Ambassador Perspective: Quality Care

All smiles

by Alannah Flanick, Flying Kites Health Ambassador

It’s hard to believe I arrived in Kenya only a few weeks ago. I’ve experienced so much already, it feels like I’ve been here for months! Already, I have ventured around Nairobi with the other ambassadors, visited the gorgeous Tribe hotel, where Flying Kites has previously hosted a fundraiser, taken medical inventory of the house, created first aid posters for the matrons, witnessed the success of the Cervical Cancer Screening Day at the Njabini Clinic, attended a Kenyan school ceremony, ridden around on several motorbikes and purchased deliciously fresh produce from Njabini market.

My most significant journey of late was last Monday, where I went with one of our kids and Auntie Grace, the health matron, to Kijabe, the large hospital near Njabini. We ventured to Kijabe for a check-up and in the end, the experience left me feeling simultaneously reassured and heartbroken. The ride to the hospital took about two hours, bus and car transfers included. That was somewhat worrisome in the event that emergency could strike, but it was a rather pleasant experience all things considered.

When we got to Kijabe, we checked in and waited in the sitting area, were called, waited in the special clinic, were seen, waited again and then finally saw the doctor. Although waiting so long was somewhat tiresome, it was not unexpected as there were MANY people gathered together, most watching the movie the hospital so nicely played on all of its televisions, hoping their name would soon be called for their appointment. It was during this waiting time that I was both impressed and disheartened.

There were doctors everywhere, running around like in every American hospital I’ve been to, ready for any emergency situation to strike and carrying themselves with the most official and professional demeanor. The hospital was large and clean with different wards for each specialty and the resources were more than fully stocked. The fact that so much was available and that doctors seemed ready at a moment’s notice was wonderful; before arriving, I just was not sure what to expect.

While I was busy taking in the vast array of care available and informative posters plastered on each wall, I could not help but lose focus due to an unbelievable number of people outside the HIV clinic, adults and children alike. The crowd ranged from seemingly healthy newborn babies to elderly people with open wounds and swelling to teenagers so severely muscle depleted they needed to be lifted before lying down. Quickly, the implications of living with HIV/AIDS became so real and so clear. I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and helplessness.

The Flying Kites kids are so lucky. They are cared for by doting doctors with their medical histories seemingly memorized. Although the appointment was not carried out in English, I could tell that much thought was placed into each question and the answers were carefully evaluated and elaborated upon if the answer was not sufficient. The juxtaposition between our kids, who have been so well taken care of, healthy and happy enough to tell of their life’s experiences, and those that simply have more limited resources, was glaring. Had these teenagers been seen earlier, maybe they would have been healthy and happy too.

During our visit to Kijabe, I realized just how much Flying Kites, with the help of all its supporters and fundraisers, has given to its children. They have restored childhoods, complete with the rightful level of health, nurturing, and lighthearted fun, and specifically for their kids living with HIV, they’ve provided the ability to enjoy life without facing the serious implications of living with such a frightening and complicated disease.


Exactly What All Children Need

If you want to smile and feel inspired, read on…

Exactly What All Children Need. – from our friends at Africa Yoga Project

How Birthdays Can Change Lives


This month we had the pleasure of hosting long time supporter, Kendi, for her 30th birthday at the Flying Kites home in Kenya. Kendi, who is one of our child sponsors, made the decision to ask each of her guests that in place of a birthday present, they make a donation to the children at Flying Kites. Donations ranged from school supplies to academic books and soccer balls. She and her husband flew into Kenya from the UK and met the rest of her friends and family at the home where we spent the day playing sports, eating lunch together, and dancing on the lawn.

When the rains began to show their cards, we gathered in the sitting room and held the largest family meeting in our history with upwards of 60 people huddled together. Each of us shared one thing we were grateful for and more often than not, it was for each other. We are so honored to have hosted Kendi and her family for such a wonderful celebration and humbled as our family continues to grow to include so many compassionate souls. More than anything, we are grateful to have extraordinary Kenyan mentors like Kendi and her family for the importance of strong role models can never be overstated. Asante Sana Kendi and family!

No matter where you are in the world, donating a birthday party to Flying Kites is easy. Instead of birthday presents, just ask your family and friends to donate to Flying Kites by becoming a sponsor. We’ll use 100% of the money raised towards creating a better future for all 26 of our children, that means that whether you get one person to sponsor or your entire network, you are changing lives.

-Hannah Peterson


Partnership, Humility, Action: Forging change

Mark Arnoldy of Nyaya Health and Paul Farmer of Partners in Health on stage at MCC 2012

This past weekend, we had the great pleasure of attending the 2012 Millennium Campus Conference at Northeastern University, where we joined 1,200 other attendees including student leaders, development professionals, innovative social benefit organizations, and some of the world’s leading economists, to discuss progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and how to more efficiently work towards their achievement.

With a superstar line up of keynote speakers including Dr Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Peace Prize Winner, Emilia Pires, Minister of Finance of Timor-Leste, and Steve Radelet, Chief Economist at USAID, there was no shortage of powerful minds and voices, urging the audience to listen closely to the populations they wish to serve, to act boldly, and act in concert with one another.

Over the course of the two day conference, more powerful speeches were given and discussions had then we could ever hope to summarize, but we would like to share a few pivotal moments with you:

  •  Akhtar Bradesh, Senior Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft urged the students and young leaders in attendance to:


2.)BE A LEARNER- “Listen when people say you don’t know anything.”

3.) FAIL – “You will fail- it is the only way to know success.”

4.)BE COMPASSIONATE, not just passionate.

“Compassion takes your personal work, drive, motivation and turns it into societal benefits.”

  • Dr. Paul Farmer insisted that you cannot plan ahead for every set back or defeat. He identified perseverance, humility and partnership as the key ingredients that will carry you through even the worst of disasters.
  • Steve Radelet of USAID stood in front of the packed auditorium, and boomed out, “Some people say development is failing. I am here to say they are wrong. Never before has there been so much progress… Fighting poverty is happening.”

We walked away from the 2012 MCC fired up  and excited to forge further partnerships as we strive towards better care, better education, and more widely accessible opportunity at the Flying Kites home, school, and surrounding community.

-Julianna Morrall Director, Ambassador Program

A Look in the Mirror

by Hannah Peterson, Flying Kites Ambassador

Mary stared intently at herself in a hand mirror, tilting it slightly to see her hairline, and then to the side to trace the lines of her ear. The playroom was set up like an art workshop with three big wooden tables cornered by benches, each with a mirror and bucket of colored pencils. For our Mlezi and Championi level sponsors, we decided to make self-portraits to send in the month of September. Orchestrating an activity for 26 energetic kids has its unique challenges, and having executed all sponsorship correspondences over the past year, I’d learned a couple key lessons to keep things going smoothly. Number one, create a lesson plan and split the kids into small groups. Number two, the kids mirror your excitement, so make it something that excites and challenges you too. And finally, number three, always, always, have dance music playing.

I set up my own table and armed myself with glue sticks for each finished picture to be set onto a glittery frame. I gave them the advice that I wished had been given to me in my first art class: draw what you perceive, not necessarily what you see. I knew it was a success when I heard laughter around the room and could look around at the tens of mirror faces revealing themselves.

In the past year, we have funneled effort into sustaining a more creative and evolved relationship between child and sponsor through a correspondence program that spans media types. From emails to holiday ornaments, to self-portraits, to video messages, our hopes are that this program has helped to reshape and enhance this relationship. The unexpected treasure though, always lies in the kids. In showing the kids how to creatively correspond with people around the globe, their own understanding of giving has evolved into a more creative and authentic outlook. It has been a meaningful journey to act as the bridge between child and sponsor, and with the growing intellectual and creative tools cultivated by the kids, I can’t wait to see where they take things next as our superstar Communications Ambassador, Adam, steps into the role.

First Impressions

by Adam Boyd, Flying Kites Ambassador

I walked through the front gates at the Flying Kites children’s home for the first time and 26 amazing smiling children rushed me like you might to greet a celebrity. Immediately, Elias Macharia, formerly known as Mach, presently preferring Elias, took me by the hand to give me the grand tour of the house and grounds. One of the youngest children and a fantastic guide, Elias showed me the room in which I’ll be staying the next 6 months, and took me on a journey through the weight room, known as “The Vortex,” and the kitchen, where the matrons cook and laugh and drink chai. In the yard potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, cilantro, and other produce grow and nourish the children, staff, and volunteers. That evening everyone gathered in the sitting room and the children welcomed me with a song and dance.

The home sits at about 8,500 feet in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountain Range. The natural beauty around us is stunning. The luscious green mountains to the northeast rise swiftly to form an elephant-shaped ridge appropriately named Elephant Mountain. It slopes down into a river that winds through rolling pastures and the sound of the water is complemented by the soft ring from the bells of the grazing cattle and sheep. Meanwhile colobus monkeys jump tree to tree overhead. We are in such a peaceful part of the country. Far away from the pollution and violence that affect so many Kenyans.

The other day we took a bag of clothes to the family down the road. They make and sell charcoal for a living and are very poor. They greeted us warmly and welcomed us into their small, wooden home. With about 15 people crammed inside, the mother of the house went through our donated clothing, holding up every piece and the crowd ooh-ed and aww-ed as if it were Christmas morning. It was great to witness their joy at our small contribution, and eye-opening to see the poverty that people live in in our community. This experience made the amazing impact that Flying Kites has on the children’s lives, present and future, all the more evident.

My first two weeks at Flying Kites have been incredible. I look forward to what I will learn and how I will grow in the coming months. Thanks to everyone for all their support; for helping me, and these wonderful kids. Look for more to come

Career shadowing at Kijabe Hospital


by Tricia Piorkowski*

As the children at Flying Kites get older, many are beginning to realize their dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. Francis has openly shared his desire to be a neurosurgeon, while Monicah, Martha, & Virginia all express interest in becoming nurses. Having just graduated from nursing school, I understand the importance of getting hands on experience when working in the medical field.

Last week, I was able to accompany these four kids to the nearby Kijabe Hospital and set them up with the opportunities to shadow nurses. Monicah, Virginia, & Martha were placed with nursing students working in the pediatric wing, and were taught what it means to be a nurse, learning a few basic skills such as the taking of vital signs.

Having expressed deep and sustained interest in neurosurgery, Francis was placed in the neuroscience unit of the pediatric ward. There he met with nurses who cared for post-operative patients recovering from surgeries to correct spina bifida and hydrocephalus (surgeries he could very well be doing someday). We had the opportunity to walk around the ward, meeting families and children, and learning what their experiences have been like over the past few years of countless hospital visits and surgeries. While it is not the exact area Francis plans to work in, he knew it was important that to see what it’s like for the patients’ families, and to witness firsthand how good quality medical care vastly improved or saved these children’s lives.

The kids were given a tour of the hospital and got to see the maternity ward filled with mothers having just given birth and newborn babies. One of the nurses even tried to bring Francis to observe the Operating Room; and while they wouldn’t let visitors in for infection control reasons, he was able to sneak a peak of what the environment looked like. Each of the kids got to see an intravenous line inserted into a baby, which is something that most people don’t get to see until they are well into nursing/medical school.

After the long and fulfilling day, the kids were so excited and expressed endless amounts of gratitude for being given the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in a hospital setting. And while they expressed how challenging it was, it seems to have only fueled their desires to pursue a career in the medical field.


*Tricia Piorkowski, a recent graduate of Salve Regina, is currently the Health Ambassador at Flying Kites. Tricia, a supremely dedicated and loving ‘auntie’, volunteered at Flying Kites in the summer of 2010 and 2011 before returning this summer for a longer stay. Follow her personal blog here:

Change Your Behavior or Perish?


Change Your Behavior or Perish?

Leila de Bruyne, founder and Director of Communications at Flying Kites, writes for the Huffington Post Impact blog. In this post, de Bruyne raises the point that HIV prevention tools and literature focus on demonizing the disease without providing children already living with it the crucial knowledge that HIV is not the death sentence it once was.

Voluntourism: We have to stop making this about your niece

Voluntourism: We have to stop making this about your niece

Leila de Bruyne , founder and Director of Communications at Flying Kites, writes for Huffington Post Impact. In this piece, de Bruyne reminisces about her own beginnings as a short term volunteer in Kenya and calls for more sustainable and impactful forms of long term volunteer support. 

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