Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

Archive for the ‘eldoret’ Category

How to save lives when some don’t want to live.

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‘Prevention’, ‘safe sex’, ‘adherence’, ‘disclosure’…..  Instead of  ‘where are all the nice men’, ‘where’d you get those shoes’, ‘check out this new phone’, ‘what interest rate did you lock in at’, these are my new daily conversations here in Eldoret. We talk about this all the time and the main character is HIV.

I am working with (Kenyan, USA and Canadian) doctors, nurses, counselors, MPH’s, etc-ers. The ongoing conversation is HIV and all aspects of this ramped disease.

This is my second  long-term project in Kenya around HIV. This time I am building media: audio, still photos, writing scripts for question answer content and skill building videos, all in collaboration with expert advisors. The media will be embedded into software that will in way support the lack of healthcare workers here due to the ever rising cases of HIV, in a country that cannot produce enough healthcare workers to respond in time. Compete imbalance. The software installed in a tablet computer and it’s ‘avatars’ will collect baseline data through mundane questions that will free up physical healthcare workers to move closer to the root of the problem.

So, I am surrounded by these professional health care workers in the heart of AMPATH, a partnership between Indiana University (USA) and Moi University (Kenya). There are handfuls of docs and medical students in and out of where I am staying. They are here to share what they know and also learn from Kenyans. It’s an amazing program founded by an amazing man, Joe Mamlin, and once I understand more I will be more specific.

In the meantime, these students are in constant conversation about HIV and how to get it under control and maybe even bring it to a halt. Today, during my 36th HIV conversation in about a week one of the MPH students said ‘they just don’t care‘ (regarding infecting others, preventing infection themselves by using condoms). Something dawned on me. What if instead of all of this medical attention more of the focus was to make  life worth living?

I mean, in a country that brews chang’aa, sodomizes 8-year-old boys as a street kid ‘initiation’ (I met him), and where cars and motor bikes don’t budge for pedestrians (I was side swiped by a motorcycle yesterday on the side of the road), extreme poverty, let alone the past elections…..? It’s hard to keep people alive when at times they don’t want to live.

What would happen if some of the money that is pumped into healthcare instead supported a monumental surge to end corruption and promote sustainable small and large entrepreneurship so that people can lead more self-reliant lives… how might that change this HIV situation?

On the other hand, and this is grim, HIV is big business. Back when George Bush enacted PEPFAR although millions of dollars were established for AIDS, drugs back then were to be commercial, not generic. Big biz for pharmaceuticals industry (though that has changed). The are so many people employed thanks to HIV,  so many jobs, so much aid, so much and yet the numbers of infected people are rising. However things are improving. When I was here in ’04 (outside of Kisumu) no one would even say HIV or AIDS. Now people are getting tested and have treatment partners.

What can we do differently?  Where is the most logical innovation? Mamlin is using Google Android phones and going house to house testing people, and building a map (via the gps on the phone) to test and map out the infection rate then immediately integrate treatment. That’s exciting to me for multiple reasons. Will be checking that out in the coming weeks and write about it.

In the meantime, back to work on  Monday.

Written by amandakoster

May 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Posted in africa, eldoret


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by Amanda Koster in Eldoret, Kenya.

I ordered fish last night and like most dishes in Eldoret so far, with it came a heaping pile of oily, soggy french fries. I don’t touch them because they’ll make me fat. And, if I were to indulge there is no ketchup here.  Instead there is some sugary, syrupy sweet and sour sauce died pinkish to possibly resemble what westerners would call their beloved Heinz Ketchup. Deal-breaker.

I pass the fries off into the up-for-grabs center zone of the table. 7 of us are out to dinner. Somone says, ‘give them to the street kids,’ the street kids in Eldoret, outside the restaurant sniffing glue, homeless.

I am torn. On the one hand definitely, why waste anything.  The kids outside the restaurant are hungry, homeless, orphaned, dirty, reckless and high on glue. They will eat them.

On the other hand I remember Raj, our SalaamGarage tour guide in India last September, had another perspective. “Buy them their own meal.” Then he made a face like your guys are arrogant western assholes. “Why give them your leftovers. Give them their own plate of fresh food.”

I still see his point. I think to myself today, imagine your whole life people feeding you the food they don’t want. Not getting your own meal just for you start to finish. What does that do to a person?

Bryant and I asked the waiter when we are finished to pack up the ‘chips’ for ‘take away’ (‘french fries’ in a ‘doggie bag’ would not have made any sense).

We all finish out our dinner. I watch Bree as she keeps on eating the fries, even after it’s been publicy decided those fries are going to a street kid. I keep watching out of the corner of my eye. One fry afer the other she eats. “I feel munchy” she says. One after the other. The pile is decreasing and she keeps picking. I say nothing. She’s enjoying them. However all I can think of is that is one less fry for some kid living a horrendous life on the street.

Eventually we all get up to leave, the waiter has packed up the ‘chips’ for Bryant and I to hand off.

We get outside on the street and look around for all but 5 seconds. The streets kids are lingering amongst the rest of the Eldoreties, all of us out for a night on the town. It was Saturday night after all. Everyone was out and about. Street kids everywhere sniffing glue running around. Eldoreties out for dinner, drinks and dancing, us Mzungus (whites or literally ‘one who moves about’ in Swahili) also out endlessly trying to make sense of it all. All of us wandering around.

One street kid came up to me. He was small, about 8 years old, filthy and nearly barefoot. His shoes were too big, worn out and barely clinging to his feet. His clothes were the same, too big, half missing, worn away. Again, someone elses leftovers.

He came up to me sweetly. He wasn’t aggressive or mean, he was gentle. I know these kids are masters at begging so it could have been an act, though this didn’t feel fake. It felt hungry.

I hand him the bag of soggy, cold, damp left-over french fries. He looked up at me and said “for me?” … “Yes” I said and handed them over. He gently took the bag and said thank you. He then put his hands together, brought them up to his face in gesturing a prayer almost like Namaste, made eye contact and softly said “thank you, thank you,” again and again, smiling. Then he ran away really fast.

“I hope he doesn’t get beat up.” I turned around, Bree said that. I looked back at the boy running away from the bigger street kids. No one seemed to be chasing him.

If  you are interested in helping the street kids in Eldoret, below is an organization I met personally here in Eldoret. Tumanini Children’s Center (‘Tumanini’ means ‘hope’ in Swahili) is run by former street kids themselves who are now married with families, employed and living productive inspiring lives. Tumanini is open 3 days a week, provides food, showers, counseling, medication and support for street kids in Eldoret.

learn more:

their website, it needs help: Tumaini Chidren’s Center

Want to help? Let me know: . I am going to talk with them to get a site up where people contact them.and help.

Written by amandakoster

May 2, 2010 at 10:53 am