Tricounty News

From Kimball to Kenya: Hasslens share experience

On Dec. 27, 2007, the outcome of elections in Kenya was deemed to have been rigged, resulting in the beginning of violence and  chaos throughout the country. Having spent much time in Kenya during the last seven years, I was anxious for my parents (Joel and Robin Hasslen) to finally journey over to experience my "other world". However, on the day (Dec. 31) of their departure, I was forced to phone them and suggest that they reschedule their trip due to the rising insecurity.  At no time did I feel that I was in danger; however, travel in the country was limited due to sporadic roadblocks. When my parents finally did arrive two weeks later, violence had subsided and Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, had begun talks with the government and the opposition. I had arrived in Kenya Nov. 20 to spend a month and a half with Judie Makandi, the 18-year-old woman I sponsor. Judie is an orphan who was unable to attend school until she was 11 years old and is in grade seven now at a boarding school in Chogoria, Kenya. In order to afford this time in Kenya, I worked for a Kenyan non-profit, Ripples International (an organization that works with children and people living with HIV/AIDS) which in turn, provided me with room and board. For Christmas, Judie and I traveled to Ngong, a city south of Nairobi to stay with a Kenyan couple who cares for 16 orphans. We stayed there during the elections, which by and large were peaceful. Results trickled in, and Kenyans became more and more concerned as no winner was declared. We went back to Nairobi for New Years, when it was broadcast that Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Almost immediately, violence erupted in the country. Then the government banned all live broadcasts and for two days the only way we knew what was happening in the country was to call friends who lived in other areas. When we could determine that it was safe to travel, Judie and I went back to Meru which was a Kibaki stronghold and a safe haven at this time. Judie returned to school and I went back to work for Ripples while I waited for my parents to arrive. Once my parents arrived, our biggest obstacle was not the violence but the rain, which was unseasonable. I wanted my parents to get to know the people who had become like family to me. So I took them into the Rift Valley to meet a group of Masaai. We stayed in a tin-sided house with a dirt floor and giraffes just outside the compound. From there, we traveled to Nyaoga, a village in western Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria. We had to time our trip to avoid violence in the region. Nyaoga is a village on the edge. The water in Lake Victoria is polluted, the ground water is not potable, and diseases such as malaria, typhoid and cholera are rampant and often result in death. HIV is also endemic to this area. One of the most moving experiences here was to visit the house of a woman who had recently died of complications to AIDS. When we arrived, we found that her husband had left three children and his second wife's son in the care of a 16-year-old nephew. The children had only the clothes on their backs, no shoes and no food. This is not an atypical occurrence. We immediately bought food and medicine and left money for clothes but know that it was only a band-aid for a larger problem - that of poverty. What left the biggest impression on my parents was the sheer number of orphans, the poor conditions of the schools, and the lack of nutrition. Despite the sense of desperation experienced by foreigners like my parents, hope is not dead. You can see it in the churches, in the smiles on faces of children, and in the voices of this generation who believes in their ability to create change in their country. My parents' experience in Kenya was that of a person-to-  person connection which brings hope because the Kenyans they met now know that someone cares for and understands them. Going to Kenya changed my parents' lives. They now feel a responsibility to help create positive change and hope in Kenya. While the issues surrounding the elections are not yet resolved, talks are in process and Kenyans continue to hope and pray that peace will be restored. In two weeks I will  return to Kenya to finish the work that was interrupted by the  insecurity in the country. For more information about my work in Kenya, see Give Us Wings Web site at www.giveuswings.org. If you are interested in reading more about my personal experience in Kenya, go to 360.yahoo.com/jjhasslen.