Ga Duniya

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Tag Archives: Babywearing

In the Field in Guatemala

First Visit: San Raymundo

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a loving mother learning to feed and care for her previously malnourished daughter

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moms and babies listening to songs at the Children’s Integrated Development Center

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ambitious and determined young girls

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Second Visit: Ixim Achi

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DSC_0374-001couldn’t get enough of this cutie

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DSC_0347the path we walked in Ixim Achi

DSC_0288and an old woman combing her hair

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Sabina: The Rest of the Story

216955_10150151653281487_624002_nHave you ever had one of those moments when you really didn’t want to do something, but had to do it anyway, and then you find yourself on the other side with a huge smile and a happy heart? That happened to me in Kenya.

You see, I had an agenda. It wasn’t often that someone from my team had the chance to travel to the field, so I was determined to make the most of it, to maximize the life-or-death story gathering potential out of every minute. And in a place where visiting just one rural family requires a two-plus hour drive each way over rocky hills and footpaths, I didn’t have time for a side trip to witness a successful (not need-focused) story about water (not food) programs.

But while I was the leader of our small team, I hadn’t anticipated the influence of Moses — the inspiring leader of the local office where we were guests. He was the type of man who demands, and then actually warrants, respect. And he wanted us to go visit Sabina and her family.

I knew about Sabina; she was somewhat of a celebrity in the story-telling world of our work. Two of my colleagues (and, might I add, two of the most talented people I know) had spent time with the Kenyan woman a year earlier to learn about and experience for themselves Sabina’s greatest challenge — bringing clean water to her family.

Ever since she was a little girl, Sabina had spent four hours every day in pursuit of water. She traveled to the closest river — over sand, rocks, and thorn bushes, and under the relentless African sun — one hour each way two times per day. At the river she would dig a hole in the sandy shore to create a pool of fresh water with which to fill up her canister. Then she carried the 70 pounds of water back home and used it to cook, clean, wash clothes, and bathe her children.

The endless need for water meant that Sabina hadn’t enjoyed the freedom to attend school, and it meant that she couldn’t pursue other activities that would benefit her family, like planting and tending a garden.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet Sabina. It’s just that I thought the most compelling part of her story had already been told. But I was wrong.

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We arrived at Sabina’s home in the late afternoon and found that she was out running an errand. Even though it was our fault for being hours late, I felt selfishly justified in my opinion that this visit was not worthwhile. But we were there, so we might as well wait for Sabina to return.

We weren’t alone as we waited. Some young children were among those at the compound when we arrived, and as we stood nearby they began quietly singing a simple tune.

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I asked one of our guides to translate the words. The children were singing: “My heart loves so much Kari.” And then my heart began to soften as I thought about how sweet it was that they remembered with fondness the colleague who had come before us.

As I walked slowly around Sabina’s compound, I began noticing some remarkable things. Like how she’d built a storage shelf to keep her modest collection of plates and cups perfectly stacked above the ground. And how, instead of relying on the open landscape as a bathroom, she’d constructed an actual walled-off latrine space out of the ever-present thorns. And how despite the dirt, the chickens, and the kids all around, her home was spotless. She owned very few possessions, but what she had was clean, tidy, and organized — even down to the decorative rock barrier she built to distinguish the area around her hut from the yard beside it.

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I thought about how unfortunate it was that Sabina was denied an education. A woman with so much natural drive could have accomplished great things with the right tools. Thankfully, she’d recently had a significant tool added to her life. A massive water project undertaken in her region had resulted in the installation of a spigot right in her back yard. Now, Sabina no longer has to walk to the river twice a day for the water her family needs to survive. Now a new chapter of her life begins.

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Sabina demonstrated for us how easy it is for her to access clean water now. She happily filled every container she had on hand, and offered a refreshing drink to her husband and children.

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Along with every task, she sang. Her song was a constant part of her life, and those around her joined the chorus.

We were delighted to see how quickly Sabina’s life was transformed by having clean water within reach. But part of why we came to visit her that day was to bring a little more delight into her life.

Sabina’s story had been featured in a recent issue of our organization’s magazine, and we brought copies for her to keep. In a part of the world where facebook and instagram are as incomprehensible as time travel, it’s a pretty big deal for someone to see themselves in a photograph. Her ambitious (but until now, denied) spirit burst through as she thanked us for the gift and asked, “What can I do to read this, since I didn’t go to school?” Then Sabina and her best friend, Christina, began jumping and waving their hands in the air as they laughed and shouted words of happiness and thanks. The outburst enthralled and engulfed us all.

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As the sun set someone opened up a laptop. And someone else brought over a case full of coca cola. The real fun was about to begin. The entire community gathered around on makeshift benches or the dirt ground to get a view of the little screen propped up on a stool. They sipped the warm liquid treats and stared enamored by the video documenting their lives before water came to their home.

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They didn’t understand the words they heard, but only they truly know the meaning of the story.

After our team said heartfelt goodbyes to Sabina and her family, we began a precarious trek along the short path back to the Land Cruiser, ultimately relying on the light of our iPhones to guide the way. “We’re so weak,” I thought to myself, “Sabina’s lived her whole life without running water and we can’t even walk 50 feet in the dark without the help of an iPhone.”

That’s when I realized that God had used this visit to change my heart. My agenda wasn’t as important as witnessing lives transformed. My plans weren’t so pressing that there wasn’t room to share joy. My ideas weren’t so concrete that they couldn’t be moved by an extraordinary woman and her overflowing spirit.

Drought and Despair

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a die-hard advocate for the people of Niger. With one short and unreliable rainy season per year, the Sahara Desert threatening to overtake sparse crops, the highest fertility rate in the world, and often ranking in last place on the world’s development index, Niger needs our help.

I truly believed I’d never find people poorer than those I knew in Niger.

And then I went to Kenya.

Mamaselina, age 30, and her seven children were the first family who showed me that poverty can hit hard in other places too. I remember walking the rocky path to their home and noting that while the landscape looked green, it was a mirage. The bushes and trees weren’t lush, they were either cactus or branches full of thorns. There were no fields, no crops, no water sources.

To get water for her family, once per day Mamaselina walks two hours to the nearest river. She’s able to carry about 20 litres back home, which would be enough for one of us to take a two-minute shower or flush the toilet twice. My upstairs bathtub faucet drips about this much each day.

If her children have enough energy, they might join her in the task, carrying 5 litres each. That barely puts a dent in what they actually need, though. The minimum standards are 25 liters per person per day. As a result, each child is rationed one cup of water to bathe with once per week.

During her two-hour trek back home, Mamaselina will collect firewood–adding it to her 44 pound burden of water–in hopes that she can sell it for a few shillings at a nearby market. This is her only source of income to buy food. On the day we visited, only the two smallest children had eaten a bit of porridge. No one else in the family had eaten since they boiled some maize the day before.

I looked around the compound as we spoke with Mamaselina. Besides the mud hut, there was almost nothing to indicate that people lived there. No granary, very few dishes or utensils, barely any possessions even inside of the hut. I could see why she wasn’t worried about locking up her home during her daily trek for water. What could anyone steal?

The destitution was obvious in Mamaselina’s answers to our questions as well:

We asked if she knew why little Julia (left) was often sick, with a swollen belly and dull, yellow eyes. “Who knows?” she replied.

Do her children ask her to give them food when they are hungry? “No, they are used to being hungry.”

I was shocked at her fatalistic sentiments when we asked if she felt the baby she was nursing was receiving enough milk. “I believe the little milk the child is getting is enough and she will be used to this life.”

At 7-months old, how sad that a baby should already be resigned to a life of hunger.

Does she have hope? “I just believe that God will help me. There is nothing I can do.”

I wanted to argue. But what could she do?

In that thorny, hot, remote, dry landscape, Mamaselina needs resources. So what can we do? Pray. Donate. Help.

We emptied our water bottles into the family’s plastic jugs, hoping that would at least help a little. And we returned home to tell the story.

I often think of Julia, and her younger sister Chathrine. During our visit someone had placed a handful of thick-skinned fruits into an empty bowl and handed it to them. I’d already noticed how the toddlers simply sat in the shade, too tired and hungry to be playful. But it was equally disturbing to watch them with the bowl of fruit. Suffering from chronic hunger, you’d think they would have dug in and devoured it as quickly as they could. I know my two-year old would do that if she had a bowl of candy. But Julia and Chathrine mostly just held the fruits protectively, and picked at one. The toddler impulse had been replaced by the wisdom to ration the food and make it last.

Portraits of Kenya

I’m waiting in the Amsterdam airport to board my flight back to Portland. The past two weeks in Kenya were intense, exhausting, exhilarating, and rewarding. I have many stories to share once I have energy (and stable internet access!) to write them.

I am eager to see my family again. I am thankful to have so many comforts to return to. But every time I leave Africa, I feel I am leaving a piece of home behind. Despite the harshness of living, it’s the people who draw me in.

Since I’m too tired to write anymore now, I just wanted to add a few photos of the faces I’ll remember from my unforgettable time in Kenya.

Child with empty bowl

Sabina’s baby

A woman I had the privilege of interviewing

The beautiful Turkana

Stories of desperate need

And stories of hope

 

 

Madou and the Beggar Woman

Niger, my second home, is in the midst of a food crisis that’s worse than the devastation that hit the country in 2005. The people of Niger always struggle to feed their families, and typically spend a couple of months subsisting on one meal per day (or every other day). This year, though, the “lean season” is lasting half a year.

In light of this, I want to share a story about one of the most profound moments I experienced while living in Niger.

Madou was my best friend in the village, and I passed many hot afternoons and late evenings sitting with her, chatting about our neighbors and our lives. One day – when the harvest was still a ways off – she was cleaning up her cooking hut and emerged with a small bowl of millet grain. Showing it to me, she explained that this was all her family of seven had left to eat. And she didn’t know what they’d do when it was gone.

At that same moment, an old woman approached the entrance to Madou’s yard and stood there, singing a quiet song – a signal to the locals that she was begging for food. Madou walked over to the woman, still holding the bowl of millet, and dipped her hand into the grain to share with the beggar woman.

When Madou returned, I expected her to wallow further into expressing the woes of how she’d feed her children. But she didn’t. The only thing Madou said was “that poor old woman didn’t have any fingers.”

Madou’s family survived the lean season. And if she could be generous in the midst of it, what excuse do we have?

Madou pounding millet

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