December 12, 2011
Dear friends of Habil and the orphans and elders,
It’s been a fruitful year as well as a painful one for our friends in Kenya, with progress on several fronts in the face of another serious drought and national unrest due to drastic price increases for food. A metaphor for our experience is that some of the plants we planted in 2010 withered and died, but when the rain finally came, many came back. Our school is flourishing and is now pre-school through grade 12. The students took national exams in May and placed second in their district of 17 schools, and our school had only been open for eight months! The small businesses are struggling but surviving with great promise, 4 baby goats were born, water tanks kept people from dying of thirst, the purification systems are well cared for and functioning, the girls in tailoring school graduated, as did Eric from pharmacy school. Don is thriving in his third year of medical school in Nairobi. The clusters of orphans and elders that Habil organized continue to function much like families and include others from the neighborhood in their efforts. The journey toward sustainability would be impossible without the continued support of the monthly contribution from Ouray’s folks which allows our friends to eat each day.
The May 2011 trip was another huge leap in our relationships and our work together. We took 45 people (35 students), including a sizeable Ouray contingent: Kim Mitchell, Diann Correll, Katie Link, Patrick Link, and Nikole James. A great thing for me was that we also brought another doctor, Bob Dimski from Oklahoma City, which freed me up to do some much needed planning and taking stock. We had 2 business professors from Baylor who came and consulted with us for 3 days, as well as the Baylor VP for Student Life, Kevin Jackson, who wanted to see what was happening on the Nyakach plateau. Kim and Diann gained another lab technician, Pam Dimski (Bob’s wife), to help with training students and testing the patients. We saw the usual 800-ish patients in our temporary clinic and were able to give out a great deal of medicine, thanks to Baylor Health Care System in Dallas. Biff Patton skillfully led the group that installed more gutters and tanks, and he trained 3 local people to install and maintain the water purification systems that he and the students worked on.
One of our students, Shannon Wood, who had done research with 150 women in 2009 returned to follow up during the 2010 trip. She had found that women’s knowledge of their own bodies and reproductive health issues was almost non-existent, so she developed an entire curriculum with 30+ lessons. Habil arranged for her to go through this material with the leaders of the 6 villages on the plateau, women who then started meeting twice a month with women in their communities to educate and support them. They tell us that men in these communities also want this information, so we’ll be starting men’s groups this year.
Students were also busy with other research: doing lung function tests with asthma patients and visiting their homes to see what environmental triggers might be eliminated, testing people for lead in their blood and doing developmental testing on children with high lead levels, testing people for causes of anemia, and finding out the level of hunger and food insecurity that is present.
We worshipped together on Sunday under the huge tree we’ve come to love, spent time learning to weave baskets from the elders, and had our annual feast at the end, where blankets, shoes, and notebooks decorated by Ouray children were shared with the Bethlehem Home community (there were Beanie Babies for the orphans again—a fun tradition now). We gave 2 new sewing machines to the tailoring school graduates and presented Eric with a fine new Bible. Kim and Diann represented Ouray in promising help to Eric for the cost his licensing exams. A student on the team, Caitlin Kyle, made special graduation certificates for each of these students, and there was much cheering!
This year’s trip promises to add a whole new layer of activity, because we have 2 Baylor business professors (different ones from last year) who will be with us the whole time. One, Tisha Emerson, is an expert in micro-finance and will help set up a structure for the overall management of the business groups. The other professor, Cindy Riemenschneider, has plans to organize and teach some accounting practices and set up one central computer with a spreadsheet that can track these details. Even more fascinating is Cindy’s work in her “other life” raising goats, another talent that she will bring to train the orphans and elders who are taking care of those fine animals. (Jo Ellen, Yancey, Elizabeth, Heather, and Erica are still healthy, giving milk, and having kids, thanks to JC). What a skill set! Some of you know Debbie Coffey Hoy from Plymouth Park days, and her husband Bill and teenage son Greg are also joining this year’s team. Thankfully, the Dimskis will be returning, as will 11 of the students who have been with us before. We are adding 2 other doctors, Jyothi Achi and Ted Dyer, both of whom are parents of students who are going on the trip, as well as a wonderful ER nurse from Houston, Krista Mabry. Petra Carey is my faithful co-leader without whom I would just give up and cancel the whole trip. She’ll be making her 4th trip with the team. We’ll be starting a garden at our school and teaching the kids how to raise food. Here’s the punch line—we’re taking 56 students this year—yes, it’s true—and there’s a waiting list of many who want to go. Had to draw the line somewhere, and this seemed like the right number for this year.
There are some other academic things related to Kenya that are pretty exciting, like the fact that several of us will be going to a Global Health conference at Yale in April to learn and to present papers about our Kenya work. However, the depth and breadth of the project has gotten too long for one email, even a long one like this.
The main thing is that the process of what is happening is far too holy for prose. I want to share the numbers and the lists to inform you, but I also want to communicate the vibrant pain and joy that is present in these relationships. Yesterday it occurred to me that a poem might say more than an additional paragraph ever could, so I wrote one, and it is attached. Hope it speaks to you.
Thanks again for your interest this year. Your caring is such good news!