Thursday, December 15, 2011

Epilogue 2011

"What will they do now?" people ask about our friends in Maseno.

"God only knows" is once again the answer.

Nan and Gerry Hardison have just returned to the U.S. Their final "Communique" is reprinted below. Hard and faithfully as they tried, over ten years of committed service, to foster sustainability in their corner of Kenya, that was an enormous challenge in a community that has far too little with which to sustain itself. And so we continue to pray. We pray in thanksgiving for Nan's and Gerry's lives of faith and service, and we pray in petition for the future of our brothers and sisters in Maseno. 

Down through the years, there have been hundreds of good-bye songs, both popular and classic. As we draft this, the last of our Communiqués from Kenya, the song that best expresses our emotions is the one adapted from one of Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl ballads by Pete Seeger and the Weavers in the late 40's or early 50's. It goes like this:

         I've sung this song, and I'll sing it again
         Of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been
         ‘Bout some of the troubles that bothered my mind
         And lots of good people that I left behind 
         So long, it’s been good to know you  (x3)
         It’s a long time since I’ve been home
         And I’ve got to be movin’ along.

And so it is with us. We have met lots of people, some good and some bad; a few happy, but more sad. We’ve seen life and death and too much of the latter. We have seen high spirits in the face of poverty and adversity but despair and hopelessness as well. Our 10 years in Kenya have planted lots of troubles that bother our minds, troubles which will continue to bother our minds until our dying days. We are changed persons. What we remember most are the “lots of good people that we left behind.” We cannot take them with us. Nonetheless, “we’ve got to be movin’ along.” It was a blessing to have known them and a grief to leave them. Who would have thought, when Nan and I were young college students, that, in our “twilight years,” we would forge close bonds of friendship with persons half a globe away? The fact is, it was not hard. They are just like us. The same desires, the same aspirations, the same struggles and the same tragedies. Unlike us, however, their desires are less often realized, their aspirations less often achieved, their struggles more unremitting and their tragedies more profound and unexpected than ours will ever be. With the help of all the good people we shall be rejoining on our return, however, we have changed for the better the lives of many. We are eternally grateful for the help and support that our friends and donors have given us. We just wish that we could have boasted more sustainable changes. But, as we implied in our “next to last” communiqué, any batting average more than zero for sustainability is good in this business. I think we have achieved that.

Does it sound like we are really leaving them behind? Of course we cannot. I was once told that in certain Asian countries, if you saved a life, you were obliged to support it thereafter. If that is true, then we have quite a burden to shoulder. Get real; it is too big to shoulder. But we can continue to help so long as we are selective. Therein lies the future. We would like to revive the Orphan Health Initiative which had such a beneficial effect on orphan and caregiver well-being when it was active. The cost was modest, about $2,000 per month; the yield in healthcare was tremendous. Over a two-year period, jiggers and scalp fungus virtually disappeared in the orphans of parishes served by the program. As the program progressed, fewer and fewer patients with formidable acute disease required hospitalization. Where can we find $24,000 per year? I think it can be raised even in the face of the Western Financial meltdown. If it is possible, we know of a very committed and honest Clinical Officer whose main interest is in community health. He would be a great leader of such a program. The program would have dual benefits. It would improve the health of orphans and caregivers and would provide income for the Hospital which will need much help to stay afloat, as Kenyan inflation soars and as the healthcare system remains in turmoil. A Mission Hospital without donor support, supported only by patient income, is no longer a “Mission” Hospital. It has lost its soul.

There is another project which we deem extremely worthy. More importantly, it is a program which the community conceived and for which they and we have identified an honest, smart and committed person. It would be run from Phoebe House. We have mentioned Phoebe House in earlier communiqués. Often when women are diagnosed with AIDS, they are thrown out by their husbands as well as by their own families. Phoebe House was started by a group of women in Luanda township (4 km. from Maseno Hospital) to provide shelter and food for such women. Maseno Hospital has traditionally provided free health care to residents of Phoebe house. It has been successful. The new initiative, proposed by one of the ladies, is aimed at “child-headed households.” Imagine a 12-year-old girl trying to raise and provide for her younger siblings, ages 4 and 7, because both parents are dead and there is no willing “Granny” to take over. The proposal would extend the shelter of Phoebe House to those families. It is not clear what the ultimate costs will be, but start-up costs should be modest. Nancy and I want to help this program to become successful.

So it seems that Nan and I cannot really leave Maseno and the people there. The Hospital, College and the Orphan Feeding Program are perpetually in need of support. Nancy and I shall continue to seek donations on their behalf and will continue to ensure they reach the right places. We shall continue to be accountable to all donors we might be fortunate enough to attract. The conduit through All Souls’ Church will remain to enable donations to be tax deductible.

Many thanks for all your help, encouragement and support.

Nan and Gerry Hardison