Don's Diary

August 17, 2001

A second day of tutorials with International Red Cross managers in Nairobi. We look at their assignments: cultural diversity within the Red Cross, humanitarian advocacy in the information age, and bilateralism within the Red Cross.

Later, we relax in the tropical night watching startlingly beautiful dancers dressed in white silk at an Ethiopian restaurant.

Up early to see Red Cross work in Kisumu on Lake Victoria. I need to see the work to be a helpful tutor. I am met by the Red Cross branch. They explain the local challenge: a 30 per cent HIV/Aids infection rate.

Jacqueline, a nurse caring for 600 sufferers in their village homes with basic medication and nutrition, answers questions with informed authority.

We make courtesy calls on a dynamic Asian mayor (Henley graduate) and a concerned provincial commissioner. From there we go to Kabuor, a tiny village. We meet an HIV/Aids self-help group who explain their problems: no health, no energy, no work, no food, no family. Frederick, the meeting's organiser, died yesterday. Will we pay our respects? Esther, a pretty eight-year-old, runs in: her parents are dead and she is HIV positive.

We meet the Village Council and Parent Teacher Association. Kabuor Primary School has 300 children; 105 are orphans. Grandmothers take the strain. These dignified people are straightforward: "We are sorry to have to say this, but please help us."

The children demonstrate their HIV/Aids learning with stunning chants and dances. A local puts some money in the shirt of the lead dancer. We take the hint and follow, joining in the dance - everyone laughs. It is the best shake-down I have ever enjoyed. We see Esther spying through a hedge. Her grandmother can not afford the school fee. We call her across. A colleague later sorts out the fees.

We go to Frederick's parents' home. We walk past the skeleton of branches that were as far as he got in building a new home. Frederick's elderly parents and two daughters stand in silence by his wasted body. Jacqueline leads us in prayer and commemoration. I kiss his mother and the children and leave something with his father. There are tears as Red Cross staff recognise the grim eye of the storm in this silent, devastated hut.

I pack up and fly home.

I work on my orations for Lancaster's honorary graduands.


I present them to our royal chancellor. We enter in colourful procession. Academics bask in the pleasure of families celebrating success. Our honorary graduand Satish Kumar responds, speaking of relating the local and the global. I think of Frederick's daughters and their future.

Oliver Westall is senior lecturer in economics, Lancaster University, and is cycle director for the international masters' programme in practising management, provided by a syndicate of Lancaster and McGill universities, Insead, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and a consortium of Japanese schools.

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