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An oasis of peace: Mennonite Guest House a way station for weary travellers

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The Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi.

NAIROBI, Kenya -- For missionaries and aid workers all over Africa, there exists an oasis of peace and comfort along their journey where they can rest their head and share a meal.

For 50 years, the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi has been a way station for weary travellers on a mission. It opened in 1964 after the Eastern Mennonite Missions purchased the property from King's African Rifles.

The Mennonite Guest House recently changed its name to Amani Gardens -- Amani being the Swahili word for peace. But to the thousands who've taken refuge there in the last five decades, it remains the Mennonite Guest House. There's no swimming pool, mini bar or TV in the rooms -- just beautiful gardens, comfy beds and fascinating dinner companions.

A Presbyterian couple who grew up during The Troubles in Belfast and have been working since 1992 in the isolated village of Tuum, that sounds like "tomb," drove 1,000 kilometres to visit their kids attending school in Nairobi.

A Bedouin boy who was taken in by the Kids Alive orphanage in Beirut and now runs the international organization is at the guest house while visiting its Nairobi orphanage.

New Fire for Christ missionaries play a card game on the guest house verandah while waiting for their van to be fixed. Joslyn and Richard Bloodworth, from Arizona, and fellow church member Brian Boyd, 15, are evangelical Christians anxious to get going so they can spread the gospel in Webuye, west Kenya.

(This reporter stayed at the guest house while travelling to and from Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp in western Kenya.)

A young woman who is the food security project manager for the Mennonite Central Committee in Burundi talks about a camping holiday in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo -- reportedly the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Aid workers, she said, see a different side of the places we only hear about when bad news happens there.

On the outskirts of Nairobi, Americans Doug and Corinna Clymer Olson with the Mennonite Central Committee, live in Ngong, where they're helping traditional Maasai livestock herders find a new way to live.

The Maasai tribe is struggling to adapt to new land-use rules and the unpredictability climate change has had on their livelihood -- such as finding water to sustain them and their animals. "Before, you could tell when the rains start almost to the day," a Maasai elder told Doug.

Maasai communities south and west of Nairobi, who've lost much of their grazing land, formed Maasai Integrated Development Initiatives and the MCC service workers are helping them.

The American couple is promoting the idea of self-help groups that improve agricultural techniques and water-harvesting.

In Kenya, the MCC has 21 partners working on 36 projects ranging from food security to education, health and peace-building. They're helping with counselling for survivors of the Westgate Mall terror attack in Nairobi last September, for example.

The vicious assault on innocents made headlines around the world. Aid workers say smaller, good news stories in Nairobi go unreported.

Like Kazuri.

Kazuri means "small and beautiful" in Swahili and is the name of a ceramic bead factory in Nairobi. It was founded in 1975 by the late Lady Susan and located on part of the Karen Blixen estate -- the setting for her book Out of Africa. It's creating jobs for 340 women -- mostly single moms. The beads and ceramic ware are exported to fair-trade customers around the world, including the MCC's Ten Thousand Villages stores in Winnipeg. The desk clerks at Amani Gardens are only too happy to direct visitors to places such as Kazuri, that make a small and beautiful difference.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2014 A5


Updated on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 7:54 AM CDT: Changes headline

12:17 PM: Corrects that guest house has been operating for 50 years

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