Thank you letter from Kenya

This letter arrived from Kenya the day before Teriano Soit reported to classes at a university in Kenya. What makes Teriano so special is that she is the first girl from her entire village to attend college. World Concern paid half her high school fees for four years to help make this possible. But it is Teriano’s hard work and dedication to her education that brought her this far.

Students in Kenya.
Teriano Soit (front row, second from left) is the first girl ever from her village to attend college.

Like Teriano, most of the students supported by our Nehemiah Project come from remote pastoralist villages with limited opportunities for education. Their families cannot afford tuition, uniforms or school supplies. Plus, they are often more valuable, short-term, if they are working on the family’s land.

Teriano, along with 15 other students from her village, not only receive tuition, but are trained in important life skills. Teriano says she hopes to pursue a career that will enable her to give back to her community.

As a testament to the education she received, her letter required no editing!

Dear World Concern,

I am sincerely grateful for the financial support you have been offering me for the four years I have been in secondary school. I promise to give back to society what you’ve given me. Just like you enabled me to have a smooth learning in school, I’ll do the same to fellow students who have financial difficulties in any way I can.

May God bless you all for your golden hearts and for the time you devoted to facilitate the seminars you organized for us. It is my prayer that God will continue giving you the strength and selfless hearts to help improve the education status of the Maasai community, hence their living standards.

Thank you also for the inspirational books you gave us. They had such great lessons that no other source could give. I even think they had been purposed by God. Books are the greatest source of knowledge too. I’d therefore request that you continue giving them to your students and for sure they will benefit.

Last but not least, I wish you all success in your endeavors and prosperous lives.

Teriano Soit

Learn more about World Concern’s education programs.

Independence: Evidence of a Job Well Done

This past week I moved my oldest daughter into her college dorm two states away. The milestone, as it is for most parents, was bittersweet. I kept reminding myself that although I will miss her at home, this is the purposeful outcome of 18 years of parenting. We raise our kids with the intent of molding them into healthy, stable, independent adults. The fact that she can now take care of herself means I’ve done my job well.

Two Kenyan students walk home from school.
School boys walking home from Lekanka Hills Primary School.

A recent comment from our Kenya staff reminded me that our work in developing communities has a similar intention. The staff member said, “The community based institutions are showing signs of walking on their own without the help of World Concern.” Way to go World Concern, if I do say so myself! This is an indicator that we’re doing our job well.

One of the young men who received help from our programs in Kenya is a living example of this principle. Otuma Taek had little hope of overcoming the cycle of poverty in his remote pastoralist village. He had a dream of becoming a teacher, but drought had taken its toll on his father’s diminishing cattle stock and his family could not afford the 22,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $270 USD) annual tuition for him to attend high school. It seemed his eight years of hard work and good grades in primary school would be wasted.

But everything changed for Otuma when the village development committee chose him to receive a World Concern scholarship. Otuma enrolled at Narok High School where he had to undergo a qualifying year, which meant he spent five years in high school instead of four—another indication of his willingness to go the distance to gain an education. In addition to paying half his tuition, the program offered life skills seminars, which he says helped him avoid joining the wrong crowd in high school. He completed his final exam with a respectable C average.

Today, Otuma is a teacher at Lekanka Hills Primary School, where he teaches math to fourth and fifth graders and passes along the valuable education he received to the next generation. His hope is that this next generation of students will follow his legacy and someday make a difference in their village as well.

In this same way, we hope eventually World Concern’s support won’t be needed in this community anymore. The village will sustain itself, and we can say, “Well done.”

Kenyan Villagers Start New Community Bank

These women are saving for their future at a World Concern-sponsored credit union in Kenya.
These women are saving for their future at a World Concern-sponsored credit union in Kenya.

I just received an amazing email from the president of World Concern, David Eller. He’s in Africa. You know the idea of giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish? Well, we’ve trained fishermen in Kenya. Actually – bankers and businesspeople.

We started community credit unions several years ago … and the people who we’ve helped have taken the concepts they’ve learned and started their own new credit union. The idea of saving and getting loans has been a new concept for many of the people we serve. But when they “get it,” they can save to pay for school fees, have money to last them through a drought, and also get loans to start and expand businesses.

They are able to better provide for themselves and take control of their own destiny. Sustainable development. This is cool stuff.

Anyway, here is what Dave wrote:

One of the Village Credit Unions (Financial Service Associations) that World Concern launched in rural Kiritiri, Kenya is reproducing itself. World Concern has set up seven village credit unions in rural parts of Kenya with the goal of each of them becoming self sustaining. It is a program that is working with six of the seven making a profit for their community shareholders last year.

In an exciting development one of the more remote and successful credit unions decided to open a branch office in the neighboring district. They are using the profits from their first location to expand into the new district.

They realized that 250 of their 770 share holders were coming a great distance from the neighboring district Kivaa just to access financial services the credit union provided. The shareholder board of directors decided that they should open a branch in Kivaa to provide the financial services that are not available.

On their own they have found and remodeled a location for the credit union Kivaa office. Then they started selling additional shares in the credit union with 40 new members joining the first day. From our experience with credit unions that is an amazing one day of share selling. The new community is very excited and the home credit union is affirmed in the need for this branch. As part of setting up the new location have requested that World Concern provide a safe and training for the branch manager and cashier.

This example of community ownership and reaching out for new opportunities shows that there is a complete grasp of the concepts of meeting their own needs from resources within the community.

This information came from our Kenya Economic Development Manager Winnie Ghachuri. We were talking in her office here in Nairobi, Kenya on the first day of my Africa visit. Winnie has many years of experience with humanitarian aid and economic development programs. She is very excited to see this community driven developmental step taking place.

World Concern started planting Financial Service Associations in 2004. This savings based community model of economic development has brought beneficial financial services to remote areas of Kenya. The program has also been launched in our program areas in South Sudan. Two more locations have been identified and will be started in the second half of this year.

World Water Day – A Critical Humanitarian Need

High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.
High tension as communities in Haiti need clean water in the days after the 2010 earthquake. A reminder of the humanitarian aid needed for World Water Day.

In the hours after the Haiti earthquake, World Concern took an inventory of the basic needs facing people who had lost everything. Food, water and shelter were the top three. But when it came right down to it, water was the single greatest need. Within a few days, people would be fighting for their lives – desperate for a drink.

When I visited Port-au-Prince a week after the quake, one of the most tense moments I encountered was a fight about water. People wanted it, and we were trying to meet the need as best we can. But the need was too great. Water truly equals life and survival.

Today is World Water Day. If you have the opportunity to run the tap and receive clean water today, consider yourself privileged. One in six humans have to live using an unclean source for drinking water. It means they walk miles to get a drink, and waterborne diseases like typhoid and intestinal parasites become a part of their lives.

In post-earthquake Haiti, broken sewage lines intermingled with water lines, making the water dangerous to drink. In places where we work in Africa, poor sanitation leads to contaminated water sources. This contaminated water leads to disease and parasites, which slows learning, stunts growth and prematurely kills millions of people.

Only though community hygiene education and improved water sources are we able to change the equation. At first, it may be through an emergency supply of bottled water, like in Haiti after the earthquake. Longer-term, our humanitarian aid may include improving water systems, or even inventing them entirely, as we do in dozens of poor communities throughout the world.

For this World Water Day, you can change the life of someone in desperate need, by digging a hand-dug well for $300, to benefit several families, or investing in a machine-drilled well. A share is $100, the entire well is $3,000. It will will transform an entire village. (And with grants we get a 5:1 match on machine drilled wells in Kenya!)

So here’s to good health, and safe water – even to families in Haiti and in other hurting places around the world.

Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.
Water wells in Kenya installed by humanitarian organization World Concern provide hope to communities in Kenya suffering from water-borne disases. World Water Day brings awareness to the problem.

Radio Personality Brings Spirit to Kenya

Seattle radio personality Matt Case is visiting World Concern's humanitarian projects in Kenya.
Seattle radio personality Matt Case is visiting World Concern's humanitarian projects in Kenya.

My friend Matt Case has temporarily left his job behind a microphone to see what life is like in African villages. Matt is the mid-day radio host on Christian radio station Spirit 105.3 in Seattle and has joined World Concern to visit some of our humanitarian aid projects in Kenya. He just arrived on Sunday and has completed his first full day in the field. The goal of this trip is to equip Matt with the truth: Compelled by Christ’s love, we can transform the lives of the poor and offer them hope.

In this first day, Matt has seen World Concern’s Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program. He’s met widows and boys and girls who have lost their parents because of AIDS. World Concern is helping equip orphans and their new guardians to live healthy and productive lives.

Here’s a cool note I just received from Matt, with explanatiory notations from me:

Here in Narok (small town near a wildlife refuge) at the Chambi Hotel right now sitting with Sakuda (a World Concern staff member) … finished dinner after a long long hot and dusty day in the field! Did an OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) in-home visit…WOW!!! Local church pastor took us there with WC and it was amazing.

Then off to two sites……Empura and then Endoinyio Narasha welcomed by the kids and teachers singing. Kids are amazing and the love that we see there is fantastic! God is at work big time here. Saw clean water well, a bank, and I bought in and became a member of the bank with 3 shares!!! It was a long hot day and seeing the two widows on the OVC was a hard one on the heart. Took some toys to the kids and then we were all invited to join in in a traditional Massai dance…Yeah Dave Eller (World Concern’s president) was getting down!!! (Right on!) I have video to prove it!!!

Big day tomorrow so I must get going…I think its time for a tea (every day, several times a day) and Sakuda is telling the Mizungo (white person) is on the internet!!! Great times and we’ll try to email if we can. Internet has been down in Narok for 2 weeks I guess??? Not like home with wi fi EVERYWHERE…T.I.A (Truth in Action?) …this is Africa!

The internet connection kind of stinks where Matt is right now, but whenever he gets a chance, he’s posting to his Facebook page and shooting me a more detailed message as well. So check in a little later to this blog and get an update on his adventure in Africa!

Join Matt and support the work of World Concern in serving HIV and AIDS orphans.

World Concern provides support for those orphaned or vulnerable because of HIV and AIDS.
World Concern provides support for those orphaned or vulnerable because of HIV and AIDS.

Success with Humanitarian Aid in Kenya

World Concern President Dave Eller spends time reading to Maasai boys in Kenya. World Concern works with the Maasai to provide many aspects of sustainable humanitarian aid.
World Concern President Dave Eller spends time reading to Maasai boys in Kenya. World Concern works with the Maasai to provide many aspects of sustainable humanitarian aid.

Here’s a handy tip for keeping elephants from eating your garden: You should install several low-voltage electric lines close together along your fence. If they are spaced wide, the elephant will rip one out, reach between, and eat your vegetables.

That gardening trip is from World Concern President Dave Eller, who has returned to Kenya to get an update on our projects. Dave and his family lived in Kenya for several years, as Dave served as the country director. It was refreshing for Dave to arrive and see many successes in a variety of areas of Humanitarian Aid. As an executive, he often deals with problems and doesn’t get to relish the victories.

Here is some of what he’s seen:

  • Maasai herders are learning how to farm.  This year they built a one acre farm behind a solar electric fence and the first crop has been harvested. With dwindling availability for open rangeland, it is important for the Maasai to think beyond what they’ve done in the past (herding) and look to new opportunities (agriculture, small business). It was at this pilot project farm that Dave saw the low-voltage electric fence to keep out elephants.
  • Stigma against AIDS orphans is way down. The children are being accepted by the community after World Concern’s educational and support services began five years ago. World Concern has reached 5,000 children and is preparing to turn over this particular orphans project to churches to run indefinitely on their own.  Many of the volunteers providing the Humanitarian Aid are from Christian churches, and the outlook from the orphans has grown much more hopeful.
  • We now have seven Financial Service Associations, also known as village banks. The first five are making a profit and adding services.  Three are doing phone money transfers, all are cashing third party checks and offering over night safe storage. One of them is a post office and they are setting up direct deposit with government agencies.  These are in addition to the basic services of savings and loans.
  • World Concern Kenya’s newest Humanitarian Aid project focuses on water and sanitation, including in a community called Lamu, which is on the Somalia border. After water surveys, five hand-dug wells have begun. Three of them have struck water and are complete.  The other two should be done soon.  Water committees are in training and sanitation training has started.  This is a large scale project meant to provide clean and consistent water to 98,000 people over the next three years.

Dave will soon be joined by Matt Case, a radio host on Spirit 105.3 in Seattle. We want people to know of this fantastic Humanitarian Aid, so we can grow our resources and help more people reach their full God-given potential.

A Maasai herdsman provides water for his goats at a World Concern water pan, a pond dug to retain water even in the dry season.
A Maasai herdsman provides water for his goats at a World Concern water pan, a pond dug to retain water even in the dry season.

Humanitarian Journey to Kenya – Day 2 and 3 – Matatu

humanitarian aid and relief kenya
Kenyans walk great distances. I was amazed to see people walking for miles in dress shoes.

Day 2: Nothing much to say about this day, other than it’s not an overwhelmingly pleasant experience to try to sleep on 10 to 12 hour plane flights.

On the plus side, the airlines still have not cut the meals from these trans-continental flights. If they did, I am sure there would be a revolt.

Day 3: Daylight was just beginning to break when we arrived in Kenya. It was cooler than I expected, but still a little muggy. I was surprised to find the jet didn’t pull up to a gate. It just parked in the vast expanse of tarmac, a stairway was pulled up next to the plane, and everybody walked off onto the concrete.

We soon bought our visas, cleared customs and hooked up with Tracy, the knowledgeable outgoing country director for Kenya. She led us to our waiting white van. We met the Kenyan driver, an affable fellow named Gordon. He seemed to know a little bit about everything, including a complete history of giraffes in Kenya.

Gordon, our driver in Kenya. He could handle the rough streets and impossible Nairobi traffic jams.
Gordon, our driver in Kenya. He could handle the rough streets and impossible Nairobi traffic jams.

Once on the road, we saw the many matatus, small buses about the size of a Volkswagen Vanagon, packed full of people. The average matatu has 14 seats; it costs less than a dollar for a trip across town, about four dollars to cities two hours away. While some matatus are in good condition, others look as if they have been in a demolition derby, it seems that all matatus are driven in a very spirited fashion. I would not dare to drive in Kenya and am thankful we had a local at the wheel.

I was also amazed to see how many people walk in Kenya. And there are no sidewalks. People have just have cut paths through the trees, even along on the road leading up to the airport. They cannot afford vehicles, so they’re off on foot or bicycles. And just about everybody’s dressed up. It looks like they are off to job interviews, with polished shoes and briefcases as they walk through the dirt. Still, the unemployment here is significant. The country is one of the poorest in the world.

As we drove, we occasionally saw glimpses of the extreme poverty: fields covered in garbage, rows and rows of shacks with metal roofs and people cooking over campfires. Vendors walk through traffic and sell trinkets and newspapers. After we navigated through a couple of smoggy traffic jams, we got checked into the hotel, a quaint place with a couple of security guards that caters toward Christian relief workers.

Tracy then guided us to see where World Concern’s offices in Kenya, Africa. We met the staff, got a rundown of what World Concern does in Kenya, as well as an overview of all of the operations across Africa. This field office is for all of World Concern’s projects in the continent.

humanitarians in kenya
The Matatu, a common way to get around Kenya. These minivans take humanitarians across town and across the country.

Humanitarian Journey to Kenya – Day 1 – Airport

Silhouette of Kenya Africa
Silhouette of wildebeest at the Masai Mara, Southeast Kenya.

Over the course of several weeks, I will post journal entries from my recent trip to Kenya.

Here is day 1:

Today I packed up my video camera, digital camera and all of the rest of my gear and headed to the airport for the long couple of flights that will lead me to Kenya. I met the other travelers, the people I will get to know very well over the next couple of weeks. I already know Lisa, the guide of the group and my co-worker. She’s a devoted mother of two middle-school-aged boys who occasionally takes these around-the-world trips to show donors or potential donors World Concern’s projects.

At the airport, I met John and Linda, a couple with a background in commercial fishing. John often travels up to Alaska to check out his fishing boats, but neither he nor his wife have been to Africa. John and Linda knew of another member of the trip through businesses connections. Her name is Kari, a sharply dressed Norwegian-born woman whose late husband also was in the commercial fishing business.

I also met Cari and Todd, who have three younger children and a real estate development business. All of those on the trip obviously have some degree of interest in humanitarian aid, helping those in the developing world. We had dinner together, then we were off to our flight to London’s Heathrow airport.

Before we took off, I called my wife, who is six months pregnant with our first child.

World Concern in Kenya
World Concern supporters walking along a road near Karen, Kenya.