The Orphans Program
In 1997, on his first trip to Kenya, John Willingham met Daniel Ochieng, a minister who was pastoring the Church of the Brethren in Oyugis. Daniel was also directing a program caring for several orphans. An increasing incidence of AIDS and malaria had helped swell the number of orphans. In 1999, responding to a request from Daniel, John began helping with the orphans program. At that time there were 26 orphans in the program, all living in one small mud hut.
By 2001 the orphanage had grown to 56 orphans. Daniel moved them to a new site – the Church of the Brethren in Rongo, Kenya, about forty miles away. There they had two mud huts, one for the boys and one for the girls, and could use the church building when needed. One problem that was identified then was that, as older children left the orphanage, they lacked skills that would enable them to earn a living. Hearts for Kenya responded by starting a tailoring class at the orphanage.
In 2004, with 74 orphans, the orphanage once again moved, this time to a two-acre plot of land in Rongo, given to it by the Kenyan Government. In order to qualify for the land grant, the orphanage had to build at least one permanent building on the land. With financial and manpower assistance from Hearts for Kenya, a small building was built within the qualifying time. Hearts for Kenya started a carpentry class for the orphans which helped with the completing of the building. Hearts for Kenya furnished a generator, saws, drill, and other tools needed for the work. The orphans helped and learned as they worked. They developed new, usable skills in carpentry.
Another skill area that is crucial for the people of Oyugis is farming. Hearts for Kenya was instrumental in starting a farm program at the orphanage in 2005. The farm program has two basic purposes – enabling the orphans to feed themselves and teaching farming skills. Hearts for Kenya has provided four bulls, plows, and enough chain to harness the bulls to the plow. We have also made regular donations of seed and fertilizer, and are now in the process of buying four more acres of land (adjacent to the present two acres) to enable the orphanage to expand its farm work.
As of December 2007 there were 90 orphans in Brother Daniel’s orphanage. Over ten years, John and Hearts for Kenya volunteers have built three dorms for the orphans and have built bunk beds and provided mattresses. Hearts for Kenya has also provided mosquito nets to help in the fight against malaria, as well as a water purification system. The lack of potable water is a critical issue throughout Kenya.
Hearts for Kenya has also given the orphanage several cows (for milk), goats (for milk and meat) and chickens (for eggs and meat). The orphans’ overall health has improved greatly because of these efforts. Hearts for Kenya’s medical team checks each of the orphans each year and has confirmed that there has been a substantial improvement in nutrition and overall health.
The goal of the Orphans project, as with all of the Hearts for Kenya projects, is to enable the orphans to become self-sufficient. With the use of the new farm land the farming program is expected to enable the orphans to have enough food to eat, as well as enough to sell, so that they can buy the seeds and fertilizer needs for their next crop. In the process, the orphans will continue to build farming skills. In order to assure the continuous acquisition of tailoring and carpentry skills, Hearts for Kenya has donated more sewing machines and a continual supply of carpentry tools and materials. As the orphans leave the orphanage, these skills will enable them to find work or to farm to support themselves.
The St. Matthews Episcopal Church, through Hearts for Kenya, has been especially generous and helpful in supporting the orphans program, even to the extent of providing total financial support to the orphanage for the past two years. The Church’s assistance serves as a shining example of how people in an affluent land can enable people who are in the depths of poverty to survive and to have a chance to thrive.