Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Visiting Kenyan and Rwandan Friends

Dear F/friends,

All of the travelers from ESR have returned safely home, without any major travel delays or mishaps!  Many people have been praying for us and it is truly a blessing that we were able to go and return home.  There is a good deal of processing to do and hopefully myself or others will be able to share further thoughts on this blog in the future.  Micah Bales has already written a really thoughtful and heartfelt post about the trip from his perspective that I encourage you to read.  For now, let me tell you a bit about what we did:

The majority of the group left on June 16th and flew to Kenya to go on a safari before the main part of our trip.  I did not attend, but met them at the Mennonite Guesthouse on the 20th.  One of the first things I noticed was the flowers, bright-colored and spilling out over everything.  The guesthouse had a labyrinth with morning glories vining up in the middle.  The beautiful flowers and other plants spilling over everything became a theme of our travels.

On June 21st, we went to St. Paul's University in Limuru, where Esther Mombo (a previous Willson Lecturer here at ESR) teaches.  There is a Christian-Muslim Relations master's degree program there, and we meet with three professors in this field and some of the students as well.  One student was from central Sudan.  As we walked, he held up his cell phone: one of his nephews had been killed in the continuing violence there.  "Tell people it's still going on", he said, "that many people are still dying there."

The reality of Nairobi hit me as we drove out of the city through a slum.  I had read about the slums, the gangs, and the poverty, but seeing them there, with house made out of scraps of everything and anything, is much different.  People had told me that you've never really seen material poverty until you've been to sub-Saharan Africa, and soon I knew what they meant in a very gut-wrenching way.

Wednesday the 22nd we flew to Kisumu and were met at the airport by Eden Grace, who works with FUM ministries.  We drove up to Kaimosi Friends Hospital.  It was fascinating to hear about how a rural Kenyan hospital works:
  • The hospital became run-down in the 90s, but improvements are being made and the number of patients using the hospital is rising.  The HIV care center in particular sees a huge number of people in a given week.
  • The nearest hospital is at least a half-hour drive away, and most of the people in the area don't have cars.  This area also has a particularly high infant-mortality rate, making the hospital uniquely suited to improve the health of people in the area.  They have extensive immunization services.
  • We spoke to the chaplain and some of the volunteers at the Comprehensive Care Center who work with HIV positive people.  They do HIV testing, education, support groups, antiretroviral therapy, and testing for complicating illnesses (i.e. typhoid, malaria, or other illnesses that HIV positive people are more prone to get).
  • We saw baby quilts and clothing, donated by American Friends, being sorted to give to new mothers!
  • Just as we arrived, there was a baby born premature by c-section (due to maternal health complications).  The electricity was out in the region, so the operating room lights had to be run by generator.  The incubator, however, drew too much from the generator and the baby was taken to a larger hospital using the land rover donated to the hospital by FUM.
The items donated through FUM really made a difference in the health and lives of those who use the hospital.  The generator, the baby clothes, the incubator, and the land rover are extraordinarily and practically useful donations that are well-used.  

Lonnie Valentine, speaking about Peace
On the 23rd some of us met Getry Agiza, project coordinator for the Friends Church Peace Teams, at a Peace Rally in the Turbo region, about an hour and a half from Kaimosi.  After the 2007-2008 elections, FCPT was formed to facilitate reconciliation between different tribes.  For those who are not familiar with the context, after the 2007 elections, some people (splitting along certain tribal lines) were not pleased with the results and even accused officials of altering results.  In the insuing violence, buildings were burned, people were driven out of their communities into IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, and some were even murdered.  FCPT formed and began, among other activities, to train people to do the Alternatives to Violence workshop in their communities. 

Me, drinking fermented milk
The Peace Rally included singing and dancing, people speaking about the value of the AVP workshops and how it had changed their lives, and a firm commitment to peace during the 2012 elections.  It was a deeply spiritual experience for me to be there and see how much work on reconciliation had been done since 2007 and how strongly these people had committed their lives to peace.  Lonnie Valentine, who is ESR's Peace and Justice Studies professor and an unprogrammed Friend, demonstrated an ability (surprising to many of us), to deliver a passionate sermon on peace in the world.  He spoke directly to the heart of the meeting and received many "amens" from the Kenyans there for his words.  A Kenyan Nandi (one of the local tribes) brought fermented milk, streaked with ash, to share with everyone.  This is considered an honor, so we partook, although somewhat tentatively as this was an odd taste for us.

(Don Spencer, plus children)
Friday the 24th a group of us hoped to visit some of the local Right Sharing of World Resources projects, but at the last minute our trip was canceled.  Instead, we traveled into Kisumu to see the city, its museum, and the market.  On the way back we stopped at the Equator, where some children walked by and wanted to be included in the picture of Don Spencer, husband of ESR's Christian Spirituality professor.

On Saturday June 25th we all went to Friends Theological College, where we were greeted by women singing in the chapel as we arrived.  We met with the faculty and some of the students for singing and worship, as well as heard from one of the faculty about the Friends testimonies in an African context.  Kenya has, as mentioned above, recently had difficulty with tribal violence.  It also has a long post-colonial history of corruption.  Churches still struggle with the idea of women in leadership.  Thus, the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Integrity, and Equality could speak a great deal to their lives in western Kenya both in spiritual and in positive, concrete ways.  The use of AVP by FCPT after the 2007 elections is a strong example of this. 

After eating lunch with our hosts, I went on a tour of the campus with an FTC student.  He showed us the FTC farm, which provides both money and income for the institution.  They have a greenhouse, a chicken coop, and have a nursery of plants they are raising to sell.  As a higher education administrator in the US, I was struck by how different a mentality this is; in Kenya colleges must diversify, coming up with other revenue streams aside from tuition.  It was explained to me that this is little different from the life of a pastor: work is part-time and pastor must develop "tent-making" skills that allow them to support themselves materially while allowing them to continue in their ministries.

Some happened at FTC that sticks in my mind clearly.  During a break, a few of us walked up to FTC's bookstore to see what they had.  There was a stack of baskets on one of the shelves, ranging from larger to tiny.  I bought one and when I left the bookstore, one of the FTC faculty said to me, "Oh, I'm so glad you bought a basket!"  "Oh?" I asked, thinking that this person's response was a little too enthusiastic for one little basket.  "Yes!  The widow who makes these brought some yesterday because she heard we were having visitors.  Her cupboard is empty and she has no money to buy food."

Yikes.  It was difficult to resist the urge to walk back into the bookstore and buy every single basket sitting there.  Our tour guide told us that the price of cornmeal, a staple for Kenyans, has quadrupled in the last few years, stressing the food budget of many families.  The Kenyans we met were so spiritually and communally rich.  The material poverty there makes it tempting to scramble for what you can personally do to "fix" it.  I had moments in Africa where I simply wanted to give away all my money, but ultimately I can't know best where money should go or how it should be used.  There are also deep structural issues and impediments to development in many countries, issues which we should be asking ourselves deep spiritual questions about.    (I think, however, that ESR folks bought most of the baskets, so our widow will have food for the foreseeable future!)

Sunday, June 26 I was not feeling well and unfortunately missed the morning sessions and part of the afternoon.  Various ESR and FTC professors presented on Women in Ministry, Being a Mission-Sending Church, and Interfaith Dialog.

Well, I've written a lot and haven't even gotten to Rwanda!  I'll finish this on Friday.

With Love,

Valerie Hurwitz, Director of Recruitment and Admissions

Stoney, a local ginger ale which was a particular favorite of some in our group!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Valerie for sharing your experience of my country Kenya! Yes, it is extremely different from the USA. Sometimes when my friends and family back home ask how the US is, I just encourage them to consider thinking of the extreme opposite of Kenya.
    I am glad that esr faculty were able to visit and share their time and experiences with Friends in Kenya. You were able to see life from the other part of history. Your shock, compassion, and the desire to reach out and help (with a story of the widow in mind) shows that in the midist of challenges, we still have hope and partners! Thank you ESR team for sharing your time and presence with Friends in Kenya.