Monday, 24 February 2014

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Ok, so we had a couple of days of cloud cover that were almost officially ‘cool’ and even a couple of splatters of rain …. But the last three days have been a scorching 34 degrees again! Today is the first day of half term, we’ve all got lots of things we need to be catching up on but even the children have been knocked out by the heat. The air doesn’t move at all in our little house …. it’s now 4:30pm and I’ve got nothing done all day so I’ve come over to the visitors centre where at least the existence of a front door and a back door means there is some flow of air.

During this last week we had a visitor who was visiting our visitor . He was here for just a week and when he was introduced to our church members he asked them what the English were famous for  …. the thought in my head immediately jumped to the word ‘complaining’ … but maybe that’s just me….  because the thought in his head was ‘cricket!’ It’s always good to have new friends come to Kosele and although it was an unexpected time for us and for them we have, as always, been very blessed. Our church pastors Dorine and Kennedy have enjoyed Bible studies of a Bible College standard from our visitors John and Robin (who was also happy to come and bring the message to the church for two weeks in a row.) Our children have had the treat of Robin’s wife Janet who helped them practise their guitar skills and, together with their daughter Kyla, introduced them to the fun and joy of mixing and using icing sugar to decorate some very sweet and tasty biscuits that were enjoyed and appreciated by all of us.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we’ve also had our team members from Paisley, Ian and Hilda McMillan back with us in Kosele. They bless us and the children in so many ways and yesterday was one of those days when we were particularly thankful to have them here. Although she has worked in a number of different health care environments, Hilda is a trained nurse and has experience of midwifery.  Amongst the children in our home is a special girl called Dorothy. We met Dorothy six years ago when she was just eight years old. She had never been to school and clearly had some serious learning difficulties. We later discovered that Dorothy has an older sister called Mary who has even more severe learning and communication disabilities. Over the years Ian and Hilda have built a good relationship with Mary, they are probably two of a very small number of people that Mary responds to and trusts.

So it was so good that Mary, who always arrives for church before anyone else, duly arrived here yesterday when she was clearly in full labour. It’s a good 30-40 minute walk from her home to ours and about the same to a small clinic/dispensary that has recently been equipped with a room for women in labour and an actual delivery room. However, the clinic is only staffed and functional during daylight hours as there is no accommodation for staff on site and no electric power for light at night and it’s also only staffed from Monday to Friday. Mary’s baby did well to make her entrance during daylight hours but unfortunately chose a Sunday!  Fortunately, Hilda was able to examine her and quickly established that there were signs that the baby was in some distress but that the head wasn’t actually showing so they would have time to get her to the District Hospital (about a 20 minute drive away.) Thankfully, our less than reliable 30yr old Landrover, for once, did not let us down and a beautiful 3kg baby girl was delivered just ten minutes after Mary entered the Delivery room.  The hospital birth was important to make sure that Mary received the appropriate treatment to avoid any internal bleeding or infections but mother and baby were back with us by five, just in time for supper! Today, Hilda and Ian took mother and baby up to the local clinic to be checked again before taking her home to the baby’s grandmother.

 Although in some ways a ‘good news’ story this event also creates a challenge. Mary is a very vulnerable young woman (her own mother has the same issues.) Mary gave birth to her first baby, Lavendar, when she was only 14 yrs old. Less than eighteen months later she gave birth to another baby, little Michael. Sadly she struggled to keep both babies adequately nourished and, at barely three years of age, Lavendar died from a strong malaria. Now, whenever Michael gets sick Mary brings him straight to us and, in her way, she tries very hard to take good care of him. But Mary and her children remain extremely vulnerable. She wants and needs to live independently but is so easily exploited by even her close family members. It’s now eight pm and we have had a storm and some rain…. Tonight, Mary, Michael and new baby Helen (named after one of our dorm mothers who was also with her at the birth) are sleeping in a house with no light, no sanitation and no proper bed. She does have a mosquito net over her mattress on the floor, some food and several large bottles of good water from our bore hole. When you see the way Mary and her family live, without possessions and without any kind of regular income,  it is nothing short of miraculous that she could not only deliver a strong, healthy baby but also be apparently so strong and well herself.

But what now … how do we help Mary and her children to stay well? The clinic nurse today suggested that Mary could receive an implant that would provide her with five years of birth control. Some people might find that offensive or even morally wrong but it seems like the kindest protection to offer Mary and the best chance for her children to escape the possibility of becoming one of the  six and a half million children who will die this year from preventable and treatable causes….. every single one of whom, just like Lavendar, was, if we truly believe  God’s word …  “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Monday, 17 February 2014

To be a blessing

In the almost 12 years since we first came to Kenya we have met some really interesting people, some we’ve warmed to immediately whilst others have taken us a little longer to appreciate. One such person was a fairly feisty mzee (an elderly gentleman) called Ezekiel. As very new Christians, we had simply come to Kenya to start a home for orphans. Before long we realised that we would also need to provide them with their education. What we had not imagined, however, was that God would use us to plant a new church. We were not trained or equipped for this role but it happened anyway ….. in that first year I think Terry must have preached at least twenty different versions of “Love your neighbour as yourself!” Our own Christian walk had begun back in England in a small, non-denominational, loving and intimate house church where we were immediately encouraged to serve in whatever way God laid on our hearts … just two weeks after being saved, Terry was leading worship. So we too, in our new Kosele church, were keen to encourage others also new and young in their faith to rise up to the challenge of serving and leading. That did not go down well with Ezekiel. Here, it has always been expected and assumed that age commands automatic respect and deference and the thought of a man in his twenties or thirties being in any position to lead men older than himself was (and to some still is)  a total anachronism. Ezekiel and other mzees believed we should form a Church Committee and they had, we thought, a fairly unhealthy obsession with wanting to guarantee all church members the provision of a respectable coffin at the point at which they ‘left’ the church. Truthfully, our lack of experience, wisdom and training has led to some decisions that we have later gone on to regret, resisting the formation of a ‘Church Committee,’   however, has not been one of them.

So it’s been a long time since Ezekiel has been to our church and yet our paths have continued to cross because six years ago he came to ask for a chance for his three nephews, twins David and Dancun and  their older brother Isaac to join our school. Their parents were still alive but, lived a long distance away from Kosele. Following a very vicious physical assault their father was left totally blind and their mother was lame in one leg and it had become impossible for them to provide for their children. The mother of these children is the sister of Ezekiel’s second wife, Pamela (like many men here Ezekiel is a polygamist and, as in many families here, this has created a lot of jealousies, bitterness and tensions within a very poor homestead where a lack of food is always an issue.) 

As many of you know, my own health issues had kept me away from Kosele for over two years so, last December, when I went to visit the boys and their uncle I was very shocked to see how much Ezekiel’s own health and strength had declined. He was never a very big man but he now seemed so very small and so incredibly frail and it took all his strength to get up from his chair to simply greet us. The reason for my visit was a response to a request from Ezekiel to discuss a very important issue with me. Now I've received a lot of interesting and challenging requests over the years but this was a first. It seemed that due to the breakdown in relations with his first wife and with the two sons she had given birth to, Ezekiel was worried about what would happen to Pamela when he was no longer there to protect her. To be fair, it is not unusual for wives who fail to give birth to their own sons to be chased from their homes by the sons of the other wife or wives. So Ezekiel wanted to know if the next time the Children’s Officer brought us an orphaned boy could he, Ezekiel, adopt him so that he could leave his land to this boy who would then take care of Pamela (Pamela is also disabled with a seriously deformed club foot.) For once I was lost for words. Eventually I said I would mention it to the Children’s Officer next time I saw him but that he shouldn't get his hopes up! 

This week, Isaac, the eldest of his nephews, came to me at lunch time to ask if I would go and visit and pray for his uncle again as he had now been sick and in bed for over a week. I’ll be honest and say that I went with some apprehension of what we would find and what they would expect me to do….  people will often ask you to pray hoping that God is also going to use you directly to fix their problem. As usual the house was full of children … David, Dancun and Isaac and their four cousins (Ezekiel’s own grandchildren) with some of the biggest, brightest, best smiles in Kenya – see photo below, (contrary to popular belief, not all children have a ready smile… some of the ‘school photos’ that we have had to take for sponsors have been absolute torture for our resident school photographer Ian McMillan.)  My earlier, personal experiences and the reports I have heard from others over the years would suggest that Ezekiel could be quite a tough, harsh character, certainly not someone you would choose to cross and yet, every time I've been to his home, the children are right beside him and clearly very happy and content to be there.

This time however, just as Isaac had said, Ezekiel was lying on his bed …. He thinks he has dislocated his hip but what is much more likely is that the joint has cracked or broken and effectively left him bed ridden. The only treatment he had was paracetemol and an anti-inflammatory drug for the pain. He was calm and lucid and his only request beyond the serious desire for prayer was to ask for some food assistance, since he was no longer able to go out and look for food, and a Luo Bible for the boys to read to him. Ezekiel knows, as do we, that the limited facilities in the local hospital would not be able to fix his problem. There’s no such thing as a hip replacement for the poor and even if we could find somewhere that would perform the operation for a price it’s pretty unlikely that he would survive the surgery. We had a good chat, I talked about all the things that Jesus had said about the importance of caring for and loving his children and how much Ezekiel had done that would have made God smile as he opened his home to the children of his disabled or absent relatives.  I prayed a prayer that I hoped would encourage him to place his trust in Jesus and to know how much he was loved and then he prayed for me … he prayed a lot of nice things, he prayed that God would ‘add me more years’ and he thanked God for making us neighbours so that we have been here to help one another …. in fact more than once he thanked God for teaching us to ‘Love our neighbours !’ Not for the first time, God stopped me in my tracks … and just as I thought I was going out to be a blessing  God used that someone to totally bless me! 

Please pray for physical,emotional and spiritual healing, and for peace and reconciliation for Ezekiel and his family

Monday, 10 February 2014

Old and New Friends

Well it’s still VERY warm … the last four days have brought cloud cover and the occasional glimpse of potential rain clouds but, at this point, there is still no rain! Eighteen months ago they planted a little box hedge outside the front of our house, in the shape of H & K. Sadly, like the rest of H&K, it too is distinctly wilted and withering. Today Terry took to his bed for the morning because he woke up with dizzy spells and looked half-drunk as he walked across the compound to the latrines (which is a shame because he’s been pretty much tea-total for the last 13 years.) We also have two male members of staff off sick with malaria, Enoch our janitor and Joseph our carpenter. Joseph, in particular, is a conscientious, strong and fit man so it’s a serious indication of the strength of this particular malaria for him to be laid low and not make it to work. Millie our social worker probably shouldn’t be here either but ‘she’s a woman and a mother’ so she is soldiering on, sticking to desk duties ….. currently covering dozens of new textbooks for the upper school.

It still feels like a drought. We have now used up nearly all 47,000 litres of rain water from our roof harvest tanks and even the bore hole has to be pumped for shorter periods of time as the sensor at the bottom of the hole has indicated that it is not being replenished as quickly as it normally would. Just watering the kale that we harvest and eat, on almost a daily basis, is becoming a serious challenge. We appreciate  there’s a lot of people back home desperate to see the rain disappear but we are also desperate for it to make a reappearance here!

However, on a more positive note we have enjoyed the reappearance of our friends and fellow missionaries, Ian and Hilda, McMillan. Over the last six years they have come to H&K eight times, the first time in June 2007 for just 48 hours and on the last three occasions for stays of up to eight months. During their time here they have worked in a very supportive role with our church pastors  Kennedy and Dorine and spent a lot of time visiting the homes of our church members. They have also made themselves available, during the long evenings, to the children who live in the Home - to help them experience more of a ‘normal’ family life …. spending time in small groups sharing board and card games, doing creative crafts, simply watching a film or preparing a Saturday supper or making a treat to share with everyone - like popcorn or welsh cakes. As you can probably imagine, everyone is very happy to see them back again. In fact, on their first night, Hilda treated everyone to a supper of sausage butties (you can’t buy them locally and we don’t have a fridge so you have to buy them and cook them the same day) and genuine Scottish shortbread to eat with their chai (tea)! Sadly, this time, Ian and Hilda are here for only 3 months. The reason they will leave so soon is because they will be returning to Paisley before the end of May, in anticipation of a very special and exciting event, the arrival of their first grandchild. We are all very happy for them but will need to make sure that we make the most of appreciating them whilst they are still here!

In about three hours’ time we will be welcoming brand new visitors to Hope and Kindness, Robin and Janet Fenner and their 17 yr old daughter Kyla. Robin is a Bible College teacher and Janet has excellent IT skills to share. Their daughter is also doing a long distance IT course. They have been in Nairobi for the last month but today they are doing the long, hot and, in places, very, very dusty and bumpy road journey to Kosele. Kosele doesn’t have very much in common with Nairobi apart from the fact that they are both in the country of Kenya! I’m not sure how much they know about us here or what they are expecting to find, but they are visiting for at least a month and we are really looking forward to having them stay. We hope that it will be a time of mutual blessings for all of us … in just the way God always planned His Kingdom to be. Will close now as we always want to look our best when visitors first arrive …    Continuing to pray for all of you there and for an imminent reversal in all our weather forecasts!

Monday, 3 February 2014

It Ain't Half Hot

Did I mention it was HOT!!! Like most people, I love sunshine, in the past I have been accused of being something of a sun worshipper …. bright, blue skies do it for me! But I’m beginning to wonder if it really is possible to have too much of a good thing! I’ve just been on the internet for the weather forecast, to establish the true temperature, and it says it will continue to be between 30 and 35 degrees for the coming week with no sign of a rain cloud coming from anywhere. Interestingly enough this particular site also includes a ‘feels like’ temperature which suggests that most of the time it will feel more like 32 to 38 degrees!

I guess the issue is that this would be a real treat if we were on our holidays … but we’re not and nor are our children or any of our neighbours … all of whom also agree that right now it is VERY hot! I know that back in the UK, a spell of hot weather generally creates a challenge in schools for both the concentration and energy levels of the pupils and the teachers (very few school buildings were ever designed or equipped to manage our more extreme weather conditions.) I also know that if we are blessed with sunny and hot during the last weeks of the summer term, it is not uncommon for the break times to grow a little longer. Here in Kenya it looks like we are in for more than a spell of just one or two hot sunny weeks. January is the beginning of their school year and there is no time to be lost in pushing on with the syllabus and addressing the needs of some of the children who already struggle with their learning. By mid-morning, walking into some of our classrooms is like walking into an oven - now I can really empathise with one of my all-time favourite story characters … The Gingerbread man! Most of my days are split between the classrooms and a small, stuffy office (iron sheet roofs are just not conducive to producing cool buildings.) I usually wear a loose fitting skirt and a sleeveless T-shirt and I can easily get a ‘wet’ (though not cold) drink and yet …. I’m still pretty uncomfortable. But I’m also very fortunate. For our neighbours it is very hard to find any kind of paid work. What work there is, usually involves some kind of labouring on buildings or the land. This week we’ve had men moving and flattening the mountain of soil that came from digging the foundations for our latest set of classrooms. They have also been digging up and placing retaining stones in order to create the stone path that we will be needing in the coming months - when the rains return and I stop complaining about heat and dust and moan instead about the wet and the mud! These guys are wearing their long trousers and their usually oversized T-shirts and they are working really hard, out in the sun, from about 8:30 through till 4:00. Every morning (to quote a song from a famous musical) they seem happy to greet me and even smile and laugh while they work …. but I still find it hard not to feel bad that they have no choice but to do this really tough work, irrespective of the weather and the temperatures.

As well as the high temperatures, everyone here has to contend with the dust! Some people sound like they’re suffering from a heavy winter cold but in actual fact they are simply congested by the amount of dust that is thrown up into the air from the vehicles that travel along the dirt road in front of our home and school. I remember the first January we were here, back in 2003, when the playing field for our children was right by the side of the road. I would lie in bed at night listening to the children coughing, the kind of cough that sounded like it would never stop and yet the child seemed to somehow sleep through. As soon as the rains returned, the coughing went away.

So, without doubt, this is the DRY season and yet, contrary to past experiences and what I thought was the pattern for mosquitoes, this last, very dry month has seen a serious outbreak of strong malaria. Right now we have three members of our staff and three of the staff’s children, in the local hospital being treated for dehydration and the other unpleasant side effects of malaria. Every day, for the last month, we have had anything between five and ten of the school children come to us with symptoms of malaria. They come to you complaining of a headache, they have a high fever and feel shivery and when they try to eat or drink they soon find themselves vomiting. Sometimes they can be treated with a course of tablets, between one and three big tablets (depending on their size/age) twice a day for three days. But with some of them, the symptoms come on so fast that they are unable to keep the tablets down and they have to receive a course of injections over three days. This is hard because, instead of resting and recovering peacefully at home, they are forced to take three long walks to the local dispensary.

According to some of our staff who were visiting others in the hospital, there is currently a conspiracy theory going around to suggest that it is the Americans (leading all the research on malaria and possible future cures and treatment) who are responsible for this unusual outbreak. The theory is that they have introduced a new species of mosquito that likes to come out in the dry season … just so that they (the Americans not the mosquitoes) can still make money when the rainy season mosquitoes have been eradicated! Seriously though, malaria remains a big problem in this part of Kenya. As I sit here at my desk, trying to resist scratching the more than half a dozen bites that I‘ve just received on my legs and ankles, I can’t help but think of that famous quote from Anita Roddick the founder of The Body “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”  At the risk of sounding like an advertisement for mosquito nets, the facts remain that there are still more than half a million people who will die this year because of malaria . 90% of them live in Sub Saharan Africa (which includes Kenya) and most of them will be children under the age of 5 yrs. Even after all the great work to get nets out into peoples’ homes, it is estimated that less than 5% of the children are sleeping under any type of insecticide treated nets. The reasons for this are many. For most, their homes have just one simple partition. One third of the house space is allocated to a sleeping room and storage and the other two thirds is used as a simple living room. It is very rare for children here to have a bed of their own let alone their own room. In reality, most children sleep on an assortment of mats or wooden sofas or chairs in the area that is the day time ‘living space.’  Purchasing and arranging nets to cover every member of the family is not a simple affair and, because it is dark by 7:00pm, most of us are still up and active (not hiding under our nets) at a time when the mosquitoes, like the ones living under my desk, wake up hungry and ready to bite! The bites can be unbearably itchy but that is nothing compared to the misery that malaria brings. We have said many times that “Kosele is a really tough place to live in.” The children grow up pretty tough and it is very rare that you will see any one of them cry. But in this last week, as children have come to the office to tell us they are sick, I have seen a lot of big, silent tears trickle down their faces. Back in England, at my last school, a sick child would be taken to the office where he or she would receive sympathy, kindness and lots of reassurance from our lovely school administrator, Mrs Milward. She would phone their parent and either mum or dad or grandma or granddad would usually appear within the hour to take them home (if necessary via the doctors surgery) to the comfort and love that we all need when we’re feeling poorly. But many of the children in our school have only one parent, most don’t have any. The relatives they stay with struggle to meet the basic needs of their families on a ‘good day’ (i.e. when no one is sick.) So, just like every other day, when the children here are sick, they take themselves home. When they reach home they will simply curl up in a corner of the room and hopefully sleep until the worst of the sickness passes. No chicken soup, no curling up on the sofa in front of the T.V., no sweet sweeties to take away the taste of the nasty medicine, no mum to just sit and cuddle and be with them. Please pray that this latest outbreak of malaria soon disappears, that there are no fatalities amongst the children here or in the homes of our neighbours and that each one of us here, working under the name of “Hope and Kindness,” will not miss the chance to speak a kind word or demonstrate some simple TLC to a child that needs to know God’s care and love.