I expected to see illnesses and diseases that were related to the tropics. I was already somewhat familiar with that from my work in the Philippines, but I was not expecting to see that much of the illnesses were related to a struggle for power, lack of education, and distrust of medicine in general.
I think one of the biggest problems in the communities here is male entitlement. Their success or status is dependent upon how much they possess; cows, goats, wives, children, homes, and land. A husband will often require his wife to prepare him his meal first and serve it to him in his larger house. After he is finished, the wife and children will need to compete for the remaining food. He is not present to see how the children are eating. He doesn't use the meal time as a time to teach his children. He uses it for himself, because he's entitled to it.
They have large families both because of tradition and because of the high child mortality rate. Men are partially responsible for that. While in Kisumu, our tour boat driver told us that in that area of Kenya the majority of children under 5 died from diseases carried by insects like mosquitos. The World Health Organization, CDC, and other major health organizations provide free or very inexpensive mosquito nets to help improve the health of children in the area.
However, instead of using the nets to protect their children, the fathers use the nets to fish for sardines and small fish to sell to other fishermen. The money they receive is relatively small, but that income is less disposable than their children.
All Kipsigis men refuse to get tested for HIV. I was taking care of a woman who had just delivered a stillborn child. Her blood type was O negative and there was a possibility that she had developed antibodies to the babies blood type. The options were to give the mother a shot of Rhogam (very expensive for them, costing around $100) or for the father to get a blood test to determine his blood group (costing about $1). He chose to believe that we were actually testing him for HIV and he refused the $1 test and paid $100 to avoid getting tested.
Two stories I heard at an ethics conference we had here at Tenwek two weeks ago gave me a better perspective. Our ethics that we have as adults are often formed around the stories we grow up with as children. The stories that the Kipsigis, Maasai and other African groups tell their children are often informed by their observations of the animals. Quite frequently the story is often about how a small animal tricked the bigger animal into giving them something, which promotes the ideal of cheating someone with more than yourself.
I believe that truth isn't relative to where you're from or who you are, and I believe that justice is to be given in equal portions to all who live and share the heart of our God. The problems that the Kenyan's have are not exclusive to their culture or to Africa entire. The west has elements of their problems. Men and women do not take responsibility for what is their moral duty, they end up with a self-centered approach to their world. They distrust other people because they themselves are not trustworthy. They abandon or neglect people who rely and depend on them because it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.
I think this experience has truly awoken my perception of God's call for change, not just in Africa or at home in the US, but all over the world. Justice needs to be our standard. We need to provide justice for those who are being destroyed by those who are amassing their own kingdoms. It is our responsibility, our calling, and no one can force us to raise that standard, but ourselves.