Hearts for Kenya is the assumed name of Play Source International, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Kentucky corporation. Headquartered in Louisville, it has a four-person board of directors. John E. Willingham, Jr., a seasoned missionary with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in agriculture, serves as President and is the primary person involved in the Hearts for Kenya operations. The secretary of the corporation is G. Kennedy Hall, Jr., an attorney with the Louisville firm of Middleton Reutlinger. Other key persons, including the Kenyans who coordinate the day-to-day operations of the program, are listed in the Key Persons List.
The country of Kenya straddles the equator in east Africa. (See Maps) It extends from the Indian Ocean to Lake Victoria and is bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda on the north and by Tanzania on the south. Its population is approximately 37 million, with 50% of its citizens below the poverty line. Kenya has democratically elected national and provincial governments, although tribal structures also wield varying degrees of power and influence. Neither the government, the tribes, nor local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have succeeded in combating the effects of extreme drought, unsophisticated farming methods, and a history of poverty. As a result, nearly eleven million Kenyans are on the brink of starvation.
Oyugis is a village of about a thousand inhabitants that lies in Nyanza province, the westernmost and poorest of Kenya’s eight provinces. Although there is commercial fishing activity along Nyanza’s Lake Victoria shore, most of the people who inhabit Nyanza are totally dependent on the crops they grow. The province has been farmed for over three thousand years but without any replenishment of the soil. As a result, the soil of Nyanza is extremely poor. In addition, farmers of Nyanza have historically lacked draft animals and mechanized farming equipment as well as knowledge of modern farming methods. Understandably, crop yields have been extremely low — insufficient to provide adequate sustenance. These conditions have resulted in starvation for many inhabitants.
Besides a lack of adequate food, the people of Oyugis have experienced the myriad problems that accompany extreme poverty throughout the world. Infectious diseases –especially malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS – are rampant, compounded by a lack of trained medical personnel, by a lack of drugs or the means to properly distribute them, and by dysfunctional cultural patterns. Sanitary drinking water has been non-existent. Adequate structures in which people can gather for education, governance and mutual support have been lacking. Although realizing the need to maintain its focus, Hearts for Kenya saw that attention to a handful of other social problems was critical to the success of its agricultural program. It, therefore, made an early decision to selectively extend its involvement into various social problems to allow effective impact of its primary purpose.
The community in which Hearts for Kenya is currently active includes the village of Oyugis and outlying lands comprising roughly forty square miles with a total population of approximately 12,000. References to Oyugis are sometimes confusing because the area extending out several miles from the village is also often referred to as Oyugis, or sometimes as “the Oyugis area.” When Hearts for Kenya was first formed, Oyugis farms were yielding about 300 pounds of corn (maize) per acre. There was no significant ongoing fertilization, irrigation or crop rotation. There were no animals or machines to pull a plow. Sixty percent of the children of Oyugis were infected with HIV/AIDS virus. Starvation and infection were the leading causes of death. Waterborne infectious diseases were spreading freely among the people. The few public buildings and churches that existed, being built of mud and sticks, were not durable.
Although dire conditions remain, significant progress has been made in Oyugis since 1997 due to the efforts of Hearts for Kenya and the initiative of the local people. Corn crop yield has been increased from 297 pounds to over 1,263 pounds per acre. There is now enough corn grown locally to sustain the local populace, with some left over from each harvest to sell. Significant progress has also been made in irrigation, fertilization and farming methods. A sanitary water system has been built, as have three churches. A community center is now under construction. The eleven schools in the community are now better stocked with books and supplies, and five with playground equipment, although they still lack desks. Although the recent drought has ended, the problems of malaria, TB and AIDS remain rampant. Local people are exercising enough leadership and initiative to sustain the gains made thus far. However, they will require much additional time and help in order to have a chance to overcome the various other barriers to survival that are characterized by the extreme poverty. Hearts for Kenya is ready and willing to continue providing that help, and it needs a continual flow of resources in order to accomplish that goal.