Vitamin Angels founder Howard Schiffer thanks Twinlab for helping his organization bring essential nutrition to over 32,000 mothers and babies in Kenya.
We left the village of Mukunga at roughly 1:30 PM and headed to the airport, but not without an uneasy feeling that something had yet to be resolved.
There have been so many emotional expenditures along this trip; so much to visually process and intelligently categorize that it is totally overwhelming. The good work and meaningful impact of Global Alliance and Vitamin Angels, and the significant influence of their work on the people of Kenya and the micro villages we visited, is beyond valuable, but of course there is an enormous amount of work yet to be completed, and this contributed to an overall feeling that at least one loose end needed to be tied before our time in Kenya was over.
Tom and I had a two-hour trip back to Eldoret to discuss and reflect on what we had experienced over the last five days, and we both shared that same feeling that something was being left unresolved. In the clarity of a moment created by the mind-cleansing understanding of how significant life is, no matter where it is being lived, we decided what it was that needed to be resolved and directed our wonderful driver – and friend at this point, Ben – back to the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital.
It took us all of five minutes to Find Kennedy. Wrapped in a heavy blanket in 80-degree heat, he appeared to have a fever, but we were happy to find out it was just the extra blanket and within minutes he was smiling in my arms and goo-gooing like any other seven-month-old you could ever hold anywhere on this planet. Relieved that he was still in the good care of the hospital, we inquired as to what was necessary for Tom and I to sponsor Kennedy into a home where he would be free from the second-hand risk of disease, and be loved and cared for and given an opportunity to live a life to it’s full capacity.
A quick call to our Global Alliance partner and close friend at this point, Betsy Rono, gave us the ray of hope we were looking for. About five kilometers from the hospital, attached to the private school that Betsy’s children attend, was the Testimony Faith Homes center, a center that offers sponsorship opportunities that provide children with a loving home environment, a mother and father to care for them and a school for when the time comes. We wanted to see it before we left. A quick stop on the way out to the airport revealed a gated, clean, well-kept center with four “homes” of children in various age groups. We met the father of one of the homes and got a quick tour. Although I believe we would have liked something a little more intimate for Kennedy, we both believed it was a significant improvement from where he was and certainly better than an orphanage.
With the decision made, thanks to the help and guidance of Betsy, we are proceeding down the road to sponsor Kennedy into a home, secure a birth certificate for him, and assure him an opportunity to live a life that will meet his full potential.
Kennedy Aura Malaika (Swahili for angel) will soon be out of the Children’s Ward at the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital, and in a home where he can laugh and play and grow up; a home that will provide him fond memories, a footing for his future, and sisters and brothers to support him when he enters his adult life. Maybe in this case 2 people make a difference in 1 life. Either way, we now know that little Kennedy, who touched our hearts and souls in such a profound way, has a real shot at a life of his own.
This was officially my last blog post, but Twinlab will keep the blog active for some time and I promise to provide updates on Kennedy and the balance of Howard’s trip as news becomes available. I left New Jersey knowing that this trip had all the potential of being life-changing, and it lived well beyond that potential. From the addition of new friends like Betsy, with her unparalleled dedication to the people of Kenya , specifically the mothers of Kenya’s children, and Ben, our tireless driver with MOI university, who knows every back road and ditch in Western Kenya, and of course my travel companions, Robert and Bri, Todd, Jessamyn, Matt the super photographer, and of course Howard, the impact and memories of the trip will live on for a lifetime. And of course a special thanks to the guy who helped me remove a big one from my bucket list… Tom. Funny things, those bucket lists; yes, I removed one, but only to have it replaced by several more.
Thank you all for helping to add so much value to my life, and by extension, the lives of my children, Daniel and Julia.
The lasting effects of this trip will never wear off. Thank you and best of life to all!
After another one-hour dirt road ride from our hotel in Bumala Kenya, (I should mention that a recent power outage prevented the water pump from working, so we had no running water for the night) just 25 kilometers from the Kenya/Uganda border, we arrived in another cluster village where Vitamin Angels and Global Network have been distributing vitamins through one of their prenatal projects. Just like in Musango, the villagers here in Makunga brought out everything they had for chairs and set them in the front yard under the biggest tree around to have a meeting on the program and to once again hear from the local mothers who have had recent births while taking Vitamin Angels prenatal vitamins.
After some brief opening comments by the registrar responsible for registering the mothers for Global Alliance, we heard once again how the vitamins dramatically changed the way these mothers felt during pregnancy and child birth. The comments and the experiences of these women were exactly like those from the villagers the day prior: increased strength and stamina, bigger full-term babies and easier births. And of course happy laughter from the audience when one woman thanked us because she no longer had to eat dirt to get her needed minerals.
One of the differences in this visit was the active involvement of the men. Several of the men in attendance asked to speak, including several of the tribe’s elders, who were basically looking for information on what the women had been taking and why they (the men) were not included. Information and communication at this level is so challenged because most of the experiences these villagers have with pills is in the form of drugs, or even health related regimens of drugs associated with the HIV pandemic.
Howard spent some time addressing the group on the work that Vitamin Angels and Global Alliance are doing, and through an interpreter did a great job of bringing the health and nutrition message to this village. Smiling faces around our impromptu tree meeting as the interviews and discussion was adjourned.
And then some fun….
Tom had been lugging around a giant duffle bag for me all week filled with toys, school supplies, coloring books and balls to give to the children. What a wonderful experience it was dispensing the goodies and seeing the smiles and light in the faces of these children who have little outside of their own imaginations to play and learn with. Within what must have been seconds, the loot was distributed and pick-up games of ball toss started all over the village while some kids gathered in the shade to color and write.
What a wonderful end to our time here in Makunga. Real good is coming to these people by virtue of Vitamin Angels’ reach and, through our support for their work as well as the industry we represent, scalability to a much larger solution is only time and dollars away.
Next, we were off to Eldoret to catch a plane, but not before one last stop at the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital and a visit to a local school. More on that to come…
After leaving the intervention hospital in Esharaka, we headed to a remote village within the cluster. Located about 50 kilometers from the hospital, the village of Musango lies within some of the richest farmland in Kenya.
The drive along the picturesque countryside was tolerable, even with the road ruts and speed bumps working against the scenery with every turn of a tire. We turned off the dirt road onto what could only be described as a goat path as we arrived at the site of our visit.
We were greeted by the entire community with chanting and dancing and singing as we were climbing out of the vehicles, singing the praises of Vitamin Angels, and the prenatal program that has existed here for some time.
The townspeople brought their chairs and their benches and their stools for a front yard meeting and review of the program. Once again we heard from the local women who have been taking the prenatal vitamins about how their recent pregnancies have been different and how they felt the vitamins were affecting their life.
After the group meeting, individual interviews were conducted and information was collected for assessment. Similar to our other interviews, the message here was clear – the women of the town who have been taking the prenatal vitamins have more strength, more stamina, birth full term babies, have far less complications, and bigger babies are being birthed.
We ended our time here handing out a few balls and toys for the kids. My children Daniel and Julia packed up gifts for the village children. Soccer balls were a big hit. American footballs had never been seen by the children and were a real novelty.