Updates.

Gift of the Spirit

It is Sunday morning at Mwanika Church just outside of Meru town, Kenya. The English Service starts at 9:30 am with music from the keyboard player who is wearing a red jacket and singing with a rich bass voice in the side section at the front of the church. He plays by ear and once he has the beat the music fills the room. At the beginning of the service the sanctuary is about half full but as the music sounds a call to worship the church is soon filled with several hundred people. One hundred or more of these worshipers are students from Fred`s Academy, a nearby primary boarding school. The boys and girls are in their green-checked shirts and grey slacks. Girls wearing slacks to church is a recent change. Some of the young people have dark green sweaters and others wear similar vests. They file in and sit together occupying much of the front section. The founder of the primary school sits quietly in the pew behind them. There are open widows on each side of the sanctuary. The gentle wind blows through the space between and sweeps across the congregation as the service begins.

Soon the entire room is alive with music and movement. It is impossible to stand still and I am swaying and clapping with the assembled congregation. It is a powerful energy filled with the emotion of strong faith and joyful praise. The people express humility as they sing the chorus "Tossing crowns, raising hands, bowing hearts." The words of the songs and scripture verses are projected above our heads on the wall in front of the altar. The system is operated by three high school boys sitting behind a computer and getting the right screen up just a little late.

The English service is also an opportunity for the students from Fred`s Academy to participate not only in reading the scripture and taking up the offering, but also providing some wonderful music and performances. Their songs are carefully choreographed as they step and spin and clap and raise their hands in praise. They dance together led by one of their teachers. By the time the primary school students sing the second verse they are full of the spirit and their young faces are glowing with love and faith. Next, the church choir sings and again as the keyboard player gets the rhythm everyone is moving and clapping, shifting bodies from one foot to the other. I also feel the energy of the loud and glorious music and dive into the moving waves of the congregation, young and old, flowing from side to side. This is both an individual activity and a shared community worship experience.

Some of the church members are wearing red, the color for Pentecost, "the birthday of the church" and a celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The preacher talks about empowerment and "worship as a lifestyle." This means appreciating and expressing gratitude for the beauty of the world, praying for those in need, and sharing faith and grace with others. Because the English Service had communion, they have gone long and are late in finishing. The pastor`s words are heard outside the church by the crowd, which is waiting for the 11 am Kimeru Service conducted in the local language.

This church is a dynamic community of faith bringing neighbors together and welcoming strangers. I was surprised when I realized as we were leaving the service that I was the only muzungu, white person, in the entire congregation on this Sunday. I had not even thought about it. Many times over the past 10 years I have attended Mwanika Church. I am no longer a visitor. We are all brothers and sisters in friendship and faith.

Return to Mathare

I am returning to the Good Samaritan Children`s Home for orphaned and abandoned children in Mathare, a densely populated informal settlement just outside the city center of Nairobi, Kenya. It has been almost two years since I had been there. On my last visit as we turned off the busy main highway going down into the slums, the road was a rocky path, muddy and rutted, with everyone walking in the road and men pulling handcarts loaded with furniture, produce or other goods. Vendors crowded on all sides tending small businesses, selling tomatoes, roasted corn, shoes, plastic bowls, metal pots and pans and other items needed by the hundreds of thousands of residents crowded into this small area. On the edge of the road the informal sellers spread their wares on the ground. The more established shops, including a butchery, hair dressing salon, a bar, a phone card kiosk and a food vendor, worked out of small tin sheds just off the path behind them.

This colorful community still buzzes with activity and small-scale enterprises. It is just as crowded and noisy. However, there is one obvious difference. In a city initiative to improve the slums, the bumpy uneven road is now neatly paved with concrete. The open sewer that ran in front of Good Samaritan is finally covered. The road is higher than before and two steps lead down into Good Samaritan.

As we arrive the children’s home is, as always, very noisy and filled with activity from the ground level where children sit along the side of the building waiting for lunch to the workmen constructing walls on the third floor. The children are everywhere on both sides of the narrow walkway between the old blue tin and wooden structure held up with steel beams and the grey concrete block building, which is emerging on the other side just a few feet away. Looking up between the two buildings I see a bit of sky and banners of just-washed clothes hanging on the railings and waving from rows of makeshift lines. Baby clothes, jeans, sweaters, dresses and a mass of assorted clothing drip on the ground below.

There are now two floors completed in the concrete building. The open area and playground that was bordered for many years by the unfinished walls is covered and built up to provide more rooms for sleeping. In the future the classrooms for pre-primary students will be in the old blue building and more of the children will reside in the newer structure. As many as 70 kids now sleep in one room with several children in each of the bunk beds. The much-needed additional space will be welcomed by all.

There are more than 400 kids here during this time. The 55 secondary students with ACOHF scholarships at Rubate High School as well as other secondary students from Good Samaritan are back in Mathare during school break. The high school students join with some of the other children to make chapati bread, a special treat, and help serve the food from large plastic dishpans filled with rice, cabbage and beans. We help to support a cook for Good Samaritan and provide some food but the challenge of feeding all the children and maintaining adequate nutrition is always a concern.

Today some visitors have come from a local college for community service and the children are singing a gospel song for them. Mama Mercy, the founder and director of the center, leads the singing raising her hands to the sky in praise. Faith is an important part of life at Good Samaritan. This is a source of strength and survival in a difficult environment where most people have little or no resources and limited opportunities for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Every time I come to Good Samaritan I am renewed by the beautiful faces of the children showing their strength and resilience, and the faith and commitment of Mercy and the staff. I am energized to continue to do whatever we can to help improve the life and future for these young people. Mercy often says, “Education is the most important thing. Education is the way out of the slums.” At Africa Circle of Hope this is our goal and our continuing focus.

As we get back into the van to leave Good Samaritan the children are all around us, watching and shouting. I am reminded of the first time I came to Kenya in 2002 and the face of an orphaned child who pleaded, “Remember me.” I will never forget the children. We are all connected. I am grateful to be back in Mathare.

"FILM FOR GOOD" WORKSHOP FOR YOUTH

Africa Circle of Hope is one of the sponsors for a two-week filmmaking workshop from May 30 -June 11, 2016, for youth from a high school for AIDS orphans in the Nairobi slums. Other sponsors include Loyola University Chicago, Catholic University of Eastern Africa and Tangaza College in Nairobi. The "Film for Good" Workshop will be led by Aaron Greer, Director of Film and Digital Media in the School of Communication at Loyola.

Recent high school graduates will learn basic skills of idea development, screenwriting, equipment operation, videography and editing. Participants work in teams to create a short film that reflects their life experience, creative ideas or perspectives on issues in their community. A public celebration and screening of the films highlights this event. A support network with online resources, media facilities and mentoring will help the students practice communication and media skills and explore career opportunities.

FAIR TRADE BAZAAR

Africa Circle of Hope co-founders, Sally Christiansen and Patricia Kay Felkins participated in the Fair Trade Holiday Bazaar at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on Dec. 5 and 6, 2015. They talked about the mission of ACOHF and provided information about programs for women and children in Kenya.

Many of the hand-crafted products for sale were made by the women of the Makena Textile Workshop in Meru, Kenya. These items included painted silk ties, colorful silk and cotton scarves, wool bags and purses and one-of-a-kind African art cloth. Sales were increased over last year. All proceeds go to ACOHF education and entrepreneurship programs. Our thanks to Vicky Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission at Fourth Church, for her coordination of this annual event.

Kids Camp

ACOHF launched Kids Camps in Meru at the Thiiri Center for Culture, Music and Community Development and funded the first year of operation reaching more than 200 kids between the ages of 11 and 15 years. The program is continuing with the support of Thiiri Center and local churches and schools. The Day Camps include computer training, music lessons, cultural knowledge, sports and crafts. Local elders and community leaders also talk with the young people about culture, values and responsibilities.

Program objectives include building self-esteem and confidence related to life decisions, and encouraging critical thinking and creative problem solving. Each Camp brings together a diverse group of 25 young people. This program fills some gaps that are not often covered in the highly structured national school curriculum. Individual students are sponsored by local churches and schools. The participants of all the camps are invited to other special youth events at Thiiri including movies, performances, and discussion groups about issues that concern young people and affect their future.

Home for Orphans Stabilized

The construction at Good Samaritan Children's Home has stabilized the building structure, which was leaning badly.

Steel beams have reinforced the sagging second floor and the roof. The one set of narrow rotten wooden stairs are replaced with metal stairs and railings. The building now has both front and back stairs and a rear porch area where the children can play.

The roof has been rebuilt and includes some semi-transparent panels which bring natural light into the dark rooms which have no windows. The roof also has gutters and a drainage system. The construction provides a safer and healthier environment for all the children.

Many thanks to our generous donors, the engineers who donated their time and skills, and the local workers who accomplished all this while the building was in full use.

Feeding Hungry Kids

Young students need adequate nutrition in order to learn effectively. Raymond Mosha, ACOHF Board Member from Tanzania, facilitated the construction of a small kitchen building for the Kyou Primary School in Kilema near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Africa Circle of Hope Foundation helped to fund this project, which will allow the cook to efficiently prepare lunch for the 500 children in this school. This may be the only meal some of these children have each day.

The kitchen building provides a clean space where meals can be cooked and kitchen materials and food supplies safely stored. Dr. Mosha worked with teachers and school and community leaders to coordinate this project. The next improvement needed is a more efficient brick stove.

January 2009 Updates

Current projects for women and children in Nairobi and Meru continue to develop as sustainable programs that benefit individuals, groups and communities. We now have programs in both Kenya and Tanzania.

New Africa Circle of Hope Foundation initiatives for 2009 include:

  • an Agricultural Development Seedling Project to provide food security and income generation for rural women and their families,
  • a University Scholarship Project for the best students among children orphaned by AIDS and the women working with them,
  • a Health and Nutrition Program for HIV+ women's support groups,
  • and Day Camps for underserved rural youth including personal and career development, computer skills, and music.

“You have given us hope,” the women said.

Thanks to all our generous donors who have given many women, children, and families in East Africa new hope for a better life and a brighter future in 2009.

Community Technology Center

It was an exciting day when the new Community Technology Center (CTC) was launched in Maua Tanzania. The space for the facility was donated by the Franciscan Sisters Capuchin and they will manage the Center to serve the local community and area schools. Many of the sisters helped with carrying the equipment, tables and chairs and organizing the computer room. A group of women from local villages came to see the new computer center, the hub of activity and interest for everyone. This CTC will be a valuable educational and communication resource as the only facility of its kind in this remote rural area.

Two Africa Circle of Hope Board Members, Marilyn Makandi Brenchley and Kay Felkins, traveled to a rugged area on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in October 2010 to launch the Community Technology Center. Benjamin Makai from Computer Aid International installed the initial setup and trained the staff. Two of the sisters are taking additional computer courses so they can supervise the Center and train others. ACOHF will continue to help develop the Center to meet local needs.

Albuquerque Circle of Hope Launched

A group of 30 friends, colleagues and families came together in August 2010 to launch the Albuquerque Circle of Hope to help support our educational fund for children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya. Dr. Kay Felkins, Vice President of ACOHF, made a presentation about the foundation and provided updates on current educational programs and critical needs. All the donations from this event will buy uniforms and pay school fees for secondary school students from the Good Samaritan Children’s Home in the Mathare slums around Nairobi, Kenya.

The coordinators for the Albuquerque Circle of Hope are Janet Strong and the Wickstrom family. We thank them for their commitment to helping educate these orphans and giving youth an opportunity to raise themselves out of poverty and make a better future. They will continue to work with us to support our Orphans Education Fund and coordinate efforts in Albuquerque. We are establishing Africa Circle of Hope support groups in other states including Wisconsin and Arkansas. If you are interested in creating a Circle of Hope in your community contact Dr. Felkins at pkf@africacircleofhope.org.

New Research on HIV and AIDS Public Health Campaigns in Kenya

ACOHF Board Vice President, Dr. Kay Felkins, was awarded a research leave from September through November 2010 to study HIV and AIDS public health communication campaigns in Kenya. Felkins is a professor in the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago. She interviewed senior executives in the Kenya National AIDS Control Council as well as local and regional directors in other AIDS education and outreach organizations and programs.

Felkins also began working with a group of talented young musicians, poets, actors and artists who have been active in AIDS education performances. One of the members of this group is Pepe Haze, who plays a central role in an MTV award-winning television drama series, Shuga, about the lives of a group of students living in Nairobi and the dangers of HIV and AIDS. Another of these dynamic professionals is Kennet B, a popular spoken-word poet who writes and performs powerful stories about HIV and AIDS to educate young people. This artistic team provides valuable insight and understanding of the impact of HIV and AIDS in Kenya and the language and perspectives of youth in relation to AIDS.

The results of this research can help to improve the effectiveness of national, regional and local HIV and AIDS campaigns to engage youth in Kenya.

Thiiri Center Concert Series Spotlights Youth Talent

On Oct. 30, 2010, the Thiiri Center for Culture, Music and Community Development in Meru hosted the first of an ongoing series of concerts. This series showcases the talents of local young people in music, poetry, dance and drama. Area students, parents and community members filled the auditorium at Thiiri Center to enjoy a Saturday afternoon program that included singers, poets, dancers, acrobats, musical rap groups and a high school band. This initial concert also featured several professional performers from Nairobi including the Drum Café, Kennet B and the Mathare Acrobats. ACOHF was a major sponsor of the first concert working with Rev. Marilyn Makandi Brenchly, ACOHF Board Member in Meru.

Thiiri Center is a strong partner with ACOHF and a platform for some of our most successful programs for young people. Local artists come together at Thiiri Center for music lessons, practice sessions and creative dialogue. The concert series will continue through 2011.

Chicago Fair Trade Bazaar Creates Sales for Kenyan Women`s Entrepreneurship

Colorful rugs, unique tie-dyed fabrics, tablecloths and aprons, multicolored wool baskets and jewelry with distinctive African design-these are some of the products made by women`s entrepreneurship groups in Nairobi and Meru, Kenya. The Annual Fair Trade Bazaar the first weekend in December at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago provides an opportunity for ACOHF to market these materials and share the story of these creative and industrious women struggling with poverty. All the proceeds from sales go directly to the women to support their small business initiatives and the families of the workers.

This additional income helps these women in rural areas or urban slums to feed their children and pay school fees. It also brings some small joy. As one of the women said, “This year we will have a Christmas.” The previous year had not been a good one for these women. Their sales were limited and they were not able to pay any salary to the members who worked every day weaving and sewing.

Africa Circle of Hope Foundation continues to collaborate with these women to help them market their unique artistic products. Thanks to ACOHF Board Member Clarisse Croteau-Chonka and friends of ACOHF for their assistance with this successful event.

A Pickup Truck for Good Samaritan Children`s Home

One of the major needs identified by the Director of Good Samaritan was a truck to take the children to school, to travel to the medical clinic, to pick up donated food available in outlying farms or discarded by food processing plants, and to bring in clean water for drinking, cooking and washing. A good used truck was purchased along with the required insurance. This truck is fulfilling its purpose every day and easing numerous daily tasks for the staff and the children.

Community Technology Center Opening and Celebration

On July 1, 2007, the Community Technology Center (CTC) was officially opened at the Thiiri Center for Culture, Music and Community Development in rural Meru, Kenya. More than 800 people attended the ceremony and cultural celebration, which included speeches by community leaders, music, dance, and drama presentations by groups from local churches and schools.

Bishop Lawi Imathiu, the founder of the Thiiri Center, and Dr. Kay Felkins, Vice President of Africa Circle of Hope Foundation, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. After the formal program many from the crowd joined with traditional performers in songs and dances to celebrate new opportunities for education, culture, and economic development in their community.

Funding to Help Buy School Uniforms

While primary education is free in Kenya, all students must have a specific type of uniform and other supplies before they can attend school. This includes a shirt and pants or skirts, sweater, shoes and socks, and backpack. Good Samaritan does not have the funds to buy uniforms for all the children to go to school. We are helping to meet this important need.

Circle of Support

You and your friends can send children orphaned by AIDS to school or help a group of women living in poverty start a small business. Establish a Circle of Hope in your neighborhood, church, office or club. The Africa Circle of Hope Foundation was created around the basic concept of people helping people, kids helping kids, women helping women. A small group of people who want a better world can make a big difference in the life of African children orphaned by AIDS and women and families living in poverty.

Our first Circle of Hope in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is built on the commitment and energy of a family working together and each bringing his or her own talents and friends into the circle. This includes the daughter in high school and the son, an accomplished musician and composer. We are also starting Circles of support in Wisconsin and in Arkansas. Start a Circle of Hope in your city or town.

How to start your local Circle of Hope to support ACOHF programs:

  1. Believe that you can make a positive difference in the world.
  2. Identify a group of family, friends, colleagues or neighbors and ask them to join the Circle. Your Circle could be only three people or more than 30.
  3. Define an ACOHF program area you want to support. This may be Orphans Education, ACOHF Scholarships, Women’s Entrepreneurship or Community Technology.
  4. Bring people together in your home, an organization meeting room or a local restaurant.
  5. Invite an ACOHF board member or volunteer to come to this meeting and discuss the foundation and current programs and needs. If we cannot attend we will work with you and send a packet of presentation materials and information sheets for your use.
  6. Ask your group for support. Financial contributions can be any amount based on the interests and ability of the group members. Your group may also have other creative fundraising ideas.
  7. Communicate regularly with your Circle of Hope and with an ACOHF board contact. Ask for ACOHF updates and photos. Contribute content to our Web site. We want to build long-term relationships. We believe in you and we need your help.
Be part of our global Circle of Hope. For more information, contact pkf@africacircleofhope.org.

Women's Entrepreneurship Graduation Day

Members of the Good Samaritan Mother's Group from the Mathare slums in Nairobi received certificates of completion on June 6. Over the past year, the 38 women participated in monthly Entrepreneurship training days at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). The Dean of the Faculty of Commerce and other faculty facilitated the Entrepreneurship sessions, which focused on business operations, budgets,communication, marketing and customer service.

The women celebrated their accomplishment with family and friends at the campus. More than 200 people attended the graduation ceremony led by the Vice Chancellor of CUEA. The youth from Good Samaritan Children's Home entertained guests with music, dancing and acrobatics. Everyone enjoyed lunch and a special cake for the graduates. As the women said, "We can be a model for others." "We can work together to improve the quality of life in Mathare."

Our thanks to Catholic University of Eastern Africa for partnering with Africa Circle of Hope on this significant initiative to educate and empower underserved women.

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