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Kitui, Kenya Partnership Delegation Lives Change

November 7, 2014

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Last night, the members of the partnership delegation to Kitui, Kenya got together for the first time since returning several weeks ago.  This meeting included Archbishop Nienstedt, who was a member of the delegation, and  Partnership Core Team members.  It was a time for sharing stories, assessing experiences, and most importantly, sharing how this trip had influenced and, in many cases, changed their lives upon return. And many of these reflections were transformational and inspiring. A selection of these comments are below:

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“I go back to Kitui everyday.  This trip was truly life changing and now I look at things very differently.”

“Kenyans seem to live in the moment, not caring so much about worries of the future. They trust that God has a better plan in his own time.  What is amazing is that Kenyans seem to know this in their hearts and live that way.”

” I am reminded about what community is…how one’s daily life is entwined with others and how important and wonderful this is.  I need to be more present to other people and make the time to do it.”

“I was inspired by their faith and how they live it in joy and generosity. I came home with a sense of inner peace…it seems little things are just not a big deal.”

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It was a wonderful night filled with laughter and friendship.  Lasting connections were made on the trip, both among the delegation and their hosts in Kitui, and many were eager to help host the delegation from Kitui when they visit the Twin Cities next fall.

 

 

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Our Thoughts Back Home

October 27, 2014

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We were elated when the plane touched down in Minneapolis/St. Paul after traveling for over 23 hours from Nairobi.  My body couldn’t wait for a nice hot shower, my very own bed without a mosquito net and a comfortable pillow!  The trees greeted us with their kaleidoscope of colored leaves, and our driveway was carpeted with a welcoming golden hue.  I was glad to be home, yet … my heart was still in Kitui.  I wasn’t ready to, nor did I want to get back to our Minnesota lifestyle.

As one of 21 delegates from our archdiocese who traveled to Kitui for the Partnership, I was delighted to be back in Kenya again.  Out of love and generosity, the Kenyans reached out to make our stay enjoyable and comfortable.  Everyone, from the wide-eyed smiling children to those who declared themselves to be our “Kenyan grandmothers”, with joy in their hearts, shook our hands saying “Karibu”, “Karibu” … Welcome!  We were family.   After Mass it is their custom to invite visitors to the front to say a few words.  The gentleman who introduced us at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the outstation of Inyuu deep in the Bush, explained the partnership, but also commented what an honor it was that we would come “all the way out there” to visit them.

Honor??  The honor was all mine!  But then few of them had ever seen a white person before. When we introduced ourselves as: “Bob and Marcie Peach, married 48 years, with 4 children and 12 grandchildren”, the congregation erupted in delightful applause.  Their stereotype of America is everyone is divorced and no one is having children!

After Mass we were ushered outside first so people could greet us as they left church.  For a full 15 minutes, children, men and women shook our hands.  They huddled around us, and we were generally shaking 4-5-6 hands at a time, there were so many and they were so eager.  Finally I turned to Bob and said “I feel like royalty, but I’m just a nobody!”  That welcoming sense of belonging stays with me still.  With that heightened sense, I pray that I, in turn, will exude that same sense to everyone else I meet.

The Kenyans love their tea – taking tea in the morning, in the afternoon, with every meal, and often in the evening as well.  They drink it, however, by pouring hot milk mixed with water into the cup, then adding the tea bag and sugar.  While I found it quite good, I still prefer hot water with my tea bag! However, I’m thinking the tea breaks themselves would be good to add to my own schedule.

Bottled water was provided for drinking because even when water was available, water from the faucet was not potable.  Because there’s no apparent recycling in Kenya and landfills were sorely lacking, it was disheartening to see all the water bottle trash lying around.  Now that we’re back, even though water is abundant here in Minnesota, I find myself deliberately thinking about it, quickly shutting off the faucets.  The image related to us by two other delegates of having to shower using only a bucket of water remains with me. We take so much for granted that others have to struggle to obtain just to survive.

It took almost a week before I tackled the mountain of e-mails, paperwork, bills, etc.  Somehow they just didn’t seem important.  The television has been on only once — that too seems unimportant.   I’m still searching for what God wants me to do with all these newfound experiences.  We are all His people; we share common hopes, dreams and values; we share the same faith and the same Eucharist. The purpose of the partnership is to experience these things and to make them understood.  In my experience, this has been accomplished.

Marcie Peach

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The Elder of Miambani

October 23, 2014

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His father was the pioneer of the village, establishing the African Independent Church.  John Maithya Ilandi, now 71 years old, came back to Miambani, Kitui, Kenya, after teaching history in Mombasa until he was 55.  Married with 11 children, 24 grandchildren and one great grandchild, he is now very active in St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, heading up their local Catholic Men’s Association.  In talking history and politics with him, one notices that the Kenyans realize they are a third world country, but are very proud of the way things are progressing, albeit very slowly! He could tell us more about George Washington than we could tell him about Jomo Kenyatta, the Father of Kenya.

In 1972, when he returned from Mombasa, he built the finest, most modern house in the village, even with a solar electric generator.  He has a very small television, but it cannot be watched until he is able to add a battery to his solar collector. John and his wife, Joyce Maithya, proudly showed us the family compound where two of his brothers and some of the children also have small houses.  The living room was surrounded with the typical basic sofas draped with white covers that are beautifully embroidered.  As we visited, many of the family stopped by to welcome us.  While they may not have much, Kenyans are very generous; and it was very important for them to send us off with something. So as we visited, the daughter-in-law walked into the village to buy coke for us to take back to the Parish house.

It was comical that often when we introduced ourselves as “Marcie Peach” and “Bob Peach” that people thought we were brother and sister because we both have the same last name.  In Kenya, the surname of the wife and children is the first name of the husband/father. John is his Christian name, as his name at birth was Maithya Ilandi. So the husband and wife never have the same last name.

Our getting to know John and his family … as well as renewing and deepening friendships of the other Kenyans we had met before … certainly reflected the purpose of the partnership.   We may live radically different lifestyles, these Kenyans and us Americans; yet the hopes and dreams, faith and family, politics and patriotism are the very same.

 

Marcie Peach

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KITUI -ST. PAUL PARTNERSHIP MARKS ITS 10TH ANNIVERSARY

October 13, 2014

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The anniversary was held at Museve parish, where 240 faithful were given the sacrament of confirmation.Their was also exchange of gifts whereby the Kitui diocese gave St. Paul calabashes for baptism and St. Paul gave Kitui chalices.
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The partnership between the Catholic Diocese of Kitui and The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was officially unveiled on October 30, 2005, at the Kitui Cathedral in the presence of hundreds of faithful in the diocese of Kitui and the visiting delegation of 16 members from the St. Paul Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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However, the history of this partnership goes back to August 2004, when the late archbishop Bonface Lele led a delegation to St. Paul and Minneapolis.

For some time back, the diocese of Kitui had been working towards establishing international partnerships with external parishes/ Dioceses.

With support from the Catholic Relief Services (CRS); the diocese found a partner; the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who coincidentally, had been on the same road of Global Solidarity Partnership programmes since 2001.

This saw the formalizing of the partnership on October 14th, 2004, at Cannon falls, which was witnessed by His Grace Most Rt. Rev. Archbishop Harry Flynn of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the late Archbishop Boniface Lele (by then the bishop of kitui), among others

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Fideles Lindner Memorial in Kitui

October 10, 2014

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Fideles Lindner with Students

Fideles Lindner with Students

Our Archdiocesan Solidarity Partnership with the Diocese of Kitui began in 2004.  Fideles Lindner, from St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings, was one of the original parishioners who helped form the Partnership and led many of the delegations to Kenya.  Fideles, who is affectionately called “grandmother” by the Kamba tribe in Kitui, passed away several years ago. It was a heartbreak for all.

As we celebrate our 10 year anniversary of the Partnership, our Kitui friends have decided to dedicate a room in Fideles’ honor at the new Catechetical School in Kimango.  Archbishop John Nienstedt blessed the room yesterday. It was an emotional experience for all.

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Living in the Bush: without water

October 10, 2014

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The sun beats down from directly overhead, burning the skin after a very short while. The breeze does provide some relief, especially in the shade. It is the end of the dry season and there is little vegetation on the ground.  Many of the trees are bare, though some trees stubbornly stay green. The ground is hard. The washboard dirt roads have numerous ruts and washouts … driving 15-20 kilometers can take an hour or more.

Outside of the mountain range to the north and to the south within the county of Kitui (like a US state), water is the everyday issue.  The majority of the people do not have electricity, do not have water, do not have sanitary facilities, do not have vehicles and make what little they have by subsistence farming.  They grow and sell fruits and vegetables during the rainy season. There are basically two seasons in Kitui … rainy and dry.  This is the end of the dry season, and the fields have been made ready for the rains.  As soon as they come, the fields and gardens will be planted and the area will transform into a lush green vista. They hope.

The water has been gone from the rivers for quite some time now and all of the watering holes are dry.  People must walk to a watering station in a nearby village, if there is one.  Or it is not uncommon to see someone in the dry riverbed digging a hole 3-4 feet deep to reach enough water to fill their water buckets.  Six-to-eight water buckets are placed on their donkey to be brought back to meet all their needs … cooking and cleaning and drinking.

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Their families are strong; they live in tight-knit communities of help and support; the elders are respected; the young are encouraged; they are joyful and friendly, kind and generous, practical and resourceful. It is eye-opening to see how unrelated wealth and joy are.

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Kwa Koke Earth Dam Visit

October 9, 2014

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The Diocese of Kitui has experienced an almost devastating drought for some 10 years.  When it does rain, which is usually just twice a year, the ground is often so solid and dry that water runs off.  The partnership consisting of members from the Diocese of Kitui and the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis came together to discuss ways to help with the water situation.

The agreed upon solution was to help them build large earthen dams, or cisterns.  These will collect and hold the rains that fall so rarely and provide water for livestock, farming and family use.  A program was set up in our archdiocese called H2O where children would only drink water for a specific time and collect coins that they normally would spend for pop and other drinks and offer it to this dam project.  Income collected went towards paying villagers a wage for helping to dig the dam. The villagers were very proud of their new dam, received a wage for their work and, best of all, it worked.

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It worked so well that many more dams are in the works now.

The delegation was able to visit the Kwa Koke Dam that is in the process of being constructed.

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We are so lucky to have the natural resource of water and don’t know what it is like without it.  Just seeing these dams is a reminder of how gifted we are here with this resource.  I won’t look at water the same way when I return.

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Community gathering in St. Mary’s Parish, Miambani, Kitui, Kenya

October 9, 2014

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All morning long preparations were being made for the big community fundraiser in Miambani. Huge tents were assembled and positioned, then moved again to be in just the right spot. The children, all in their school uniforms of navy blue sweaters, white collared shirts and either blank pants for the boys or a plaid jumper for the girls, raised the plastic chairs above their heads and placed them in neat rows under the tents.

And they came … one-by-one, in small groups and by the pick-up truck loads, joyously singing … they came all morning long and even during Mass; they came from near and from the 23 outstations of St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Miambani, Kitui, Kenya.  Smiles, hugs and always handshakes as they gathered. Some 400-500 people came, some walking from a distance of 10-15 kilometers. The women wore their brightly colored Sunday best outfits and often wore scarf headdresses; the children wore either their school uniforms or girls wore beautiful dresses (fashion designers in the US could take a lesson from the African dress.) Many women wore scarves around their skirts symbolizing their support of the CWA, Christian Women’s Association.

We, too, were joyously greeted by just about everyone … handshakes and hugs, smiles and heartfelt welcomes. The children donned us with sashes, skirts and friendship hankies. They smiled for pictures; and while one picture was being taken, a dozen more children ran up to take part in the action. They were hungry for information on who we are … many had never seen a white person before and wanted to shake our hands. At one point there must have been 50 children surrounding us, and for almost an hour there were questions and answers … us learning about Kenya, them learning about America.

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The parish exceeded its fundraising goal, as well as re-establishing fellowship among the community. We were included in the community and felt honored to be a part of this wonderful Catholic parish.

Bob Peach

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Facing HIV/AIDS in Kitui

October 8, 2014

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HIV Meeting

On Monday, October 6,  Joyce, Jodee and I (Lucy) were privileged to attend an HIV/AIDS support group sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Kitui.  This group, which has been meeting since 2005, is composed of both Muslim and Christian women and men. The stories they shared of being isolated, afraid and stigmatized were very powerful. Through the Catholic Church, they have received household items such as mattresses and medication not provided by the government.  More importantly, this group and the church have given them hope and a purpose.

The Diocese has provided a green house, and the group grows products such as kale.  They water the plants nightly and sell them to provide a source of income to become self-sustaining.  We toured the green house and did some weeding!

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The support group meets at the home of a Protestant woman who is not HIV positive but felt compelled in her heart to work with those who are.  Her story was also shared. She and her husband have been accused of being HIV positive and gossiped about, yet she continues to provide counseling and a place to meet.  She is supported by an employee of the Diocese who helps facilitate the group.  The first question they asked us was “is HIV/AIDS a big concern in the USA?” Reflecting later, we realized how we don’t really think about it much back home.

When I return, I will never hear HIV without thinking of the women and men I met in Kitui.

Lucy Johnson

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Visiting with the Street Children

October 6, 2014

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This afternoon, I went to the Kitui Diocese’s Saint John Eudes Rehabilitation Centre for street children on the outskirts of Kitui Town.

Sister Lucia, one of the many young African religious sisters we have met in Kitui had invited me and some of the other Minnesota delegates to see this concrete block building where she is working miracles.

The boys were initially timid upon our arrival, but when Sister Lucia asked them to show us around, they quickly began to feel at ease and show us each and every room.  The boys and girls generally come to the Saint John Eudes Centre because they fled their dysfunctional homes where there is violence or abuse.  They have tried to make their way on the streets, often by stealing, pickpocketing, etc.

The boys we encountered today seemed nothing like what they must have been on the streets. They were so gentle with one another.  The teen boys seemed especially eager to tell me about how they are learning skills to become self-reliant.

One spoke with pride about his ability to cook the meals for all of the boys saying, “That will be helpful when I graduate and leave here.”  We  asked,

“What’s your favorite subject?”

“Biology, Chemistry and Physics.”

What do you hope to do when you grow older?”

“Become a Doctor.”

“What interests you about medicine?”

“I want to help people, and here at the centre I am learning what it takes to be a good person.”

“What will it take for you to reach your dream?” Julie (one of the delegation members)

“To study very hard and do my homework.”

I left feeling sad for these boys whose dysfunctional life has robbed them of their sense if well-being but the Saint John Eudes Center is giving it back to them.

Sister Lucia’s gentle, firm manner is so inspiring.  I was amazed to learn that four of the these street children have now reached university level.

These are miracles worth praying for.

 

Mike Haasl

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