Kenya 2.0

Now that everyone is settled into 2014, I thought I'd fill you guys in on my trip to Kenya with CARE for AIDS. I've been thinking about writing this blog for a few weeks, but honestly just got busy with Christmas parties, family time, New Year's plans and running a half marathon, so I apologize to all of you who supported me and haven't heard an update yet!

In case you haven't run into CARE for AIDS before, they are a small non-profit based in Atlanta and Nairobi that focuses on equipping HIV positive Kenyans to live healthier, more productive lives. This involves partnering with local Kenyan churches to run a nine month program that teaches individuals how to care for themselves, as well as providing spiritual counsel and job training.

The beautiful Kenyan backcountry, near Naivasha.

From the get go, I've been impressed with CARE for AIDS. Their desire to create real, long term and sustainable solutions for people in need was what first got me on board with their vision, but seeing how well they partner with local pastors and community health workers was what really impressed me.

Jennifer and I actually went to Kenya a little earlier than the rest of our group. We left the day after Thanksgiving to go visit some of my friends who live in Nairobi, and some of her colleagues that work in Kisumu, near Lake Victoria. It turned out that we saved about $700 on airfare if we went early, so it was a no brainer for us to go spend some time with friends we rarely get to see. When we returned to Nairobi, we met Duncan, Cornell and Francis, Kenyans who are in charge of the programs in Africa, to greet our team as they arrived. Unfortunately, the team was about 5 hours late, so we didn't get back to the CARE for AIDS house where we were staying until about 2:30am.

Francis, striking a pose for the camera while we're on client house visits. 
He is always up for a good time!

The next few days we spent meeting with the CARE for AIDS local staff. There are about 50 full time Kenyan staff, and only 5 full time American staff. Their staff meetings are, shall we say.... lively. They start out by singing and dancing (and yes, they sing loud, and actually dance!), praying together and spending some time catching up with each other. My friend Doc and I got the chance to spend some time encouraging the 15 or so Spiritual Directors, local pastors who's job it is to care for each client in the program. It was amazing to hear the stories, successes and struggles that these men have with clients as they dig into the emotional and spiritual issues (abandonment, a feeling that no one loves you, lack of community, shame) that are associated with having HIV. We also met with the community health workers, who gave us updates on how the clients were doing physically (were they taking their meds correctly? are clients getting proper nutrition? Had any clients died in the last few weeks?).

After meeting with CARE for AIDS staff and running a short afternoon program for the children in a Nairobi slum (games, singing and being mobbed my 100 kids because I brought out a soccer ball!),
we spent a few days riding along with the Spiritual Directors on house visits. Every week, each CARE for AIDS client gets visited by their Spiritual Director and their community health worker. Riding along on these was both heartbreaking and immensely encouraging. We heard story after story of how the CARE for AIDS program has changed people's lives, but also heard how so many of the people who have HIV/AIDS have been shunned by their communities, or how they simply don't tell their family or friends about their condition for fear of the consequences.

Jennifer and I, enjoying a beautiful Kenyan sunset.

Spending time in these people's homes, eating with them and holding their children reminded me that everyone desires the same things in life. We all want to be valued, respected and loved. I honestly think that CARE for AIDS does a great job of showing God's love and acceptance to those in great need in Kenya, and I hope to work more with them in the future.