To help increase the health standards in Central Kenya we could have donated medicines, built a clinic, or held an education seminar. Instead, we spent several months evaluating the communities and talking to Kenyan nationals about what THEY needed to help their communities and reach more people.
There are amazing groups of leaders in any country you visit who are dedicated to the improvement of their communities and country. Kenya is no exception and in Ol’Kalou Kenya we found over 120 volunteers, across five different village areas who spend several days a week, every week of the year, walking miles upon miles to reach remote villages and educate families on health at the household level. Out of those 120+ health volunteers we asked for the 50 most active individuals for whom we could buy bicycles which would be given with the intention of helping them reach more villages and families. Over the course of several months we did not reach our proposed goal of donations but we did receive enough to purchase 30 bicycles for the Community Health Workers in the five different villages!! It is a big success and even with just those 30 bicycles there will be an increase in an estimated 1,500 men, women and children who will be reached and receive health education from native Kenyan Health Volunteers.
It is always exciting to see a project completed, and it is even more exciting to know that your project will continue to impact bigger and bigger communities over the next several years. That is our mission at Beyond Poverty. The Health Workers Bicycle Initiative is a project that we are still focused on and the donation page has remained open. Bicycles are a sustainable solution to a wide-scale problem and we would be thrilled to have you involved!
It’s been 3 months since you have heard from this woman! — I can call myself a full fledged woman now … Will explain later. — 3 months goes by really fast when you are forced to do things you would never want to, quickly. Here’s what has happened in the short version because even though it’s widely interesting nothing can hold a persons attention anymore in the developed world – I know this now.
** It was a beautiful day in August, only raining 8 of the hours I was awake. All of my friends and us were in Nairobi for mid-service medical check-ups. All of a sudden BAM — Brittany and Brett YOURE PREGNANT!!!!! Wow congratulations!! As a gift your BAM — given exactly ONE week to leave the country!! Congratulations????
** Here is how it felt…. A baby?! What!? But I’m a baby!! Wait home!? I like home! No, crap I like Kenya!! Food?! No wait I’m doing so much work! A baby!? But wait I’m a baby! Home!? But this is home!! A week?! I have no job/money/house!! I finally like my house!! A Baby!! But wait IM A BABY!!! — No, No, No … You are most definitely a woman.
** And that’s how that went for several hours/still all whilst crying and freaking out — very good for the baby.
** Made it back to site “home” the next day and had to figure out how we were going to say goodbye to our PCV friends, Kenyan Friends/Family, and tie up projects that really weren’t ready to be handed over. Peace Corps couldn’t have cared less.
** Betrayal. That’s the overall feeling. Twice over. First – me, always being over prepared – having to know every solution to the “what-ifs” of the world – had already asked all of the admin about what would happen if I got pregnant. A very good question considering I am SO happily married :) even in dirty Kenya. Answer – worst case you might have to move to Nairobi for your pregnancy, but only if you’re in a Malaria Zone – which I wasn’t and we were living 10s of hours from any Malaria Zone. Second – when I say Peace Corps didn’t care about us leaving our community I mean that they didn’t notify our counterparts, didn’t offer assistance to our current projects, didn’t care about the lives affected by our work and the thousands of dollars that had been invested. Seriously, we were told to simply leave- who cares. We begged for a few weeks more time, begged. Nothing. Who cares.
** Luckily we had spent a lot if time training up our coworkers to be leaders and managers of our projects from the beginning. That was our priority and because of this they knew the ends and outs of all the projects we had to leave and they had already demonstrated solid accountability with money coming in from Beyond Poverty. — which Beyond Poverty handled everything perfectly by the way. You should really check them out! A solid organization, actually dedicated to influencing lives and not just giving America a better look. — yes I’m bitter.
** Since we left I’m happy to say we have kept in close contact with our three main coworkers and all if the training has paid off tenfold! Not only are ALL of the projects still doing great and on track but we were also able to work together to finish the Health Workers Bicycle Donations!!! Wow that was the biggest relief of them all! Tomorrow the bicycles will be given out to 30 CHWS in 5 different villages!! Beyond Poverty will be there to document so I’ll post pictures soon.
** When we made it back to America we both had exactly 3 days to figure out our lives. In those 3 days Brett was accepted into Johns Hopkins University!! Masters of Biotechnology and Biodefense!! Whew smart man!! I was accepted into a Post-Bach program to begin my prerequisites for Nursing. Currently we are both taking online classes to get started and we move to Baltimore, MD in December! Yikes! We are actually driving back from there right this minute. Secured ourselves an apartment.
So that’s that. I’m now 20 weeks – HALF WAY – through pregnancy with a little boy :) he will be coming to us in March of next year! We have started to grasp the idea and are very excited…. So long to Kenya but we will be going back probably sooner than our families would like :)
From now on I want to still blog – but who knows what it will be about. Probably lame and boring things. Nothing here is as interesting as killer safari ants eating children and the different kinds of poop you can step in all in one day.
I have been talking about my secondary projects of bringing clean water to every school in my village area. Well, I am happy to say that I am going strong as we have completed 6 recent schools!! Not only do we bring them huge water tanks but we also build latrines and hand washing stations. Most of the time the community members help contribute materials such as cement for a foundation to place the tank, and roof gutters to trap the rain during the rainy season. All the time the community provides the labor for installation and maintenance.
As I have talked many times about the struggle to find clean water in Kenya, I won’t go into it again. I do want to stress though that this is a necessary endeavor and in great need of your help. Water Charity has been my main source of funding for all of these projects and I could not complete my goal of 2 schools/month without them. The problem is that they are getting hundreds of applications a month, from all over the world, and as I have now been approved for over 12 projects I have been asked to start doing some outreach and see if I can help fund raise for my unfunded projects. These are the projects that have yet to be funded by outside sources, and which Water Charity has paid for from their reserve resources. Anything helps :)
Life Skills class begins with the standard 7 and 8 kids of a local primary. That would be 7th and 8th grade. They are definitely getting more comfortable and when we start the class with a game they are more than eager to join in and participate. Games are really beneficial with these kids because it changes the format of learning. Always I incorporate games that reinforce the lessons we are going to learn. Once the game is finished we go inside and begin lessons on various life skills and personal development. The class always ends with time for questions – Any question is allowed. Today this is what I got:
- If you have been raped, how can you uproot that awful stigma?
- If you are a drug dealer what can you do to stop taking the drug and lead a holy life?
- Why do some parents love some of the children and hate some?
- Why do parents like hurting their childrens feelings?
This time of class is the hardest, but it is the most important part. You just have to take a deep breath and try your best to help them.
Look at this awesome toy I was given :) Thanks to Kings Volunteer I have a ton of props like this to play with all age groups. Within this primary school there is also a nursery filled with close to 100 little babies! Ages 3-5 these kids are always ready to play games when I leave the older kids and this day I pulled out a beautifully colored parachute and we learned our colors together.
A few days ago I was asked to join the Catholic Sisters in a trip one of their compounds to witness all of their work with abandoned children, over half of which have HIV. We were greeted with songs, dances and flowers :) It was amazing and made the worst drive EVER completely worth it. When I was there the Sisters presented me with a project proposal to build a new compound. The current one is overfilled. They just do not have room to take more children and the expansion will allow them to continue. So at 10:30 AM I walked to the Disabled Children’s Home in Ol’Kalou where the Sisters work to pick up the completed proposal so I can start submitting grants for them.
I made it home from town and had all intentions of cleaning my house, finishing some proposals and resting. I turned on the only movie I have left after my external hard drive broke – Madagascar. A childs movie. At least it is a good one. The kids on the compound pile in to watch while I start my work.
A child is screaming bloody murder outside my house. I roll my eyes and try to block it out. After about 2 minutes I go out to see what the problem is, determined to shoo him away. It is Kamau, he is sitting in my garden with his sister Mercy. The biggest tears and the most snot I have ever seen coming out of a little kids nose. He is hysterical and Mercy is shocked. I tell Mercy to bring him to me, asking what is wrong. She is frozen. So I start to walk over to him and realize he is covered in Safari Ants. Of all the animals and insects that are terrifying in Kenya, Safari Ants take the cake in my book. They are humongous and have pinchers bigger than their heads that latch on to anything they come in contact to. What is worse is that they travel in the millions. What’s even worse than that – they are at my house. So I dash over to Kamau, scoop him up and plop him onto my front porch. I run inside and strip because I am covered with the ants now. Grabbing a huge bucket of water and trying to put on more clothes I run outside and start stripping Kamau. Kids here wear 17 layers of clothes so it is not easy and is especially difficult when you have a screaming baby who cannot stand still. I finally get his poor feet with dozens of ants on him into the water and that starts to relive the pain. I am pulling off shirts as fast as I can and picking off ants at the same time. Now all that is left is his pants. Ants are all in them and I am at a loss. There are now 10 kids watching and no adults anywhere around. Am I allowed to strip a child naked in the front yard? What the heck – I yank his pants off and make him sit in the ice cold water. Then I proceed to pick Safari Ants out of his little butt crack.
A completely typical day. Not a single one of these things surprised me…
A Group Calls Us. They Want a Project. Let us facilitate a meeting in Kenya. With Kenyans. In Swahili. About Who Knows What?!? That is our life. In a nutshell. There are a lot of ways to go about this but Brett and I are really firm with our meeting procedures and we feel like we now have it nailed down to a successful 15 hour process :) This is typically how it goes.
We arrive ON TIME. Always. No exceptions. I am not really sure why we still care about this considering no one else does, but its our own rule to show that we expect it of them in the future. Nevertheless, this hour is always spent waiting.
Small talk. The group starts to arrive and we spend it still waiting – but in conversation. Special English – Butchered Swahili – Conversation.
The meeting begins with a beautiful prayer in Kikuyu. I love this part. It reminds me how BIG God is and how He knows everything about everyone, in every language. Sometimes there is a sing-song portion. We are then introduced. If we haven’t met the group before we tell them about ourselves and what our work is and who we work for. We enlighten them on why we are there – sometimes they weren’t told. We share with them our expectations for the meeting and for the group as a whole. This is where we also talk about being on time and how we will not wait the next meeting. — This statement is always solidified in the next meeting where we leave and wave to them if we happen to pass by them on our way out.
Yes. It takes a whole hour for that. Then we start the real business. Pulling out our big packet of flip chart paper and several colored markers we set the tone that we are about to get stuff done. Everyone noticeably settles in for the long haul. In these four hours we discuss project ideas, no matter how far fetched.
- Chicken Rearing
- Fish Farms
- Rabbit Rearing
- Potato Farms
- Green Pea Farms
- Maternity Ward Equipment
- Jewelry Making
- Latrines and Water Tanks
Those are the projects we have done.
- Motorcycle Repair
- Taxi Service
- Secondary Schools
- Medical Clinics
- National Park
- Tent Service
- Tourist Company – For Ol’Kalou
- Camel Racing
Those are the ones we will never get around to.
We gather all the ideas and list them on a sheet, or several sheets of paper. Once they are all in front of us we ask the group to discuss the challenges of each one. Now we pull more paper out and start with the most obvious challenges, like there are no camels in Ol’Kalou. When the group runs out of ideas we ask — Is that all? We wait. Several minutes pass and finally someone starts off with the challenges not so obvious such as transportation or group accountability. Once this portion is complete we start striking out ideas based on these challenges. Normally this is where we loose the majority of the crazy ideas. When they have settled the list down to 3 or 4 realistic options we begin cost analyzes. Start-Up and Overhead Costs, Profit Margins, Marketability, Time Frames – all things I never thought of before Peace Corps.
Wrap it UP. We have them look everything over discuss it as a group and choose a project. Whew. Give them a deadline for a written proposal with descriptions of the project, their group, the community and the beneficiaries and ending it with a comprehensive budget.
Teach them how to write a proposal.
Together we critique their proposal and make necessary changes.
Hour Twelve – Thirteen
My main part of this process happens here where I take their finished proposal and re-write it to fit into grant applications or to send to non-profits around the globe. Usually taking me two or so hours I set a goal to reach 5 different organizations. Luckily I haven’t had a project go unfunded!
Once we have an approved project we draw up contracts for the groups elected committee members and we discuss start dates and work schedules.
Small Talk. Celebration. Chai and White Bread.
All of our projects have followed this same method and all 15+ projects have been funded and successful! Its a long process sometimes spanning several weeks of planning meetings but its all worth it! Our Tilapia Farm is coming along nicely and we have just gotten funding to begin the Potato Farm for Rurii CHWs. Today we had meetings for a One Day Health Education event. At least I am busy :)
~By Courtney Farist, Brett’s Sister, After Her Visit to Kenya
Brett and Brittany are the most adventurous, brave, fearless, crazy people I know. But I must make a confession: For the past year, I have been secretly judging disappointed in them as I looked at pictures on Facebook and read about their lives through blogs and emails. I mean, I expected them to live in a mud hut, and here they are in a house made of cement! And clearly, if they have running water and electricity, how “different” and hard can life be? Well, I went to Kenya to find out and here’s what I found:
After a slightly “nerve-racking” ride through Nairobi in the middle of the night, I was so glad to finally make it to Brett and Britt’s home in Ol’Kalou around 3am. I thought I was glad – until I had to go to the bathroom in a completely dark, very smelly room with a “toilet” that did not flush and spiders to complete the ambiance. They also forgot to mention that the electricity only works sometimes. And there might be running water for an hour or two in the morning. I showered one time during the week, and a hot bucket of water on a floor with a drain is not what I consider a shower! I definitely underestimated the fact that living in a different country is tough because of all the differences, but living in a country not nearly as developed as the US is just plain hard to get use to. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and to say Brett and Brittany do it well is an understatement. Life in Kenya looks good on them, and the BEST part of the whole trip was to see them in action, so clearly in their element.
Brett and Brittany are known and loved in their community! They are AMAZING at speaking Swahili and making friends! I know this for a fact because five different families who are Community Health Workers invited us in their homes and fed us huge (and I mean huge), delicious meals. I quickly realized that the relationships Brett and Britt have built with this community are advantageous for all parties involved. Each family proudly showed us their cows, gardens, rabbits or green houses! Proud Sister Brag: Many of those projects were started with the help of Brett and Brittany teaching the Community Health Workers how to write proposals and apply for grant applications for the “start-up” funding and resources. They are ultimately helping families create sustainability! And while I’m on the “brag train”, my big brother helped provide clean water to two schools already and write business plans for rabbit breeding as a way for families to support themselves! But, Brett and Brittany certainly don’t do all the teaching. Brett has a full-fledge corn field and a really impressive-looking chicken coop! Brittany has a huge garden full of beautiful, edible tomatoes, zucchinis and spinach (to name a few), and she’s a pro at cooking local dishes like chapati! As awesome as they are, “Brettany” definitely accomplished all those things with a lot of helpful hints from neighbors and friends. The stories of learned lessons were endless from both sides which makes an awesome community and a very proud sister!
I could go on forever about our short week in Kenya! I pooped in a hole. I pooped in the woods. I might have accidentally tinkled on my feet one early morning in the dark. I received an official Kikuyu name, Walimu (teacher), and people begged me to come teach in Kenya! (Americans need to get on board with the whole “teachers are the greatest” thing) I climbed up a mountain, and I climbed down a waterfall. I hung out with a herd of camels, and I saw a lion attack a wildebeest! I met the precious family who hosted Brett and Britt during training! I got tricked into buying way too many things from the Maasai Market, and men offered cows for my hand in marriage. I tasted ugali and goat meat, and I drank around 58 cups of chai tea.
I’m in love! #GodBlessKenya (That’s just for you, Britt) ;)
One of the best parts of working in the Peace Corps comes when you have a successful action day. Even if it isn’t yours. This Women’s Health Day was no exception! Brett and I traveled to our fellow volunteer, Jenn’s, site in Njabini to teach about HIV/AIDS, Nutrition, Breast Cancer, Environmental Awareness, Modern Cook stoves and how to be better partners (for men). We were each assigned a table along with one of Jenn’s Community Health Workers to maintain and educated any person that came by. The tables were set up in a science fair like orientation with a huge lawn in the middle complete with soccer and footballs to attract all the outside kids. After a few hours of playing with only kids church was finally over and then came the crowds! Over 250 people signed in for the action day and that did not include the children. The information tables were consistently stacked with women who had questions about each health topic and the room set up for free HIV testing was in use the entire 5 hours!
This event was funded by our GAD grants cycle. GAD is the Gender and Development committee that I am the Treasurer of. We run quarterly grant cycles where we contribute up to 50,000 KSH (~$625) to currently serving volunteers who apply for small grants to put on these events. The last grant cycle we had 21 applicants applying for 165,260 KSH!!! It was a hard decision !! Jenn was one of the 7 winners and put on this Health Day, that led to over 250 people becoming more educated and getting tested for HIV, for only 9,500 KSH ($118). I would say that is a $100 well spent!
To learn more about the GAD activities going on in Kenya we have just recently started this blog:
To Donate to GAD in Kenya go to our PCPP Kenya Country Fund (Don’t forget to add an attachment that specifically states the funds should go to the GAD fund in Kenya- otherwise we won’t get it)
Hello Brittany’s readers! I am Brittany’s sister-in-law who just recently had the privilege of going to visit her and my brother in Africa. First off, let me start by saying that writing this is a big leap out of my comfort zone, but I wanted the readers to gain a new perspective on the lives Brett and Brittany are living from an outsider.
Nothing could have prepared me for what was going to happen in the 9 days I was there. Even though my family members and I had emailed back and forth countless times with Brett and Brittany, there were still a lot of surprises awaiting us when we landed in Kenya. That’s the fun part about traveling though-you can research and research about the places you’re going, but you’re still never going to be fully ready. I am happy to say though that all these unexpected things were pleasantly received by myself, my siblings, and mother. The thing I enjoyed most about being in Kenya with Brett and Brittany was seeing how they lived and seeing the special friendships that have been created while living among the Kenyans. When we went to Kajiado to spend the weekend with Brett and Brittany’s host family, I was overwhelmed with the close bonds that existed between Brett and Brittany and Nicholas, his wife Grace, and their 4 precious children. It was very obvious that the whole family adored Brett and Brittany and had greatly missed them. My brother, sister, mom, and I were able to finally meet the family who had basically taken Brett and Brittany under their wings and taught them everything they needed to know about living in Kenya. It was easy to see how much was learned and taught between the two families. I was so happy to know that my family members were placed into such good hands in their first few months in Kenya. God has truly planted in Brett and Brittany’s hearts the desire to help and love on others. This love is reciprocated as well. I can’t tell you how many times a person asked us, “Why do Brett and Brittany have to go back to the states?” or “Why doesn’t the rest of your family just come live in Kenya?”
I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to not only go see and visit with Brett and Brittany, but I also enjoyed getting to see up close the work that they do and meet the people whose lives they have touched. I hope you guys enjoyed this post!
Our job with Peace Corps is to bring in additional resources and knowledge to a community who has requested assistance. Usually you are paired with an organization to work with. In our case we have been paired with the District Hospital of Ol’Kalou. Our hospital is well equipped and has many resources at its disposal so instead of working directly with them we work with the Community Health Workers who are local health volunteers that the hospital trains. I talk about our CHWs a lot in this blog, I have a strong heart for them!! I just can’t help it! They have a strong commitment to their community and strive, for no pay, to reach the most rural communities to train the people on health and hygiene at the household level as well as emergency medicine and first aid. In my opinion, they are raising the health standards of this community!
What Brett and I do as Peace Corps volunteers is provide extra training on health topics such as HIV/AIDS, risks of home delivery for expectant mothers, water and sanitation and more. We also train them computer information technologies and how to writer proposals and apply for grants. Then we help them submit grants for small income generating activities like the rabbit rearing project and tilapia farming. So needless to say, we work a lot with them and have completed a lot of successful projects!!
BUT our story comes when we also learn very valuable lessons. The cultural transference element of our job with the Peace Corps is by far my favorite and least expected discovery. It isn’t as though I thought we wouldn’t learn anything. More so it was that I didn’t expect to learn so much! We have learned valuable lessons about effective communication, about management, about how to survive with zero basic amenities! We have also been taught how to cultivate the land, grow our own food, sew our own clothes, talk in a very different language. Invaluable lessons that I will no doubt be bringing back with me to the United States.
Yesterday I was pumped about my zucchinis! So excited about my ability to grow humongous vegetables from just seeds. I harvested a couple and took them with me to Martin and Patricks. These two men are brothers that live 20 minutes walk from us. Martin is a CHW trainer and his brother is just an expert in anything he tries. We have begun to work primarily with them on projects dealing with agriculture. They are the brothers who taught me how to garden. So by bringing them some of the harvest I was appreciating them and honoring their commitment to help me. They were SO excited!
I expected them to be happy. They were more than happy, they were proud! It was fun to see their reaction to my zucchinies, which are many times bigger than you can get at the market. I am dotting on myself, but its all because of how they taught me. These are my teachers!! We are exchanging valuable information!
Martin says “Bletney I am so proud!! WE have SO many projects to be proud of!!” And we most definitely do. They are running our rabbit projects, tilapia farm and soon our greenhouse and if I can simply succeed in a small kitchen garden that they taught me how to maintain, then I will take it as an equal partnership!
This will go to show how small things can teach BIG Lessons :)
Our newest neighbor, Anna, has decided to get a puppy. Which means that in 6 weeks WE are going to have a puppy. I’m not sure how it happened but the idea is growing on us. I laugh though every time Anna comes over irritated at Jake getting into tar or getting sick from eating concrete or yelping so loud that all of our neighbors are starting to also get frustrated! I am glad I can remove myself from those moments :)
The first time I saw this puppy was when it was brand new at Jospeh’s house. I ran over to it and scooped it up and started talking to it. Not strange is it?? Well, here it is probably the strangest thing Joseph and his family have ever seen me do! Their eyes grew larger their mouth dropped open and they said “What are you doing! That dog has du dus!! So many du dus!” I just laughed and laughed. Du Dus are bugs, meaning the dog had fleas. I remained unscathed as I tickled and talked to the puppy. I left a few minutes later with them shaking their heads at me and Josephs resounding voice in my ear saying “Bletney ni ajabu.” Brittany is strange. Well, Jospeh, you name your cows and you hate chapati… I think you are strange. Haha. :) When Anna came to stay in Ol’Kalou we took her around and had her meet our friends and coworkers. Immediately when she saw Josephs puppies she ran over scooped them up and started talking and tickling them. Same thing. Joseph and his wife sat shaking their heads. Anna asked for a puppy and the rest is history. Now the puppy runs back and forth between our house and hers playing and yelping. I want to share with you some amazing conversations this puppy has brought to us.
First, we started talking to our neighbors about why we let the dog inside our houses. Our neighbors would never let an animal inside the house, well except for Beatrice and her chickens. So explaining to them the ideas of companionship with a dog was our first conversation to the benefits of pets. How they can ease loneliness in the case of Anna. Or help a child through a rough patch, simply by just being there and cuddling up to them.
Second, we talked about responsibilities in having a pet. Now responsibility is not a foreign concept here! These adults and children have more responsibilities than any person or child I know back home. In fact I would like to state that the kids here handle chores, duties and responsibility like adults have to – professionally and with self-motivation and determination. It amazes me what a child is capable of if you just let them show you. So as you see using responsibility as a reason to have a pet puppy sent me straight into a brick wall. My lesson learned!
Lastly, we had a conversation just yesterday about working dogs. This was a breakthrough and led us through so many tangents. In Kenya dogs are kept to discourage intruders or other animals from coming near their houses. That is their only purpose. For us to tell our neighbors about dogs being able to help people with disabilities was eye opening for them. We explained how you can teach a dog to do simple tricks for fun or you can train a dog to lead a blind person down busy streets. You could see the shock on our neighbors faces as we started listing off the various tasks you can teach a dog to accomplish. Then as happenstance would have it a little boy who has severe mental disabilities walked over to us and sat down in front of Jake. The little boy put his hand out to touch the puppy and Jake taking that as a sign to shake placed his paw in the boys hand. Then to go further we told Jake to give this boy a kiss. Jake propped himself up and gave a huge wet kiss to the child which immediately evoked a huge smile and loads of giggles from the boy. A good moment! Only later were we told that this same little boy hadn’t made a sound in months and his parents had never heard him laugh.
Puppys are so special! Too bad our cat does not agree!! Ha