Oasis and Strings Attached: unified in the mission for sustainable healthcare access

Flying Kites Oasis is the organization we have partnered with this year and it is through them that the projects you have read so much about on this site are possible.  Oasis is program within Flying Kites Global that works to empower well-led but struggling orphanages with the education and tools they need to function more efficiently, manage their accounts more effectively, and support the children more sustainably.  They have accepted UTH Strings Attached to join along with them to build a better healthcare network and help ensure healthier lives for these wonderful kiddos in the slums of Nairobi.

Please take a moment to learn more about Oasis and their latest incredibly energizing and inspiring efforts on their tumblr blog, as well as read our guest-post (with pictures!) and read the stories of their other partners.  Please consider donating a few of your hard-earned dollars to this outstanding organization today!

Picture from the very successful Oasis Festival, learn more at http://www.flyingkitesglobal.org/oasis/

Jenracy: Easy on paper, in reality not so much.

Jenracy. Wow. On paper, this home should have been much easier set up the hand hygiene system that we had set up the other homes, but this was one example of real-world being much different than the intended plans. This home has running water- one of the pillars of hygiene- sometimes. But there is easy water access

Filling up some water cans.

a few meters away from the home. Very accessible, especially in comparison to Soweto where you had to take a 20 min walk to go fill up your water jugs. Though, finding usable water may have been easier then at the other homes, the spacing to set up tippy taps where they will not be knocked down or used improperly was extremely limited. There are 3 classrooms all along one outdoor


walkway about 10 yards long and a shoulder’s width across. Putting it mildly, pretty narrow. Also, it was all concrete complicating the drainage situation and it also doubled as the kitchen where all the food was prepared- another ideally good situation that didn’t play out. Because the moms and older kids were cooking there, it really hampered the limited spacing we were working with as well as having all the small children close to the food/fire that was being cooked.

So, that was the situation. But, we made do with what we had and set up the tippy taps. Three for the home- 2 in the hallway above

Tippy Taps going up!

semi-drainage areas and one right outside the entrance to the school- a strange place, but it’s a good spot because of drainage and because the latrines the children use is a 8 min walk outside the home. So it works as a reminder every time the kids return from using the toilet.

I’ve got to say, something that has been really great with all these hand washing classes is how much the kids LOVE to hand wash. Definitely more than i preferred to do as a child! Granted, the novelty of the tippy taps definitely comes into play here, but that withstanding it is very encouraging to see. The issue we’re beginning to see, especially after some reporting back from the previous homes is they’re handwashing so much that they’re having to re-fill the taps too often… Definitely a good problem to have from a health perspective!

The actually teaching classes went extremely well! The older class really understood the ideas of germs and disease very well. They kept returning to different members of the team showing their hands and saying, “Ewwww, germs!” Pretty adorable. The younger class

Such great kids

had a larger language barrier, requiring that two of the older kids come translate what was being taught. After, we all went and washed hands, used some tippy taps and quizzed each other on appropriate times to wash- “Before eating, After toilet, After touching animal.”

As always, it was so hard leaving the kids at Jenracy. A child’s ability to burrow a way to your heart is absolutely amazing. I know it’s going to be tough going home and having to hear about how all the kids are growing up from successive groups here, but I guess that’s better than nothing….

Goodbye Jenracy.

– Johnny

Buying Into Africa

I’ll hear the plight of Kenya from people that the group has encountered.  I’ll hear their complaints about the government and infrastructure.  Some are of the opinion that too many of the professionals that are educated in Kenya simply leave the country once they finish to go elsewhere and pursue more fruitful opportunities.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it is an interesting and sobering perspective.  It’s like we’re in some sort of exchange; and yet it’s not a fair one.  There may be medical mission trips that bring doctors into Africa for several months.   However, a native Kenyan medical professional would be leaving possibly for the rest of his or her life.  Again, I do not know if this is the actual case, and I’m aware that the problem isn’t even that simple; rather, it’s multi-dimensional.  But my mind still entertains the idea and gives it some sort of credibility.  I realize that globalization has allowed people to travel and cross geographical and economical borders.  But does it hinder the development of Africa?

There was a moment when I looked at her and wondered what she will become.  Will she somehow get an opportunity and leave this country in pursuit of something better?  Will she just be able to get by in her living environment?  Or will she get some sort of inspiration and buy into Africa?  Up until now all I have done was hear things about Africa.  Having come here, I find that some of it is true.  I’ve heard that one of the strengths that Africa has is that it is young and restless; that there is a young population ready for…. something.  Watching the kids act and listening to their aspiration, I have to agree.  They want to be doctors, musicians, pilots, teachers, and chefs.   They want to be what Africa needs.  And once they get there, hopefully they will buy into Africa and stay.

The Jenracy Dichotomy

“At least half the population of Nairobi live in … slums – hidden away like a dirty secret along railway embankments, and beside rubbish dumps.”

– Andrew Harding in BBC’s Nairobi Slum Life: Kibera’s Children

Much of Nairobi is comprised of slums that are hidden, tucked behind walls and fences. The children’s home we are working with this week – Jenracy – is concealed within one of these massive neighborhoods called Sinai. It’s nearly impossible to find amidst the winding streams of trash and sewage that carve their way through the area and even more difficult to describe. Contradiction lives here. The home is nestled in filth but is itself clean. The neighborhood is exceptionally needy yet the kids seem physically healthier than others we’ve examined on this trip. Space is at a premium but used more efficiently than I’ve ever seen. Fear fills my heart at the mention of Nairobi slums, but the kids – living inside those slums – fill me with love. Indeed, I have been constantly flummoxed by Jenracy this week. Not only is the home a source of steady juxtaposition but also I can’t seem to put into words what this area is like. Every time I sit to write my words fall haltingly short of their goal. Nothing matches; nothing goes. So, instead of continuing to frustrate myself and failing to give justice to this great home, I direct you to the pictures below and to those that other team members’ posts.

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If, after perusing these photos, you want to know more about the poverty in Nairobi slums please read Andrew Harding’s Slum Life series at the BBC. He accomplishes more –with more grace and reality – than I ever could. However, I hesitate to link to the article because it is stark and depressing. Please be cautious when reading and forming opinions; keep in mind that Harding is not writing about Jenracy or about environments exactly similar to Jenracy. Moreover, Harding wrote nearly 10 years ago and thus his description may not be entirely applicable today. Finally, Kibera, the subject of Harding’s articles, is the largest slum in Africa and surely faces slightly more dire circumstances than those found in Sinai. Nonetheless, I found it to be a moving and interesting article. At the very least, I hope it can open eyes and hearts to someone’s reality in Kenya.


PHOTO OF THE DAY + a slideshow intro to JENRACY


This week we’re at Jenracy Children’s Home in the Dunholm district, just south of Nairobi.

37 children comprise this little home and school, led by Jane, the director and mom.  A picture’s worth a thousand words and the slideshow below will give you a colorful introduction to the home with which we work, but first: our PHOTO OF THE DAY…

PHOTO OF THE DAY: this stunning picture was taken by one of the children at the Jenracy home when she was given Kenneth's camera. Numerous pictures sweet and silly filled the memory card but this one struck me speechless. The story it tells is not only poignant but realistic-- amidst the laughter and cheers is a truth of hardship and exhaustion. In the background you can see the director, taking a much needed moment of rest.

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XOXO — Lisa


Each time that we finish our work at a children’s home here I feel one step closer to knowing the velocity and direction of my future. I’ve always felt a strong pull towards global health advocacy that I’ve avoided acting on for far too long. College, apparently, provided enough distraction for me to remain in Houston, without interruption, for 4 years. Despite being extraordinarily happy at Rice, I felt an acute pain every time a friend went abroad, moved to a new place or tried something exciting. It was as if I had been left behind. I was stagnant, regressing, even. Each year took me farther away from my goal of practicing medicine abroad and I resented myself – even if just a bit –  for it.

Med school brought about a major change. I was suddenly forced out of my comfort zone and thrust into unchartered territory. My first semester at UTH was one of fierce refocusing and redefining. The knowledge that I was desperately trying to learn quickly enough changed my life. My life suddenly became dedicated to science and the minutiae of how our bodies function on a second to second basis. This was not something that settled well. Having dedicated my undergraduate education to sociology, I was completely disoriented by all the cold-hard facts that were zooming through my head. Becoming less content in Houston, I realized I needed to feel tethered to something bigger than books and computers and school. I needed to focus on the more organic, intangible spirit of medicine. More than anything, I wanted to know that my lifelong dream of combining medicine and travel was possible and – even more than that – that it was fulfilling.

When offered the opportunity to come to Kenya with this team, the right decision felt obvious. With the support of my close friends and family, I embarked on my journey here and haven’t looked back. The work is hard; conditions are sad; and we work at a back-breaking pace only to barely accomplish what we set out to do in any one day. Nonetheless, everything here seems to click for me. I just feel ‘right’ working here – for lack of a better description. I know that I want to come back. And I want to come back soon. My medical education has come full circle and I finally feel satisfied. I am finally where I wanted to start and can’t wait to see where I go.



[VIDEO] Hygiene Lessons from Nairobi!

Well, as you can see from Jenny’s Intro to Nairobi blog, there are a few differences between last week in Njabini and this week spent in Nairobi. The new setting afforded us some different challenges when it came to the community outreach aspect. Good Samaritan, the children’s home we worked with is in Soweto- a slum on the east side of Nairobi. Some of the differences for Soweto were a lack of running water- which when trying to institute a hand washing regiment can be quite a challenge!- and a greater disparity in the language gap- which, as you can imagine, makes teaching a class also very difficult.

But we pressed on, found a renewable source of usable water- which I’m sure you will find out more about in Kenneth’s post later- and began the process of building some tippy

Tippy Tap construction begins.

taps! After all the planning and reading up on how to make them, I have to admit, I was a little nervous about how they would turn out. I had never made one before and it was so simple, I didn’t want it to end up as something non-beneficial to meet the needs of the school. Anyway, we went and bought the bottles from a woman who sold them out of her small one bedroom home a few blocks from the school and returned and began their construction. (For those of you who have never heard of it, a tippy tap is an improvised water saving device used to wash your hands. It is made from a plastic bottle, a nail, and some string.)

So we make three for the school and begin setting them up in places where we feel like

Putting up the tippy taps

the kids would be most likely to use them, namely next to the latrines. So, after a few minutes of putting them up all around and “strategically locating” the taps, now came the most important point- “Are the kids seriously going to use them???”

To our extreme joy, yes the did. The kids all could reach them and even more perplexing, especially considering myself as a child- namely, dirty- the kids were overly excited about using them. You could see the excitement in their eyes and hear the sound of their laughter as they washed their hands and splashed water on each other… I’ve got to say, I feel like the tippy taps are going to be a great success as long as the water gets refilled- which we left our new friend and European volunteer Catherine in charge of.

Kiddo washing his hands!

Now that there were hand washing stations set up, time for some hygiene classes! The school is made up of two classrooms each housing three classes in them. So the older class was made up of the kids in classes 1,2 & 3 while the younger class was made up of nursery, pre-unit and kindergarten. In the older class, most, if not all, the kids spoke

Very worried about germs!!!

english and could readily understand what was being taught and they were all very excited about the prospect of being able to wash their hands. Of course when asked how long we should rub our hands with soap and water, there were a few calls of 3 hours or 45 mins, but they generally got the drift that you only need 30 seconds to one minute. HOWEVER, the younger class was a different experience all together. Because they were so young, and spoke very little english we asked Teacher Irene to translate as we began the hygiene class. She did a great job, but honestly I think it left a little to be desired. It’s hard to

Cuties Handwashing with Tippy Taps

translate and explain “germs”, “viruses”, “bacteria” & “parasites” to a bunch of 3-5 year olds. That, and the random clapping-in-unison they began to do in the middle of the talk may have shown their lack of following the talk. (But of course they’re way too cute ot ever be upset with.) But all in all, they eventually got the idea and we all went outside to learn how to wash our hands.

As you can tell, they got the hang of it:

– Johnny

PS. This is what the girls were doing while we were working so hard…

Mallorie's Kenyan hair

Jenny’s Kenyan hair 

Water Sources in Soweto

Finding out exactly where the Good Samaritan Orphanage gets water was somewhat more complex than anticipated.  Located in the slums of Soweto, the orphanage did not seem to have a clear, dependable water source.  The city tap water, which is probably the most trusted supply, may come on only once a week.  Besides that though, they have been trying to use other resources to accommodate for their lack of water.  Since the tap water was not on consistently, one of the orphanage helpers decided to show us some of the other water sources.

Ground Water at Soweto

Drill Water at Soweto









When looking into the ground water, I could see pieces of discarded trash and what seemed to be the remnants of a cell phone.  It doesn’t really require a leap of the imagination to suspect that the ground water was probably not fit to drink.  However, I had to test it to be thorough.  So, I incubated the petrifilm plates of the water samples with my thighs and had the results the next day.










As a general rule, the more dots you see, the more contaminated the water with bacteria.  The blue dots are specific for E. coli, an indicator of human fecal contamination.   Thankfully, the orphanage did not use this for drinking.  However, they may have, on some occasion used this for cleaning.  What was very encouraging though was that the drill water seemed clear of coliform contamination.  This water was started by a district project that seeks to provide clean water to every household for an affordable cost.  The water is accessed by a drill that digs deep into the ground.  Knowing that this water source was available without contamination was a relief because much of our hygiene education depended on having one that was not heavily contaminated.

Love and creativity abounded: our week with Good Samaritan


Our first week in Nairobi was spent in the love-filled, bustling home of Good Samaritan Children’s Home in the Soweto Slum of the Kayole district.  Ms. Damaris is the director of the home, in addition to caring for the 54 children of the home, she coordinates with her daughter and extremely helpful staff to run the home and its associated school.

This home started its humble beginnings in 2004 when Damaris began caring for 2 found, starving children abandoned by their parents.  Through many trials and tribulations, happiness and tears, and fueled by love and a desire to serve her Lord, she has now overseen the expansion of Good Samaritan into the home of smiling faces it is today.

Soweto, as Jenny has mentioned, is quite a different picture from Njabini.  While the people have been nothing but warm, the backdrop of rolling green hills speckled with sheep has been replaced with wind-rustled piles of garbage and streams of sewage.  The fields of maize and cabbage are replaced with stall after stall of basketed vegetables and used clothing.  The streets are packed with sooty cars, no way on earth would motorbiking be advisable here.

That said, in this different world, we’ve found hope amidst hardship– underscoring the need for creative solutions to everyday dilemmas.

WATER IS ONLY AVAILABLE ONE DAY A WEEK, SOMETIMES.  And the water for the rest of the week is of poor quality and limited access.  Kenneth and Johnny tackled this problem by testing the current water sources to find the best possible water for handwashing/toothbrushing/possibly drinking and creating tippy taps for storage and easy access using reused found items in the area. (More info in their individual posts to come!)



FOUND: 6 DAY OLD BABY BOY, IN TRASH BAG.  It is not uncommon in this area for neighbors, police, or the Good Samaritan family themselves to come upon an abandoned
newborn in places ranging from the home’s doorstep, to trash heaps, public restrooms, and the police station.  Multiple lives have begun this way in Soweto, we hope they all flourish as well as the ones who have been taken in by GS.

THERE IS NO AMBULANCE, THERE IS NO 911.  We learned a wheelbarrow is the swiftest way to bring a sick child to a nearby clinic.  While Nairobi has ambulances and “999”, they do not serve the slum area and if they did, the hospital would not allow someone in without paying a fee first.  Part of our education we share with all of our homes is a child healthcare and emergency prep class on the most common and basic health problems.

SIGNIFICANTLY MORE DISEASE, SIGNIFICANTLY LESS RESOURCES.  Basic preventable/curable diseases are rampant, but knowledge of the diseases and furthermore, access to medicines can be challenging.  The two most common illnesses we found here were ringworm (a misnomer for a common contagious fungal infection, in this case of the scalp) and suspected intestinal worms (actual worms growing in the digestive tract that eat nutrients otherwise absorbed).  These illnesses cause a great deal of pain and shame to the many of the children, lowering self esteems, impeding nutrition and the ability to focus in school.  We are working with this home intimately, to educate on these hardships, the appropriate treatments, and how to create a plan for purchasing them.

AN INFANT IN RESPIRATORY DISTRESS.  Our project has never dealt directly with infants before, so in and of itself the youthfulness of this center is novel.  The exchange of ideas is fascinating– when we arrived Saturday morning, we were told the smallest baby had difficulty breathing all night.  In a resourceful manner, one of the dear friends at the orphanage siphoned out the infant’s obstructive mucous with her mouth.  While perhaps a new approach, we are definitely learning that the way in which problems are solved here are based on instinct and managing with what you have.  On a similar note, in our child healthcare class we touch on issues such a fever in an infant and signs that one must head to the hospital.  On a return visit in August, infant suction bulbs will also be donated.

In addition to working through these very unique situations to us but familiar ones to the caregivers, we provided the same quality of care and services as we did to Flying Kites in Njabini, just from a new perspective.

XOXO — Lisa

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