23 July 2015

The Tragedy of Being a Mother in Rural Tanzania

This week we encountered the stories of three women, three typical and tragic stories.

The first woman came into our lives through the Gender Based Violence program.  Her husband beat her so badly that he broke her leg.  Then he kept her at home and prevented her or anyone else from seeking care for her.  The broken leg became infected, then gangrenous.  Finally she was taken to the hospital, where she stayed for more than one week, during which time apparently no one from the hospital treated her or cleaned her wound.  I saw a photo of the bed she was left sleeping on, which was soaked in fluids from her bed.  She was left alone in a room, in terrible pain, with no treatment for the infection in her leg and little pain medication.  When the hospital staff saw the police and GBV team on their way to the woman's room, they rushed to bandage her leg.  It had been too late to save the leg even before she reached the hospital, and this pregnant mother of four had her leg amputated last week.  The GBV Coordinator has been trying to intervene with the family and in-laws to care for her and her children, but while they look for money for a hospital bill and food for the patient and for her children back at home, the woman is hungry in the hospital, which doesn't have food services for patients.  Her husband is on the run, and the police are looking for him.

The second woman I met in Nyambogo on Tuesday.  The Mama Maisha team was there to walk from the village center to the nearest health clinic, but before we set out, our Maternal Health Advocates brought us a woman who delivered locally two weeks ago.  The baby was very healthy, but she has a birth defect which seems to have fused her elbows and her forearms are tiny.  The mother was at a loss what to do.  Grace, the Mama Maisha Coordinator, is friends with the hospital physio therapist, who agreed to examine the baby, so we gave the mother a ride to Shirati and Grace accompanied her to the hospital.  Amazingly, this was the second baby George had seen in two days with the exact same birth defect.  They have to wait until the babies are six months old, and a surgeon will perform the operations.  Now this mother has six months to find the money for surgery and a hospital stay and physical therapy for goodness knows how long.

The third woman came to our attention through our friend Stephen.  We have visitors from Canada this week who have been doing home improvements for vulnerable families in the villages around Shirati.  Their schedule for today was to go build a new mud hut for a very sick widow with HIV and two children.  Their idea was to build a house that the children could live in even should their mother die.  Last evening we got word that the woman died, leaving her children as orphans and virtually homeless, since the funeral preempts the building of a new house before the Canadians leave on Saturday.

Life in East Africa is not easy, but for women, the burden of illness and poverty is multiplied by the effects on their children.  There are many good men here, but cultural traditions often leave mothers alone carrying the burdens alone.  There have been some good stories this week, but these three mothers have weighed on my heart.  There is nothing we can do to change their circumstances, but we can try to help share the burdens.  

It looks like the orphaned children will get their house tomorrow, thanks to the Canadian friends, but the 14-year-old boy will be the head of household now.

We don't know the actual costs yet, but baby Bibi Peter will need financial support for her surgery, probably around $500 within the next six months.

The now-single mother of four (almost five) is on her way home to a new life without a husband and without a leg.  The hospital bill will be about $200, and unfortunately, their poverty will only worsen with the absence of a husband and the presence of a disability.  She has been doing a business of collecting and selling firewood, but this is impossible while on crutches.  Training for a new career as a seamstress or doing hair would be about $100.

If you are willing to help one of these families, you can give tax-deductibly by clicking here or by sending us a check (written to Leisha Adams, sent to Sam Adams, PO Box 982, Newberg, OR 97132) or by giving to fredandleisha@gmail.com on Paypal.

16 July 2015

10 Accomplishments in 10 Years

I started volunteering for Lahash in March 2006 after watching several movies set in East Africa (such as Invisible Children documentary, The Constant Gardener) then heard Daniel Holcomb speak at my church about his fledgling organization, Lahash International.  I emailed Dan that night, and by the next afternoon, we were having coffee in a Starbucks near my office.  I doubt there has been any other 24 hour period of time that has changed my life as dramatically.

I started volunteering every week to help organize finances for the organization and served on the board.  In December 2006 I traveled to East Africa for the first time, and then I was really hooked.  I continued volunteering, and traveled again in August 2007.  I traveled twice in 2008 and joined the Lahash staff part-time in anticipation of moving to Africa.  In September 2009 I joined Lahash International full time and moved to Tanzania.  All this to say, for 9.5 of the past 10 years of Lahash's existence, I have been on the front lines, watching as God has used a diverse group of volunteers, travelers, sponsors and donors to have an effect on the lives of hundreds of children in East Africa and thousands of people in the Western world.  Check out some of the work God has done through Lahash.

And Number 11: Me.  I might be the person most totally and dramatically affected by my involvement with Lahash International.  If it weren't for this organization, I wouldn't have ever met my husband, my kids, and my life here in East Africa.  I thank God for bringing Dan and Lahash across my path at a crucial time in my life, when I was struggling in my faith and frustrated in my career.  It was a dramatic right turn away from selfishness and the American Dream toward social justice, engagement with the poor, cross-cultural relationships and, most importantly, closer to the heart of God.

It's been an incredible decade.  Thank you, Lahash, and thank God for you.

09 July 2015

The Best of the Past 200 Posts

Last week's post (Get On My Calendar! 30 Appointments Going Fast!) was the 200th blog post for Leisha In Africa.  I let it pass without mention, but here are the 10 most popular posts on Leisha in Africa over the past 6+ years I've been writing here, based on page views.

10. God Answers (Katie's) Prayers - 15th July 2013 (205 views)
In 2013, I was feeling particularly lonely here in Shirati.  My colleague and friend, Katie, was praying for me to find some friends, and suddenly I met several new friends who made life here a lot more pleasant.  This is a rundown of the women who entered my life during that time.

9. Nyumba Ntobu - explain that one more time? - 28th August 2013 (207 views)
In this post, I explained about a local tradition that I was just learning about: Nyumba Ntobu.  I've heard more stories of women who have taken a nyumba ntobu and it has ended badly for many of them.  Still not sure how to feel about this tradition.

8. Baby Otieno 2 (with photos!) - 16th February 2014 (210 views)
Baby news is always popular, and Gretchen's arrival was no different!  This is her birth story and photos of newborn Gretchen and new big brother Wesley.

7.  Bummed Out and Burnt Out - 22nd September 2014 (214 views)
This post was last fall when we were in the midst of fundraising for airfare.  We had some unexpected expenses related to getting Innocent's visa, and I was feeling very low.  I think this post had so many views because there was a long lapse in which I didn't update while we finished up projects and traveled to the States, not because everyone felt so sorry for me that they came back to read it many times!

6. No, that is not a pumpkin under my shirt - 31st January 2012 (217 views)
I was about two weeks shy of my due date with Wesley, but unbeknownst to me, five weeks away from Wesley's actual birth date.  This was the last post before Wesley was born, so a lot of people checking in for baby news, not my huge stomach, was probably the draw for this post.

5. Mama Maisha - Mother Life - 16th May 2014 (247 views)
This was the introductory post when we were preparing to launch Mama Maisha, explaining the problem of maternal mortality, how we came to be involved, and what we were planning to be.

4. Why We Have House Help - 3rd February 2014 (325 views)
People always tell me how interesting our normal, day-to-day life is here.  (I don't always feel similarly!)  I explained here about what our house help, Adera, does for us.  This post was also the last post before Gretchen was born, so some people were checking in for baby updates.

3. Series of quotes - Which is your favorite? - 19th February 2009 (326 views)
In the process of wrapping up my life in the United States before I moved to Africa, I was going through a lot of old journals, and found a bunch of significan

2. In Memoriam - Stacey Hartfeld - 25th April 2013 (582 views)
One of the best friends I had growing up died from brain cancer in April 2013, and I used the blog to express the grief I was feeling.  I still miss Stacey, even though we hadn't seen a lot of each other since high school, but she a friend since about age three, and one doesn't forget friends who have been around for that many formative years.  Plus, she was just an incredibly strong and joyful woman.

1. How to open a soda bottle...without an opener - 23rd December 2009 (1,392 views)
The most popular, by far, is this post in which I summarize the different ways that my friend Leah and I had learned for opening a soda bottle without an opener.  Needless to say, this post gets most of its popularity from people searching google for advice about, you guessed it!...opening a bottle without an opener!  In fact, on google's search results, I'm number SIX of more than a million results!

Although those are the top 10 posts in terms of numbers, here are 10 of my favorite posts, especially with new readers in mind:

Is there room for excellence in the church? - 22nd October 2009
My first interaction with Chimanga, a young man who was a significant part of my first year living in Tanzania.

The ugliness of myself revealed - 2nd December 2009
The story of Cristina and the emotions raised as I processed the tension of justice and mercy in this difficult world.

Alert: this post is both very long and very sad. Please read. - 27th January 2010
Another sad story from my first year, including an update on Chimanga's story, which made me cry even sitting here five years later.

"Photocopy Mzungu" (an epically long blog post) - 8th April 2010
All of my favorite posts seem to be pretty long, but this post recalls some of my favorite moments from my first year in Tanzania.

Maduka and the Mouse - 1st June 2010
I still tell this story often.  In some ways it is the defining story from the time I lived in Dodoma with my friends Leah and Rachel.

Now I Know Why We Don't Pray - 26 October 2010
A lesson I learned in 2010 and need to learn again.

The In-Laws - 23 June 2011
Fast forward through Fred and I meeting, getting married and moving to Shirati to the point when I went to his village and met his grandmother and Innocent for the first time.

Amazing what can happen in a year! - 9 November 2011
A summary of a year of major change in my life on the anniversary of the day I met Fred.

Now I know the Luo word for "MINE!" - 30 November 2011
When Innocent first came to live with us, he and I took some time getting used to each other, mostly due to the multiple language barriers.

The Birth Story (the long version) - 15 March 2012
Gretchen's birth made the 10 most popular list, and Wesley's birth story has to round out my favorite 10!

02 July 2015

Get on my Calendar! 30 Appointments Going Fast!

Gretchen and I will be coming to the States for the month of September for three reasons.

1.  10th Anniversary of Lahash International!It's the 10th anniversary of the beginning of Lahash, and September marks my nine-and-a-half year anniversary with Lahash!  I'm coming back to attend the celebration events over Labor Day weekend.  There's a formal banquet (see left) on the evening of the 4th and a picnic reunion on the afternoon of the 5th.

As my boss and I were just discussing, over the years, many of my friends have become staff members, travelers, volunteers and sponsors at Lahash, so I hope I'll be seeing many of you over the Labor Day weekend.

2.  Meet the Board of Mama Maisha USA!
Last month Mama Maisha was registered as a U.S. non-profit!  We have a board of directors based in Asheville, North Carolina, so I'll be flying out to meet up with them and maybe do some fundraising for our brand new official organization.

3.  Increase our Personal Support
Fred and I are both in unenviable position of fundraising our salaries.  Fred does this through writing grant requests for projects which pay him a salary (like the GBV reduction program I referenced last week).  My salary from Lahash International is 100% fundraised, including all my travel expenses (like my trip around East Africa in May).  Beyond our "jobs" we like to do projects to help vulnerable people in our community, like Dorina, Grace and Johanes.  All of the money that pays for our international travel, personal ministry and my work with Lahash International comes from individuals and families supporting us through monthly or annual donations.

If you have been touched by our ministry in East Africa, I would like to schedule a time to meet with you during the month of September.  These meetings will be my top priority, and my goal is to meet with 30 people in 30 days.  I won't be doing much socializing, but I will be accepting lunch and dinner invitations, coffee dates, early morning breakfasts or Sunday brunches with any person, couple or family who would like to talk about joining our support team.  If you want to be on that list, email leishao@lahash.org right away to schedule a day.  There are only 30 spots, and they're going to fill fast!

Now I'm off to a birthday party for one of Mama Maisha's interns from Clinton School of Public Service, then a good night's sleep before teaching two full-day workshops on "Hygienic Birth When the Hospital Can't Be Reached" to Traditional Birth Attendants.  As I remarked on Facebook, if a pregnant woman rushes into the church hall needing assistance to deliver, I'll probably be the least qualified person to actually deliver the baby, but I'm still the teacher of the course.  That's how desperate rural Tanzania is for education on issues of maternal mortality!  Be sure to check back next Thursday to see how I did!