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Helping hands

Even though we live in a world that is almost infinitely connected through technology, three Elmira residents are living proof that word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective ways to help change the world. On June 12, Jaye Rice, Laura Jane Weber and Tina Weltz – along with five other individuals from Kitchener-Waterloo and Montreal – are travelling to Kenya to work in an AIDS clinic and at the community centre in a small village called Matangwe, about nine hours from the capital city of Nairobi.
They are travelling as part of Caring Partners Global, an inter-denominational ministry that seeks to serve underprivileged communities throughout the world with a focus of working with vulnerable groups and communities, to identify and implement sustainable strategies and programs that would enable them to experience optimum health and hope.

Rice, a pastor at the Benton Street Baptist church in Kitchener, heard about the organization because the founders and directors of the organization – Stephen and Sylvia Scott – both attend the church. He travelled to the clinic for the first time in 2009, and has wanted to return ever since to help continue their work.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE Tina Weltz (left), Laura Jane Weber and Jaye Rice are headed for Kenya on June 12 as part of a larger group of volunteers going to work in a small village of Matangwe as part of Caring Partners Global.

“I have to admit that Africa was never one of my destination spots. I hate the heat,” Rice laughed. “If I could do something in Alaska, I’d do it, but I was encouraged to go and I went and I just loved it.”

Weltz, an award-winning photographer in Elmira at Calla Studio, has devoted much of her time and energy to helping the less fortunate, and said she wanted to get involved when she heard that Rice – her neighbour in Elmira – was planning a return to Kenya.

She will be using her skills as a photographer to help document the work the volunteers will be doing and to help spread the word back here in Canada.

“I’ve travelled internationally but not to the extent of where we’re going – so it’s really exciting to take that next step and see the world on the other side,” she said.

Finally, Weber – who is starting her studies at the University of Guelph in the fall in biomedical science with the aim of becoming a doctor – was looking for a way to get involved this summer in an aid project like Caring Partners Global, but didn’t know where to begin. So she started by talking to her aunt – who happens to be Rice’s physiotherapist – and before she knew it, Weber was recruited to join the team as well.

“I’ve often thought I’d love to do Doctor’s Without Borders, and I’ve thought if I do become a doctor that’s how I would like to use it. This is kind of a bit of an introduction to what that would be like.”

It will take two full days of travelling to reach Matangwe after layovers in Amsterdam and Nairobi, followed by a nine-hour drive to the town closest to the clinic called Bondo. Rice says that they could fly from Nairobi closer to Bondo, but he believes it is better to drive the entire way in order to gain a full appreciation of the country and the people who live there.

The clinic is seven kilometres from the main road leading from the town of Bondo and 72 kilometres from the nearest provincial hospital in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city.

“It makes more sense to drive because you can kind of see the transition from the big city to the smaller villages and you get a sense of the fact that near Nairobi there are a lot of white people, but as you leave and head to Matangwe you become it,” said Rice.

While in Matangwe the group will be helping in any way they can, whether it’s working in the HIV/AIDS clinic, helping in the orphanage, performing manual labour around the compound or running educational classes, it’s all appreciated by the people who live there or who travel to the clinic.

Through the clinic that was built in 2001, the Matangwe project offers 14,000 residents pre- and post-natal care, nutritional education, lab testing, basic health care and more. The clinic continues to expand and grow to support the health of Matangwe and surrounding communities. Further initiatives including educational, agricultural and life skills programs offer sustainable solutions to the problems faced by vulnerable individuals of the community. The clinic services 17 nearby villages and also runs mobile clinics in the most remote areas so residents don’t have to travel as far to receive care.

Last year they completed a community centre that is used to teach practical skills like carpentry and sewing, but the compound also includes a chicken coop used to produce eggs and meat for sale. They’ve even built a mortuary that sees about 10 bodies go through every week. Rice said that people come from as far as Nairobi to use the mortuary because it is so well run.

Another member of their group will be offering a workshop on how to deal with diabetes, which is extremely prevalent in Africa because of the popularity of Coke, as well as their high reliance on corn in their diet.

“They drink Coca-Cola more than they drink water there, basically because it’s clean but also because Coke has done a great job of telling people that’s what they should be drinking, so there’s a lot of sugar in their diet,” said Rice of why diabetes is such an enormous problem.

During his time at the clinic in 2009, he was in awe of how friendly the people were despite their dire situation. While we live in a world of instant communication and boundless technology, they are heading to a region of the world where 40 per cent or more of the population is afflicted with HIV or AIDS, where running water is non-existent and where electricity is a luxury for few, Yet the people of Matangwe are always willing to lend a helping hand or greet you with a smile and a handshake.

“People there are so welcoming and give you whatever they have. You’re going there to help them, and yet they want to give you things.

“This is an honour to be able to go there and help in this way.”

The group is still fundraising for their trip and is looking for donations to bring with them, including small toys that can fit into a duffle bag or gently used clothing for children up to three years old, as well as over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or Aspirin and  bandages.

Anyone interested in donating can call Jaye Rice at (519) 998-3427 or drop their donation off at Calla Studio, 76 Howard Ave. in Elmira.

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