(This article will be printed in local papers soon, which is why it sounds like someone else wrote it...)
Autumn Benjamin from Waitsfield, VT has wanted to travel to Africa since she was five years old. That was in 1998. That year her preschool teacher, Ruth Young went on a mission trip to Kenya and brought back small wooden animals for each of her preschool children. "Sr. Ruth gave me a little wooden zebra, and ever since then, I've wanted to go to Kenya," says the Harwood Union high school senior. Autumn has been on several mission trips herself, mainly to Jamaica where members of her youth group at the Church of the Crucified One in Moretown conduct an annual Vacation Bible School. They bypass the resort areas and go to Portland, where the hum of air conditioners is replaced by the beat of reggae music, and the sound of crowing roosters is as common as cicadas on a summer’s day in Vermont. Last month Autumn’s wish came true as she boarded a plane to Nairobi on the first day of February break.
Six other women also made the journey to Kenya during the recent February school break. Pam Dow of Moretown, Sara Baker of Montpelier, and Joni Clemons of East Montpelier are all teachers at Moretown Elementary School (MES). Nancy Chase is the program director for several afterschool programs in Williamstown, and Lynn Mason works for Jamieson Insurance in Waterbury and is the incoming president of the Waterbury Rotary Club. Ruth Young of Moretown led the tour for Everyone's Child, Inc. (EC); she is the director of this organization that currently fundraises to builds schools, dig wells and feed close to 500 orphaned students a day in Kenya. Young’s pastor, Rev. William Stewart met them in Kenya where he was conducting church business with sister churches.
The primary purpose of the trip was to introduce American educators to several schools that have been sponsored and built by members of the Church of the Crucified One (CCO) in Moretown. Young has been traveling to Kenya since 1996 with members of her church to help build what has become a thriving community in the outskirts of Nakuru, approximately 300 km. northwest of Nairobi. She has wanted to bring teachers to Kenya since 2007 when she carried out her doctoral research in the first primary school built by the CCO. That school was completed in 1999, and a second one was built just three years later. The teachers there discovered that the students were unable to concentrate due to lack of proper nutrition, so an orphan-feeding program was started. The program still exists today, now feeding orphaned students daily meals of porridge, rice and beans in three different locations. Those who made the trip this past February had an opportunity to experience the orphan-feeding program first-hand, serving the children who receive these meals each day.
When asked by her 3rd and 4th grade students at MES why she wanted to travel to Kenya, Joni Clemons said that she was always asking them to stretch or go beyond in their thinking when it came to writing. She realized that she too needed to stretch herself and try something new and exciting. Pam Dow had a similar response, saying that she was interested in learning about a different culture and meeting people that she had been connected with through “Messages of Mercy”, the writing program that Young set up between orphaned students in Kenya and students at MES in 2008. Her daughters have been writing letters for several years, so she looked forward to meeting students who have been connected with her children. Students in Victoria Smith’s classroom at Crossett Brook Middle School are also involved in this letter exchange.
Nancy Chase of Williamstown was having a significant birthday this year and wanted to celebrate in a memorable way. Her daughter Kelly Poulin, a speech and language specialist at MES, suggested she join the school tour. She hesitated at first, but at the close of the trip she declared: “Doing this sure beat sitting on a beach somewhere for five days!”
Sara Baker and Lynn Mason both love to travel, so when the opportunity to go to Kenya to visit schools and experience the wildlife opened up they both jumped at the chance to go. Mason was very happy with the tour, saying that the trip was “very well rounded with playtime, touring and visits to the schools”. She also had an opportunity to attend a Rotary Club meeting during the trip, exchanging Rotary flags and the hand of fellowship with fellow Rotarians across the world.
Before leaving Vermont, Baker, a special educator at MES, found a wheelchair and two Convaid strollers to bring for students in need. One recipient was a nine-year old boy with cerebral palsy who was identified by Dr. Beth Ann Maier of Waterbury during a medical clinic conducted by EC in 2010. The family had just moved to Nairobi but on learning that the chair was in Kenya, made the trip to Nakuru to pick it up. An interpreter bridged the communication gap between Baker and the mother as the chair was being given to the boy, but the smile on the mother’s face sent a clear message of gratitude and relief.
In an effort to connect her kindergarten students with children in Kenya, Dow came up with the idea of bringing t-shirts with handprints from MES students. 100 t-shirts were purchased for $1 apiece from the t-shirt factory in Northfield and brought to give to the orphaned children at Kampi ya moto. In exchange, students at Kampi ya moto traced and colored their handprints to send back to MES. These handprints will adorn the hallways and classrooms in Moretown, each one carrying a message of friendship from someone living thousands of miles away.
The trip culminated with a safari in Lake Nakuru Game Park. Everyone was overjoyed at the sighting of a zebra colt and a baby giraffe, along with multitudes of Thompson gazelles, water buffalo, birds and monkeys. On the last day of the trip the travelers visited the Elephant Centre in Nairobi, home to orphaned elephants who otherwise wouldn’t survive in the wild. They also had an opportunity to visit the Karen Blixen Museum, a must see for “Out of Africa” fans.
Everyone’s Child will be visiting schools in Kenya again during the February break in 2013. If you are interested in going, please contact me (Ruth Young) at email@example.com.
Everyone’s Child is partnering with CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) to dig a well in Kampi ya moto, Kenya! Because of this, David Dillon, the New England representative for CBN paid us a visit here. He had an opportunity to speak at the Church of the Crucified One in Moretown, VT on Sunday, October 9th, 2011, leaving us with an encouraging message about giving without asking anything in return. It’s wonderful to have this connection with a worldwide ministry such as CBN, and I know it will only serve to benefit kids in Kenya (& beyond!)!
Pictured below are members of EC's Board of Directors: David Deutl, Maggie Parkerson, David Dillon of CBN, Ruth Young & Tracy Braun.
Here is a note from our pastor who has been in Kenya for the past two weeks. A little background ~ the orphans he refers to are students at Lanet Umoja Primary School. Most of these children have lost their parents due to the HIV/AIDS virus, but instead of becoming available for adoption, they usually wind up living with family members where they are often treated like serfs.
All the students have three month-long school vacations during the growing and harvesting seasons to help in the family garden. If a child is orphaned, they go home to a life of labor and hunger. They usually receive whatever is leftover in their home - whether it's food, clothing or a place to sleep. The teachers at Lanet Umoja Primary School established "Everyone's Child" in 2006 to help orphaned students who were going to be away from school for a month by collecting clothing, food and incidentals for these kids. The end of the term is carried out with a day they now call "Everyone's Child" where [many] speeches are made and the orphaned children are given packages to bring home.
Here is what our pastor, Fr. Paul Stewart had to say about this term's closing ceremonies:
“We have been traveling all around Kenya, and it is becoming apparent to me that the focus for “Everyone's Child” is these orphans. Nowhere do they get the care that they receive here in Lanet. At the school closing ceremonies today members of the church brought bags of food for them to take home on holiday, and a collection was also taken for “Everyone's Child” to take care of the needs of these kids. Parents, teachers and students contributed to the cause. After the long, drawn out hours of closing ceremonies the orphans were treated to a full meal at the church. They sat on the stage in the backyard where the church is being built, and we all spent time talking with them. Bless the Lord, nothing feels better than helping these children feel they are loved.”
This past year has been an exciting one for Everyone's Child, Inc. We started the year with several goals and managed to achieve some very important objectives.
In the beginning of 2010 the Board of Directors decided that our first priority was to continue caring for the 600 students in Kenya who benefit daily from the Orphan Feeding Program. Throughout the year we were able to sustain this program by raising between $600 and $700 each month. In addition, EC made donations to earthquake victims in Haiti, students in Jamaica, and the building of a secondary school in Kenya.
Our second priority this year has been to work toward the completion of a borehole in Kampi ya moto, Kenya. Ruth presented the need for potable drinking water at Rotary Clubs in the USA and in Kenya. A sponsor from the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia expressed an interest in contributing funds, and Rotary Clubs in Nakuru, Kenya and Hagerstown, MD are currently considering a matching grant to raise funds to complete this project. Ruth’s presentations were aided by a new DVD produced by Micah Dudash at Many Mountains Studios in Vermont. Micah and his wife Kelly also spent many hours designing a logo and a creating a brand package for EC.
Several fundraisers were held throughout the year, allowing EC to raise $25,000. Dinners were held, coffee breaks were sponsored at rest areas on I-89 (Vermont’s interstate highway), coin banks were placed strategically around the region, computers were donated to students and schools, and several table presentations were made at the University of Vermont. Juniper’s Fare Café, a restaurant in Waterbury, Vermont, began donating a portion of their daily proceeds to EC, giving their clients an opportunity to have a “meal with a mission”.
This past year more students from the USA and Kenya became involved in the “Messages of Mercy” writing program, sending expressive letters to each other across the world. A middle school language teacher in central Vermont confirmed that the best writing she had ever seen from her students came from this writing program.
Some American students also became involved in fundraising efforts. Two elementary school sisters invited family and friends over one wintry evening to learn about EC. They baked up a storm and raised over $200 for the Orphan Feeding Program.
Another middle school student decided that she could save pennies in a jar. Within a year’s time she had saved $50, which she donated to EC.
The stories don’t end there. Toward the end of the year, a Vermont high school senior came up with an innovative fundraising idea. He called it “Walk 4 Water”; an event that simulated the journey of a Kenyan child for their daily provision of water. Thirty people walked for a total of two miles on a rainy Saturday morning with buckets and water carriers, filling their containers at a nearby river, and raising over $700 and a lot of awareness about the plight of African children who have no choice but to use contaminated water every day.
Of all of our accomplishments, the one that we are the happiest about is that all of these funds are now tax-deductible, as our 501(c)(3) status was granted in September of this year!
2010 ended with EC’s second annual Kenyan medical clinics. American doctors and nurses worked alongside clinicians from the Kenyan Ministry of Health, diagnosing and treating over 1200 patients within a four-day span. At the close of the clinics it was clear that the greatest value of these clinics was the AIDS screening, education and worm medications that the ministry provided. Additionally, some important connections were made with provincial administrators who want to see clinics built in areas where residents have few opportunities for prenatal care and immunizations.
2011 presents new goals and objectives. We need to continue caring for the students who rely on us for their daily provision of food. We are still waiting to dig and complete the well digging project in Kampi ya moto. We want to construct an orphanage and a medical clinic in Lanet Umoja, and we also want to raise funds to complete the building of a secondary school just outside of Nakuru. In other parts of the world, our hope is to continue supporting students in Jamaica, who struggle to receive an education in one of the poorer parts of the island. We also hope to conduct medical clinics in India where we have connections with people who run an orphanage for school-aged boys and girls. We would also like to continue our contributions to schoolchildren in Haiti.
We at Everyone's Child realize that none of these accomplishments from this past year could have happened without the support of our donors, and for that we want to express our deepest appreciation. Their contributions have helped to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of school children in developing nations. We are all changing a generation through education, one student at a time.