This month, Bread and Water for Africa® executive director Beth Tessema is spending several weeks in East Africa developing new partnerships in order to enable us to provide assistance to more and more Africans, particularly children.
In Nairobi, Kenya, Beth toured the infamous Kibera slum, the largest slum in Africa and among the largest slums in the world, home to an estimated 250,000 impoverished people, the majority of them children.
It is there that we now have a new partner, the Seed Foundation, with the mission of transforming the lives of these vulnerable children living in squalor by providing them with access to a good education, while ensuring they also get fed during the school day.
“Most parents send their children to school because of the feeding program,” explained Beth. “Yes, in the short term the children are fed, but in the mid-term and long-term they get an education that will enable them to reach their full potential leading towards a better life than in the slum.”
Through our newly-established partnership with the Seed Foundation, we are working to raise $7,200 to provide meals to 100 children for an entire year – that amounts to just $72 per child per year.
The children in Kibera live with their families in a shack with an average size of 12 feet by 12 feet with mud walls, a corrugated tin roof and a dirt floor. These “homes” often house up to eight family members or more, and many sleep on the floor.
For them, attending the Seed Foundation school where they are learning and getting fed is a respite from their dire living conditions at home.
“Our program addresses the educational needs of the most vulnerable children within the communities in the slums of Kibera,” says Seed Foundation founder and director Patrick Odongo.
He explained that Kibera is “an informal set-up which bears the heaviest burden of employment and poverty in all of Nairobi. Due to rampant unemployment and the inadequacy of resources in rural areas, Kenyans migrate from their rural homes to Nairobi in search of jobs – and end up finding themselves in one of the most populous slums in Africa.
“The Seed School was created to offer students a quality education, and combine it with a feeding program,” Patrick continued. “Two meals are provided every day to every student. This helps in preventing stunting and other malnutritional-related diseases.”
In addition, he noted that the feeding program enables the children to be able to concentrate on their studies, instead of focusing on empty bellies.
The children from impoverished families who are able to attend the Seed School realize how fortunate they are.
“These are children who come from less privileged backgrounds and families,” said Patrick. “Our program offers hope and assurance for these children – giving them hopes and opportunities for a predictive and foreseeable future where they will be self-reliant.”
For us at Bread and Water for Africa® that is what we have been all about for more than 20 years – addressing a child’s immediate needs including food and shelter, while at the same time giving them the opportunity for a brighter future, and in this case – a life out of the slum.
We at Bread and Water for Africa® began to get to know him as a 2-year-old toddler when he was brought to the Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya, and into the loving arms of Lewa founder and executive director Phyllis Keino after being abandoned by his mother.
Even at that tender age, Phyllis, who has become known as “mother” to hundreds of orphaned and abandoned children and who all have a special place in her heart could tell there was something exceptional about Emmanuel.
15 years ago, Emmanuel arrived at Lewa with his older brother and sister, and it didn’t take long for them to become a part of the Lewa family, and for Phyllis to become the only mother he has ever known.
While most children in Kenya, and throughout the African continent for that matter, want nothing more than to be able to go to school in the knowledge that getting an education is their only chance out of a life of dire poverty, for Emmanuel, it was not just attending school – but excelling the classroom – that was his passion.
Emmanuel attended Kip Keino Primary School from Nursery to Jr. High, and in 2015, as an eighth grader, Emmanuel tackled his biggest challenge yet by scoring among the best and brightest throughout the entire country in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations (similar to the SAT for high school students in the United States).
It is especially tragic for those who have the ability and determination but lack the money for school supplies and uniforms and have no choice but to take menial low-wage jobs to help support their families and themselves.
While of course we cannot say what was going through Emmanuel’s mind as he filled out his application for Kapsabet High School, we must assume it was with hopeful optimism. Kapsabet is one of the most prestigious high schools in the country whose alumni include Daniel Arap Moi, the second president of Kenya.
The odds against him being accepted to Kapsabet – (where only 300 new students are accepted each year – out of an application pool of 60,000!) – were long, but as his acceptance to the class of 2019 illustrates, not insurmountable.
For Emmanuel, beating those seemingly overwhelming odds was not a matter of luck, but a testament to his ability, and his steady belief that he can do whatever he sets his mind to.
Four years later, we have just received word from Phyllis that Emmanuel is headed to Taita Taveta University in Mariwenyi, Kenya – on a full scholarship!
Taita Taveta University, a non-profit public higher education institution accredited by the Commission for University Education of Kenya, is described as “A Premier Institution in Education, Training, Research, Innovation And Community Outreach.”
Beginning in August, Emmanuel will begin his studies, majoring in agribusiness; a vital field on the African continent as noted by a recent report by the World Bank on “Agribusiness Indicators: Kenya” which states:
“The importance of agriculture in the economies of sub-Saharan African countries cannot be overemphasized.
“With agriculture accounting for about 65 percent of the region’s employment and 75 percent of its domestic trade, significant progress in reducing hunger and poverty across the region depends on the development and transformation of the agricultural sector.
“Transforming agriculture from largely a subsistence enterprise to a profitable commercial venture is the prerequisite and driving force for accelerated development and sustainable economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
We have no doubt that one day in the not-too-distant future, Emmanuel – the same 2-year-old helpless child abandoned by his mother – will be leading the way as a driving force in helping to reduce hunger and poverty, perhaps even at the Baraka Farm right next to the Lewa Children’s Home where he grew up.
Despite all Emmanuel has accomplished, we know he will never forget those who helped him attain the success he has achieved today – namely Phyllis, and the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa®. Without them, he would not have had a home, much less an education.
Upon his acceptance to Kapsabet in 2015, he expressed his sincere gratitude in a letter to the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa® writing:
“I write this letter to really appreciate for sponsoring me – for if it wouldn’t have been for you, I wouldn’t be where I am.
“This comes from the bottom of my heart. I promise to work hard at school and post good results as hard work pays.
“Moreover, I promise to not let you down.”
The town of Mariwenyi is 400 miles, a 12-hour bus ride on the rutted Kenyan roads, from Lewa where he grew up, but a world away from how his life began and how we are certain it will evolve.
For one brief, heartbreaking period in their young lives all that the three brothers Wilson, Samuel and Joseph had was themselves after unbelievably being abandoned by their mother.
And it was on a dark, rainy evening in Kenya when a neighbor heard their desperate crying that a concerned, compassionate neighbor came to their rescue.
Though she tried to locate the boys’ mother, she was nowhere to be found – and with nowhere else to turn, the woman brought Wilson, Samuel and Joseph into the loving, welcoming arms of Phyllis Keino, the founder and director of the Lewa Children’s Home, a longtime partner of Bread and Water for Africa®.
“On arrival, they were weak, hungry and very malnourished,” Phyllis told us. “They came with many ailments.”
In addition, never having been to school, they could neither read nor write and showed signs of being mentally challenged.
Phyllis does not select the orphaned and abandoned children who are brought to her. Whether this is by government officials, the police because their parent(s) are in prison, or caring citizens, she instantly gives them her love as if each is one of her own, because from that moment on they are.
The horrors of their past lives are thankfully unknown, but what is known is that these three boys have a present filled with a love they have likely never known, the basic necessities of life including health care and an education, and hope for a long life and a bright future – thanks to Phyllis and the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa®.
Corn, or maize as it’s known in Kenya, is a staple food for the residents of the East African country. The maize is grounded into flour to make ugali (imagine grits cooked to the consistency of Playdough). The ugali is eaten with sukuma wiki (collard greens braised with tomatoes, onions and spices) pretty much every day.
In fact, millions of children, such as those living at the Lewa Children’s Home, say they don’t feel full after a meal if it doesn’t include a hearty serving of ugali.
Each year, the Baraka Farm plants acres and acres of maize which helps keep the bellies full for the orphans at Lewa. The maize also provides feed for the farm’s dairy cows which also provide milk, cheese and more for the children.
We are proud of our longtime support to provide a loving home for hundreds of orphaned, abandoned and destitute children at Lewa over the years. We are also proud to assist the Baraka Farm in its mission to providing food for the children, but also generate profits to offset the cost of operating the children’s home.
Our International Spokesperson Phyllis Keino, founder, and director of the Lewa Children’s Home also founded the Baraka Farm with the goal of ultimately making the children’s home self-sufficient.
Phyllis, who has helped raise hundreds of orphans into successful adults over the years, is “mother” to the 126 children living there presently.
In addition to providing corn, milk and more Phyllis notes that the farm does much more for the growing children.
“It has also helped instill in the children a good work ethic and teach them the farming skills that are so necessary in a country like Kenya,” she told us.
To those who have supported us with their generous gifts over the past two decades enabling us to assist Phyllis in her mission, she has these heartfelt words:
“Your generous support has helped provide food, healthcare, clothing and education to poor children like Emmanuel, Otieno, Victoria, Lillian, and so many others – children you will never meet…living halfway around the world in dire conditions.
“You have done this with unconditional love, as if they were a member of your family.
Phyllis Keino, our international spokesperson and founder and director of the Lewa Children’s Home in Kenya, is the mother to more than 235 orphans – including one little girl named Sheba who is almost 10 years old.
Sheba was born with physical deformities of her hands and legs and abandoned when she was 1-year-old. She was suffering from malnourishment, pneumonia and sickle cell anemia. After being brought to Lewa and nursed back to health, it was discovered that she is also deaf and mute.
Today, thanks to the supporters of Bread and Water for Africa®, Phyllis told us that Sheba is “a joyous girl who always has a hug to spare”. She always has a smile on her face and a happy outlook on life. She integrated into the school community where she is treated no different from other students. Sheba attends classes at a specialized school for the hearing impaired, ensuring that she will have every opportunity for success as she overcomes her challenges in life.
Thousands of children living in rural Kenya are considered fortunate to be able to attend school. But many of them live miles from their school, and of course, there being no school buses to carry them back and forth, some walk 10 miles round trip, or even more.
However, a large percentage of them, proudly wearing their school uniform, must walk that distance barefoot.
Not only must they dodge sharp rocks that can cut their tiny feet, they must walk on hot, hard dirt paths during the dry season, and navigate puddles and deep mud when the heavy rains come.
But all for the lack of a pair of shoes, these children are risking serious illness and even death with every step they take.
Parasitic worms such as roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms can cause soil-transmitted disease, which the World Health Organization notes that “are among the most common infections worldwide and affect the poorest and most deprived communities,” such as villages in rural Kenya.
In addition, by walking barefoot children can become infected by the burrowing Tunga flea, known as a “jigger” in Kenya, a debilitating foot parasite which makes walking practically unbearable preventing thousands of children from attending school.
To address this severe health-related issue, we started a “Shoes for Kenya” program to provide thousands of children with a pair of shoes – likely the first pair they’ve ever owned – so they can walk to school safely.