To Brian and Amy, with gratitude

Today,  Brian Jones passes the Country Director torch to Amy Travis, and we’d like to take a moment to celebrate and thank both of these individuals for their incredible dedication, passion, and relentless drive to fight for a brighter future for the children of Njabini, Kenya.

To the man who brought mighty, you bet, and boundless into our daily vocabulary, who established Gratitude as a staple of our nightly family meetings and infused our home with more light, laughter, and stability than we could ever put to words, THANK YOU, sir. You are a gift to this world!

And to Amy, who immediately jumped headlong into learning the complicated ropes of  an enormous job, and is already tackling an ever evolving mire of re-registrations, permits, school & staffing schedules, while still making time for bed time stories, we are deeply excited and grateful to have you aboard our team.

To our readers, we ask you to take a moment and express your gratitude to the the MIGHTY Brian and Amy, in the comments section of this post, for it is simply not possible to say “We appreciate you” too often.

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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.

Our team in Kenya excitedly assembles a new solar water heater- hurray for hot showers! An abundance of gratitude and joy to our supporters for enabling this powerful leap in the quality of life at our home and the children’s happiness level on shower days!

A Reflection and a Thank You

by Phil Besse, Flying Kites Education Ambassador

  

I first came to the Flying Kites home on Halloween of 2011 and volunteered for six weeks.  Now, almost a year later and back at the home, I have the privilege of seeing how things have grown over the past 11 months.  Much is the same: the house is filled with incredible children, I wake up every morning to laughing kids, and the children have the support of dedicated volunteers and staff.  There have been a number of changes – most notably, the very structure of the volunteer system itself.

Last year, I was one of six volunteers.  We woke every morning and, after breakfast, walked to the school, where we tutored three children for an hour each, taught the Daily 5 – a reading and creative writing class – had lunch with the kids, and walked home.  The afternoons were ours to work on projects or use as free time.  This system worked, but wasn’t designed to realize the full potential impact of each volunteer.  Since last December, the volunteer system has been revamped for the better.

The Volunteer Program has been renamed the Ambassador Program.  Ambassador numbers are now capped at five and accepted in increments of three months, ensuring only dedicated people decide to come.  Each ambassador has a specific role: Education Ambassador and Health Ambassador are two examples.  Whereas when I first came to FK each volunteer had the same schedule and basically the same responsibilities, now each ambassador can structure his or her work week to meet the demands of his or her role.  This has the benefit of allowing each Ambassador to design, with the help of the FK staff, his or her stay to have the maximum impact for the benefit of the children and the organization.

Each ambassador role brings with it particular responsibilities.  The Ambassador Program allows for each ambassador to focus on specific areas of critical importance to the raising of children.  My role while here for the next nine months is that of Education Ambassador.  The role is largely being defined as I learn the ropes, but so far I will be responsible for making sure the integration of ambassadors at the school is at the best level possible, aiding the teachers in their daily responsibilities, designing evening tutoring to be best for the children, and developing the school as a tool for community development and growth.

It has been a great experience to return to Njabini after a year and see how things are different and how they are the same.  The biggest change has been the structure of the volunteer program – it has become a program that allows each Ambassador to use his or her skills to focus on specific areas to grow the children and Flying Kites itself.

***

The Flying Kites team would like to take this time to acknowledge our deep and heartfelt gratitude to the Ambassador Program’s first year of ambassadors. In the program’s inaugural year, our ambassadors have increased the level of attention and individualized care that our full time staff is able give to the Flying Kites children and they have deepened our impact and reach in the community of Njabini. We will continue to relay stories and examples of this growth through our blog. But that’s not all…

In just nine months,  14 ambassadors have raised $76,473 for Flying Kites, and they show no signs of letting up. 

Let’s all take this moment to recognize these extraordinary individuals and let their commitment and compassion drive our own to new heights.

To our ambassadors, you inspire us, you drive us, and we would not be where we are without you. Asante sana.

Strategic Planning: Oasis

Flying Kites believes it is of the utmost importance to recognize the larger structural inequalities that breed the desperate circumstances in which so many children’s homes exist. The Oasis Program connects orphanages and caregivers in Nairobi, Kenya with the tools, resources and education necessary to improve childcare, achieve financial independence and gain long-term sustainability. 

We know, we know- strategy meetings make for the MOST exciting pictures.

On Thursday, October 4, 2012, the Oasis leadership team met with industry consultants in order to craft a new strategic plan.  After an ambitious start two years ago, under the direction of Hannah Wesley and Frannie Noble, Oasis organized this meeting as follow up to a conference held in July attended by many in the Kenyan children’s care community.

The leadership team and consultants who met last Thursday used feedback from the July conference to plan a streamlined strategy for the future with Martha Maina, a Kenyan well-versed in the local children’s nonprofit world, as manager of Oasis. Though Frannie and Hannah left huge shoes to fill, Martha began her tenure with gusto by spearheading this powerful meeting to evaluate and retool the program goals. All participants were delighted with the more refined vision that emerged from the strategy meeting.

Oasis is small program with the potential for huge impact.  It seeks to enable other children’s homes to raise the standard of their care by creating a power network for partnerships, professional trainings, resource-sharing, collaboration, advocacy, communication, and legal & financial assistance.

Most children’s homes are focused on their everyday operations because they are understaffed and underfunded, relegating long term planning and strategy to a luxury. These schools, centers, and homes have compassionate staff that are dedicated, but undereducated and overworked.  Oasis will work with interested organizations to create long-term planning, more transparent and better organized finances, and trainings for their staff to better care for the children in their institutions.

After the meeting last Thursday,  Oasis has decided to focus initially on 5 children’s homes, including Flying Kites Leadership Centre in Njabini, with the hope of continuing to scale up as we set in place the new structures and mechanisms for this new model and as funding grows.

The Flying Kites team is excited to see the effects of this plan and more confident than ever in the impact Oasis will have on it’s member institutions.

-Amy Travis, Country Director

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.

– Buddha

Jabah leads a brainstorm session

Delighted to learn

Miriam takes her first typing class in the new computer lab. We found her joy to learn inspiring. What has inspired you today?

Career shadowing at Kijabe Hospital

Image

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: http://triciatravelstokenya.wordpress.com/

A Teaching Moment

 

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

– Henry Brooks Adams

Will you sponsor growth like this?

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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Kenya Dig It?

... an update on the happenings of Brian Jones