It has been so sweet to be back in Lwala. Of all the places that I travel, this is the one that feels the most like home. They affectionately call me Anyango Nyalwala - which means born in the morning, daughter of Lwala. It is the rare and beautiful place where my work, marriage and calling intersect with one another. I first stumbled upon this western Kenyan village in 2005 when two brothers lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and I accompanied a friend of theirs to pay our respects. They shared with me their late father's dream for a clinic to be built in their home community. I looked across the plot of land where they hoped to someday build. This village was several miles away from any main road, without electricity or running water. I could not have imagined then, that I (and eventually my future husband) would get to be a participant in actualizing such a dream.
In the beginning years at Blood:Water Mission, we took a risk to seed fund the opening of the Lwala clinic and drill its first borehole. It was a bare-bones start, but the Lwala community pressed forward amidst a 24% HIV prevalence rate and one of the highest maternal and child death rates in the country. In 2009, they recruited James to serve as Lwala Community Alliance's Executive Director. Today, there are four American staff and nearly 100 Kenyan staff working to break down the barriers of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS in this community. And slowly by slowly, what was once an empty lot of ambitious dreams is now occupied with a hospital, public health outreach, educational programs, a women's sewing co-op and demonstration plots for agriculture and nutrition for HIV positive people.
Today, James and I hopped on the back of a motorbike to make some home visits into the communities. As we rode slowly along the uneven dirt road, we passed familiar faces and homes that have woven their stories into ours.
We collected stories of families whose lives have been changed since the hospital and outreach programs began. We held babies whose lives would never have been possible without the medical intervention and safe delivery in the year-old maternity ward. We met mothers who have been supported and encouraged by the LCA's community health workers. We met children whose diarrheal diseases have disappeared since the rain tanks, latrines and health clubs graced their schools.
It has been my joy to return to this place over and over again for the last seven years - and to see the beautiful work of the staff and community here. This one community has become the heartbeat of our vocation and calling in Africa, and I am so thankful that we have a place in Africa that we know and love deeply, and are known and loved in return. There will continue to be the unbearable stories that will break our hearts, but side by side, they are accompanied by the ones that give us reason to hold on to hope.