My friends, I am alive! I am alive and well, and so is Cycle of Hope-- my deepest apologies to those who have checked in and wondered what was going on; I ought to have updated long ago, and it simply got lost in the shuffle of a thousand other things. Life in Kenya was so BUSY. To recap briefly-- my work there is with women living with HIV/Aids and, to make a long story short, once I got involved I realized there was so much they needed and when I left things would just go back to how they had been, so I decided I can't leave till there's something long-term in place. So I'm moving to Kenya and starting an NGO to help establish sustainable incomes for the "positive" women of Kitengela (isn't it great how people use that term? it puts such an optimistic spin on living with HIV). First and foremost we want to incorporate social networking opportunities, as so many HIV-positive women are isolated there-- the stigma is still extreme-- and the simple act of establishing social connections and support is literally lifesaving for them, as I've seen with my own eyes. In addition there will be educational opportunities, covering everything from living well with AIDS and protecting your children, to learning or improving English and developing business and entrepreneurial skills. And on a more long-range level, there will be microfinance, the foundation of the sustainable income idea, as well as various civic projects that are in the brainstorm stage right now. It is a huge commitment, and such exciting work; my last few weeks in Kenya were a whirlwind, back and forth between doing my visits with women in Kitengela (and they are turning into true friends... they're so lovely, and such a gift to me) and networking with business and finance contacts in Nairobi. I've never been so busy, so full of purpose. Extremely demanding and extremely fulfilling, and I love it-- it's an incredible new journey to be beginning.
So anyway, as all this was going on, I was perpetually on the lookout for the place to distribute the Cycle of Hope goods. (I never wrote about picking them up at the airport. NIGHTMARE. The crooked customs agents held the box and demanded hundreds of dollars from me before they'd release it... I had to fight for days, but in the end, with the help of a saint of an agent named Sara who was straight with me and told me they couldn't inflict all those taxes and fees on me, I stood up to them and won!) My original contact, by way of Loretta Cella, didn't pan out, as he no longer works with that group that received them before, though I do hope to give him some kits eventually-- he was one of many infinitely kind and helpful people who was enthused to be part of our project. I also became connected with several different orphanages, but those places make sure their girls stay in school, and while their needs are still significant, it just didn't seem like the venue. So all this time I have been looking and waiting, confident I would know the place to distribute our Lunapads kits when the time came. And I did! I found it this month, a fabulous group called Binti Pamoja ("Daughters United") that works with teenage girls in the massive slum of Kibera. Originally begun by two American girls and now entirely Kenyan-run, this NGO uses peer mentoring and local outreach to empower teenage girls to make healthy choices for themselves and to recover from experiences of their pasts and work towards better futures. When I contacted the director and told her about our Lunapads, she said the girls have heard of those and wished for them... so it is indeed perfect. The only hitch is that by the time I made this contact, the girls were already between terms (they get roughly the entire month of December off school) so they aren't meeting and I could not distribute them yet.
But there is all the time in the world. I'm currently home in the States for Christmas, as of a few days ago, and the third week in January I fly back to Kenya to settle in for the long haul. At that time I'll be going to Binti Pamoja to meet the girls and give them the Lunapads. I'm thrilled to have found exactly the group I was looking for-- high-risk teenagers in a poverty situation who will consciously appreciate and utilize the advantage of reusable menstrual supplies. And I love the Binti Pamoja vision and am looking forward to establishing relationships with these girls!
...(This is Salome, a 15-year-old orphan who helped out at my homestay and who actually got kicked out of her orphanage by the spiteful owner because "you have white friends now." Before she left I gave her a Goods 4 Girls kit and my friend and I are currently working to find a boarding school for her-- so she is actually the first beneficiary of the Cycle of Hope project. She is an absolute sweetheart.)
So there's the update. Though it has taken time, the Cycle of Hope niche has been discovered at last, and it's a good one. And as originally promised, when I do finally get the chance to distribute the Lunapads, I will document it on here. I apologize for my lack of communication on the subject!
And I want to thank you all again for supporting the Cycle of Hope vision. When I originally got the idea in the fall, it seemed so extreme-- I'd never done anything like this! I'm not a project kind of girl, I'm not a go-getter!-- but somehow it felt like the right thing, so I went for it, and was OVERWHELMED by the response. Funding 40 Goods-4-Girls kits was WAY beyond what I'd hoped for. So then, when it became apparent that my work in Kitengela needed a long-term infrastructure, although it seemed ludicrous that I could actually start an NGO, I remembered the response to Cycle of Hope, and I thought, people believed in me in that venture, why not in this one too. If that small but significant project could succeed on this level, why can't I take it up a notch? So thank you all for backing me up-- your support translated directly into spurring me to undertake my next, far bigger project, and it means so much to me to know that women out there care about what I'm doing and are "on the team." You are the ones giving me courage to take this next step!
So thank you all for that ongoing gift. Look for more Cycle of Hope results in late January (I promise to do better at updating things) and follow my other blog for developments in the Aids NGO. I'm currently working on registering it stateside but I think it's going to be called Sustainable Aid Women's Agency (I had to get the Agency in there-- it's a double-entendre, referring to women taking back their agency and working to control their own destinies despite their diagnoses). We shall see how it all falls into place!
(With my friend Violet, one of my 'positive women,' and her daughters and their friends: I want to help women like these stay strong and raise their girls to be healthy and powerful!)
Much love and gratitude to you all for backing me up on this amazing journey. Your support both humbles and empowers me... truly the power of women working together; we really can change the world.