Dear friends of Habil, orphans, and elders,
The birth of a child two thousand years ago whose first bed was an animal’s feeding trough in a barn is a reminder that holy things come from places without water or heat, without comfort or political power. Let me see if I can give you a feel for what is being born and nurtured on the Nyakach Plateau because of your involvement with Straw to Bread.
You are Celestine, an orphan and an 8th grader at Bethlehem Home Academy, and you have just found out that you and six of your classmates have placed in the top 5% on the national exam you took in November. That means that you are the second class of BHA graduates who will get the privilege of going on to high school! Not only will you receive an education, but you will have three meals a day instead of one. For the first time, you will have a bed, your own soap, and a room that doesn’t leak when it rains.
You are Mary, a pregnant woman with five children, and you are in labor. You call the number for “Mothers on the Move,” and a taxi takes you to Bethlehem Home Hospital. During a difficult delivery, you are calm because you have the help of a well-trained physician, Dr. Ogolla, who knows you and who grew up in your community.
You are Eunice, and you are now a community health worker for “Mothers on the Move” who meets pregnant women like Mary when they come for prenatal care. You encourage and help them until they give birth. Then you continue to visit the new mothers and babies at home for a whole year. You can hardly believe your good fortune that you can have an income to take care of your own family and also have the joy of helping your neighbors to have healthy families.
You are Dr. Don Ogolla, and you pause in your constant care of patients so that you can receive a new ultrasound machine and a blood analyzer to diagnose illnesses –gifts from Rotary Clubs in Oklahoma. You look forward to summer 2018, when Dr. Nick Saltarelli, a person you met when he began coming to the plateau as a student with S2B ten years ago, will teach you how to use the ultrasound. Suddenly, BH Hospital will be the referral center where other hospitals send their patients!
You are Turphena, a Bethlehem Home elder who was taken by the S2B team two years ago to a referral hospital where you were diagnosed with advanced skin cancer. Your treatment consists of returning to the Bethlehem Home Hospital to have the bandage replaced for the growing cancer on your leg. Your pain is almost unbearable as the cancer spreads to your bones, but you endure it by singing. You become the wisest of teachers for S2B students who bear witness to your suffering.
You are Rhoda, and you cook all the family meals indoors over an open wood fire. You have breathed smoke every day since you were a child helping your mother cook. You don’t know it, but your risk of death from long-term smoke exposure is higher than your risk of death from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis COMBINED. A S2B team member named Emily comes to your home and asks to take your blood pressure and have you do a lung function test. This will be baseline information, she says, and she will check again next summer. She asks if you want a ventilation system installed in your home. Workers appear and cut a hole in your roof, raise it a few feet, and put in an new window. Fresh air comes in, and smoke leaves your house for the first time in your life. Emily tells you that this new S2B project is called “Raise the Roof.”
You are Justus, the head teacher of Bethlehem Home Academy. You are a genius at running a school and inspiring teachers and students, but you also have a young family that struggles to have enough to eat. The government school offers you a job making $4,000/year, a vast increase from the $900/year you are being paid at BHA. You agonize over the decision, because you believe in the vision of Bethlehem Home, and you love the children. But then you learn that people from Straw to Bread want to increase your salary to match the government school offer. Now you are free to follow your heart. You learn that all the BHA teachers will receive raises as well, so you may have a stable staff with two-year contracts for the first time.
You are 12-year-old Daisy, and you have to miss school at BH Academy for several days each month because you have no means to deal with your monthly menstrual period. You are ashamed and afraid, because you don’t know what is happening to your body. Some S2B team members talk with your teachers about supporting a new program that the teachers want to start, and you begin to learn from them about your body and its mysteries.
You are Caroline, and you are deaf. People on the Plateau are not able to communicate with you, even though you know a little sign language, so you are a young woman who is completely isolated. But while the S2B team is here, a translator who knows sign language talks with you. She tells you that you can learn to sew, and you can start making a new product for the schoolgirls to help them with their personal hygiene so that they can stay in school. It is a reusable pad in special underwear, and S2B is calling the project “Threaducation.” You will make money to support yourself for the first time in your life, and you will go to sew with other women in a shop full of hope.
You are Pastor Habil, and you get up even earlier than your usual time of 3 AM because there is a bit of extra work today. You must make the arrangements for the burial and the funeral of one of the oldest of the Bethlehem Home elders. The last few months have been full of grief. Three of the elders have died — Turphena died from her cancer, David lost his vision and sat in darkness until he died, Helen left peacefully her 90’s. You are thankful for the BH funeral business that has provided the means to care for the elders who die. You finish weeding your garden, and you deliver ripe fruit to the school. You arrange to pay teachers and hospital workers, you meet with the BH Hospital committee to talk about getting government reimbursement for insurance claims, and you visit some ill church members. Then you purchase food for the elders, you arrange for repairs to the school, and you get prices for an x-ray machine before inviting dignitaries to meet American Rotary members and the Dimski family, long-time S2B folks who are visiting. It’s not an unusual day.
With all of the goodness that this year has brought, we are aware that our friends still live on the edge of great difficulty. You have been an essential part of bringing peace on earth and good will to the people on the Nyakach Plateau. Without your help, many people whom we know and love would not have food, education, health care, clean water, shoes, blankets, chimneys, goats, chickens, books, metal roofs, water tanks, or hope.
Lisa Baker MD PhD
Founder and Executive Director, Straw to Bread