Fine, thanks! How are you?

28 05 2011

By Nina Woolley

Rising Senior; Candidate for B.S. in Biology and Certificate in Global Health

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of SOTENI Kenya or SOTENI International.

Many Kenyans have asked me the same question: “What is the biggest difference between Kenya and U.S.?” On a large scale, it is difficult to come up with a single answer. On a personal level, however, it’s quite easy. When I walk down the street in the U.S., nobody pays any particular attention. When I walk down the street here, I am greeted by children’s frantic waving and ceaseless chants of “Muzungu! How are you? Muzungu! How are you?” To the children here, I am something of a celebrity. Perhaps my favorite greeting was when one child, too young to be in school or know much English, continuously called out, “Howareyoufine! Howareyoufine! Howareyoufine!” as I walked by. As a Caucasian and an American, I definitely stand out in rural Kenya. What has stood out to me, however, is the hospitality that I have been shown. I am honored and touched each time somebody that Harrison and I meet invites us into his/her home, serves us food or drink, and prays with us as we enter or leave.

Harrison and I have spent the past week in Ugenya, which is in Nyanza Province. We focused on two projects – meeting with all the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) sponsored by SOTENI in Ugenya and developing a work plan for a banana farm. Meeting with the OVC has been a great project. I am learning so much about the impact of AIDS on families in Kenya, and I am meeting wonderful children. I can’t possibly do justice to all of their stories here, nor should I generalize, so I think I will just have to say that I am enjoying that work very much.

Working on the banana farm project has been a good challenge. The banana farm is supposed to be an income-generating project to help support children orphaned by AIDS and SOTENI’s “AIDS Barefoot Doctors,” community health workers assisting people living with HIV/AIDS. However, it is unfortunately not generating much income yet. Harrison and I have no experience with bananas in particular or farming in general, but we tried to make up for that with energy and enthusiasm. We surveyed the farm, spoke extensively with the caretaker, and consulted an agronomist, working from 9 am to 10 pm almost every day. Although we do not have a final idea of how to make the farm profitable, we have compiled a lot of ideas into a potential one-year work plan to help decide how to proceed with the project.

Another highlight of the week was attending an AIDS Barefoot Doctor support group meeting. In this program, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) gather together with a trained community health worker to provide support to one another and learn about how to maintain their health. SOTENI is currently conducting a water purification intervention and study as well, providing packets of water purification powder to PLWHA and their families, teaching them how to use it properly, and monitoring their health. Harrison and I are only helping on the periphery of this particular project, but I was happy to be able to attend a meeting and learn about this community health structure. At the meeting, I was struck by how the group members were so well organized (they even operate their own “bank,” each contributing to a fund that can be used for loans or emergency expenses for any of the members) and how supportive they were of one another. I am continually impressed by the great work that can take place in small places.

I am leaving Ugenya tomorrow, although I feel sad to go away so quickly. Alas, Harrison will be returning to the U.S. soon and, after some time in Nairobi, I’ll be continuing on to work in Mituntu in Eastern Province. How quickly time flies by!



3 responses

30 05 2011
Braveen Ragunanthan

It is evident that your work so far has been extraordinarily rewarding! I’m sure you will continue to grow even more as you head off to Mituntu next along with your remaining partner sites.

2 06 2011
Eduardo Marenco

Hi Nina,
Congratulations for your work in the ground. Reading your journey I came back to our Narratives course, specially when you mentioned the telenovela “Soy tu duena” and how important is this for people. It is really interesting to see how narratives shapes lives of people around the world. I also have a question about access to water. In my country, Nicaragua, poor people in rural areas demand access to water and sanitation as a first necessity. I wonder if in your conversation with the people you find this kind of priority. In another course at Duke we did some excercises and found that we will decide to invest in water and sanitation in some developing countries because the magnitude of the spillover to prevent other diseases, is really important. Thanks in advance for any thought about that.

6 06 2011

Thanks for your comment, Eduardo! Yes, the telenovela made me think about our Narratives of Development class a lot. In fact, there are many things here that remind me of material from that course! All the work I’ve done related to the banana farm makes me think of Moritz and la cooperativa de Rio Verde so much! I feel like I personally understand Moritz’ farming frustrations now. As for your questions about water – yes, access to clean water is certainly a priority. Many people in the areas that I’ve been in have access to boreholes or wells, so there’s some water infrastructure, but the water from these sources is not clean. That is one of the reasons SOTENI is focusing on a water purification study (using packets of a powdered water purifier called “PUR”) among HIV+ community members and their families. It is something that everyone in the community would likely benefit from, as you said, but SOTENI’s mission is to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS, and reducing diarrhea and other waterborne infections is particularly important for people with compromised immune systems due to HIV/AIDS. Maybe if this study shows positive results it could be expanded further

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