US Ambassador, Africa Band Aid, an Oregon nonprofit
Well, I have arrived safely home from my visit or perhaps I should say "ordeal", in Kenya. My plan was to orient a volunteer as well as assess the new Living Center (orphanage) which opened in February.
The children's home is amazing! Each chld has a sleeping space, there are full time houseparents for both the boys and the girls. The dining room is serving healthy food and provides a space for prayer, study and socializing.The children are happy, fun and full of life. One of our stars came early in the year and there was concern that he may have some mental deficiencies. In six months he is a bright, healthy, happy, active boy; a tribute to the power of nutrition. The staff are committed to the children; there are 15 fulltime workers. We are the largest employer in Sori Centre, on Lake Victoria.
We celebrated our Grand Opening with an event that included over 100 community leaders, local and distric politicians, and interested persons.It was satisfying to see the community support.
The Director of the hospital agreed that we could build on his land, and be there for 3-5 years until we could build on our property in the local community. Now that it is done, he wants it NOW!
So the purpose of my visit was to orient a volunteer as well as assess the political situation and find a remedy. The volunteer experience went very well. Laura is a prenursung student and was able to be at the hospital, observe surgery, assist at the Ministry of Health (Public Health Department), give immunizations, attend a mobile clinic, and spend a day with a group of HIV+ children. She had a great overview of health care in Kenya.
The political situation was heated. Meetings were not chaired and were unfocused. There were threats to "take over" the home and remove the staff. One of our Board members was beaten, my house was broken into, the Director marched on the home with children, guardians, police and demanded entry. Then I had a "visit" from Immigrations.
On Wednesday, October 8, three Immigration Officers arrived in an official looking vehicle. I was told that the Director of Immigration wanted to see me. I was to accompany them to Isabania, located on the Kenya Tanzania border. I had the presence of mind to verify their identity and documented the information for me and the office secretary. I also wrote down the license plate number. They asked for my passport. Once I gave it to them they confiscated it. They demanded I go with them. I was scared and suspicious. They asked if I thought they were thugs and I told them I was suspicious of everyone at this time. I asked for time to make some calls and the spokesperson then said that he would arrest me. I made some calls seeking help, and stalled. I finally agreed to go with them if I could have others with me. So the houseparent and a Board member agreed to do so.
Meanwhile the local Chief, who happens to be on our Board of Trustees, arrived and had a conversation with the Immigration Officers. I began to pack a few things, because now the story was that after Isabania I was to be taken to Nairobi (the opposite direction and 12 hours away). I continued to stall and make some cries for help.
When I returned the Chief informed me that the agreement was that I could go to Nairobi on my own and report to the Department of Immigration. I was so relieved! It had been terrifying!
A physician friend suggested that the plan was to take me over the border, leave me there without a passport, phone or money. That actually was a better scenario that I perceived; I thought I might be beaten, raped or killed.
I then packed and left for a safe space. At that time my daughter in Portland, Oregon, called and said she heard that I had been arrested. That call came through World Pulse. Once I received that call I was furious! I knew the Director was behind this and wanted to scare me off. So I stayed overnight and returned to campus the following day and made myself quite visible.
Then I left town late that day with my manager and headed for Nairobi only to appreciate that it was a National Holiday and all government offices were closed. I spent the next three days meeting with MPs (Minister of Parliament), where we discovered that the Director did report me to Immigrations; we met with an attorney, the US Embassy, the KACC (Kenya Anti Corruption Commission), etc.. The hospital director said that I was working for money without a Work Visa. The Immigration people were responsible to investigate, but it does not include "escort service", passport confiscation or an arrest.
I am grateful to my staff and friends in Kenya for their support and protection. I know without them the outcome could have been very different.
My learnings: never give anyone your passport, never go with anyone without resisting or stalling, and pray!
This brief episode of terror is minimal compared to what so many women of the world experience.
Let us continue to speak out for each one of them!
Warmest regards, Karen