Monday, May 14, 2012

Diplomatic Spouses Visit to Kibera WEEP Centre

DSA Ladies following procedings
 The Women Equality Empowerment Project (WEEP) ladies had awaited the arrival of members of The Diplomatic Spouses Association (DSA) for what now seemed to be an eternity. Many a preparation had been done in anticipation of the visit. Finally, the day, 18th April 2012, arrived and everything was set; The center neat as it always is, WEEP ladies beaming with joy, The WEEP Curio shop merchandised to professional standards and products subjected to quality control.

Israeli's  Ambassador's wife, Dalit .
Led by The Israeli Ambassador’s wife, Dalit, they arrived and were greeted by song, dance and celebration. The embraces shared were clear indication of the love between the WEEP ladies and the DSA members. They exchanged pleasantries and what stood out was the genuineness of their interactions. The visitor’s were then taken on a tour of the centre before everyone assembled at the hall.
As the DSA members introduced themselves, they gave mention of their vocation and countries they represented. But first Vickie Winkler, HEART’s Executive Director gave insight on what WEEP was all about. She explained how the program which focuses on orphan prevention is key to ‘empowering the people of Africa survive the HIV/AIDs pandemic’ this is informed by the fact that, “If you save the mom, you save the whole family,” Vickie summarized.

As each lady (DSA or WEEP) introduced herself, she shared her experiences and dreams. The WEEP Ladies were encouraged by similarities in the aspirations and the interest and attention the DSA ladies showed. It was uplifting to the women and children watching Carine Ouvry-Bormans from Belgium take photos of the kids while sharing jokes (she later printed the pictures and made a beautiful photo album for the center!). We were all excited as Mrs. Judy Gration spoke to us in fluent Swahili.

Add caption
After the introductions, The DSA proceeded to the WEEP Curio Shop to see the products made by the WEEP ladies as part of project’s skill training component and also which doubles as an income generating activity. The DSA were awed by the craftsmanship in the products and this caused them to make many purchases.  Lunch was later served and the DSA ladies took turns at serving lunch. It was humbling to witness this. The glimmer in the WEEP women’s’ eyes told it all. 

As the DSA women left, one thing was clear, sometimes sparing some few minutes is all you need to make the change you wish to see. This mother’s day (May 13th) HEART wishes to thank The DSA for taking a few minutes of their time on the 18th April,  to spend with Kibera WEEP Mothers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WEEP in Rural Kenya

Walking on the road, headed to the meet the new WEEP women I was astonished with seeing a score of women carrying very tall piles of bricks on their heads. As my group headed up the hill, I believe a woman looked at me and said “njaa” – hunger, and as I looked a 2nd time after taking out something for her to snack on, I realized I didn’t even know which woman it was.  Compassion and a feeling of insufficiency gripped me and now three days later it hasn’t let go.
The first WEEP woman I interviewed told me this: she depends on the produce of her small field to feed her and her children.  She eats some eggs from her chickens HEART bought a couple months ago and earns $2/mo from selling some. She earns $20/mo from tea farming.  This still is not enough so she can earn about one cent for each brick she carries.  Depending on how hungry she is, she may work up to 6 hours/day – that will earn hear another $10/mo. Her total income is about $32/mo (more than most of the 40 ladies).
These women are all widowed mothers with HIV.  They work hard to keep hunger at bay. They never have money to buy things such as clothes or shoes.  They have one bed per house and many are without mattresses for the bed, usually just one or two blankets to share with up to 7.  One lady who I asked if she was receiving aid from anyone said she was thankful for HEART.  I asked what has HEART helped her with and she said a uniform and shoes.  Though it was back in 2006, the year my daughter Rachel and I helped, she was still thankful.  What rang loud and clear was she has mostly been “out there” on her own, trying to make a life for herself for her and her children in the midst of severe poverty.
In Nairobi, I had worked long hours to revise old forms to adapt them to rural areas – photo & personal history release, participant agreements, the initial assessment, individual success/progress report.  Vickie and Alice also put many hours into these forms.  We knew WEEP in the city, now we were kicking it off in the rural areas.  However, my big concern was what we would really be able to do with these ladies.
  • We found that these Participant Agreement rules were something that they wanted and were important.   Last year, these ladies had come together, most very frightened to share with anyone their HIV status.
  • We came with minimal financial support but what we had for them was skill for community building, nutrition and agriculture knowledge and spiritual support; for these they were very grateful. Almost everyone there had enthusiasm which was infectious.
  • We had them brainstorm about skills which they would like to acquire.
  • An agronomist and I (a nutritionist) surveyed them on the foods they currently grow and their problems with crops.  The last two things we did were the Home Garden class and the Nutrition class.   By this time, based on getting to know them for 2 days, we were able to make our classes suited for their needs.

When I asked them individually about their social spiritual ives I heard that they gained encouragement from others, in church and in the group. I did not hear much about their hope gained daily from knowing Jesus Christ.  Beginning day two the women were encouraged with Psalm 91: 1 – 5.He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!”  For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day;
We who are Christians, know this is true, do we really live by it? Truly, we are made to live under the shadow of His wings where He is ever-guiding and ever-loving.
  • During these two days, the ladies got lunches and chai with milk and a loaf of bread. One member of the team spent $240 so they all could have beans for a couple weeks.
  • They received knowledge from each other as facilitators helped them with discussions to make wiser choices for food security.
  • The community they have been building has piqued, but will soar higher.

Still, I pray, that they will not rely on man, but on God alone.  I pray that even in the midst of their current sufferings that they will know God in a way that they will have peace and joy.
How can one live carrying a hundred pounds of bricks on her head, insufficient food, discrimination of HIV, children who she cannot keep warm and well fed?
Today, back one day, I was asked for money while walking home through Runda; I did not doubt the hunger. As I walked with the two, I also noticed one was limping, she had been hit by a car; the poor have no recourse. As we walked her oversized flip flop sandal broke.  We help those who God puts in our path to help.  Sometimes we have to weep for the poor.
 They received knowledge from each other as facilitators helped them with discussions to make wiser choices for food security.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Do not forget to make your order for Hand made Jewellery crafted by The WEEP ladies. 
Every purchase goes towards supporting a WEEP lady and her family.

Monday, October 24, 2011

WEEP Success - Jane Akinyi’s story

Lynn Adrian, Mary Lou and Jane Akinyi
enjoy a photo moment with WEEP alumni
Jane Akinyi’s story is one of resolve and brilliance. Jane got married in 1994 and has two children. By the time she was getting married, she was working at Export processing zone in Nairobi as a driver. It is not until the year 2000 that she got too sick. When she went to the hospital, she positive for HIV, immediately, her husband deserted her. This was her first encounter with stigma. At the time she was very weak, she had a CD4 cell count of 150 and was on TB drugs. 

Jane took a while to accept her status leave alone disclose it. This was mostly due to stigma HIV positive people faced. Due to her being weak, she could not continue with excellent performance at work and this led to her getting dismissed. This did not kill her spirit as she embarked on a vegetable selling business for her sustenance. This venture failed after she started developing rashes on her skin. Customers avoided buying from her shop for fear of contacting disease. It wasn’t long before she got bed ridden and had to disclose her status to her family. As her condition got worse her family was readying for her funeral and even went ahead to buy a coffin for her imminent death. Jane wasn’t done living…

Jane met Gladys (Kibera WEEP Center coordinator), in 2005 through a friend and later in May that year she met Vickie. She then enrolled into the WEEP program and recied anti retro-viral therapy which saw get strong enough. She then went through skill training. She confesses that the most important training was the business training she received. 

After graduation she went into small fish business and is now supplying local supermarkets. She plans to venture into importing the fish to foreign markets. Jane Akinyi continues to inspire women living with HIV/AIDS. Such is the impact the support you give HEART has!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

WEEP - Women Equality Empowerment Program Graduation 2011


WEEP project operating in impoverished areas, is designed to save the lives of mothers suffering from advanced stages of AIDS and are widowed or abandoned; therefore, their children are spared from becoming orphans.

WEEP commits to providing nutrition, vitamins, rent assistance and access to ARV drugs and other medical care. It also ensures that their children have school uniform and other necessary resources to attend school. Once physically stable, the mother is taught a trade at a WEEP center where she becomes self sufficient and breaks through the vicious cycle of poverty. The trade training is important especially in a country where unemployment is estimated to be 40% (CIA World Fact Book - 2008). Beyond the devastatingly high unemployment level, the lack of information and the Stigma associated with AIDS makes it nearly impossible for an HIV positive woman to secure employment, support her children, or access ARV drugs. WEEP's objective is to keep mom alive, healthy and employed and her vulnerable children from becoming orphaned.


To address the problem of unemployment WEEP provides skills training to the ladies in the program. Participants learn to make school uniforms, clothes and bed nets before graduation. They also learn how to make jewelry, handbags and variety of other crafts. Training in basic business management skills is also provided and is key component of the program. This 18 month program has three phases: 1) stabilization 2) Skills training and 3) Sustainability.

During the third phase of the program each woman is required to come up with a business plan and begin her new business. HEART through our partners then provides seed money to help this new business grow and develop.

The 2011 graduation was held on October 1st at the HEART compound. The ceremony was the second of its kind, the inaugural ceremony having been held on the 21st of August 2010 when 12 WEEP ladies graduated from the program. Jane Akinyi, alumni has since become a supplier of fish to one of the biggest supermarket chains in the country (NAkumatt).

During her speech at the 2011 ceremony she spoke to the graduates saying, "I was presented the opportunity to better myself for free as have you. Please note it's not just about the wearing of the gown; it's reaching out to the next person and making her aware too. Giving others hope."  I got a chance to talk to Jane after the ceremony and ask her what she really had in mind. She explained to me about her home village in Nyanza, and how she is tired of receiving death reports and felt the need to go there and reach out to the people there. She said she has already initiated conversation with the local leaders. "You see, these people don't need my money, they need education about HIV/AIDs and hope that even though infected they can live... and that is what I can give them." Jane was representing the other WEEP alumni present.

2011 graduation saw thirty-four WEEP women graduate. The women were from the WEEP centers in Mathare, Kibera, Ngong, Embulbul and Mombasa. The preparation for the day started months in advance. Business plans were drafted and evaluated and profiles updated.  The center Coordinators; Mary Maithya, Gladys Odhiambo, Mary Wanderi and Delina Mwakio worked tirelessly to ensure the ladies were ready.

Early Saturday October 1st,  with flowers and ribbons everywhere, project banners hanging and display tables arranged the HEART Lodge compound had turned into an elaborate display of elegance, with the colorful final touches added by the Bayside Women's team!  With the arrival of Mrs. Judy Gration, wife to the US Ambassador to Kenya, Mrs. Lynn Adrian, of USAID and Mrs. Valarie Thieme, a member of American Women's Association that volunteers regularly at the WEEP centers  we were ready to start the program!

The ceremony began with each of the 34 graduates walking with a hesitation step to the Graduation square in a single file led by Vickie Winkler, HEART Founder and Executive director, marching to the song,  "Go light your world", by Chris Rice.

Mary Maithya, HEART WEEP Coordinator welcomed everyone and offered a word of prayer.

Before the ladies proudly walked down the aisle in their  sky blue caps and gowns to receive their diplomas, Valorie Thieme shared a Poem and Mary Wanderi spoke words of encouragement. As they received the diplomas it was evident how enthusiastic the ladies were looking forward to launching their own businesses! Mary Lou Naylor conducted the Graduate charge, and the message was clear; GO LIGHT THE WORLD!!!  

So clear that in her vote of thanks, Evelyne Shangala, 2011 graduate said "Each and every one of us has our own gift. Mama Vickie yours is to have a heart to help others and we are forever grateful. It poses a challenge to us to go out and use ours as you do yours and change the world."

The graduation ceremony would not have been the same without the support of the Bayside Women's team who were on an eight day trip to HEART. They were very instrumental from early morning preparation of the grounds to setting up of the decorations to documenting the event on camera. So when they got to do presentation of the gifts to the Graduate it felt heavenly. "You have blessed us with your love and compassion," Isaac Mzee, the days MC said while introducing the Team. 

It was a high spirited day and this was complimented by moving poems from Valarie Thieme, Mama Vickie, and Celina Wangare from Mombasa WEEP. The graduates had entertaining presentations and to top it all, the joy in their faces was a sight to live for. 

Evelynne Shangala (2011 graduate) while giving vote of Thanks summed it up perfectly. She stated, "When we felt desperate you gave us hope to live again. It takes God's 'heart' to do what you do and you are testimony that if everyone would do their part the best way they can, the world would be a better place. With this chance we have now, WE SHALL WEEP NO MORE!"

What a great day it was for them and for HEART!

Communities See Self Sustainability Through Greenhouses


After overcoming fear and unexpected outcome of the greenhouse farming technology, communities cannot only boast of experience from practical work but are also happy that they have embarked on a road to self sustainability through the greenhouses. The once nervous caregivers have particularly continued to show much enthusiasm and hope as a result of what they have been able to achieve so far. "I never thought I could own these nice looking tomatoes, I have only been seeing them in the market having been brought up from some far areas" said one guardian proudly staring at the produce from their greenhouse.

They (communities) have even gone to the extent of coming up with tools to capture the amount produced, sales and consumption. This is as a result of continued training and support from HEART for best practices that leads to better record keeping and success of the project. They continue to show remarkable impression that leaves no doubt that given the necessary support communities can achieve whatever they need for themselves.  They now easily talk of their future plans and visions for their children.

As communities and HEART realize this enormous achievement, it has not come without some challenges. HEART has learnt from experience to ensure that all preconditions for installation of the greenhouse are met before the community can be granted one. Then there was the issue of inadequate skill to run the greenhouses which HEART addressed by hiring an agronomist to go round these communities teaching and providing the necessary support.  Community dynamics also came to play with every caregiver wanting to benefit with the few greenhouses. We are glad the communities have come to understand and be patient as we continue to bless them with one greenhouse at a time. The caregivers who are yet to be enrolled to benefit with this project have hope that their time will come for them to own one. Thanks to Lift Up Africa and Segal family foundation!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New York New York!

New York City
(The Big Apple lived up to its name in my book!)

HEART Logo in Times Square!
I am back in Kenya after one month in the USA. One event that was not on my calendar when I began this month was a stopover in New York City (NYC) for two nights before the journey across the ocean back to Africa! Steve Werner is a Rotary friend of mine. Steve and Pat, his wife, have done some amazing things in Kenya including building a school and helping raise over $60,000 for our Freedom for Girls project.

In March Steve told me he was applying for an award with  Invest In Others Charitable Foundation, and asked me to write a reference letter for his work with us in FFG and that he wanted to use  HEART as his chosen Charity to receive the award if he won. See their Mission Statement and a photo gallery of the event at

Steve was chosen out of 300 applicants to be a finalist! He invited me, as the President of HEART to share the evening and honor. Everything about the event was remarkable; from the limo ride, to downtown Manhattan, to photo shoot at the end of the evening!

I was staying near the airport at a hotel which Steve and Pat paid for. They also paid for limo services and I was picked by Mohamed, originally from Pakistan; it was really nice – my first such ride! On my way I shared with Mohamed  the story of  our work and what HEART and Steve Werner were doing together. As I explained the power of a dollar and how for $5 a school girl can get  a year supply of feminine products, to help ensure she can stay in school.  He asked about the drought in Kenya, so  I told him about the greenhouses we were doing with Lift Up Africa and the help this had been to the people.

When we arrived to meet Steve, he escorted me to the front door and gave me a hug and a kiss on each cheek. As I was giving him a tip he said, "You explained what $5 dollars can do in Africa, use this money to help the girls, it is my small part to help”.  I thought to myself, this is going to be a great evening!

The event was hosted at the “Cipriani” directly across from Steve’s hotel, the Grand Hyatt. It was elaborately decorated and very elegant . I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I tried  to act like “oh yes, I come to such events all the time!” It was definitely “by invitation only” event and had security men in dark suits at the door and everywhere. I wish I could share each of the wonderful four hours with you but let me try to hit the highlights.

The keynote speaker was “Chef Jeff” Henderson; “Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove” the power of change. He is an award winning chef, food network television personality and New York Times bestselling author. He has an amazing story of beginning his cooking career in prison and now helping other “at risk” kids learn his trade.

The award ceremony began, and whereas Steve did not win the Global Community Service award, his being a finalist won a $5,000 award to HEART for his work. Our table of ten consisted of his financial associates from Cetera Financial Group, including their Chief Executive Officer, Valerie Brown.  They came to support Steve as a surprise to him. One of these gentlemen, Steve Richman, told a very interesting story of his longtime relationship with Mohamed Ali.  He said he wanted to do something special to help HEART and right at our table he auctioned off an original signed picture of Mohamed Ali!  Valerie left as the winner of this picture, with others donating on top till he had raised $5,600 at our table!  Like I said this was a great evening!

After dinner there was a photo session for the finalists and  I was asked if I wanted a picture of me taken alone. As I was getting my picture taken, Chef Jeff jumped into the spot light and said, “I must have a picture with Vickie.” (we had talked earlier and I had invited him to Africa HEART – which he has promised to come) After the picture had been taken he said,  “this week this picture will be hung in my ‘mother-land’”.  The photographer was great, Sasha Gitin, I also invited him to come to Kenya … click his link to see pictures of Steve, Pat,  Chef Jeff and me!

It was truly a night to remember! On my way back to the hotel, a song of thanksgiving arose in my heart unto the Lord Jesus Christ for making this night possible. Have you heard the song, “Give thanks with a grateful heart”?

Well just when I thought it could not get better , Steve called me, he was at Times Square where the “Invest in Others” had been the openers of the New York Stock Exchange that morning. See the video clip and the attached picture of  HEART logo on this NASDAQ  screen, which is seven stories tall in Times Square New York!  
Steve wrote to his friends, "We were honored by Invest In Others for the work done for Freedom For Girls. HEART was awarded $5,000.00 USD to help continue their work”!

Many are asking me, “how was your trip to the US”?  What can I say?
Awesome, exciting, rewarding, fun, encouraging,  strengthening …thank you Lord! 

I traveled to Northern CA, where my family and our US Board of Directors reside (had three Board meetings – 2 of them at 6 AM in the morning!) Talk about a committed Board!  Also traveled to Southern CA to visit and speak at Pastors Gary and Debbie Hornsby church, then to CO to speak at three Rotary Clubs and had a HEART Friends event at Matt Vansistein’s “loft”. Reacquainting myself with friends and squeezing out time for family.

Charles Obes, our Lodge Manager, was with me on this trip and had the chance to see so many people that have stayed at HEART … Now he saw them in the USA! Our Board was so gracious to Charles and took him to see sights and experience America! He will write about his journey in another letter.

So many stories to share; all the teams that visited Kenya this year and built homes  for grandmothers in our Kids for School project.

Through Lift Up Africa’s donation and the help of friends and Rotary clubs we now have 12 greenhouses throughout Kenya helping with the hunger situation due to the current draught . In 2008 when we had a severe draught and got the vision for the greenhouses, we delivered food relief to six areas.  This year, we continue to raise money for relief food and deliver to only two areas because the others have green houses. These two areas we cannot have greenhouses YET because there is no water.  I am talking to other NGO’s  and Rotary clubs  helping with digging wells and believe we will have our first solar powered well dug and functioning by the end of the year in a drought infested area where we serve orphans in the Kids for School project! 

Back in Kenya
We have already had an amazing three days … hard to share all the news!  I do not want to bomb bard you with news but honestly this journey is so exciting.

Alice Litton is here and attended a lovely Hindu function yesterday, 19th September 2011 where my Rotary friend Sudesh presented HEART with a check for 75,000 Kshs ( $834) for Freedom for Girls! It will go to Namelok, a Maasai village where we have 600 girls awaiting this year’s supply of sanitary towels. The amount donated will help provide sanitary towels for 188 of these girls!

Dave Lowe is also here and helping us with plans for a new addition on the HEART Lodge. We turned away 976 people from mid-May – mid-August to other guest houses just because we did not have rooms to accommodate them!  Without the USAID funding this year, our Lodge has become one of our major source of continuing our work and becoming more self sustainable. We are praying for people to “invest in the HEART of Kenya” and help us build this addition.

Another Mission staff member Katherine Ruben arrives tonight. She has been to HEART once and retired from 26 years of working in an HIV clinic in Chico, CA to come and dedicate herself to work here at HEART!

The second Bayside Granite Bay Church team arrives on Thursday 28th September, 13 women that will wind up their 8 days here helping us with our WEEP graduation – 33 ladies will graduate and be launched into their own businesses.

HEART still needs your support to ensure that more people are reached by our programs. Any support is highly appreciated.

If life got any more exciting I could not contain it!!
My love and gratefulness for your friendship!

Vickie Winkler
HEART President/Executive Director