News from Sister Mary Owens following the Covid-19 outbreak

Dear Friends of Nyumbani,

Greetings from all of us in the Nyumbani programs.

Sadly, one week ago, Kenya joined with the greater part of the world in taking on the challenge of containing COVID-19. One case was identified on 12th March. Now there are seven. Obviously in the Nyumbani programs, with over 3,200 children/adolescents living with HIV, CALHIV, we had to get into prevention action very speedily, immediately closing doors to visitors to Nyumbani Home and Village and training children and staff about the basic prevention strategies of washing hands, using a sanitizer, keeping hands off the face, hygiene in the environment, keeping a distance from one another. The greatest challenge has been reorganizing services in our 8 Lea Toto Centres where the demand, especially on our medical staff, is huge. There is a checkpoint at the entrance to the Centre for checking temperature and sanitizing hands, and we are taking action that the medical staff have protective clothing. We are having a special meeting for all our medical staff today to ensure that they are as well informed as possible about how to identify a COVID-19 case. One of the most helpful treatment strategies we now have is being able to give several month’s supply of ARVs to stable CALHIV.

Highly important is a caring environment for our children and adolescents so that they feel safe and secure. Social media detailing the pandemic in other parts of the world is not helpful, so we try to protect them from this. We are able to continue to have Mass and Prayer Services in our residential programs, asking God to rid our world of the coronavirus, as Pope Francis invited us to beseech from God when he walked from the Vatican to pray in two churches in Rome. Children always bring a light moment into living. One such I experienced as I was walking in Nyumbani Home was children shouting at me “Wash your hands, wash your hands.” All our schools and colleges closed immediately after the first case of COVID-19 was identified. This helps us in our residential programs to further protect our children/adolescents. For Lea Toto children/adolescents we have to pray that the virus will not reach into the informal communities. To our great joy, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) have arranged for the broadcast of lessons for primary and secondary schools, which will be a great source of ongoing learning for our children/adolescents.

Remembering happy moments always lifts one up. On 15th February, we celebrated Sr. Little Tresa’s 50th Anniversary in religious life. We had a beautifully-prepared Eucharistic Celebration followed by entertainment, speeches and lunch. On 28th February, Lawson High School, Nyumbani Village had their first Prize-giving Ceremony. It was lovely to witness how well established the school is now through polished entertainment, speeches by the students, and the wide variety of awards for academic performance, in particular, for achievement in the Kenya Certificate of the Secondary Education in 2019, and a for multitude of co-curricular achievements. Another enjoyable event was a superb choral performance, leading us through the Old Testament to the life of Jesus, presented by Rift Valley Academy in Nyumbani Home on 29th February.

We were delighted to welcome our US Board member, Karen Robb to spend a week with us. Her indomitable energy as she ensured she caught up with all that was happening in our programs was extraordinary. Another special guest was Jodianna Ringel from Princeton in Africa Fellowship, PiAF who spent time visiting Brent Mertz, our present PiAF volunteer in Nyumbani Village. Then on 13th March we welcomed long time friend Annette Donnelly with her colleague Dr. Juan Andrade from the University of Illinois who introduced us to a nutrition supplement which they have developed. They plan to return to hold a training for trainers in making this nutritious supplement.

And the great news we have just received: USAID has approved our getting an Enterprise Resource Planning System, ERP. None are more excited and grateful than our Accounts staff who have had to struggle with a growing number of ledgers as our programs developed. We have the initial start-up today.

We have been with all of you, Friends of Nyumbani, in spirit and prayer who have been experiencing in your country the onslaught of COVID-19 and the devastation in lives as the pandemic continues. We ask you now to be with us in spirit and prayer as we face the unknown here in Kenya. We ask you too to keep one of Nyumbani Home graduates, Rose in your prayer who is in special care at the moment. We continue to trust that God will be with us and guide us how to care for our two groups of special children, 3200 CALHIV and 14,000 orphans and vulnerable children. Let us storm heaven together, begging God to rid our world of this devastating pandemic.

God be with each one.

Sister Mary Owens IBVM Executive Director

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