Nyumbani Diary 1 first posted 22 February 2006

NYUMBANI - 22 February 2006 - 1,100 words

Lucy is with the Xavier Volunteer Programme (a Jesuit Initiative) working at Nyumbani Orphanage, near Nairobi in Kenya. She sends her first report today.

As Fr Dave stared tentatively around the gate at Heathrow Airport to make sure I hadn't run away, following a slight case of second thoughts, I realised I was on my own. I had no preconceived ideas of what Nyumbani children's home would be like, and I had never really thought of its location in the Majority World.

After the best part of eight hours, and as the plane began to land, I sobered up to the reality of not knowing anyone in the country, and I began frantically dreaming up a contingency plan of what I would do if there was no one there to meet me! After I had finished wrestling with my rucksack, which felt like it was twice the size and weight of me, I made my way to the exit. I walked out of the door and was delighted to see a large sign with my name on it!

The following day I woke up at Nyumbani and I felt like I was awaiting one of my finals except this time I had done zero preparation. However the instant I met the children all my fears subsided. These children have the ability to grab hold of your heart.

I was met with so much love that first day, and every single person at Nyumbani greeted me with 'Karibu' which is kiSwahili for welcome.

Nyumbani is far more developed than I imagined. It really is a very impressive community. It provides a safe home, support, good nutrition and medicines for 96 HIV+ children, all of whom have been dealt a cruel hand in life. It is incredible to think that Nyumbani was set up with the intention of becoming a hospice for children with AIDS, and now thanks to the availability, at last, of at least some anti-retroviral drugs, children have a quasi-normal life expectancy. Nyumbani is therefore faced with the challenges of having to adapt to caring for growing adolescents. The children are beautiful, and I love getting to know them, although I've had a lot of problems trying to convince them I'm 23, they just think I'm a child like them!

The facilities at Nyumbani far exceed those at surrounding children's homes. They have a large computer lab, pre-school, and comfortable living quarters. The children are divided into mixed cottages with about 16 children in each. Boys over the age of 10 live in a boys only house. Each cottage has a Mum and the children eat together, pray together, work together and on more than the odd occasion fight together which makes for a healthy family environment. Cottage D invited and welcomed me into their family, and since I've been here My two Mothers, Mum Anne and Theresa have spent a lot of time trying to make me fat so that my Mum won't think they're bad parents! During the day all the children with the exception of the little ones, go out to school. I spend my time helping in the Kitchen, cleaning, and working in the garden.

I also go to the Lea Toto day care centre in the Kibera slums one day a week, and have recently started work in the diagnostic laboratory. I studied Biomedical Science and haven't seen a more impressive lab. In the evenings the volunteers help with homework, a task that I do on occasion struggle with, particularly the Maths! I am also trying to help three children with reading difficulties improve. My first task as a volunteer was to spend a few days in the storeroom which was hot and exhausting. We literally dug through piles and pile of mismatched shoes trying to find partners so I was glad when that was finished! I also had the pleasure of spending Valentines Day here and made about 30 paper roses and cards for the children to give out. However I made the fatal mistake of using pink card and making pink roses which are apparently only for the sick so their enthusiasm was tainted somewhat!

My first experience of going into the Kibera slums for outreach wasn't unusual. I tried to prepare myself for something that would be so horrendous that I would never be able to fully grasp the enormity of the situation, and while in the most part that was true I also felt a strange familiarity with the situation. We have all seen slums on the television, read about them or heard stories of life there, so seeing it first hand wasn't a revelation. What really struck me was the fact that while I know this is how 1.5 million people live, I and the vast majority of the western world are able to completely ignore it and deny the reality. Every morning human beings no different to myself are forced to wake up to the filth, the disease, the claustrophobia, the smell of Kibera. I wonder if faced with the same adversity if I would be able to smile the way the people of Kibera do, if I would continue the struggle the way they do. Their strength of spirit is remarkable. Inside the tiny mud homes living space is kept immaculate, while outside rubbish is piled high. The poverty is dire, only emphasised by its proximity to the very wealthy predominantly white suburb of Karen where Nyumbani is situated. The Lea Toto programme reaches out to those in the community that are HIV+, it provides nutrition, medicine and support. I work specifically in the day care centre for a couple of hours on a Tuesday.

Guardians can drop their children here knowing they will be kept safe, and be given food, as nutrition is vital in combination with the anti-retrovirals to tackle the virus. This gives the guardians the opportunity to go out and work and earn money to provide for the family. The improvement that can be seen in the children when they go onto the ARTs and are eating well is fantastic.

I have settled in very well here in Kenya and have even had the chance to explore Necuru and the surrounding area. The first month has passed by so quickly, I'm learning a lot and I'm looking forward to face the challenges of the next few months.

Would you like to send a note to Lucy? Please write or e-mail the Centre and they will gladly pass on your letter. If you'd like to know more about Nyumbani, or to support their work, please go to www.nyumbani.org