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E mail from Darlene and Wendy Sent July 19th 2010 from Kakamega, Kenya

Jambo from Africa,

After an eventful travel experience landing in six airports, on three continents, spanning three full days, shuffling 21 suitcases and even surviving one bomb scare which evacuated our terminal in New York City on July 4th., Darlene, Wendy & Hilary ARRIVED SAFE & SOUND in Nairobi. There we met up with three other Suitcases For Africa travel companions – Mary, Emanuela and her son Lucas. After a night in Nairobi we flew to Kisumu and endured a three hour drive to Kakamega. The roads here are like a roller coaster ride and we felt every bump along the way. Once again we are in the very capable hands of our favourite driver John who is not only a driver but a protector and a fountain of information as well as a total inspiration to us daily. He is so busy he sleeps only three hours per night and laughs at us when we say Canadians on average sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. He says that if Kenyans slept that long each day they would not be able to earn enough money to feed their families. We feel like such wimps! His good humour and patience never fails.

We are really enjoying connecting with our old friends and enjoying meeting new ones. Our first stop was to visit with Sister Bernadette at her clinic in the Kisumu slums where she ministers to the very poor and sick. We found Sister Bernadette recovering from yet another bout of malaria and looking forward to some down time in her home in Limerick, Ireland. It was humbling to see how thrilled she was when she opened the suitcase of medical supplies that had been donated by the West Island Palliative Care Centre as well as by Dr. Jane Nayar.

Recently Suitcases For Africa has been able to facilitate two large shipments of drugs to the clinics and hospitals that we have identified as most needy within our areas of operation. Thanks to the Beraldo family and their company “ALVEDA Pharma” and to Beta Management Services of Toronto for providing antibiotics and anti-retroviral medications. Fortunately several representatives from Beta Management Services were able to join Wendy & Mary on a whirlwind trip to Kenya in May for a hands on visit to many of these facilities and were able to see what an impact these medications would have when distributed freely to the most needy. Since our arrival we have been told repeatedly by both medical personnel and their patients of the dramatic improvement these drugs have made in the lives of people learning to live “positively” with HIV/Aids. Their individual stories are very moving and full of hope.

We are thrilled to see and participate in the transformation of Mukumu Home For Orphans. Many of you have been following the story of Grace and her thirty-five orphans. The conditions in which they were living in 2009 left us speechless and in despair. Many of the children are HIV positive and most were sleeping on the ground. Thanks to our generous donors in Canada we can report that the renovations are almost complete and the children all have their own beds with clean sheets. Some of us spent an afternoon painting in the dorm and the dining hall. The children all gathered to watch in amazement, giggling and laughing to see women painting. Evidently it is not a job women normally do. What we lacked in expertise we made up for in enthusiasm. We all think Grace was glad we helped but also a little relieved when we had to put our brushes down. The children were thrilled to have two young people come to play and sing with them and Hilary & Lucas had just as much fun. It is great to have their youthful energy on our team. We were also pleased to see that the old, dilapidated, illegal latrines have been replaced with new ones and relocated a safe distance from the house. We feel fortunate to have had David Eshiluula as project manager for this wonderful project.

Just as we were celebrating the success of the Mukumu renovations we were introduced to St. Joseph School for Mentally Challenged Children! On one hand we were devastated to see the deplorable & primitive conditions. On the other hand we were inspired by the gentle and compassionate staff. It was evident to us that they were called to care for these children. Sister Josephat and her caregivers are attuned to each child’s special needs. We had the privilege of being at the home during their mid-day meal which was served in a makeshift dining room consisting of benches under the trees. When Hilary and Lucas brought out a soccer ball those who were able were thrilled and enjoyed an energetic play time. We were sad to learn that the disabilities of most of these children are a direct result of extreme poverty which led to unattended home births and lack of medical care. Many of the children have epilepsy and do not have reliable access to the correct medications and medical follow-up which would improve their prognosis. We left them preparing the children for their naps on the grass. A nap in the fresh air is most preferable to the inhumane sleeping conditions. The children now sleep in crowded, stuffy, dark, tin roofed hovels. In Kenya the children with disabilities are shunned and hidden away from society and the Community Health Workers have to go and find them and rescue them. We were all deeply moved by these children and their caregivers and hope that we will soon have the means to intervene and improve their daily lives.

Today – July 17th – we shared in a joyful feeding program celebration with Father Paul’s community in Emalindi. We were heartened to see the improvement in the well-being of this community since we visited last year.

We are looking forward to spending Sunday with John and his family at their church and their home. We feel privileged to be invited to share this special day with them.

As you can see our emotions run from despair to joy – often in the same day but for now there is no place we would rather be. We look forward to sharing our stories and photos with all of you when we return.

Thank you all for helping us carry on the important work that needs to be done here. We are all part of a great grass roots team and we appreciate your enthusiastic support.

Kwheri from Kakamega.

Lala Salama,

Darlene & Wendy