Our volunteers are working in Nakuru District [red dot] in partnership with MAP International.
Our volunteers are working in Nakuru District (red dot) in partnership with MAP International.
In the wake of post-election violence, medical volunteers Brenda Maldonado and Lou Ingrisano are providing care for the most vulnerable people—children and mothers—caught in the midst of violent tribal warfare.
It is our last day of clinic at the Makutano Camp in Koibatek District in Kenya. I am thankful I can provide care to these lovely and gracious people.
What our clinic was like, in the midst of camp:
Daily we drove from Nakuru over an hour to the Makutano camp. We organized the pharmacy, and then I would call registered patients. I took initial vital signs: blood pressures on adults; temperatures and weights on children and babies. I gave de-worming medication to all who passed through the doors.
The patients waited on wooden benches to be called by the “daktari” and examined. Patients with wounds or needing an injection were sent to the wound care/injection room. After being seen and treated, all went outside the tent to the pharmacy window where they gave their treatment booklet and received free medication. It was a smooth flowing operation.
The people I wish you could meet...
Here I am with my teammates, my friends, whom I will miss. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Maldonado)
I have grown a great respect for the Kenyan health workers we worked alongside. They are bright, well-trained and ask good questions. We have become fast friends and spent the hours driving to and from the camp learning about each others’ cultures.
I have been humbled by my precious patients, living in instability and hardship, and yet enduring. I love that they smile and laugh at my attempts at speaking Kiswahili.
I want to show you the tattered, dirty rags that they are wearing for clothing, as they have nothing else.
I want to let you see the little “mammas” grandmothers, that can barely see and walk, and show you how they must climb all around this bumpy hillside and sleep on the ground.
I want you to welcome the children walking back from school escorted for protection to a camp setting, not a warm home with a nice snack on the table.
Here are the children pulling the "cars" they created from water bottles they found. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
I wish you could feel the hot skin of the children whose temperatures have reached 39.5 C [103.1 F] and know that without this clinic they would probably start to have febrile seizures.
I would also love for you to see the children's playfulness and ingenuity: They gather castaway water bottles, form wheels out of scraps, and then tie strings and pull them as cars.
The adults, even having experienced great trauma and loss, are friendly and inquisitive. They are hard workers and carry heavier loads on their heads and shoulders than I could ever carry.
Saying goodbye is never easy
I have made so many friends here in such a short month. I will miss them. It is always with mixed emotions when these short-term medical missions draw to a close. I am anxious to get home to my creature comforts, safety, and most of all, my husband. I know I may never see any of these people again, but I would like to. We have formed a bond, and they have made me a better person for knowing them. The people in the camps have trusted me and shared their stories with me. The health care workers I have worked alongside have had their hearts broken as well, and we have had long discussions about their beloved Kenya and the prospects of the future.
It is so strange to imagine that a week from now I will have been home for a couple of days, and all of this will be a distant memory. In a week I will be shivering with cold and cursing the grey skies. But I will be oh so thankful, and feel so blessed at all I have.
It is early Sunday morning, and I still feel drained from a long week. I am in Nairobi, and it is nice to not have anything scheduled today.
As I have said previously, the national health workers I travel with to the camp are from different tribes. They all get along well, and I have not sensed any tension. They debate all the way from Nakuru to the camp on different issues of the day, and on the way back in the evening. It is a very noisy ride, but fun and interesting.
Kenyans speaking forgiveness to their people
Here I am with a Red Cross worker, one of my new Kenyan friends whom I will miss. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Maldonado)
This past week, my Kenyan team decided to take matters into their own hands. On the way home the group stopped and spoke with a few women selling honey beside the road in the town of Muserechi, the place where the priest was killed in the violence a month ago. The women expressed great regret at all of the events, and the group spoke of forgiveness and learning to live together.
On Thursday morning, five from the health team started walking through the camp speaking with different people, and invited them to a clearing for a meeting. Just over a hundred people sat on the open slope facing our group of five. When it appeared that most were there, one of the clinical officers started speaking and offered a prayer. All of the team spoke of learning to forgive, and trying to learn to live together again. They spoke about camp issues and gave more information about our clinic.
It was wonderful to see Cynthia and Scholastica, a Kikuyu and a Kalenjin, hug before the group as an example of how different tribes can learn to live together again. The people of the camp listened respectfully, and one woman shared how all of the people in that area attend the same church. She said it is difficult to forgive as the people that she once sat next to in church were the ones now living in her home and displacing her.
I don't know how to answer that. But I do know that the cycle of avenging wrongs is never ending, and somehow, one must make the choice to step out of it. I hope that this woman is able to make positive choices for a better life. People may be able to run her out of her home, but they can't control her attitude and her spirit.
I am looking at less than a week before our departure from Kenya with mixed emotions. I am tired and ready to see Mike and home again, but I am leaving new friends that I don't know if I will see again.
With love, Brenda
This has to be short and quick.
I had to commandeer a vehicle to get to the UNICEF office tonight to get Internet access. The lack of e-mail communication is the hardest for me on this trip. We are having way too long of delays for sometimes no good reason. The camp we're at has taken shape and is a well-oiled machine, and we are giving good care despite the situation.
Lou continues to go to two other camps. Things there have been frustrating and unorganized, but when I stopped by today, things were improving and they got out at a decent hour.
A ride in unstable territory
Entire communities were burned. Those who used to live in these homes and operate these businesses now live in makeshift camps. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
I took a ride today with a couple of the MAP staff through some still very unstable territory. I got my first taste of what the real situation is here in north Rift Valley. We drove past hundreds of homes and businesses that had been torched, a place where people once lived and worked. It was overwhelming to see so many blocks of homes burnt to the ground; I had only seen scattered ones before. Even now it is tense in these areas.
My new name: "The expected rain"
My team members have now given me a Kikuyu name, Nyambura, which means "the expected rain." This is way more than I deserve. To them, the expected rain brings peace and good things. I only wish I had that much power to bring peace. At least I can be an ambassador for peace to the few hundred I will touch at this camp.
One of my favorite animal photos: A giraffe practicing its stealth moves. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
It's funny, people always ask why I like to travel to these tough places, or countries in turmoil. I don't know; I've been giving it some thought. I do know that I feel so blessed in my life and as an American that a part of me just feels like I want to and need to give back and help those that are in hopeless or helpless situations.
I like helping in areas where few want to travel. I am no hero, nor do I really care about accolades. It is thanks enough to receive the smiles and warm handshakes from the people I treat. I learn and get more out of my humanitarian efforts than I think I give sometimes. As always, there are mixed motives for everything we do—I just simply love to see new places and faces.
A restful spot in the beauty of Kenya
A mother rhino rests with her baby below a tree full of huge pelicans. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
This weekend we had a day and a half free, and quite frankly, I was depleted by yesterday afternoon. We now find ourselves at the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge inside of the Nakuru National Park on Lake Nakuru. In caring for others in difficult places, it is so important to take care of oneself in order to prevent illness and burnout. It is nice to be in a quiet, peaceful place.
I did not know this, but Lake Nakuru is a salt water lake and attracts thousands of pink flamingos, along with other hundreds of species of birds. It was so cool to look over the lake and see huge bands of pink along the water's edge, along with large groups of white, which turned out to be white flamingos, and hundreds of pelicans.
We walked to within 20 yards of the birds, over soil encrusted white with salt. We also got to see a ton of big game in their natural habitats. We saw white rhinos, giraffes, zebras, wart hogs, gazelles, water buck, baboons, monkeys and antelope. We saw flamingos by the thousands and it is the coolest thing to watch them take flight—but not to be outdone by large groups of pelicans with an amazing wing span at least 10 feet across.
The current reality of Kenya
Most people in the camp have no tents or permanent shelters. They have taken branches and bent them, then thrown a tarp over the top. It is a small space to sleep under, and you are not able to stand up in it. They must cook, eat and sit outside. It is a high elevation here, over 6,000 feet, and gets cold at night. The winds tend to whip around at times, blowing clouds of dirt and cold air. The women are birthing babies and raising children in this harsh environment. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
We needed to recharge and this short time away from reality was just the ticket. Tomorrow we head back to the camps, to a very harsh reality. To families living in tiny shelters consisting of tarps draped over branches or lovely Rotary Club tents. A reality of no running or clean water for thousands, no electricity, pit latrines that reek and are fly-infested. Cooking over open wood fires with huge clouds of dust brought in by strong winds.
It is not so hard for me. I get to drive away at the end of the day. But these poor people have to give birth here and try to raise children here. These people take risks going out of the safe confines of the camps to go to a store or even to their fields to work.
I just pray for peace, for leaders to realize that they are killing their own people.
Africa is a fantastic continent with amazing countries like Kenya, filled with exotic animals and foods, and beautiful people of different cultures. I am falling even more in love with East Africa!
We have also passed the burned-out frame of a car that was carrying a couple of priests that were pulled from the car. One priest was stoned by an angry mob and the other spared because he was from the right tribe. They had gone together to advocate for peace after the elections.
It does something to you on the inside to pass such a place, so fresh of senseless madness. It was hard to hold back the tears. I can't imagine what these people have had to see and experience, and I don't know how they will find peace and security any time soon.
This clinic serves 2,000 or so displaced people in the area. We just set it up and started running it this week. A large tent with black plastic sheeting inside makes walls for exam rooms and a pharmacy. We are seeing basic things that you see in the Sub-Sahara: malaria, respiratory tract infections, and camp-related illnesses.
Visit from USAID
Yesterday, when we arrived at the clinic we saw two USAID trucks and some "muzungus" (white people) talking with some of the displaced people. Well, you know me, I had to go over and see what they were up to, so I introduced myself. They were doing camp assessments, as USAID has provided a huge grant in this relief effort, and that is what is paying for our clinic. It was nice to chat with them and get their impressions. The camps continue to grow, unfortunately, and everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what will come of the peace talks.
Tribes working together, setting an example
We saw this rhino with a group of buffalo, and thought he had an identity crisis. Then we decided he was showing us all how to get along even if you are from different backgrounds! (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
I am thankful that our partner, MAP International, has taken a stance that all of their staff will continue to work together and be an example to all. In our group alone we have traveling together people from four tribes. This is a good start to showing others that we can work and live at peace together again.
I am thankful to be here. To greet the children and shake their hands, to touch and smile at the people I treat and show them that someone does care. We have now treated several tribes at the different camps we are working at, tribes that have attacked each other, and not knowing the languages or the differences they are all suffering just the same. They are all grieving, and they all are hoping for a better life again.
Please, for me today, try to not see differences in others, but similarities!
P.S. In 20+ years this is the first time I have missed celebrating my husband's birthday with him. He was sacrificial enough to let me come at this time. Happy Birthday, Mike; I love you!
It is 9:30pm and I am in my cubible of a hotel room in Nakuru, Kenya. The streets are eerily empty as a curfew is being enforced for the town from 7pm to 6am.
We are traveling these days overland by minivan to a town where just a couple of weeks ago there was much violence and disruption. A number of IDP camps are scattered throughout the town. We are working at one run by a church. They have a building that is perfect for our clinic, and have organized all of the camp so well. At night people fill the church to sleep in it.
Filling in at the hospital for nurses who had to flee
For the past couple of days I have worked at the Molo District Hospital, as they are short-staffed. People don't realize that in these tribal clashes not only are the common laborers affected, but also professionals. Nurses, doctors, pharmacists, school teachers—anyone, really, of the wrong tribe living in an area predominantly of another tribe—have been chased away. They lost all of their possesions, land that they owned for years, and security.
Much Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
We are fine, health-wise and safety-wise. We are learning a lot and seeing a kind of sorrow that no one should. So many people are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. One lady in the clinic yesterday had not slept for two weeks. Let's hope the several doses of valium helps her get some rest. Again there is so much to tell...working in a Kenyan hospital is an eye-opener. One good thing: I helped revive a newborn baby.
Very tired...driving on Kenya roads is a course in self defense. Emotionally, seeing little kids in a camp setting is draining, and we don't have much down time.
May peace continue to be the trend here,
This woman was riding a matatu (minivan taxi) when the Mungiki pulled it over and were asking what tribe people were from. They started pulling people out and killing them if they were not Kikuyu. She ran toward the GK Prison and amazingly they gave her and up to 5,000 others refuge in the prison compound. A few days later she went to see about her home, which had been burned, and she was again chased back to the prison. All the she owns in the world is beside her and her children. Her children witnessed the violence.
(Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
Mixed in with all of the tragedy and suffering is an amazing beauty that is Kenya.
I am enjoying the tropical fruit available here, just off the tree. Many of the trees and bushes have flowers in bloom. We saw wild baboons on the side of the road and in the trees, and while driving back to our residence from the camp one evening I was shocked out of my stupor by 5 or 6 zebras grazing in a field.
The most beautiful part of Kenya is the people. They are gorgeous with amazing facial features and creamy skin. I just love the babies and children that so easily laugh and smile at us. They are a soft spoken and very polite people. I have heard many of their stories...they don't complain when they share their suffering.
Many have approached me in the past week, wanting monetary help to get to their ancestral homes. When I tell them I am here providing only free medical care and medicines, they thank me and bless me and walk away. They don't beg and plead, and somehow this is harder for me to take. I want to help them all, but I can't, and I can't help one as then they will all come forward. It is a difficult thing to see them in this situation and say no. It makes me want to cry even now.
It is a terrible corner of the world at present, but there is always beauty and friendship to be found. I am happy to be here; at the moment, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Bless someone today,
It is Friday evening and I am at a little slice of heaven in Nairobi. I have a hotel room facing the garden again, and it is peaceful. It has been a long day and week. I am not feeling great, and started a course of antibiotics this morning. Hopefully by tomorrow I will be back to good health.
This is one of the tiny babies brought into our clinic. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Maldonado)
Today was a hard day at the camp. We didn't really treat any patients, but we organized our drugs and put things away. A ton of new NGOs and the media came by the police station camp. The UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) also made a stop. A Kenyan TV station interviewed me about the situation in the camp, but the peace talks between Annan, Kibaki and Odinga consumed the news tonight, and I am glad. I hope they are able to start working something out. Things are so very complicated here. I have learned a lot, as I have been asking a lot of questions, but I can't begin to tell you all the intricacies to these issues.
It is discouraging seeing these people living in terrible conditions. The word on the street was that they were to be moved to another more permanent camp. They don't want to move; they want help to go back to their ancestral homes, where they hope to find safety.
I am getting very tired, so off to bed for me.
At an internet cafe, where the keyboard keys stick and the connection is slow.
We are working at the Naivasha Police Station IDP camp. It is an unofficial camp; not organized, and the people receive only sporadic help. I have become somewhat in charge of the camp, as we have been the only constant presence. Now even the police chief and head of the crime department come to me or send people to me.
A visit from a foreign ambassador
Daily, NGOs [non governmental organizations] stop by to assess the situation. I tell them all the same thing: The people need shelter, food, clothing, money to go home, money to bury their dead.
This morning a foreign ambassador visited the camp. He walked toward me, so I introduced myself. The ambassador asked me about the situation. I told him the same thing I have told all of the NGOs coming through. We were encircled with at least 100 camp people listening.
When the ambassador made a move to leave, he looked at me and then at his main guy, who moved over to me and gave me his card and asked for my cell number. Not sure what it is about, but I think I will be getting a call from the ambassador. Maybe because I told it like it was.
Now the men in the camp all wave at me and greet me. I obviously made a couple hundred friends today! We'll see if they can get the help they so desperately need.
Others are joining our work
People waiting in line for their food rations. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
A large group from Nairobi Women's Hospital is here with medications. And the Ministry of Health is supposed to come as well, to do antenatal clinic and vaccines. We think it is more important for people from Kenya to treat the people and hear the stories, so they get a better picture of what has happened. Many Kenyans were unaffected by the violence and don't realize the severity of the camps.
We have a good team. Lou and I are with two medical personnel from World Harvest: Lois, an licensed practical nurse, and Kimberly, a nurse practioner. They have been working in the Kibera slums and now with us for a couple of weeks.
Today is a better day. I'm not so exhausted, but this situation weighs oh so heavy on all of us. I can't convey, and so wish I could, the conditions here. We live in such a padded and sheltered world in the U.S., where all one has to do is change the television channel.
Want to tell you so much more—about new friends, British expats that, as residents of Naivasha, are coming of their own accord to the camp daily and feeding the people. They feel so horribly to see their friends, neighbors, employees living like this. It is sad.
Need to get back and see how things are going at camp,
A mother trying her best to bathe her baby, all of her worldy possessions on the wall behind her. (Photo by Brenda Maldonado)
I'm exhausted! It's heartbreaking to see people living in these conditions. No shelter and out in the open. Much trauma suffered by all. Will try and send a better message soon but it's not easy here.
We are safe, but there are many rumors of the Mungiki (African mafia) on the prowl. The people in the camps have been terrorized. They are scared to leave. This conflict is multi-faceted. More than just tribal.
It is beautiful here but things will never be the same as the segregation continues between tribes that lived peacefully for years. The needs are overwhelming. Basic needs for shelter, food, clean water, clothes, body bags, money for coffins, money for transportation to their ancestral homes.
Brenda Maldonado serving in a camp for displaced people in northern Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Maldonado)
We have arrived safely. It is midnight here in Nairobi. I have been traveling since Friday morning. Now, 19 hours of flying time and one three-hour layover later, I am sitting in my very nice—actually quite luxurious—hotel. We are just a short walk away from MAP International's office, our project partner for the next month.
I am typing this on my laptop and using the wireless service. I desperately need sleep, but my body says I should be awake. Everything has gone smoothly. We cleared customs and got all our bags with no difficulty.
A representative from MAP International has briefed us on the situation. We will remain in Nairobi for a day to plan our work for the next month, then head to a town in the Nakuru District to work with a hospital team.
Tonight my windows are open and the air is pleasant. I hear the sound of crickets, but it is otherwise very quiet.
So now, I will try and get some sleep.
All is well, Brenda
[E-mail to friends before departure]
I am in the thick of packing my bags and wanted a break, so I will share with you about my upcoming trip to Kenya. I have been hoping to serve in Darfur, Sudan, since last fall. I was scheduled to go February 9, but that trip was postponed due to instability in the area.
Then Medical Teams International asked if I would consider serving the people of Kenya. Of course I said I was available!
Brenda Maldonado (back left) with a group of Ugandan children. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Maldonado)
Why the need in Kenya?
Kenya has been a fairly stable and safe country to visit since its independence in 1963. There have been reports of government corruption, but the country remained a major destination for tourists and missionaries alike.
This past December, President Mwai Kibaki declared himself winner of the presidential election, but opposition leader Raila Odinga cried foul play and stated that the election was rigged. Odinga's supporters started violently protesting the outcome and demanded that Kibaki step down.
The dispute quickly spiraled downward in December and January. Violent clashes between tribes and different ethnic groups have resulted in more than 800 deaths. Thousands of homes and buildings have been burned, looted or destroyed; crops have been lost and more than 300,000 people have fled their homes.
Thousands of others have been brutally beaten and attacked. The violent uprisings continue to grow and spread, creating new IDP (internally displaced people) camps from so many seeking refuge and safety since losing their homes.
Lou Ingrisano cared for hundreds of flood-affected people, including this boy, in Tabasco, Mexico, last December. (Photo by Otto Gonzalez)
I depart the morning of Feb. 1, to volunteer with Medical Teams International. I will meet up with my teammate, Lou Ingrisano, in the Netherlands. Then we will fly to Kenya and arrive Saturday night.
We will meet our partner, MAP International, another humanitarian organization that specializes in providing essential medications to poor countries. We will work in several clinics, providing primary health care in several of the largest IDP camps/shelters outside of Nakuru, located two hours northwest of Nairobi.
As always, the innocent and weak suffer the most in these situations, and many women and children have been adversely affected by all the violence. We hope to bring some relief and hope to these people who are hurting so much.
Please keep us as well as the people of Kenya in your thoughts and prayers.
Off to pack,