Friday, October 2, 2009

Family is everything

The First International Conference in Family Based care came, and it’s now gone. Or is it?

Well, the dates of the conference itself are past; and today a larger number of the remaining delegates were busy checking out and looking up their departure times so as not to miss their flights and travels back to their respective homes.

For me, the day was very long and full. It started at the SOS Regional Training Centre where I stayed last night. After the resolutions were ratified by the delegates in the afternoon, I decided to accompany my colleagues and have the last supper (in the context of us being delegates) with them. I woke up and went straight to the office. I had not been near a computer for 5 straight days, and so my mailbox was bursting at the seams! I decided to respond to the urgent mails, and guess what, all the mails ended up being urgent, especially considering that next week I am the lead trainer in the Keeping Children Safe (KCS) Coalitions’ toolkit for Child Protection.

Talking of the KCS toolkit, it drew the attention of many delegates at the conference. Everyone who came across it at the SOS Children’s Villages booth was practically drawn to it. We directed them to the website where it can be downloaded in English & French.

I got a distressing call in the middle of my morning activities. My house help wanted to leave. Now you would have to live in Africa to appreciate this situation fully, but I will try to contextualize it in the best possible way I know how. Being a mother of three, I am only able to carry out my full time job (and occasional social evenings) thanks to the often irreplaceable yet sometimes overlooked invaluable help of a girl who stays with me and does the work of keeping the hearth (like the divine goddess Hera) This frees me to pursue my interests with little or no worries that my household is running well. Of course I would have to work very closely with her for a period spanning a couple of months to show by example how I like my affairs carried out, such that by the time she’s ready, then I know that indeed the affairs of my house are running just as I would have ran them myself.

It is therefore intensely distressing when one morning such a girl wakes up and declares that she wants to leave; immediately. They say every cloud has silver lining, and this cloud’s one was that my sister was in the vicinity. She took the girls and stayed with them as I made my way through engagements that I had made, and Nairobi traffic, and obligations I had committed to… Its only then that I realized the weight of commitments. I finally did get home, and I met the kids on their way to the house with my sister. Dinner was chips and tomato sauce and the kids loved it.

Bedtime 8 o’clock was observed; now I’m sitting here listening to the silence of the night, the smell of freshly steamed rice wafting to my nostrils. (in response to my distress call, my cousin had made a sumptuous dinner in anticipation of the arrival of the kids). I wonder what tomorrow holds. Family is indeed everything. What would I have done without mine?!

Murphy's Law comes right

You know Murphy’s Law- if anything can go wrong, it will.

The first day of the conference to a certain extent felt like the epitome of this. Delegates were in long winding queues as they waited their turn (and not so patiently sometimes) to sort their registration details. I wonder why they had not come the previous day as we had agreed! I had been assigned to the operations team, and registration at this rate was becoming one of the major operations, so in I dove to help "save the day!" After about an hour and a half, we finally managed to get everyone sorted, and I got into the plenary just in time for the key note address.

Laurent Mbanda of Compassion International was brilliant in his address; he touched on the major isues that surround family based care and his perspective was very fresh. It set the floor for the plenary sessions that discuss the overview of the FBC and the legislative and policy frameworks that are around this issue. Prof Jaap Doek was keen to point out that legislation preceeds policy... whoever said that you learn something new everyday was so right!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tomorrow's the big day!

Tonight's the night before the Big day! I am feeling very low and depressed I called my partner and we had a bit of a banter on the phone and it felt better.

The day's been busy, I was up as usual at the crack of dawn (or was it at the break of day?) and rushed for the early morning service in Church, meanwhile I left my son at the Sunken Parking in Nairobi under the care of his coach; he's taken up rollerblading and he is very excited about it. I returned from church and joined him for a while. After a couple of heavy falls on unforgiving tarmac that shook my entire being-including my brains- I realised I first needed serious practice before I can join the kids.

Gerich Roller Skating Kenya is a relatively new outfit that has for its mission the introduction of roller skating as a sport in Kenya. It;s still new and there are many young boys and girls who have found their passion in this activity, and upon closer interraction, I realise several were actually in care situations. Hmmm, I think Gerich could be an interesting partner for caregivers in family based care... I make a mental note to follow this up in October.

I then rushed to the venue of the conference, It was mayhem. my colleague Ngendo was having a hard time setting up our booth - she was alone at the time - and my arrival was welcome. Together we made good progress. The Village Director Mr. Wabara drove all the way from the village to bring us the banner - God bless you mightily - and our friend Sawsen was an honest critic to the outcome. This teamwork led to very good results- until the masking tape got finished! By this time my son had called and needed to be picked as it had started drizzling, and I rushed to get him and realized that he had lost his shoes, so he stayed back in the car (and sleep took him as he was exhausted.)

I went back into the venue briefly and helped where I could which unfortunately I believe was not much. Suddenly I was fatigued. But at least everything's in order.

Tomorrow's the big day!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A taste of honey...

It suddenly felt very strange, as if whoever said that “we should be careful what we wish for” was actually this warm gentleman sitting across from me this afternoon at about half past two!

I had just left the ANPPCAN offices where the committee meeting had been held, and as I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to drop in at the SOS Children’s Villages National Office. I was to check with Virginia (the pleasant lady in charge of communications), about the materials to be included in the conference bag.

Virginia was not in the office, and so I went to look for her colleague and my good friend Anthony. Indeed I found him at his desk, and we were happy to see each other even though it was unplanned and only for a while. We filled each other in on what has been happening and we had a couple of laughs.

As I was leaving, he called me back and said to me - I would like to offer you this. Upon closer scrutiny, I saw that it was a jarful of pure, unadulterated honey from his own combs in the countryside. A smile crept up to the corners of my mouth and stayed there even long after I had thanked him and told him he must’ve been listening in on my prayer for this morning… otherwise how do you explain such a coincidence?

Getting exactly what you asked for not even 24 hours since your request! Needless to say,my throat is well lubricated and I have a sweet taste that is left in my mouth. I can talk!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flag this

Today was the last meeting just prior to the conference. There is a lot to be done still; but it was nice to finally get the entire team - hmmm, come to think of it, not really the entire team, but a great deal of the entire team together. The reports were good, the numbers are more than we expected, the budgets have come through though we had at one point panicked that the funds might not be enough, and of course, the small things that usually end up making everyone run around helter skelter were all done, wrapped up and delivered. In fact, the person responsible for the flags was waiting for us to finish so that he can get the proper dimensions of the flag he was to make. (We chose the smaller ones).

Now tomorrow is to ensure that all parties that have registered who are in Kenya make their payment- we don’t want to be overwhelmed on Sunday.
Now my next stop is the Children's Village tomorrow morning.

Uh oh!

I hope what I’m feeling’s not going to last. I have been trying to refuse it yet it keeps following me and hanging around like a bad smell.

My throat is dry, raspy and itchy. I might be coming down with a cold. Can’t swallow, its painful to do that. Can’t talk…

CAN’T TALK?! Would you believe that? I cannot talk, and we have less than 6 days to the conference! This can’t be happening! Let’s see what the morning brings. (Honey for sure, that’s what I need!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of beds, glasses and the Conference!

Whenever I sleep in strange and foreign beds, I am never really totally in tune with my routines. This has led me to believe that humans are creatures of habit.

This morning I woke up from my temporary bed at the SOS Regional Training and Resource Centre. It is a lovely place where we hold meetings, workshops and trainings for co workers from around the globe. Since Sunday, we have had colleagues who are undergoing training on how to handle Child Protection Investigations. We have 12 out of 13 expected participants and the training is going very well, with lots of sharing concerning how to handle reported concerns of abuse.

Among the trainers, we are privileged to have Mr. Paul Nolan a veteran child protection specialist, who has had extensive experience over the years with organizations such as Save the Children and Plan International. I remember in 2005 when SOS Children’s Villages was working on its “local procedures” which later developed to the “Child Protection Policy” we consulted with him via email a lot. It is a pleasure and an honor to have him take us through the rigmaroles of investigating concerns during this week.

“Where are my glasses?” I wonder as I go about preparing myself for the day. They have managed to totally disappear and it doesn’t help that they are brown with a grey ultra thin arms that I can hardly see without my glasses! The irony of the whole matter helps me keep my head and not scream with frustration. When things are not going too well, I have been told to focus on the positive, so I start thinking of all the good things that I can call to mind.

Materials for my booth arrived yesterday! I now have all the things I need for the display booth at the Conference, and my colleague Ngendo, graciously accepted to take charge of that. Also, I got confirmation about the arrival of one of the delegates to the conference for whom there have been a lot of problems with the visa because of her nationality.

That is a lot of good news! I am happily smiling to myself as I think of the agenda for the 6th and last committee meeting whose agenda I received last night. Thursday the 24th September 09, we shall meet to give the final thrust to ensure everything is going to be ok. I wonder what it must be like at the secretariat?

I got word from Paul the conference coordinator that there is a registration crisis, we have well over 430 persons who have expressed interest, and we had planned for 350. It seems a long way from the earlier days when we were not even sure if the numbers would add up! “Oh yes” I say to myself, “we have come along way!”. Just then, I catch a glimpse of something shining on the floor, and upon closer scrutiny, yes, it is my pair of glasses. Hmmm, I think to myself as I look at the state of the room which I have turned inside out as I searched for them “I have come along way to finding these!” Ok, got to run, breakfast is almost over!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A hectic weekend

It’s Sunday Morning, and I feel like my weekend has already passed me by! I have been working at SOS Children’s Villages these past three days. It’s always a joy to be where the children are, and it always seems like there is never enough time to simply be with them.

On Thursday Morning, I was working from the SOS Children’s Village in Nairobi, where two students who are on a research mission had requested time with me to share thoughts regarding the SOS Children’s Village Programme as a model for an alternative option in Family Based Care. We had some very interesting discussions culminating at the fact that the Conference being held in Nairobi is for Family Based Care, The students were very happy to hear that I was on the organizing committee because there was some information that they said was not very clear on the website. After promising to email them the registration form and the conference updates, I proceeded to the SOS Kindergarten hall to check out the piano.

The SOS Music Club is about to be revived! The upright piano that stands in the Kindergarten is due for repair allowing the village children who have a thing for music to explore their artistic side. Mr. Wabara, the Village Director - who will also be presenting a seminar on Tuesday 29th September at the conference - showed me the issues raised by the piano tuner who had come to the village to check out the old whistler. A lot of work needs to be done, clearly, especially as rodents have begun to gnaw the piano very well,

At 7.25p.m, I was at the airport, to pick up the Lead Trainers for the workshop being held at the SOS Regional Training and Resource Centre starting from next week Monday 21st September. The plane was delayed and we ended up leaving the airport for the RTRC close to midnight. To cut a long story short, let us just say that I finally hit the pillow at about 0130hrs, with the thought of getting up in the next four and a half hours to go back to the airport.

This time, I was outward bound - off to Eldoret for a weekend assignment. Eldoret was lovely; do remind me to tell you of my two day mission there. I returned to Nairobi on Saturday night and proceeded to make a sumptuous meal for my family- ugali (local maize dish) and stewed nyama (meat). It was not until I was full that the entire fatigue of the past three days flooded me like a swamp. I simply took everything to the kitchen and headed straight to bed. Only to be woken by the ringing telephone on a fine Sunday morning. I was happy for the inadvertent wake up call as I had clearly slept right through the alarm clock. I will make it in good time to Maggie’s’ church where I will be going today to watch her speak.

My joy however was short lived as I listened intently to the voice on the other side of the phone. It’s from the Lead Trainer at the RTRC “Hey Roseanne, Sorry to disturb you but one of the participants was supposed to check in at 0145hrs but there is no sign of her; what could have happened?” How would I know what would have happened, I mused as I collected my thoughts to address this panic inducing information that suggests that one of the guests might be stuck at the airport… Work continues.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Technology fails but cosmic alignment does not

I hear my mobile phone ringing and I know it’s something else that needs to be done. Today we have had trouble with the internet connectivity, so many of the things to be done ended up being communicated by phone.

A lady interested in rapporteuring called me for directions to the Conference Secretariat, and before that, I’d tried to speak with Stephen - a fellow committee member- regarding an email that he had sent at about 7.a.m. Clearly, people are posting early mornings these days. After leaving it unanswered, I decided to send him a text to let him know that the programme visit he’d requested for one of the delegates would be arranged.

I needed to do this and get it done with, because I have realized that my scheduling has lately been failing me. For instance, yesterday I got an email from my colleague Beatrice who is working on the Skillful Parenting Experts Meeting to be held in Nairobi around the same time as the Conference. I read through Beatrice’s email and realized that there are several areas of convergence with discussions that we anticipate will take place at The Conference.

Consider this statement from their background literature that caught my eye and got me thinking about the interrelatedness of these two meetings that will take place in Nairobi in the exact same week: “… what experiences and core elements are to be considered in developing a parenting programme that is relevant to the African context?”

I thought to myself: discussions about the different forms of interventions in Family Based Care, which is one of the sub themes of the conference, would be a fertile fishing ground for African contexts that would benefit from a parenting programme!” In fact, even now, as I write, I am not only reminded that I should send that email, but also that all efforts that are directed towards the Best Interest of the Child are always interconnected, one with another. Would this be coincidental? Hmmm.

I read something somewhere that said “Our children are sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself” and for me, such “coincidences” serve to remind me of this statement. That there are so many organizations working for the realization of care and protection for children, from all angles, meeting in Nairobi on the week of 28th September is like a sign telling us that much will be realized for the children of Africa during this week. I like to look at it as one of those things about “cosmic alignment” only that this one presents itself for the benefit of children. If only we are open enough to realize the opportunity before us and to use it for the benefit of our children! And I know that we all are: as individuals and as the organizations that we represent.

I turn aside to return a call, and return to find that the internet is up again, and with it, a mini El Nino of mail in my inbox. Ok, let’s see… who needs what? Work continues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Getting in early

In September, the Sun is in the southern side of the ‘sphere. This means that here in Nairobi we get early sunrises. By 6.15 am. It’s already light and clear. Very good for me as I am a morning person.

September ’09 is also the month that Nairobi is hosting the 1st International Conference in Africa on Family Based Care (subsequently referred to as The Conference). SOS Children’s Villages International, through the Regional Office for East Africa is one of the organizers of this conference.

“Morning Roseanne, you come in rather early these days!” quips Harun the gardener as I pass him and greet him on my way into the office. Since the beginning of this week, I have come in with the sun, and found him still sweeping the fallen leaves and twigs from the paved pathway. I know Harun is very efficient at his work; he probably doesn’t appreciate co-workers coming early to find him with a pile of dead leaves. Ah, well, now I know for certain that its not that the trees are so well disciplined as to shed all their leaves in one neat pile at their base.

“Yes, Harun. This week you will continue to see me early mornings. Other than rising early to beat the notorious Nairobi traffic, I also have a lot of coordination work on my hands right now - I have three key functions to host!” I inform him as I smile, knowing that this might not have been the answer he had expected.

I enter the office as I make a mental note to ask the office manager if we can have a get together of all the visiting co-workers at the beautiful gardens at the Regional Office. I’m sure Harun would love to show off his diligent gardening to an appreciative audience.

In order to take advantage of the allocated travel resources - which have been rather scarce this year as National Associations practiced frugality - we moved some scheduled workshops and planned others strategically so that participants would not have to travel to Nairobi twice within this year. As a result, the next three weeks are –as we would say in KenEnglish - Bumper to Bumper. Simply put, it will be one meeting after another.

The International Child Protection Training for Investigators is the curtain raiser for The Conference, and after The Conference we will have the National Focal Persons in Child Protection Workshop aka the NFP Workshop. During this time, SOS Children’s Villages in Kenya, particularly the SOS Regional Training and Resource Centre in Karen, Nairobi, will play host to not less than a dozen people at a time, from Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I can hear it calling: “Goodbye routine, welcome melting pot of culture, knowledge and practice.”

I also hear the Centre Manager calling-“Roseanne, these are many people; we need to discuss the hosting of all these people!” I think they are not exceedingly many, I know they are just enough.