Sunday, June 27, 2010

The hardest part

Date: Tuesday June 22 to Sunday June 27
Day 22 to 27
Quote of the week: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment".

This week was very intense and emotional for me. On Thursday I had another life changing experience that I will never forget. I was at the Oyugis kitchen in the morning with some of the Mamas when I noticed a young boy on the ground outside the kitchen. He appeared to be very ill and it looked like he was vomiting so the Mamas went over to help him and brought him inside the kitchen. The boy could barely walk or talk and he was very ill. He was in a brown tattered and dirty school uniform with no shoes on. He had 100 Ksh (approx. $1.50 CAD) in his pocket and he told the Mamas that he had been sent by his grandmother to the hospital. He was unable to make it to the hospital on his own and it really didn't look like anyone else was going to do anything so I helped the boy on a piki piki (motorbike) and we went together.

The piki piki driver helped carry him around since he could barely walk. The boy was seen right away by the nurse and the doctor. I'm not sure if it was because I was there or not but there were many other people sitting around on the benches who appeared to be waiting to see a doctor as well. The boy never really looked at me and he could barely talk to anyone. A neighbour recognized the boy and I found out some more information. His name is Victor and he is 8 years old. His mother has some psychiatric problems, his father works out of town, and his great grandmother supports three young children and a 17-yr old boy on her own. The next step was to contact Victor's school teacher to take responsibility of him and contact his grandmother. In the meantime we went to the lab to get Victor tested. He was terrified of needles and I'm sure that being alone with some random stranger didn't help. As we waited for the lab results Victor lay on a wooden bench with his eyes closed. He looked so sick and I was so emotional when I picked up the phone to call the other interns. I couldn't believe what was happening. I didn't know what was going to happen and if he was going to be okay. I was so nervous and scared.

Victor had malaria and parasites and was admitted to the ward where he would stay for as long as necessary. I spent about 6 hours with him at the hospital until his grandmother arrived. No one else was there to take care of him and pay for the necessary drugs. He kept shaking and moaning in pain. He could barely talk to anyone...he was terrified. I could barely talk to anyone either because I would get too emotional. Everyone else seemed to be so calm and cool about everything. Everything was so informal and casual and I was very unimpressed with the conditions of the hospital and the way the nurses treated their patients. Victor was one of the only children in the ward without a family member there. There were two rooms in the paediatric ward with about ten children in each room. All of the children were sleeping, eating, or staring at me. We tried really hard to identify and contact Victor's family but he could barely talk to anyone so it was difficult to find out any information. He kept saying that he attended school at Highlands Academy but two teachers from the school didn't recognize him and he didn't know them either. He lay on the bed beside me with his eyes closed.

I met a very sweet smart young girl in the ward. Her name is Lynette and she is 13 years old. She was sitting on her bed smiling and staring at me while translating everything that was going on. Her English was really good. I started chatting with her about school, her favourite subject, what class she was in, etc. She was so sweet and looked so happy to see me every time I came back to visit. She kept saying "please don't go" and "come back" every time I left the room.

When Victor's grandmother eventually arrived at the hospital I could tell that his family was in a very bad situation. There were two other young children she had left at home who she had to return to. I finally headed home after assisting Victor and his family although I really didn't feel comfortable leaving him at the hospital alone. His grandmother left him with another relative in the ward. The following morning I found Victor sitting with the nurse drawing on his medical records sheet. I saw him smile for the first time :) He looked so much better. I found out that his drugs, a cup and a bowl that I had bought him the day before were stolen. I was furious and so unimpressed with the nurses at the ward. He also didn't have a mosquito net which is ridiculous because the hospital gives them out for free. Before leaving Oyugis to meet the other interns in Kisumu I sat outside on the grass with Victor and Lynette playing cards and hangman. Victor has the most adorable smile ever and it made me so happy to see him smiling.

Victor was discharged from the ward on Sunday. He looked healthy, happy, and ready to go home. Lynette was waiting at the gate of the hospital when we left. I walked with Lynette, Victor, his grandmother and his sister towards the kitchen (which is on the way to their home) and thought about how I could help this family in the long term. The grandmother cannot provide for them and I'm worried about what will happen to Victor and the other children in the future. I'm thinking about sponsoring Victor to go to school and helping the grandmother with some income generating activity. I've thought about making bags and wallets out of the fabric here to sell in the market. I want to test it out first and see if there is any demand before giving some bags to the grandmother to try and sell.

It was a super intense week, one that I will never forget. These moments make me scared about doing this type of work that I love. It is so hard sometimes. I will never forget Victor and Lynette and the day I spent in the ward. It was a day that I will never forget.

Jiko La Jamii Dairies - Western Heads East:
• Emily and I spent all day Tuesday at Agoro Sare High School with Mama Sophia and Conzy selling yogurt. There was a music festival (i.e. competition) for primary schools going on and it was AMAZING :) There were groups of children from different schools everywhere all dressed up in costumes with body/face paint. The four of us walked around the school grounds selling yogurt and we sold over 200 packets in a couple hours! I was the load and talkative one speaking to all the kids and teachers asking "idwaro yogurt?" (would you like yogurt?) to pretty much everyone while Emily and the Mamas took care of the yogurt sales. I love helping the Mamas with field sales to get the Fiti Yogurt name out there and to encourage the Mamas to be a little more talkative and aggressive. The Mamas have fairly low self-confidence and they are very shy and quiet. However the majority of people selling things in Oyugis and Kadongo are not very aggressive at all and usually just sit around waiting for customers to approach them.
• The interns and I met with three Mamas from the Nyanam Women's Group (the 4th group involved in the project responsible for advocacy) to discuss planning a Music Festival/Concert in Oyugis to raise awareness about Fiti Yogurt and educate the general public about the benefits of probiotics. Unlike the Kadongo kitchen, the Oyugis kitchen never had an official launch for the opening so this is very exciting for the Oyugis Mamas. The meeting was great and very efficient. We achieved a lot and planned exactly what we wanted to do.
• Date: Friday July 16 (the BIG market day in Oyugis!), Location: Raila Grounds (an open area where many events are held), Other: branded t-shirts, piki piki with a banner waving behind it, musicians and an MC, school dance performances and poems, yogurt samples and yogurt for sale
• We are preparing for the market research interviews that we are conducting next week. We plan to hire some of our local friends as translators and conduct interviews in Oyugis, Kadongo, and other surrounding areas. We want to learn more about people's perception of yogurt, their purchasing behaviours, and their thoughts on the current yogurt, pricing, and packaging.
• We spent this week looking into ordering communication boards (aka push pin boards) to post things (e.g. Label prototypes and notes) to improve our communication with the Mamas. We hope that they will also use the boards to communicate with each other and to post important things such as meeting reminders. We are also looking into getting banners for the Mamas to take to the market, branded umbrellas (which many people have to create shade in the market), and a push cart on wheels to sell the yogurt from. There is a small business around the corner from the Oyugis kitchen that sells ice cream from push carts.

• Unfortunately the two yogurt kitchens in Kenya don't have the best relationship with each other. We all know how large groups of women can be...competition and lots of drama. We are trying really hard to resolve the issues and improve the relationship between the two groups but we really can't do anything to stop the name calling and backstabbing that happens. The two groups will definitely never be friends but we are hoping that they can work together professionally for their mutual benefit (i.e. Purchasing together to realize economies of scale).

Most Memorable Moments:
• Although this may not be a very positive and exciting memorable moment it definitely is memorable. Kinleigh, Jackel, Emily, and I were playing football out back with the kids and it was great in the beginning. The four of us were playing with a large group of kids who were all different ages until a group of four older boys came (about 17 - 19 years old). Of course I said they could join in but after a couple minutes I noticed my younger friends from last year (Bruce, Austin, and Boston) sitting out at the side. I immediately pulled them back into the game only to see one of those older boys telling them not to play. Since I had experienced this last year and I have no tolerance for it anymore I started causing quite the scene. I yelled, politely of course, at the older boys for a good minute or so in front of about 30 young kids, teenagers, and adults. I couldn't believe that I was yelling at them but I was so furious and angry. I emphasized that everyone is allowed to play, I politely told them to leave, and then I asked them how they expected kids to get good at football if they don't let them play. I was shocked at myself that I lost it on these boys but I didn't care what everyone around thought... just as long as the young kids get to play football. That is all I care about :)
• The four other interns and I spent the weekend in Kisumu to visit KEMRI and to do a couple touristy things. I ended up traveling on my own to Kisumu and back which was fun. I loved the independence and the experience of doing things on my own.
• Cramming 6 mzungus + 1 of my Kenyan friends into a small Toyota that we had rented for the weekend in Kisumu. It was pretty hilarious to have so many mzungus traveling the African way. The floor of the car may have hit the ground a couple times when we went over speed bumps.
• I struck up a conversation with a young Kenyan boy who was fishing at a resort on Lake Victoria. He was using long sticks with fishing wire and had a couple small fish in a plastic bag. He didn't speak much English and looked like he came from a pretty poor family.

Life in Kenya
• Young children react so differently to us it is hilarious. Some are so confused and stare at us as if we are monsters.
• All I do is DANCE! It is amazing and I love it! :) The DJs are great, the music is amazing, and the people are unbelievable dancers. I love dancing in Kenya.
• I love matatu rides! They are so relaxing and there is so much to look at and the landscape is beautiful. I love it.
• We witnessed the drastic amount of inequality in Kisumu while driving towards Lake Victoria for a boat ride to see hippos. The boat ride was absolutely amazing, so beautiful and so relaxing...I could have stayed there for hours. I enjoyed speaking to the locals about the lake and the hippos...I love learning more from them. We saw a couple hippos, but only their nostrils, eyes and ears above the water. After the boat ride we drove to this resort on the lake to check it out but I hated it. We were driving along a bumpy dirt road through a very poor area with people living in poverty directly beside a modern luxurious expensive resort. I think it is great that tourists are in Kenya to boost the economy but their money doesn't go to the people that need it the most.

I absolutely love interacting with the locals here. I think it is so important for work and I enjoy it. The majority of foreigners who I have met who are working in Kenya don't know any Kiswahili and don't have any local friends at all. They spend almost every weekend traveling to the bigger cities to hang out with the expat crowd. I am definitely not the norm here. I'm not really interested in the expat scene at all. The foreigners/expats that I have met are all very intelligent good people and I respect them. However, I don't like their lack of integration into the community and the lack of effort they put into learning the local language and becoming friends with the local people. I've experienced some expats talking negatively about the Africans as well which I can't stand. I am definitely not the norm. I love interacting with the locals and I want to spend all my time here learning more about them and gaining their respect. I LOVE learning the local language! :)

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