January 31, 2013
For the past week, my wife’s family from Wales has been visiting Kenya. In order to give you different perspective, the following is a blog post from my brother-in-law, James Davies, about a graduation ceremony last week…
“Yesterday, however, was an interesting day. We attended a graduation event for one of the local CARE for AIDS’ centres. Allow me to explain. Caleb has been working for CARE for AIDS for about 18 months. The charity has been going since 2007 and it works with local churches in setting up centres where people living with HIV/AIDS can attend for support. This support comprises spiritual, health and economic empowerment. Participants go through a 9 month programme, after which a graduation ceremony is held.
The graduation we attended was in a place called Kayole. The journey there was incredible. It felt like I was Truman Burbank from the film ‘The Truman Show’ and some director had changed the film set to some peaceful war zone. I have never seen such a concentration of abject poverty and yet everybody seemed to be intensely busy. The roads were tarmac to begin with, they progressed to a sort of dirt track and at points they were made out of compressed rubbish. Unfortunately I didn’t get a decent photograph truly to capture it: it was unsafe to get out of the car, but I hope some of the pictures below give a flavour of the place.
The graduation was held in the local church. It was just corrugated iron sheets attached to a concrete structure. About 1500 attend on a Sunday, but yesterday it was around 130 of which about 80 were graduating. It was the longest service I’ve ever been to, lasting about 5 hours. It was a hot day and it required some serious effort to maintain a display of interest for that long. A fault on the part of Western thinking, perhaps. Anna and Caleb have to attend this sort of thing fairly often and they have my sympathies. Having said that, there were some inspirational moments. The service started with some singing. To lead the church in song there are, it seems, no requirements to be able to sing!
We then had some testimonies, which were powerful listening. One of those who spoke was Alice. She has been HIV positive for 9 years and her life has been transformed since going through the programme. She was down in herself and her husband had had enough of her and would often pray that she would die. She has since realised what salvation means for her, and through the economic empowerment she has been taught bag making skills which enables her to make money to feed the family. Her husband supports her in this work and her marriage is now far happier. Her affections are beyond this life, and though there are so many things to get her down, such as her illness and the extremely poor environment in which she lives, hope and joy radiate from her.
We were also treated to a drama about a typical experience of a woman being given the news that she has HIV. It was funny in some ways a) the length of it, about 45 minutes b) the wooden acting, which apparently is the standard on tv too. The gist of it was a woman being diagnosed with HIV, her husband accusing her of adultery and throwing her out of the house, and the role that the centre plays in the woman rebuilding her life and helping the husband overcoming his denial of the situation. There is a lot of ignorance about HIV and AIDS within the communities and CARE for AIDS are trying to help overcome this, rather than the usual death, burial and being forgotten.
It was then the actual graduation where each person was given a certificate and a bible and clapped by all the others present. They were dressed in their best clothes and it was a tremendously proud moment for each of them.
The other note worthy thing about the day is how we as guests were treated. At the start of the service we were called up to the front to have chairs, rather than wooden benches. We were frequently addressed as their ‘distinguished guests’ and were held in general veneration throughout. After the service lunch was served. This for me was the most embarrassing part, where we as guests had a ‘top table’ if you like, served by others, whereas the rest of the church queued en masse for their food and sat on the wooden rows eating their food. The pictures below capture this, I hope. I guess this is just something those helping out over here have to get used to.
It was an interesting day, a humbling day, a long day, but a day of celebration too. I now understand and appreciate the work that Caleb does here in Kenya. I had long been in ignorance, and I hope that those who know him but didn’t really know what he did over here have had a little light shone on what he does.