In June of 2017, No Ordinary Women led 14 women to Nakuru, Kenya, to meet and work alongside our Artisans in Oasis Women’s Group. To say that this was a dream come true, a dreamy adventure with dear sisters, a dream within a dream…well, even all of that seems insufficient. While we could talk for ages about our adventure, what we saw God doing, how lives were transformed, we think that our incredible team can tell you better themselves. We’ll be posting once a month a story or two from someone on our team, so be sure to follow along!
As we entered Oasis, the women began streaming out while singing, chanting, crying, and hugging us. Though we were “strangers”, we instantly bonded through hugs and shared admiration for one another. One of the first women I met was Janet. She was holding her child that had significant special needs. I was immediately drawn to Elizabeth and asked if I could hold her. I felt at home.
As we met all the women that day, I found out that there were four mamas with children with significant special needs who were part of the Rainney Sewing Class and a community outreach that was connected with Oasis. They had formed a community group for women to get training as well as for them to have a place to bring their children as these children do not go to school. Once I laid eyes on these precious children, I new my purpose for this trip. These mothers had to either hold their babies while working on lay them on a flat mat in a dark corner. One child would sit in a plastic storage tub propped up with scrap fabric or pillows. I talked with each mother and explained what I do as my job here (I am a speech-language pathologist for students with significant disabilities for Haywood County Schools). They do not have speech-therapists here (in this area) and these children receive very little, if any services. I asked if I could work with them the next day and my mind immediately started planning for ways to help them. I began thinking of appropriate seating options and adaptive toys and books.
I spent most of the day loving on these children and getting to know their mamas and getting
the children involved with play with the other children (bubbles, parachute, toys, etc.). Their faces filled with joy as a ran them under the parachute or helped them pop bubbles. I was in my element.
I thought of an “easy” solution to the seating – bean bag chairs. That would be easy, right? Nope! The ladies weren’t familiar with them. That night, while having internet service, I searched up photos of bean bags to show them as well as patterns for simple sewing of bean bag chairs. The next morning, Ashley C. and I went to the store with a driver to get supplies for Oasis and materials to adapt toys. When returning, I met with three moms and their amazing daughters: Abigail, Elizabeth, and Stephanie. Violet, one of the Oasis women and a community program worker, helped translate when needed. The first thing I observed was that these mamas (and also the siblings) were SO in-tune with their children. They were so loving and patient and knew every need. They patiently spent over an hour feeding them if needed and were very attentive to their needs. I began by praising them
and telling them how smart their daughters were and that I could see that. I also told them how evident the love they have for their children was to me. Next, I provided some communication strategies and modeled play therapy sessions for the moms. I gave the moms some examples of how to offer their daughters choices and encourage them to reach, look, or vocalize to make a choice. I modeled how to wait and look expectantly at their child for the child to request continuation of a preferred activity. I showed them how to adapt simple toys and books (tying pipe cleaners to a car and wrapping the pipe cleaner around the child’s hand so she could push a car back and forth, adapting board books by putting separators between the pages so they could turn the pages easily, etc.) They all were so excited and seemed very receptive to all the information. It was a privilege to work with these children and mamas.
We also looked for bean bag chairs at the Nakumatt (K-mart type store) that evening. We found them. They were huge, dirty, and $80.00 a piece!! We were shocked. That was not in our budget at all. So the next morning, we visited Start with One Kenya (Bill and Chat Coble) to learn about their work with water filters and when we walked in the door, low and behold there was a bean
bag chair! After digging, we found out that Bill knows a man that makes insulation (for walls they were using to build a church) using the filler of bean bags! (those little white Styrofoam balls). So he made the bean bag chair and gave it to Bill! We decided to follow through with this and try to get the chairs or filler from this connection. Our NOW sister, Ashely C. stayed behind in Kenya for an additional month of work. Through lots of coordination and perseverance, right before she returned home to the U.S. she was able to deliver the bags to these amazing children!
Later that day we told the women about the bean bag chairs and that we were working on a way to get them to use at Oasis. Bonnie also had the idea to give them something to hang off the sewing tables that they could look at or play with while their moms worked. So, the fabric mobile idea was born. Simple leftover wire and small scraps of fabric were transformed into beautiful mobiles for the children to watch, bat, and pull. These mobiles were such a hit that we brought some back for the NOW booths here at home.
It was an amazing experience to meet these moms and children and I truly feel that God had a purpose for me on this trip. I remember when Leah asked me to go, I thought, what could I offer? Why “me”? I do love the jewelry but I am no fashion or business expert. I am not crafty or artsy or talented in that way at all. What could I offer these women of Oasis? And then I met Stephanie, Elizabeth, Abigail, and Purity. And their mamas. And I knew. And God knew. Leah did not even know that the Oasis group had this community outreach for these families. But God did.
Kathryn Clontz has been working with children and families her entire adult career, advocating for those with Special Needs and their people, as well as giving selflessly of her time and heart to her church and community, her family, and No Ordinary Women. Kathryn has 2 wild and compassionate boys that are pretty much as cool as kids can get, and a pretty rad husband who shares her love of outdoors and small town living.