After my first day and second night upcountry, I never thought I would wake up to a day that would so capture my heart and my attention.
We were to open up an office for the Nyakach Kids for School Programme, so when we arrived at the Pap-Ondit Subdistrict Hospital, I was surprised to say the least. Maybe we were going to visit someone first? Maybe the office is here? As I looked around, I thought of how beautiful it was, colored with greens of trees, grass, flowers. This would be a really nice place for the office.
Isaac and Evans went to go meet with some community leaders before we started on whatever we were doing there, so Kyndal, some of the girls from the team, and I passed time playing games like hopscotch, ninja, and sword fighting with dried bean pods that fell from the tree. Talk about a blast from the past! I can't even imagine what the families at the hospital were thinking as they saw the Wazungu making "Hi-ya!" noises and stabbing each other with pieces of tree. It was fun, and I think they saw and enjoyed our delight.
Finally, Isaac and Evans came back, and after meeting the leaders, we were going to set up the office. It was a beautiful building, and I kept thinking about how great of an office it would make! But I got too far ahead of myself... As we went inside, I quickly learned that the office space was a 4' by 6' "room" (more like closet), which was filled with a desk and four chairs. It was cozy with only 3 people in it. But you want to know the best part? Isaac and Evans were thrilled! Sure it was small, but it is SOMETHING! The community leaders, when they heard about what HEART was doing with Kids for School in Nyakach, knew there was no space, but they managed to make some. I couldn't help but be convicted of my assumptions and share in their gratitude and joy.
After we set up the office with a brand new Dell computer, Inkjet Scanner and Printer, Visitor's Book, and other office items, we headed out for the meeting with the community elders. During this meeting, I stumbled upon my passion once again, as Evans addressed the leaders with the message of preventing HIV/AIDS. The focus of this meeting was primarily on male circumcision, as it is not currently practiced in Pap-Ondit, Nyakach. Let me give you some background...
-Nyanza (the area we were in) has the highest infection rates of HIV in all of Kenya
-Male circumcision has shown to reduce infection rates by 60%
-90% of HIV infection in Kenya is from sex
-30% of uncircumcised men aged 30-54 were found to be HIV positive
You can see why this would be encouraged. Although this was the main focus of the time, so much information was covered and by the end of the meeting the leaders were very well educated and asking questions like... "Can we get a handout/brochure with this information to take to others?" "Can we have a seminar where some of us can learn the skills to counsel for those who are HIV positive?"
I was frantically writing down notes, and even though I was sitting on the cement floor, my mind was eating up all of the information thrown at the elders about HIV/AIDS. I was not only remembering all that I had learned in my Pestilence Class, but I was learning more about HIV/AIDS in Kenya specifically.
Evans was a beautiful speaker, funny, and very good with the people. He reminded them that "there is no home that has no been affected by HIV/AIDS...You may say you have not been infected, but you have been affected." They respected him. I was dreaming of being in his place one day, being the one to educate people of HIV/AIDS and prevention.
In God's timing, maybe one day I will be. But for now, I am loving learning and being a part of it even at this age. God has been SO faithful in revealing the truth in His Word: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."
Not only did God grow my passion through this meeting, but He grew my compassion as I learned of various tragedies of the past when it came to HIV/AIDS prevention.
(Forewarning: I am going to be honest and open with you some things that were discussed in the meeting in this next section, so it may include some graphic details.)
Awareness is no longer the issue with HIV/AIDS. It is not the knowledge but the behavior that will change the status of HIV/AIDS in a community. Leaders have a special area of influence and a moral obligation to do something about it. Sex should not be ignored but talked about. If you tell a child who stumbles upon a condom that it is a balloon, he might blow up the used condom as a balloon. Then the child will learn about it from another child. Because a lot of homes in upcountry Kenya are one-roomed or thin-walled if there is more than one room, a child will grow up hearing sex but not knowing what it is. That child then might find the need to learn about it from another child or by exploring for himself. If rape is an issue (which it is), there is a new "condom" for women with teeth on it, so that if she is raped it will remain on the man's penis and will tear his skin if he tries to pull it off. This will help find the rapist and prevent the women from being infected or getting pregnant. Examine yourself before you start pointing fingers...Ask yourself..."what is my lifestyle?" We are too quick to judge. Stigma needs to be replaced with compassion and love. Two to three lives were lost in the Pap-Ondit area due to door-to-door testing and results because no counseling was provided. We don't just need testing but referrals that will lead to treatment with ARVs and counseling. Knowing your status is essential. It will change your life. Circumcision needs to be done in a hospital setting, not a traditional setting. It is a medical procedure that should be performed with proper tools that are sanitized, not a rock or the same knife for 30 or more boys like some upcountry practices. Funerals take place almost every Saturday. Something needs to be done. Dream big.
The desperation of this country in the midst of this HIV/AIDS pandemic rips at my heart. You can imagine where challenges will be faced. But for now, we press onward, one step at a time, "pole pole" (slowly by slowly).
This community is now aiming to have 300 males circumcised by the end of August. Some are hoping for even more. This is big. It's a breakthrough. And I praise God for what will be done through this change and what He did do through this meeting on a hot, beautiful, upcountry, Kenyan afternoon.