While walking along one day, with my camera hanging from my shoulder, I was abruptly approached by a man who named Henry. Eyeing my camera, he asked if I was a journalist. As I described my work as a photographer and filmmaker, he asked if I would be willing to do a documentary for his organization in a rural town in Western Kenya. Pulling out his business card, I noticed that it targeted the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Anybody working to help children is a friend of mine, so I sat down to talk with him further. Hearing about the needs of his hometown community and learning that he was a dedicated Christian, motivated me to see what I could do to help. Due to our imminent departure for Uganda, I promised Henry that I would contact him before returning to Nairobi. Although he had met many philanthropic-minded people at the World Social Forum, he expressed his concern that good intentions would never turn into any real help for his people. This reality further prompted me to make sure to follow through, even though I knew so little about this man or his cause.
Our reportedly five-hour trip from Kampala to the tiny Kenyan town of Awasi, turned out to be more like 9 hours. By the time we arrived, it was well after dark. Along with Henry and his friend Richard, we embarked for the village on foot. Hiking several kilometers on a dirt path around sugar cane fields, we finally reached the village of Rakwaro.
Waking up on a mat sprawled out on the floor of a mud hut, was an awesome experience. We sat there in awe of where we were staying. Its one of those experiences that is hard to understand and hard to explain. We rarely have the opportunity to step so far outside of our own world to experience another. Tea, and the traditional samosa and mandazi gave us strength for the day. Samosa resembles a pastry and is stuffed with either vegetables, meat or a combination of the two. Mandazi is like a sweet roll, generally eaten with coffee or tea.
After breakfast, we began interviewing the group of people who gathered to talk to us. Vincent was an older man with an ear to ear smile. He enthusiastically explained how he had been working in the community to provide home-based care for people suffering with AIDS. He found out that he was infected several years but did not let it affect his efforts. He seems to value the fact that he can identify with the people and their fear of letting the community know about their health condition. He led us to his home and showed us the tiny little building where he works on getting much needed medical supplies to the community as reasonably as possible.
Retaining hope for the future but sad for the present, he showed us the little medical clinic that the government began to build before abandoning the project. The nearest medical help for the community is 45 kilometers away and for people who walk everywhere they go, this creates a significant problem. Its sad that year after year passes by with no assistance provided to build the simplest little clinic among an area with thousands of people who suffer from many varying diseases.
The others we interviewed were suffering from AIDS and frequently from resulting opportunistic infections. One gentleman described his suffering with tuberculosis and how the little medication he had been able to receive so far did not seem to help. Two different women described how after their husbands died, their extended families drove them away because they were infected with AIDS. Its sad that most likely they contracted the virus from their husbands in the first place.
We met a woman who had lost so much family that she had no one to care for her anymore. She continues to exist on the help that she is able to receive from the community. People seemed eager to tell us their story. It seemed that we were somehow a sign of hope to them that their situation could change for the better. We made sure to pray for each one after our interviews and to ask God to intervene and heal them.
We had to explain to Henry that he must not promise them anything from us but that the we would tell the story of this community to as many other people as possible. He responded by telling me that many of the people we interviewed had never publicly acknowledged their conditions before. He explained that us coming with our cameras motivated the people to open up in a way that he never could've done on his own. He thanked us and said that this was worth far more than any money that we could supply.
In between interviews, we visited the small local church. Henry explained how even with the complete lack of instruments, when the people lifted up their voices to God, He came down among them. These people truly worshiped with a fervency that was inspiring. As I took pictures of this amazing group of people gathered in the small hut, I was called up to preach to the people. I should have known that this was coming but God inspired me with some words to share with them about the solidarity of all believers in the body of Christ and God's call to care for one another. I hope to model this message as I know that we need to care for each other, not only reaching out to Africa, but also in our own country.
Visiting an area like Rakwaro, opens one's eyes to see how much people suffer in this world. It provided a small portrait of a people who are neglected by those whose avowed purpose is to serve them. Why should this village have to walk 5 kilometers, one way, to get water when a new well would cost them less than $15,000? The water problem alone has caused much sickness in the community. Why would this area go on without sufficient medical help for so long? This is not in the middle of nowhere... it is only 40 kilometers from Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. How many more villages in Kenya and around the world, does Rakwaro represent?