would have been gross! I still think it was funny...

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