For most Americans, when they hear of a place called Kenya, they think of Safari. In fact, Kenya was voted the best location to Safari in 2019. And when one chances upon their first view of the rhino, hippo, large cats, and elephants, it is a transformational moment. Yet it is the Kenyan people who make the nation magical.
Note the intensity that Kenyans supported our own country on January 5th after al-Shabab militants — affiliated with al-Qaeda — launched an attack on an airstrip used by both the U.S. and Kenyan militaries, killing three American citizens. East Africans have vowed to pursue those responsible for the attack and continue counterterrorism efforts with the U.S.
These are our partners, friends, allies.
Cincinnati has its own connection to Kenya called Soteni, now in its 15th year.
To understand the work of Soteni International is to understand the people of Kenya, which is a diverse land with 42 tribes, just as many languages, and a varied landscape from the sea to the heights of Mt. Kenya. The people are as varied as the geography. And while Americans generally visualize the Masai or Samburu, most people live in simple villages with their families nearby.
This is a place in which religion, kinship, and beliefs matter. Material possessions take a far second to relationships and life quality. When people are asked how they like to spend their free time, most smile and say things like “singing with my kids” and “spending time with friends.”
These are a people who lead by hope, not fear.
Soteni literally means “all of us together.” Dr. Victoria Wells Wulsin started this nonprofit organization with unrivaled passion. She did so after living in Kenya to support and address HIV/AIDS and related health matters. Soteni works in three remote villages.
Soteni’s international mission is simple: They work in rural Kenya to prevent and mitigate the effects of diseases, especially HIV/AIDS through community-based programs. One in four Kenyans have HIV, or 25% percent of the population. Kenya has the fourth highest incidence in the world.
Jenny Brady, executive director, runs Soteni in Cincinnati, with Kenyan staff on the ground daily. The organization operates the AIDS barefoot doctor (ABD) model where members of their own community educate individuals. Brady is currently headed to Kenya, undeterred by the recent bombing. She is carrying out the mission.
Henry, an ABD states it simply: “When we face the enemy, we save our community.”
“Some of what people need is simple,” he explains. “Clean water for which Soteni offers a water cleaning program and to use mosquito netting to ward off the malarial mosquito bites. People’s resistance is down, so every small improvement matters.”
Then there’s Naomi. Naomi is a 32-year-old bundle of energy. In her white lab coat, her passion leads her work. As the chief clinical officer for Soteni, she smiles widely. Her career began in a nursing home. She moved to the village, with her family, for her job. She works with patients, delivers babies, and writes prescriptions.
These individuals, and many others like them, strive to improve the health of their villages.
We may be told not to travel to Kenya. News may say it is unsafe. Yet from personal experience, I argue that there is no more important time to think globally and positively.
On one of my own visits to Kenya with Soteni, we stayed several nights with Mr. Malachi who best explains this magical place.
Mr. Malache walked us to the Kibor Clinic (part of Soteni) daily. He explained that it is important to leave very early because greetings matter. I soon understood this to mean that we would greet each person we met on the road. He said if people greet one another, it bridges relationships and ensures that all people get along with one another.
According to him, “It is the African way.”