Sunday, December 18, 2011

Life in Africa

From Sr. Karen Flaherty missioned in Kitale, KENYA

Life in Africa

I can’t do justice to the beauty of the area-Kitale is surrounded by mountains and flowering trees, really such a contrast to the poverty that is here. For example, children and adults with out shoes, people walk and walk and walk where they need to go

Being able to know 6am as a bird lets forth a glorious melody at the same time every day

Living with sisters who GO to the poor by foot, bicycle, picky pickys (motorbikes) or out truck

And who also like to play cards and games

Picking vegetables from our shamba (garden) and having a choice to choose cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spinach, zucchini or sukumawiki (bet you didn’t know that is kale!)

Listening to the needs of the area…then, with others trying to discern what to do about them

Attending 6:45 am mass with at least 60 other people who sing by and with heart (in Kiswahili) from beginning to the end

Working with a vision, nurturing native vocations who are wonderful members of the Company, as well as learning from them

Being a resting place for our sisters traveling to and from the Chepnyal mission

Being surprised at things that happen everyday like a 6 year old girl humming the hokey pokey while she draws (Fruit of American college students who volunteered last summer.)

Competing for road space with donkeys, goats, and sheep for road space

Seeing women carrying almost everything except their babies on their heads with their child tucked in a piece of material on their backs

Amazing trust exhibited by students as I explain an art project (amazing in itself) and them not understanding a word I am saying

Being invited to DANCE at a Pokot celebrations as well as being given a belt with snail shells particular to the region. I’m hoping to de better at the dancing because I know I will be doing it again-

Those are just a few things about being here-there are so many more!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Earlier in the year I began a small art class with 3 young women, Ann, Naomi and Janet, who each have a physical disability. Although Ann has found meaningful work, Naomi and Janet are both are unable to work because of their disability and do not have a stable source of income. As we began doing simple art projects with them, I saw that they all were able to create- to draw, paint, color, cut and glue- what one could not do another could do, which made them a great team.

I thought perhaps they could try making cards and if they did well, maybe they could be sold. This would give them a source of income. It took a couple months of classes before we were able to settle on a design that they could do well enough to sell. Then, the work of making the cards began. Anne and Naomi, who both live in the village, began to come to work on the cards in their free time. When I suggested that they take some supplies home to work on them Naomi shyly told me, “Sister, we don’t have a table in our house.”

We began to meet a t Janet’s every couple of weeks. Because Janet lives further away and is unable to stand or walk we took everything to her place and met there. It was at her home that the group came up with the name Kongot Nyokaram, which in Pokot means Good Friends. It was obvious how they enjoyed being together, supported one another and were indeed becoming good friends.

When I returned to the U.S. in July, I was wondering if the group would continue to meet and make cards without me. I was very happy upon my return to see that not only had they continued, but they had created some new designs on their own. They continued to sell cards to those who visited our mission while I sold some of their cards in the US. When we put their earnings together they had enough to buy their own supplies to continue making cards, with some money to spare.

Recently, I met another woman Helen, who is also disabled. One of her legs is significantly shorter than the other. She does have a special brace and shoe that allows her to walk. Ann and I invited her to join “Good Friends.” Helen lives in another village. When I asked her how far away it was she said, “Sister, it is far.” But I could never get her to tell me just how far it was for her to come. I later learned that she walked 4 hours to meet with us. It is still something that touches me she comes so far just to make cards and to spend time with us.

Helen, Ann, Naomi and Janet have great pride in what they are doing. They are learning how to run this little business on their own. They keep their profits in common and when someone needs something, like shoes, they talk with the group. Usually, they agree that one or the other of them can buy whatever it is they need. Each week Ann gives a report on how much they have spent and earned from their last meeting. They have been a great witness to me…living in this simple way. I am reminded of the first disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among them all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2:44,45)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chepynal Mission

Chepynal was one of the first missions of the Daughters of Charity in Kenya. It is located in the area of West Pokot and the nearest city is Kitale (which you may be able to find on a map. It is in the western part of Kenya.) The Pokot people live in this area and are primarily pastoralist. Although, the region is very mountainous most people also farm, growing maize, the staple crop of the country.
The sisters were invited to come to Chepynal by Fr. Dillion, an Irish missionary priest who has spent most of his life serving in West Pokot. The community responded 10 years ago by opening a mission and began working with the people of the village and surrounding outstations. Currently, there are 4 sisters and myself. Sr. Pat and Sr. Lawrencilla both work at our nursery school which serves 122 children. Sr. Esther, who was sent on mission this past December, works with the women and elderly at Linyough Center. She is also working with a few income generating activities to help the women to support themselves. Sr. Mary is the administrator of our projects in Chepynal. She works with communities to help them build and maintain wells and helps to find resources for disabled children in the area. I've been doing a variety of things as well as teaching art at the girl's elementary and high school.
Chirst has been very present in the people we serve as well as in our local community. It is a joy to see the Vincentian charism present here in this place, that is off the beaten path.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chepynal April Camp

The first 2 weeks of April Sr. Lawrencilla, Sr. Esther and myself invited children from the village to a camp in the afternoon. In the beginning we weren't sure if children would come and the first day 45 children arrived. From that time on, the children would wait for the afternoon activities to start and each day the number grew. We played games, told stories bible stories, made arts and crafts, and songs and dance. We all had a great time. The video above will give you an idea of some of our activites, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Outstations Part 2

Earlier this month, I went with Sr. Pat to visit outstation schools in Mungi and Letwa. Sr. Pat began a nursery school in Chepynal and has worked tirelessly in the outstations to help to support nurseries and develop nursery teachers. We went to these areas to see how the schools were developing and what the needs were in each of them. I was also invited to do an art project with the children while we were there.

Our first stop was Mungit, a small village on a mountain top, about a 35 minute drive from Chepynal. It is a very dry and desert like area where there is little water. The school there went from nursery to 5th grade. The youngest students were in a semi-permanent building with a dirt floor and walls made of mud. Grades 3 to 5 were located in a newer permanent building. There was only one certified teacher in the school. The other teachers were graduates of 8th grade. It is difficult to get teachers for schools in these remote and difficult living conditions.

35 nursery children participated in the art project. I had made paper kites for the children to paint and then fly. We laid a large sheet of plastic under a tree for the children to sit on and work. They had never done anything like I,t so everything about painting these strange paper objects was new. It took them time to simply dip the brush in the paint and make a mark, no matter how many times I encouraged or demonstrated it for them. But little by little, we could see them discovering what they were doing. When they were finished they tried to fly the kite, which was another foreign experience for them. They would stand and hold the string. The wind would come and raise the kite and it would fall again. Then, the children saw us run with the kite and watched them fly into the sky. Soon they were all running and laughing. The whole school came out to watch!

In Letwa, classrooms ranged from partially finished brick buildings to sitting on rocks or benches under a tree. No matter where the class was the children were eager to learn. This area is located in a valley with mountains surrounding them. There were over 30 nursery children in the school. There I prepared a simple paper toy and finger puppets. The head-teacher, or principal, assistant chief of the area, and the nursery teacher were all there to help with the children. The children colored with crayons and decorated the paper and bead toys with colored paper. They quickly caught on to how to play with the toy, trying to catch beads attached with yarn to the paper pocket. The children played and played, smiling with each try. The paper finger puppets brought light to their eyes as they saw the expressions of the lion, bear, and elephant I showed them. They drew the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth on their puppets and began saying the only English word they knew…”sister, sister.” I fitted the puppets on their finger and they began to hold it in the air showing me and their friends in class. They were full of life and discovery. Their faces will remain with me for a long time.

As you will see from the photos these two areas are very poor…but they are not without great potential and joy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ptoyo Mission Photos

Outstations: Part 1

The experience of the outstations, the more distant churches and schools, has touched me more than anything yet.

A few weeks ago the pastor asked if someone could take communion on Sunday to Ptoyo, an outstation about 45minutes drive from Chepynal. Most of the outstation, mission churches, have communion services or ibadas on Sundays led by the local catechist. (Communion can only be given by a priest or a sister, so in most of these places the service is focused on the liturgy of the word.) Sr. Mary and I volunteered to go to Ptoyo to take communion to the people. We arrived at the simple church where children were waiting for the service to begin. The children were very shy around us and only spoke Pokot, the native language. We waited for a time and began the service with the church half full of children, who sang and responded with praise to God. As the service went on, adults joined us and by the end the church was filled. My experience in the parishes that I have visited here is that the church is very young. Children are the church and they are eager to learn, pray and grow in their faith. Recently, Sr. Nigysti, the General Councilor Africa, spoke to us during her visit in Kenya of the need for “life changing catechesis to promote social change.” This is a place where there is great possibility for that to happen. The question is, how will we respond to that call?

"Seeking to make the Lord known to those who are poor, they proclaim the gospel to them, explicitly wherever possible, but always through the witness of their lives. They are open to receiving from poor persons and to allowing themselves to be evangelized by them." C.24 b

Friday, March 18, 2011

Be Inspired!

Seventh and eighth grade girls create art during the month of February at Chepynal Girls Elementary School in Kenya.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I arrived at Chepynal girls elementary to prepare for art class. As I was hanging some art work I heard running footsteps and the next thing I knew the entire 5th grade class was sitting on the benches in the hallway. I asked them what they were doing and one of them said, “we are here for library.” Everyday I have come to teach the children come and ask me, “Will you assist me with a storybook?” The girls love to read books. Really, books are like gold, treasured by those who have them. Education here is done mostly without books because schools cannot afford them. When there are books, 3 or 4 students will share one book. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh began the small library and would give each class from 4- 8 time to come and read. I’ll begin to do the same for the girls next week.
The past month I have taught art classes to the 7th and 8th grade girls. When I first approached the principal about teaching art he suggested that I teach English or Social studies, even PE. I had to tell him 3 times that what I could offer was art either working with a teacher to bring art into the classroom or as a separate subject. Finally, he agreed, hoping I think that I might teach something else as well. Teaching just 2 classes has been almost like teaching an entire school. The 7th grade class has 86 students (yes, they are all in one class room) and 51 8th grade students. They have never had art class before since it is not a subject taught in Kenyan schools at any level. They can’t believe that I actually studied art in university. In the beginning I am not sure that any one saw the value in the class but after a month of lessons the girls are beginning to have pride in their work. I know that they have enjoyed the class since usually I cannot get them to stop working. I literally have to take the papers away from them while they are still drawing or coloring their work. When I begin to collect the colored pencils they hide a few so they can keep going while I am trying to clean up. One day I simply said to the 8th grade girls (after 15 minutes of trying to end class) “If you want me to come back tomorrow I need to have all the pencils and papers in the next 2 minutes or no art tomorrow.” They hurried to get things collected and as I was leaving asked, “Are you coming tomorrow?”
I am also have a class with a small group of adults who have special needs. They are very eager to try their hand at creating. When I had my first class with them I showed them various things we might do. As I pulled out the each example their eyes just lit up, like they were children at Christmas. They really enjoy the class and are quite artistic. We’re hoping to see what they might be able to do with some of their work in the future.
The sisters have worked hard here to encourage the education of girls and women, which in the past has not been of much value to the Pokot. Slowly, though that attitude is changing. Young girls especially, have to stand strong against the tradition of early marriage if they chose to go to secondary school. They want to learn and dream of being nurses, teachers, and social workers. Pray for them in their desire to improve their life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I arrived in Kenya to a warm welcome by the sisters who live in Chanzo. This house will probably one day be the provincial house and sits next to Depaul where the Vincentian compound is located. I was able to visit the various works of the sisters at Chanzo and also at the missions in Thigio, Kiio, and Kitale. It was a blessing to be able to begin with a sense of the work we are doing in the mission here.

I began the long journey from Nairobi to Chepynal just over a week ago. The sisters usually do the drive in two parts: from Nairobi to Kitale which is about 5 hours and then from Kitale to Chepnal which is 3 hours “up the mountains” on rough dirt roads. The drive goes through the rift valley, forest and fields, villages and towns to Kitale, a larger urban area. The ride from Kitale to Chepynal is not for the weak of heart, you can look down the mountain from the dirt road, there is little room for any errors in driving and the views are absolutely spectacular.

Trying to express what I am experiencing here is a little like trying to drink from a fire hose, I can only write about a small stream in the flood of new experiences. I have learned that Chepynal is located in the region of West Pokot and that the people are from the Pokot tribe. The people are known as pastrolist, grazing mostly cows, as well as a few goats and sheep. Many people also have small shambas, or farms, where they grow maize, which is the staple of the diet. The Pokot have been isolated from many of the changes of the world because of the remoteness of the areas they live. Therefore traditional practices continue (polygamy, rites of passage- in which marriages of girls are arranged in exchange for cows). The culture is in a process of change as the need for education becomes greater for the people.

The Pokot are a good humored and generous people. I was able to go home visiting with Sr. Mary (a social worker from the U.S.) and Sr. Esther (just missioned from seminary 2 months ago), to visit 2 families with children who needed surgery. Gladys was the first Mama we visited. Her daughter had been burned a number of years ago disfiguring the hand. The family and neighbor children gathered to peek into the door to see what was happening. Gladys told us the woman’s group she belonged to gathered to raise money and helped her to build her home. Although she was the first wife of the assistant chief, he neglected to care for her and the children as he should. At the end of our visit, she brought a calabash, for storing milk. The women decorate and often sell them to others. She only had one finished and there where 3 of us so she promised to bring 2 more to us once she finished them. And sure enough, a week later she showed up at our door with 2 more calabashes, the promised gifts of thanks.

The second family lived at the top of a mountain. It was about a 20 minute walk from the road... all up hill. The women were sitting under a tree just enjoying the beautiful day. The child needing surgery was a 2 year old who had fallen into a fire while playing. After filling out all the paper work Celina invited us into her home. It was a traditional round home with a straw roof and dirt floor. We sat on the only 2 things in the room, the wooden beds. Celina brought us chai tea, the traditional drink of welcome. And before leaving presented us each with an egg and a small bag of millet, which is used in a porridge. She then walked with us down the mountain. Sr. Esther told me this was the true African way, to walk with your guest as they leave.