The following is a report on a July 2014 trip to Etora, Kenya, by four volunteers for HCIC.
Vignette: On the grounds of the Rev. Samson Abuga’s New Church School, Etora, Kenya, July 2014:
I sit at a roughly made wooden desk transcribing background information on orphans into my battery powered computer. The building I am in is made of corrugated metal and the floor is hard-packed mud. There is no electricity or running water on the premises.
To my left is a bookshelf full of New Church printed materials, including books of the Writings, curriculum and collateral works. These materials are familiar to me and represent the connection I have to this place that is halfway across the world from my home. To my right are large sacks of rice and beans – two weeks’ worth of food for my friends here.
The door stands open to the warm African air and the sound of children’s laughter. The students are on break from classes and waiting for their cooked lunch of kale and ugali.
I glimpse the Rev. Samson Abuga making his way across the red mud yard. His progress is slow. As he passes through the throng of children, each face lights up with delight and a small group of them gather around him like a human skirt as he walks. Some tuck in their chins and tilt their heads in a gesture of contentment; others reach out a hand and tug at his suit coat to gain attention.
He warmly touches their shoulders and bends down to listen to their whispered messages. His laughter joins theirs as they joke about the day’s events.
Samson’s love and care for these children is humbling to witness, especially considering that many of them would not be alive if it weren’t for his immense loving heart. I swallow the lump in my throat that seems to have taken up permanent residence since I arrived in Kenya, and contemplate how much I have to learn and how proud I am to be a part of what is happening here.
So how did a retired teacher like me come to be a witness to the scene above? In the fall of 2012 Helping Children in Crisis (HCIC) was formed in response to a dire situation that had arisen in Kenya when more than 30 New Church orphans were thrown out of their home after their care-giver committed suicide as a result of accusations of abuse. They walked miles through the night to the home of the Rev. Samson Abuga, a neighboring New Church minister, for help.
Samson was already taking care of more than 30 orphans, using his own meager salary. Those first 30 children had been farmed out to congregation members, but he was paying for their food and clothing. Despite his best efforts, during the previous 18 months seven of those children had died. Now with more than 60 children to care for, his resources were overwhelmed.
A small group of us became aware of the situation and decided to form HCIC. This was a situation that compelled us to action. Not only were we called to serve the needs of these children, but we also saw it as an opportunity to expand the formal uses of the General Church to include acts of charity.
We are a volunteer committee working under the auspices of the General Church Office of Outreach. The names of the two girls whose picture accompanies this article are Faith and Charity. They are two of the orphans we care for. Their names embody the work of HCIC. We seek to live our faith through acts of kindness to others, but particularly to children in need of help.
After committing to the care of these children, Samson contacted the Kenyan government and, with the help of his congregation, legally formed an orphanage they named General Church Sacred Care (GCSC). Samson, his staff and the GC Sacred Care board provide the hands-on care for these children; HCIC provides the funding for that care.
We are proud to be a part of this life-changing/saving work. Our recent trip to Kenya assured us that our donation dollars are indeed being well used and that the children are thriving under the care of Samson and his staff.
When we formed two years ago, HCIC knew that our first order of business was not only to stabilize the situation for the children but also establish policies and procedures that would assure a professional level of transparency and accountability for our donors. Our 27-page document draws on best practices in the field. It can be found on our website: www.helpingchildrenincrisis.com. The staff in Kenya has been eager to learn and meet these requirements.
GCSC cares for 65 orphans ranging in age from 7-20. Five of them have graduated from high school and we are supporting them through two years of vocational school so they can become useful members of their community. After age 18 the children cannot legally be housed in the orphanage, so members of Samson’s congregation take them into their homes.
The members of the Etora congregation actively support the orphanage as an integral part of their church life. They see it as a way they can contribute to their local community and live the doctrines they love. The New Church is truly the family of these children. The younger children all attend Samson’s New Church elementary school, while the older ones attend nearby religious boarding schools.
The first phase of HCIC’s support was to set up a sponsorship program for each of the children. Sponsorship currently is $800 per year and covers the day-to-day needs of the children, such as food, clothing, education, childcare and medicine. It took us two years but we have all of the children sponsored. Some people only commit to sponsor for a year or two so there is always a need for people interested in sponsoring a child.
The next phase of support is to provide the physical structures for an on-going orphanage. In December 2013 we purchased a plot of land adjacent to the church for this purpose. Until recently the children had been housed in rented rooms nearby, but the conditions there deteriorated to the point that the government said they were no longer safe. As this goes to press a small, temporary structure is being built that will allow the children to live on the land until we can raise funds for permanent brick structures that follow the Kenyan codes for a legally registered orphanage.
In anticipation of this phase of support four HCIC volunteers traveled to Kenya: Roger and Kathy Schrock, my husband Mark Alden and myself. We timed our visit to coincide with the episcopal visit that the Rt. Rev. Brian Keith reported on in the October-November issue of New Church Life (The Lord is Smiling on the Church in Kenya). Kathy and I traveled to Kenya a week before the others to provide school support on New Church education and to get a head start on HCIC work.
Roger has a background in construction, so he focused on researching building policies and practices. He found that to meet building codes we need to build two dormitories, an eating pavilion and latrines, bring water and electricity to the site, and construct a solid brick security wall with locking gate around the perimeter.
Roger and Mark familiarized themselves with the kind of construction and materials commonly used in Kenya. They toured similar structures, both complete and under construction, met with a builder and researched material and labor costs. The conclusion is that the whole project will cost about $300,000, although we don’t have to have all the money before we start construction.
To raise these funds, HCIC has launched a capital campaign: “Buy a Brick, Build a Home.”
During his time in Kenya, Mark put his medical background to work researching the different levels of medical care that are available for the children in the area. Long rainy seasons mean that the children often suffer from pneumonia and malaria. Samson constantly monitors the health of the children and is quick to take them to the appropriate healthcare facility.
Kathy and I focused on gathering and documenting information on the children. This involved interviewing each child and transcribing the information already available. The children wrote letters to their sponsors (or future sponsors). We also visited the boarding schools the older children attend.
We visited a local vocational school to determine the costs of supporting the children through this phase of their development. While we were there, I wrote regular reports back to the committee and sponsors. These were posted on our website and Facebook page as well. Here are some of the entries:
July 2: Samson and Jackline’s devotion to looking to the Word and Lord as the starting point for all they do is truly humbling to witness. Oftentimes we go to give them advice and find that what they are already doing far exceeds what we were going to suggest. We are the ones being humbled.
July 7: In rural Kenya children are just a breath away from living a life of abuse and death on the street…Samson and Jackline have a deep-seated calling to help children in need and to do so with a flavor of loving kindness that well represents the life we are called to live in the Heavenly Doctrines. This amazing couple and their children welcome others into their home and provide them not only with food and clothing but with love as well. Truly all the children in their care are treated as their own.
July 9: At one point I asked Samson if he thought the children in the orphanage would be New Church when they left. He looked at me and said, “Honestly, considering all these children have been through, Jackline and I will be happy if they are good people.”
Our time in Kenya went by too quickly. The pressure to get everything on our list done was eased by the fact that a few weeks after we were to leave two interns would be going to Kenya to work for GCSC for 10 weeks. They were the first interns to be sponsored by the newly formed organization Charity Works. It supports young people who would like to volunteer for internships for the General Church.
Our interns, Cailin Elphick and Kira Kerr, picked up the work that still needed to be done after we left and took it to the next level. Both HCIC and GCSC are extremely grateful for the work they did. You can look forward to a report on that exciting chapter of our work in the March-April issue of New Church Life.
During our time with the children, Kathy and I put a big effort into learning their names. Several times a day we played various name games with groups of them. They were patient with us as we learned to identify all three Eunices, three Naomis, and two Brians and Shems. We weren’t perfect but we got pretty good at it. We sang and played and worshipped with them.
Along the way one of the most powerful aspects of the trip unfolded. The list of names that we knew well at the beginning of the trip transformed into real personalities of children we quickly grew to love. We cheered Hesbon on in soccer, learned clapping games with Vanis, and nursed Keziah’s leg wound.
As we matched the sad stories of how each child was orphaned with the happy laughing children we played with, we were often moved to tears by the power of their transformation.
We profoundly admire and trust the work that the staff of the GCSC orphanage are doing there and are humbled to be a part of it. Those of you who support our work, whether it be through prayers or dollars, are a part of it as well. You can be proud too.
– Kay R. Alden, HCIC Chair
Published in New Church Life, Jan/Feb 2015