Mission and Outreach
Faith in Action...

Where in the World Is...Kierstin Quinsland?

Kierstin has now spent time at Nyumbani Children's Home in Africa and has also had a chance to travel to a farmers' cooperative for a few weeks of work.  She is now living with a host family in Senegal and working with a young man at Empire des Enfants.  Read about her experiences below!

thursday, december 6, 2007

I've just come from another English lesson with Modou, my student from Gambia.  It's amazing how eager he is to work and practice everything I give him.  This week we have mostly been focusing on writing, since before he came to Empire des Enfants he didn't know how to write.  Now that he's started, he loves it, and as soon as I arrive every day he is ready with his notebook and pencil!  It's doubly hard for him to learn French and English at the same time, but he is committed.  He also invited me to come watch him in an exhibition with his rollerblading group on Saturday, which should be interesting!
Usually after my lesson, I spend time hanging out with the other boys at Empire, who are always busy in one activity or another (and the volunteers try to make sure that activity is not fighting, a common occurence among fifty or so boys)!  It's hard to imagine that all of these boys, especially the youngest ones, have lived on the streets as beggars.  In that way it is similar to Nyumbani, where it was hard to believe that all those energetic and vibrant kids are not only living with HIV, but that many have faced physical abuse, the death of parents, or abandonment.  If I have learned anything from this entire experience (and I have learned a lot!), it is of the resiliency of children.
And the connections I've made with people, like Modou and my host family in Senegal, and the Cottage G kids and fellow volunteers in Kenya, have been the best part of my trip -- but also the hardest to leave.  The service I've done over the past six months has been nothing compared to what I have gained in experience, friendship, confidence in myself, and especially, increased faith in the unity of God's earth.  I am so grateful for everyone at the Congregational Church who supported me through committee funding and prayers!  I hope my work over the last six months has merited your support.  I am so excited to come back in just two weeks and share my experiences, and especially to thank in person all of you who have supported and prayed for me.  Merry Christmas!

sunday, november 18, 2007

I arrived in Senegal almost two weeks ago, and so much has happened since then!  It was hard to leave the kids at Nyumbani, especially since we had a little party on my last night and they sang farewell songs to me (but I think their favorite part was the ice cream and sodas).  When I arrived in Senegal, I met my host family -- friends of my American friend Megan who lives and works here.  Speaking French all the time took some getting used to, especially since I haven't taken any classes for three years!  But it's steadily coming back, and I have started taking French classes here in Dakar.

My host mom's sister knew of a place that takes a lot of European and Canadian volunteers called Empire Des Enfants (Empire of the Children).  Its project is to serve street boys, who mostly come from Gambia, Mali, or other nearby countries, to beg on the streets of Dakar.  Many have run away from their Koranic schools because of harsh treatment.  Empire takes a boy in temporarily, usually a few months, until his parents can be found.  At that point a staff member accompanies the boy back to the guardianship of his parents.
The place itself is full of life, with boys between five and seventeen running around, doing chores, having tae kwon do classes, and all sorts of other activities.  My assignment is to teach English to one of the oldest boys, seventeen-year-old Modou from Gambia.  Despite Gambia being an English-speaking country, before coming to Senegal he only spoke his tribal language.  So he is learning French as well as English.  It's a challenge, since neither of our French is perfect, but we spent this week going over the alphabet, numbers, weekdays, and body parts.  He is so motivated and focused, and it's clear that he practices what we've learned.  I've never done any ESL teaching so it's a very interesting experience, and Modou is very patient!  It's incredible the skills I have developed on this trip, and now I am doing things I never thought I would, or could, do.  I am looking forward to coming home (only in five weeks!), but it will be be hard to leave this experience behind.


wednesday, october 31, 2007

I just got back from doing a three-week volunteer project in the village of Emining, a few hours northwest of Nairobi.  I went with a team to live and work with a small-scale farmers' cooperative.  There were twelve of us from all different countries, including four Kenyan volunteers, so the experience was amazing!  We mostly worked on the passion fruit farm where we were being hosted, pruning and picking and working in the nursery with the seedlings.  I also got the experiences of harvesting peanuts (hard work!) and helping remodel an old man's hut by flinging new mud at it -- definitely a memorable day.  We also attended the Protestant church on Sundays, which was interesting and mostly in Swahili!

In the afternoons we visited the homes of some of the farmers, and went to some of the schools in the area.  We had a soccer game against the local boys' primary school and lost badly, and played some games at another.  We also led a discussion about HIV at the secondary school, which was an incredible experience -- the questions the kids asked were so telling of the lack of truthful information available to them, and the myths surrounding this disease that affects nearly everyone here in some way.

My favorite day was the last, when we arranged a 'Cultural Exchange Day' and invited all the farmers and their families.  Each volunteer spoke a little about their country and shared a national food (I made French Fries).  Even the two volunteers from Japan reenacted a sumo wrestling match!  But the best part was when our hosts shared about their own culture, the Calingin tribe.  They were so warm and welcoming, and they made us so much food it was unbelievable!

I am now back at Nyumbani, saying my goodbyes because I leave for the last part of my journey in Senegal on Saturday morning.  I will send an update as soon as I'm settled.  Leaving Kenya, epsecially the kids, will be hard, and I'm filled with gratitude that I could be here and share in their lives.

Sunday October 7, 2007

Today I'm leaving Nyumbani for three weeks, to join another volunteer project in Nakuru, Kenya, a few hours northwest of Nairobi.  The project is working with a small farmers' cooperative -- I'm excited to have a different experience of Kenya but it was hard to say goodbye to the kids in my cottage last night.  I had to promise I would send postcards from Nakuru and bring candy when I got back!

It's especially hard to leave now because we just got a new little girl in my cottage, Rosemary.  She's five years old and adorable.  She only speaks Swahili (like many kids who come here at first, if they aren't old enough to have started school yet) -- so I have been stretching my limited language skills in order to talk to her!  She has been amazingly resilient and receptive to everything about life here, and it's wonderful to see how good the other kids are to her.  Her mother had died and she was being raised by her grandmother, who could no longer take care of her.  She was admitted Wednesday and is already running around with all the other kids!  I gave her a piece of chocolate on her first day which she didn't quite know what to do with, and she was also mystified by the toilets, so mom had to help.  She has been really responsive to attention, and now always insists on sitting in my lap during storytime!  It's amazing to see how adaptable these kids are.

The bad part about getting new kids, though, is that there is an endless supply of them.  Kenya is getting more and more stable politically, and many children's homes have been founded, but there are still many many children who are orphaned every day -- mainly by AIDS.  I see awareness and protection campaigns all over the place, so I am hoping a day will come when Nyumbani has places that aren't filled.

Wednesday September 26, 2007

The last few weeks here have been emotional.  Last Thursday, one of the children here died after a long and painful illness.  Ken was 12 and he weighed 25 pounds.  Most of the children here have been on anti-retroviral drugs to treat their HIV for several years, if not almost their whole life.  But Ken only arrived here at Nyumbani in January, already with a case of tuberculosis.  His health deteriorated and he grew weaker and weaker, and for the last several months his main joy was sitting in the sun, watching the people come and go.  He was moved to the sickroom but in his last hours asked to be taken back to the cottage, where he died.  There was a funeral on Saturday, with a service in the morning in the schoolhouse, then a burial at a nearby cemetary.  The two cottage moms spoke and his cottage siblings came to put flowers on the grave.  All the kids react to death in different ways, but for the older ones especially it brings about reflection on their own condition, and their luckiness to have had early treatment.

Since the funeral, Nyumbani has gradually returned to regular life.  The kids are studying hard for their November exams, and I have been working with two other volunteers in organizing the library.  Books have been donated over the last year by American libraries and colleges, so we have been going through box after box, separating by reading level and subject.  It's kind of fun to be organizing a library from scratch!  Nyumbani converted a tin-roofed building by putting in drywall and lots of shelves and desks.  When we're finished there will be a carpeted area for the little ones to read, and maybe some laptops for educational games.  The kids keep coming by asking when we'll be finished, so it looks like the library will be put to good use!  I'll send a picture when it's done.

I hope everything at UCCB is going well, I appreciate your continued support so much!

Sunday September 9, 2007

The last few weeks have been busy at Nyumbani!  We held our Olympic Games event during the last week of summer vacation, which the kids loved, and then school started up again on Monday, which the kids loved less.  And Susan, my roommate, invited me along on a day out to the American Embassy with 10 kids from the 400 Club (everyone who got at least a 400 out of 500 on their end-of-term school exams).  It was an incredible day, and Susan and I were especially excited to be on 'American soil'!  We met the ambassador, went on a tour, had lunch and soda (the kids' favorite part), and then went to the PEPFAR offices.

PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is the American agency that pays for all the anti-retroviral drugs at Nyumbani.  The kids each introduced themselves and thanked the staff for the medicine.  It was a great experience both for the kids, who needed to realize that their medicine actually comes from somewhere, and for the staff, who were very moved by the kids' presence.  One American woman who worked there told me that they always joke that they're "saving lives through spreadsheets" because of the program's logisitcal and bureaucratic needs -- but seeing the kids personalized it so much more, and was a reminder of who actually benefits from all the work they do.

And yesterday the whole Nyumbani community had 'Nyumbani Day', celebrating the 15th anniversary of the organization's founding.  There was a church service with a guest priest, then many of the kids performed songs, dances, or poems that they have been practicing.  One of the Kenyan board members also spoke, mostly about Father Angelo D'Agostino, the American Jesuit who founded the orphanage from his home with 3 children in 1992 and was behind every aspect of its amazing growth.  He was a huge campaigner for the children, and even sued the Kenyan government in 2004 to allow HIV+ children into public schools.  He died suddenly in November 2006, so this was the first Nyumbani Day without him.  There were a lot of prayers and rememberances for him, and seeing the kids all perform was really fun.  (This picture is of some of the girls dressed up and dancing during the service.)

Sunday August 26, 2007

This week there was a special event: a big send-off for Dennis, the first kid to 'graduate' from Nyumbani!  At 25, he is the oldest here, and he has been working and saving money for the last few years after graduating high school at 22.  Nyumbani was first established as a hospice for HIV+ children.  But since the anti-retroviral drugs are proving so effective, they are surviving into their teenage years and into adulthood.

He decided it was time to move out, in order to make room for other children to benefit from Nyumbani's care.  Everyone on the staff was so proud of his decision.  It has become a serious question for the staff here -- how to give the kids a sense of future beyond the orphanage, especially since many of them don't really believe they'll survive; and for the older kids, how to make the transition to the 'outside world.'  I think is was really good for the kids to see a role model from among their peers.  The send-off was very lively, with all the kids singing, dancing, or performing poems and skits.  Everyone was especially excited because there was cake and soda!

This was also the last week of our summer vacation 'school', and so the upcoming week will be full of fun programming and outings.  We'll be taking to the kids out to the movies, have a disco in the schoolhouse, and
hold an 'Olympic Games' tournament.  It will be a lot of fun, and I'm sure the kids will love having a whole week for fun and games before school starts again!

Friday August 10, 2007

Last week I went with some of the other volunteers to Nyumbani's sister project, 'The Village,' which is about a 4 hour drive on some very bumpy roads. The Village is a project under construction, where grandparents whose adult children have died of AIDS live together with orphans in family settings. There is a school, church, acres of crops, and lots of grannies weaving baskets which are sold at craft markets. The visit was really interesting, especially since Nyumbani is trying to make the whole village sustainable -- so they are putting in irrigation, raising pigs and chickens, and even growing caster plants in order to make biodiesel fuel. It was cool to see how Nyumbani is expanding and reaching out to different populations besides focusing solely on children.

And earlier this week, I heard a presentation given by Susan Gold, an American nurse here as a Fulbright Scholar (and my roommate here at Nyumbani)! Her project is to teach adolescent sexuality courses to teenagers who are HIV positive. The presentation was incredible. There is so much that these kids have to deal with being HIV positive that it is easy to focus on keeping them healthy, while forgetting the psychological toll it begins to take once they are old enough to fully realize the implications of their illness.

Other than that, I have been busy now that the kids are on their month-long summer holidays! I am tutoring fifth graders in math and English and running the Arts and Crafts club with another volunteer, Natalie. So for most of this week I've been covered in glue. The kids have a great time, though, and it's nice to see the finished products -- tissue paper flowers! We're planning to hang them in the preschool/church building so everyone can see them on Sunday at the service.

Sunday July 29, 2007

I am coming to the end of my third week here at Nyumbani, but with everything I've seen and done, it feels like so much longer!  Last week each cottage celebrated all the July birthdays, so there was cake and ice cream, and donated gifts for the birthday kids.  It was a really fun evening, and all the kids got into the festive mood.  I even learned some happy-birthday and cake-cutting songs in Swahili!

A few days ago all the volunteers arranged a visit to Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa (after Soweto in South Africa).  Nyumbani runs an outreach program there called Lea Toto, which means 'to raise a child'.  The program provides HIV positive kids (who live with their families) with anti-retroviral drugs. Two social workers took us around the slum, which is huge, and everywhere we saw children and animals.  We accompanied the social workers on two home visits to see how some of the babies were doing.  Both young mothers were incredibly welcoming and eager to share their experiences.  The experience was intense, and it is difficult to describe the vastness of the poverty there.  But it was so hopeful to see the good work being done by social workers, doctors and nurses, nursery care providers, and volunteers, who were all Kenyan themselves.  The Children's Home seems so fortunate in comparison, as it is established, relatively well-funded, and the kids' health has (for the most part) been stabilized.

We are getting closer to the month-long school vacation, when I'll be tutoring fifth graders in math and English and helping run arts and crafts.  There is still a lot of planning to do, but I'm looking forward to it!

Monday July 16, 2007

I've been at Nyumbani for a week now, and am having an incredible experience! I'm doing well, still learning a lot and settling in but having a great time.  The days are long and busy--in the mornings I work with two other volunteers in the "shamba", the garden, and then in the afternoons and evenings I go to my assigned cottage to help with homework and play.  There are 14 kids in each cottage along with one house mother, and they are all very eager to have your attention for a song or a book!

The children's home itself has been an eye-opener, as the cottages are a model that provide the kids with a sense of family dynamic.  The whole place is a pretty large compound, which I think I've seen most of through my work in the gardens!  So far I've been on cottage roofs sweeping off leaves, using a machete to cut grass and bushes, and having to fend off the three militant geese that don't seem to appreciate our presence!

Everyone has been so welcoming, the kids, the staff, and the other volunteers.  And Kenya is so much fun--on our day off on Sunday I went with two other volunteers to a Giraffe Center where we went upon platforms to feed giraffes and got slobbered all over!

This past week has been overwhelming at times, but the work is good and the kids are great, and I'm so grateful I have this opportunity!


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