There are times when the human spirit humbles me beyond myself. Today was one such time.
A few days ago, we met a group of women who are fighting for their lives. This group of 33 women have a battle few of us could relate to. An incurable disease has taken their health, their families, their livelihoods, and in many cases their dignity. Yet, they have banded together to say-We will fight and we will take back what has been lost! These are ladies infected with HIV/AIDS.
In Kenya, as in most places, HIV/AIDS is a feared disease whose victims are often misunderstood, shunned, and even abused. Many of these ladies were infected by the very men who have become the accusers. And yet, they fight. They fight for health, they fight for dignity, and they give of themselves to one another and to their community in a way that exalts the Jesus within.
At our meeting on Wednesday, they showed us how they have started a small business in making soap and selling it in their community. This micro-finance project allows these ladies to get the much needed food to remain healthy despite the virus. I am told that many of them have become accountability partners to make sure that each one takes her medicines and eats well. They share with each other, and check in with each other daily. Such deep friendships.
During their visit on Wednesday, we told them about our plans to begin what will become a small garden or “shamba” to assist the school with rising food costs. We are beginning to shift our focus here at We Are Kenya from the “emergency” way of caring, to plans that will provide sustainability to our community. We don’t want dependency any more than they do, so we are looking for ways to front projects that they can continue with independence. One such idea was that of a small garden where collard greens, tomatoes, and onions could be grown. While these are not high priced items, we figured that it would save $10 per usage. Meaning, the days that collard greens are eaten from this garden, $10.00 less is spent on food! If collards are eaten eight times per month, that is nearly $80.00! It really does make a difference!
This plan was shared with the ladies as questions were being asked about the large pile of soil that had been dumped outside of the school.
All week, we have been excited about starting this project today. You must imagine that each of us had a different view of what this would look like. For me, I heard that we would be planting the seedlings in sacks that rice and feed are purchased in. So, I envisioned a row of large white bags, filled with soil, and seedling places on top. For others, the idea was smooth soil with little plants peeking out in neat clean rows…much like we would have at home.
We were ALL wrong! The ladies in the HIV/AIDS mission knew a member of the agricultural branch of government. When they heard of our plan, they called her to come and monitor the project. She politely told us that we had it all wrong and if we would allow her to help, she could show us a way that would row plants for three years in much more efficient way. We are all about that!
So, four posts are dug into the ground and strong plastic is wrapped around in a tube-like fashion. Now, it gets complicated, but I will try to explain how this is done. A metal can-about the size of a paint can, is places in the middle on the bottom and filled with smallish rocks. Dirt and soil is then packed around this can. When it is level, the can is moved higher and the process is repeated. At this point, large amounts of soil and fertilizer is being hauled from outside of the school into the space between the school and the apartments. Water is continuously added to pack the dirt down and combine the fertilizer. At the end, you have a deep tube about four feet high with a tower of rocks in the middle where water will be poured twice a week. Now, holes are formed in the plastic and the dirt where the seedlings are inserted and left to grow. In all it takes about four feet of space, less than $65.00 and a whole lot of labor.
We came ready to work, you know. Well, actually, the rest of the team came in old clothes and garden gloves ready to haul dirt and dig deep. BUT, we didn’t really have the chance. Why? Because about ten ladies from the HIV/AIDS group showed up and showed us up! They hauled dirt, pushed wheelbarrows, hauled water, pounded rocks, and planted seedlings with the energy of young people. They worked so hard and so fast we were left with little to do! When we broke for lunch, at the insistence of Grace, they refused to stop until the job was finished. Despite the strong drugs that make them ill, they pushed through to the end.
That is what I mean. I expected people to show up and help. I knew as the word of our intentions got out that people from the church and community would come to help-this is Kenya after all. However, the last people I expected to see were these ladies. No one can question the heart, the dignity, or the well deserved pride they had today. I have in recent months witnessed family on my side grieve at the loss of loved ones to cancer. It has caused me to reflect on my life more than usual. I have wondered many times what I would do if I found myself with a terminal illness. Would I hide out? Run? Languish from depression? Probably. But I have seen something of what lies within these women that I will never forget-a selflessness, a comradeship, an unexplainable will to live and make a life worth living. I am truly humbled.
If you catch me complaining…remind me.
Collard green and spinach seedlings
Ok, I am just messing with Patti! She actually hauled a very difficult wheelbarrow filled with soil over a very bumpy terrain and did not dump it over! Here she is actually learning how this garden will be built.