Updates Blogs

ACOHF Participates in World Mission Sunday

Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, celebrates World Mission Sunday on October 7, 2018. This annual event recognizes both local and global mission activities of the church and provides opportunities for members of the congregation and visitors to engage with mission leaders to learn more about the diverse outreach programs supported by the church.

Sally Christiansen and Patricia K. Felkins Ph.D. will represent Africa Circle of Hope at the event with a photo display and information materials about our Orphans Education Programs including secondary school scholarships, university scholarships and Career Bridge scholarships at professional training institutes. Africa Circle of Hope is honored to be a mission partner and committed to our ongoing effort to provide education opportunities and learning resources to orphaned and abandoned children living in poverty in urban slums and rural areas in Kenya.

2018 Leadership Workshop Motivates ACOHF Scholarship Students

A Youth Leadership Academy was held at Thiiri Center in Meru, Kenya. from April 6-8 with a total of 40 students, 20 ACOHF scholarship students from Rubate Secondary School and 20 students from Bishop Lawi Imathiu Secondary School in Meru. The girls and boys from Rubate are currently in Form 3 and Form 4, equivalent to high school juniors and seniors.

These young people learned about life and work skills: focusing personal and professional goals, creating a positive attitude toward challenges and opportunities, developing self-esteem, listening and understanding different perspectives, cooperating with others, communicating effectively, and living with greater awareness and purpose. Experienced workshop facilitators included teachers and school administrators, business and nonprofit leaders, and youth role models.

This educational retreat balanced workshop learning sessions and small group discussions with time for reflection and recreation. Participants enjoyed the swimming pool and team sports. Evening activities included a movie, traditional storytelling, singing and dancing. The students shared comfortable accommodations in the rooms at Thiiri Center and the homestyle food in the restaurant.

Thiiri Centre is dedicated to serving the community with continuing education, recreation and cultural activities. ACOHF has partnered with Thiiri Centre for youth programs, women's entrepreneurship, and technology development. This Leadership Academy for ACOHF scholarship students is part of our continuing commitment to support students with counseling and career planning to help them bridge the gap between graduation and employment as a path out of poverty.

Improving the Health of Vulnerable Children

Our Africa Circle of Hope(ACOHF) Community Health Team is returning to Mathare after more than a year. These five dedicated women are led by Dr. Katrina, who helped to establish our first health team three years ago. The participants are medical, education and business professionals from Illinois, California and Florida. Their goal this year is to complete a health assessment of more than 200 orphaned and abandoned children, from babies only a few months old to teenagers, in the Good Samaritan Children`s Home in the Mathare slums of Nairobi. The ACOHF team is assisted by nursing students, including Gladys, an ACOHF scholarship student at Regina Pacis University College completing her Community Health degree.

The 2016 ACOHF team members-- Katrina, Simone, Joanie, Kellee, and Kristin-- are competent, caring and professional as they assess each individual. Many of the children are shy and avoid eye contact. Others come and show one of the members of our health workers a hand, arm or leg that is painful, injured or infected. Sometimes an older child brings a younger one and points to a problem. Chronic skin conditions including scabies. fungus and bacterial infections are most common. The children live in close quarters so one child may infect others as they share beds and clothes.

The health team is working in the library, one of the cleaner and more orderly spaces in this crowded and noisy facility. Three long tables fill the room surrounded by bookshelves that cover each wall. Dr. Katrina and the team have set up an organized system for handling the youngsters who line up outside the door. The children are brought into the room, five at a time. The kids sit at a table with coloring books and crayons as they wait their turn to see the doctor. Then one by one the children move into the area where all the medicine, bandages, and other supplies are arranged neatly on one of the tables. A photo is taken and demographics and other essential information gathered with the help of a translator. Then the doctor examines ears, nose, teeth, head, chest, arms and legs for health concerns, injuries or infections. Any abnormalities or health problems are noted in each child`s individual record. Then they are washed and wounds are treated and bandaged. After treatment each child receives a sticker and a biscuit or cookie.

Each member of the health team has a specific assignment and they are all working together to help each child. Some of the more severe cases the team has treated several times over the week. It is encouraging that the girl with sores all around her mouth and chin is now healing. The small boy with twisted hips is walking better even after a few days. The child who was malnourished and sleeping all the time is now more alert and getting individual feeding with nutritious supplements.

Three or four children who are in need of immediate medical attention are taken to a nearby hospital in our van. The clinic is a very different environment for them. They touch the clean white benches and are amazed at the place, but taking blood samples and injection needles are frightening for them. The kids are hurting but very brave. Somehow they sense that these people can help them feel better.

It is the attention to these children and human touch that are also healing. Each child is important and treated with respect and kindness by all the members of the team. Every child they see is, for a few minutes at least, the most important person at Good Samaritan. Each day the health team checks on the progress of children who have critical medical issues. We are all concerned about how to ensure continued monitoring and health care for everyone from babies to adolescents at Good Samaritan.

The answer actually came through the interactions of our group. This was a powerful experience for the ACOHF health team and the nursing students helping these vulnerable children. Our working synergy created a collaborative solution. A team of student nurses will go to Good Samaritan every week or two to check on the children, provide necessary care or intervention, and maintain an ongoing health record coordinating with our ACOHF group. Our team also started a dental health initiative "Brush Your Teeth Every Day" campaign with demonstrations of how to brush, health posters and donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste. This will be reinforced by the nursing students. ACOHF has also provided funds for building wall shelves to organize clothes for each child rather than all of them picking something from a musty pile in the corner and sharing clothing, which can get moldy and also spread skin diseases. The health team and student nurses are working on implementing this system and also organizing medicines so that the staff can effectively dispense them to children with specific needs such as those who are HIV+, suffering from malnutrition or with severe infections that require antibiotics.

Our community health program has now expanded and Africa Circle of Hope will collaborate with our Kenyan partners to provide basic health care to these orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. The success of all these efforts will be the improved health and quality of life for all the children at Good Samaritan. We are so thankful for our Community Health team. Now, what we need is some dentists.

Celebrating Film for Good

The auditorium at Catholic University of Eastern Africa on June 11, 2016, was filled with more than 150 senior students, recent graduates and alums from St. Aloysius Secondary School in Nairobi, and faculty and students from Catholic University of Eastern Africa(CUEA) and from Tangaza University College. This enthusiastic crowd came together on this day to celebrate films made by the participants in the Film for Good program. This initiative is part of the Loyola University Chicago School of Communication (SOC) Africa Project in collaboration with CUEA. Africa Circle of Hope Foundation is one of the major sponsors of Film for Good. The coordinator for the 2016 SOC Africa Project is Dr. Patricia Felkins, Co-Founder and Vice President of Africa Circle of Hope.

This day of celebration, culminating the two-week workshop, included a panel of media professionals sharing their work experience and career resources in the morning session. In the afternoon the films made in the workshop were screened followed by a discussion with the young filmmakers and presentation of certificates to those who completed the media training.

The two-week workshop provided an opportunity for graduates from St. Aloysius interested in media careers to learn about scriptwriting, film production and editing. After the classroom training, the teams went into the Kibera slums to film their stories. Aaron Greer, Director of the Film and Digital Media Program at Loyola University Chicago, was the workshop leader. Jamason Chen, SOC Media Manager provided technology support and set up a media production lab for CUEA. The Film for Good workshop participants were the first to use this new lab. Professional video cameras and computers with editing software were donated to CUEA by Loyola University Chicago and the School of Communication.

The objectives of Film for Good point toward continuing educational development, establishing practical media applications and increasing available resources.

  • To teach basic filmmaking skills and give young people experience as part of a production team to make a short film that reflects their experience, creative ideas or perspectives on social justice issues.
  • To promote film as a platform for communication and development, a stage for creative expression, and a powerful educational resource for students, faculty and community.
  • To build relationships and develop opportunities for continuing collaboration and communication between faculty and students in Kenya and U.S.
  • To develop a support network with online resources, media facilities and mentoring to help students and recent graduates practice communication and media skills, explore available career opportunities and find jobs.

Film for Good 2016 created a strong foundation for accomplishing these objectives. Each of the four teams from the workshop made informative and engaging short films dealing with a specific theme: gambling and betting, innovation and entrepreneurship, girl child empowerment, and youth unemployment. These films were applauded by the audience and will be entered in several film festivals in the coming months.

Another highlight of the event was the powerful presentations by young Kenyan poets coordinated by Kennet B, who has worked with Africa Circle of Hope poetry workshops in the Nairobi slums. These performances also inspired Chris O`Hare, an international filmmaker and moderator of the professional career panel, to use some of the workshop participants to produce a film featuring five of the poets in the days following the workshop. Other films in planning stages include a multidisciplinary faculty/student group focusing on collaborative efforts to clean up the polluted Nairobi River.

The team of 16 young people who were trained in the workshop want to establish a nonprofit or community-based organization to continue working together on creative film productions. They will also be available to help faculty at CUEA as crew members for making educational films.

Film for Good was a genuine success on many levels. Catholic University of Eastern Africa now has a professional media production lab that will be available to students, faculty and community members. Key support staff have training in using the equipment and software. Other films are in production or planning. Workshop participants and other students and graduates now have a support network that includes the professionals on the career panel who offered to provide mentoring and career resources. CUEA faculty in E-Learning, Development Studies, Justice and Peace, Literature, and Entrepreneurship are ready to explore the opportunities that the film training and the media production lab create for them and their students. Film for Good continues to generate creative work and innovative educational projects. Africa Circle of Hope is proud to support this unique collaborative educational initiative.

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.

Living with HIV

"Aids the biggest killer of youth." I was concerned to see this headline on the front page of the Daily Nation newspaper today. According to estimates by the National Aids Control Council, more than 435,000 adolescents, age 10-19 are HIV positive and almost 120,000 more have not been identified. A Health Metrics and Evaluation study just published reveals that 2,531 youth age 15 to 19, most in secondary school, died of HIV/Aids in 2013. There were 2,398 HIV/Aids deaths of youth between 10 and 14 years. Anyone who though that Aids, which is now largely preventable and treatable, was under control must rethink that assumption. But that is another story.

There are many people who are living and surviving with HIV. One group of courageous women that Africa Circle of Hope has been working with for more than 10 years is the Meru Association of Positive People (MAPP). This group of 20 women, ranging in age from their late 20s to their 60s, is surviving and doing well taking their medication and supporting each other. MAPP meets every two weeks at Thiiri Centre in Meru, have lunch and spend time together. Today they tell me about their “Supermarket” where each meeting one of the women receives some small groceries from the other members. Today the women have brought a kilo of rice, two kilos of flour, a bag of sugar, salt, and three bars of laundry soap. Other times there might be some greens or chipati bread. Each one brings what she can. The next meeting another member will receive some items. This is a variation of the merry-go-round in some women’s groups where each person contributes 100 shillings or more and the money is collected and given to a different person each time.

After lunch the MAPP women work on their project, a small business making and selling soap. They mix the ingredients into a large tub and take turns stirring with a long wooden paddle.  The women also discuss other projects that they might do such as knitting sweaters for school uniforms or crocheting covers for sofas and chairs.  Their concern is that there is no market. They do not have time for projects that are not realistic. Yet they want to do something.

One of the biggest challenges for these women is adequate nutrition. Before we began providing food supplements for the women one of the members died because she was only having a cup of tea. Today we have purchased cooking oil and rice for the women. The leader carefully divides their shares out of the 30-kilo bag of rice and 20 liters of cooking oil. They have brought plastic bags for the rice and empty bottles and jars for the cooking oil. Some members ask about black beans and green grams, which are very nutritious but too expensive for them. This would be a special treat. They also say that vitamins do help them feel better. We have brought these in the past and will check on suppliers.

ACOHF works with Thiiri Centre and ACOHF board member, Marilyn Makandi, to provide lunch and transportation for the MAPP women who attend their bi-monthly support group. We also ensure that the women receive some basic food supplies. Last time it was beans for eating and planting.  Corn and beans are a staple of the local diet.

The MAPP women say these gatherings provide them strength and energy as they come together to share their feelings and experiences as a group of friends."We discuss what we have gone through and by the end of the day we go fresh. We release stress and talk to women who have the same thing. We support each other. We are coming to see if friends are strong and taking their medicine.”  “I rest. I share. I go happy. I come not feeling well, but I feel well with others. I feel happy. I feel strong.”

The consensus of all the women was that the MAPP group provided great benefits for them in just coming together and sharing. "I go happy" was often repeated. The feeling that “I am not alone” confirmed the value of the group interaction and support. “Others who are not in our group have died.” There is still stigma in the community outside, but in this gathering there is no discrimination. The women face problems in everyday life and challenges with relatives who talk badly to them or don’t want to give rightful land to “someone who has HIV and will die.” As one of the members stated, “I come here and know that I can continue to survive with HIV. I will die when God comes for me, but not from HIV.”

The women of MAPP are truly amazing people who always inspire me. Their faith is strong and their friendship and concern for each other continues to be powerful. They will survive and Africa Circle of Hope will continue to support their heroic lives.

Challenges for Secondary School Students

As much as 50% of the Kenyan population is under the age of 18. Most of these young people are in primary or secondary school. In 2003 the government mandated free primary education and in 2008 this was extended to secondary education in public schools. Boarding school fees are not included, nor are uniforms, school supplies and other infrastructure expenses. At the end of Standard 8 primary school students are ranked based on comprehensive national exams administered over several days. Two weeks of strenuous standardized national exams are required on completion of secondary school Form 4. This is a stressful time for students since the results of these tests can determine their entire future, including which school they can attend and whether they can get a scholarship or some support for further education.

Life is not easy for young people as they make their way into the world after graduation from secondary school. A recent Health Metrics and Evaluation study in Kenya cited not only the increased number of youth dying from HIV/Aids but also other risks including obesity, mental health disorders, high unemployment, and the risk of radicalization.  Add to this the challenges of poverty, bullying, peer pressure, discrimination, lack of skills training, and limited job opportunities.

Many secondary school students may say that they want to be doctors, pilots, engineers, and teachers. Yet they lack the basic skills and financial support to accomplish their career goals. One of the greatest concerns of secondary school students is worrying about what they will do after graduation. They have big questions to answer: What do I want to do with my life? How can I find the funding or a sponsor so I can go to college or university? Is a professional school a better choice for me? How can I find a job?

A special section in today's Daily Nation newspaper provides a “reality check” for young people related to employment. According to the article, Kenya’s unemployment rate is 40%, yet people age 15-34 constitute 70% of those who do not have jobs. Students are coming out of secondary school without the essential communication competencies, analytic ability, creative problem-solving and negotiation skills needed in business and industry. This is the subject of much discussion and debate.

What can be done to prepare students in secondary school to develop a plan, make realistic decisions about their life and career and help them get the practical skills they need to find a job? Should they try to enroll in a technical school or a specialized training institute rather than a university? Could an apprenticeship or internship provide valuable experience? Would volunteering with a community service organization or nonprofit help young people gain some real-world skills? What entrepreneurial opportunities are in the informal Jua Kali sector?

Africa Circle of Hope(ACOHF), which now sponsors 55 students with scholarships at Rubate Secondary School, will also be developing workshops and resource materials to start career planning and skill development that could begin in Form 2 and 3. On April 29 ACOHF conducted a one-day workshop for 83 secondary school students in Form 1 through Form 4 from Rubate and other secondary schools attended by young people from Good Samaritan Children’s Home in Mathare. We are also collaborating with the MustardSeed Program, which is focused on helping graduates from St. Aloysius Secondary School in Kibera write resumes, get interviews and find jobs. We recognize the need to do more to assist students in making decisions and planning for the difficult transition from classroom to career.

The major concerns of these secondary students are about what they do after graduation from Form 4. Many want to go to college or university, but for most that is only a dream as they may sit idle and discouraged trying to find a job or waiting for a sponsor.

We know the urgent need for career planning and skill development as well as new options for graduates. The challenge is how can we best serve this need with limited funds and resources. Job training and work experience are critical to moving out of poverty, making a better life and contributing to the community. The youth of Kenya are a most valuable resource. The future is in their hands.

Nairobi Rains

It is raining again in Nairobi. This is the season of the long rains that gather in the afternoon and often continue into the night. Now the sky is dark grey at 3 pm forecasting the coming storm. After a full-day workshop for secondary students from Good Samaritan we leave St. Teresa`s Church in Mathare Valley at 6 pm.

As we drive through Mathare we are fortunate to be in a van because cars are wheel-deep in the rushing muddy waters. One man pulling a handcart is struggling to keep his heavy load moving against the flood. No one offers to help and we see him as the back of his cart is pulled down by the strong current and near collapse. Another brave traveler rides a bicycle half submerged in water. Peddling is not an easy task. The challenge for him and for hundreds of drivers is that the water hides the enormous potholes that can swallow and strand a vehicle. In this sea of cars, brightly colored buses with religious and pop cultural images and slogans honk and pass. These vehicles, decorated with blinking colored lights to gain attention and improve status, ferry thousands of workers on their way home. The matatu drivers are fearless with aggressive moves pushing into other lanes with horns honking and shouts from the conductors who help them negotiate the curbs and sidewalks as they stop to pick up passengers and push ahead often without any concern for other drivers or traffic laws. They are the reigning pirates in this sea of vehicles. The water does not impede their reckless speed and creative routes around the impediments that would cause other drivers to pause.

The road is lined with men and women, young and old, in suits and work clothes, walking back from their jobs in the city center to their homes in the slums. Many trudge through the water as if it were just another day and the rain was no different than sunshine or clouds. Some women have plastic bags over their heads. The lucky ones have an umbrella.

The multiple lanes of traffic and buses, cars and vans maneuver in their strategy to move forward separated by inches. The sidewalks also offer space for one or two extra lanes. Drivers who are window to window talk to each other and share information on road conditions ahead. A heavy pounding downpour brings traffic to a halt in many areas, especially around the city centre. We are among the thousands of commuters who are caught in this weather event. Roads are closed and we sit for more than two hours waiting to enter a roundabout and moving only a few feet ahead. It is amazing that the drivers in the multiple lanes of cars are so patient sitting for hours without moving. Only an occasional call of horns signals some brief irritation. The matatus and buses have long ago moved ahead and left the more conventional vehicles behind to wait in this impromptu parking lot.

The next day the newspapers called it “havoc” and included photos of rescue efforts at a collapsed building. In the informal settlements around the city, shoddy construction is no match for the strength of the muddy polluted waters. A stone retaining wall falls on unsuspecting people taking shelter from the storm and kills four. A building that has been quickly constructed of inadequate supporting steel and sub-standard concrete collapses on the occupants and takes many more lives. These makeshift buildings shelter the increasing number of people pouring into the city, those families who can only pay a small rent for one or two rooms. Contractors and landlords exploit the need for shelter. These floods emphasize the problem that lurks in the structure of many of many low-rent residential buildings.

The floods are common in the season of long rains and the citizens of Nairobi, from the wealthy who live in gated mansions within lofty estates to the stoic residents of the crowded valley slums, are used to it. Yet the floods are worse in the informal settlements where tin houses do not keep out the rain and garbage-clogged drains send sewer water into homes and businesses. The rain falls on everyone but for the poor the consequences of the flooding are more severe.

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.

COMMUNITY HEALTH TEAM RETURNS TO NAIROBI

The Community Health Team from Chicago is returning to Nairobi this summer to work with the children living at Good Samaritan Children`s Home in the Mathare slums. This includes health assessment, basic care and public health information. Our ACOHF scholarship student studying community health at Regina Pacis University College will join them in some of these activities. The team is led by Dr. Katrina Ordonez, Clinic Director, Chiropractic Physician, Chiro One Wellness Centers.

"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.

POETIC VOICES FROM NAIROBI SLUMS

These poems were written by youth in our writing project in the Kibera and Mathare slums. Kennedy Odongo, a Nairobi spoken-word poet, conducted the workshops and compiled a representative collection of the powerful poems by these talented young people. They tell their stories of life in the slums. There is sadness and pain but also great strength, wisdom, ingenuity, termination and faith. This book titled "Poetic Voices from the Nairobi Slums: Vol. I" is available from ACOHF. All proceeds from the sale of this publication will benefit the Orphans Education Fund.

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.

Music and Culture

One of the major programs at Thiiri Center focuses on music training for individuals and groups. ACOHF worked with the Program Director at Thiiri to provide interactive skill workshops, one on drumming techniques and another on creative production, taught by professional musicians and award-winning performers from Nairobi. Both of these workshops support the development of the musical and artistic resources in this rural area. One of the workshop leaders also performed in several local schools.

ACOHF was also the major sponsor for the launch of the Thiiri Center Concert series, which features young local talent in music, spoken word poetry, dance and drama. The audience at the initial Saturday afternoon concert included more than 300 students from area schools as well as other community members, local artists and musicians. We are working with Thiiri Center to establish a music and media production studio as a resource for young people in this rural area. This facility will also provide professional training and develop the media and communication skills of local youth for related job opportunities and creative entrepreneurship.

Women's Agricultural Development Program Launched in Tanzania

Africa Circle of Hope is now working with women's groups in Kilema Kaskazini, Moshi, located near the slopes of Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania. These communitities have a large population living below the poverty line.

Most are farmers with an average of one acre of land. Many are single mothers. They cannot afford the high cost of quality seeds and the fertilizer, fungicide and insecticide that are essential to successful farming in this rugged area.

ACOHF provides these items and agricultural training to help these women raise a variety of nutritious food for their families and earn a small income selling some of their produce.

This program, which began in 2008, will improve their overall quality of life and contribute to local economic development. The initial group of 40 women will be self-sustaining within the next year.

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.

Thiiri Center for Culture, Music and Community Development

Thiiri (meaning "peace" in the Meru language) Center for Culture, Music and Community Development was established to serve local people as a shared resource for education, culture, and economic development. Thiiri Center, which has classrooms and meeting space, is the site of our Community Technology Center (CTC). We are partnering with Thiiri Center to establish the first CTC in this rural area and to provide computer training and access to Meru women`s entrepreneurship groups and young people to support social and economic development. Many of the women`s entrepreneurship groups also meet regularly at Thiiri Center. Thiiri Center is uniquely designed to meet community needs.

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.

Women's Agricultural Development Progam in Kenya

The current food shortage in Kenya makes this program even more critical to nutrition and health in this rural area, where most people are living in poverty. Three women's groups in Meru are part of the initial program. ACOHF provides funds for seedlings, fertilizer, insecticide, hose pipes, sprinklers and basic agricultural training for the women.

One entrepreneurship group decided to plant bananas as their main crop. Other groups include widows and single mothers planting a variety of vegetables in one or two-acre plots. This will not only give them more nutritious food for their family but also generate some small income.

All the women are encouraged by this program and want to learn more about nutrition entrepreneurship opportunities with food processing. These initial groups should be self-sustaining within a year.

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.

Nairobi Board Member Coordinates ACOHF Educational Programs

Charles Mwiti, an experienced business executive and ACOHF board member is coordinating our Education Program in Kenya. He has created a more detailed record system to ensure continuing accountability and appropriate use of funds. This system documents the progress of each individual student. Mr. Mwiti is also communicating with a social worker from Good Samaritan, who is monitoring the students and making regular school visits. Mwiti has done an outstanding job with his caring and commitment in keeping our educational program effective and accountable to students and donors.

In November 2010 Dr. Felkins joined Mwiti in a visit to Gathiga Secondary Boarding School, where ACOHF sponsors 15 students. This is one of five different schools where we support students. Our board members met with the Principal and toured the school buildings and grounds. Mwiti made a brief presentation to the students encouraging them to study and make the most of their education. He and Felkins congratulated the students on their academic accomplishments. The Principal indicated that some of these Mathare students were among the best in the entire school. One of the Good Samaritan boys was recognized for his outstanding leadership and service. Students have classes six days a week. Three of the students are completing Form 4 and will be graduating soon. The ACOHF board plans to increase the total number of students in our Orphans Education program next year.

Community Technology Center Established in Rural Tanzania

The new Maua Community Technology Center is the only one of its kind in this rugged area on the slopes on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The facility will be managed by the Franciscan Sisters Capuchin to serve area schools and surrounding communities. The CTC is located in a building just inside their front gate. Benjamin Makai, East Africa Programme Officer for Computer Aid International, helped to set up the equipment and train the staff, which will be coordinating the use of the CTC and facilitating learning sessions. The CTC has an N-computing system with eight work stations. The facility is funded by a grant, which covers equipment, training and technical consultation for the first year.

View photos of the installation and dedication of the CTC in Tanzania.

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.

Home for Orphans is in Danger of Collapse

The two-storey wooden framed building that houses more than 220 children at the Good Samaritan Children’s Home in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, is in danger of falling over and collapsing on the children. The structure which was built in 2000 by local people from available materials serves as classrooms during the day and bedrooms at night. On the second floor as many as 70 children sleep in each room.

One by one the children climb the single set of narrow steps that lead to the second floor. It shakes with each step. The stairs have to be repaired almost every day since the boards have inadequate support and keep coming loose. The building is leaning and the roof is slowly breaking away from the walls.

Your tax-deductible donation can help buy a large steel support beam for $300 or a secondary beam for $100.

Something must be done immediately to save the only shelter that these orphans have. The rainy season is coming and the construction engineers report that the building may not hold up to the heavy rains. The entire structure could collapse on the children and young lives could be in danger.

The engineers have assessed the situation and recommend that the building be framed with hollow steel beams. The walls, floor and roof will be reinforced with steel beams, which will stabilize and align the structure. This increases the load capacity and lifespan of the building. The stairs will be replaced with metal steps and an additional set of stairs will be put in at the other end of the building for added safety.

You can help to support these children by contributing to the purchase of one or more steel beams. Your tax-deductible donation can support a larger column or main beam for $300 and a secondary beam for $100. Won’t you buy a beam and support the only shelter, the one safe place these kids have, surrounded in the slums by poverty, disease, and crime.

After we raise the funds for these beams the work will be completed in approximately two weeks with minimum disruption of the routine of the facility. The Rockbeam Construction and Engineering Works in Nairobi is donating engineering consultation and labor for this task. We just need to raise the funds to buy the steel beams.

The orphans at Good Samaritan Children’s Home are counting on us. Their lives depend on the stability of the building that is their home. By contributing the cost of a column or beam you can support the structure and help protect the 220 children who live in this building.

Construction Update: We Need Your Help to Continue

Thanks to your donations, initial construction has begun and some of the primary beams are in place. We need your help to complete this process to stabilize the building. Now we must buy beams to reinforce the sagging floor and second story of the structure. This section still poses the greatest danger to the children.

Computer Training for Education and Business Applications

Microsoft consultants from Seattle and New York presented technology training sessions at Thiiri Center. These included Basic Computer Skills for Women`s Entrepreneurship (June 29-30, 2007) and Business and Educational Applications of Technology (July 2-3, 2007).

Local small business owners, teachers and school administrators, and members of women`s entrepreneurship groups attended the sessions, which included basic instruction and hands-on practice with computers in the center. Some had never used a computer before this, but everyone was enthusiastic and committed to learning. Practical business and educational applications were included in the advanced sessions.

Our special thanks to Iris Lemmer, James Lemmer and Craig Phillips for volunteering to share their experience and knowledge in dynamic presentations and collaboration with these groups.

Makena Textile Workshop

This women’s cooperative workshop was started in 1979 in rural Meru, Kenya, when 50 local women started an initiative to generate income to support their family and to improve the local economy in this poor rural area. Some volunteers from Norway helped the women learn how to spin, and make wool rugs with local wool and natural dyes. Later the women also begin creating tie-dyed fabrics for clothing and other items. Today there are 19 women in the group and they have invested their meager income into buying two of the warehouse sheds where they have been working. They are the only business left in what was intended to be a small enterprise zone. The women are struggling to sell their colorful handmade wool rugs.

The Makena Textile Workshop is receiving support for business, leadership and entrepreneurship training, equipment repair, improved operations management, communication and strategic marketing. The women participated in entrepreneurship training and basic computer training in June and July 2007. Their deteriorated boilers have been replaced and dyeing production has resumed. They now have ongoing mentoring from local business leaders. After this training and support their sales have already increased with more strategic planning and marketing to targeted groups. We are continuing to work with Makena in all these areas and expand this training to other women’s entrepreneurship groups in the area.

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.

Makena Textile Workshop (Meru, Kenya)

The workshop was started to improve the quality of life for the women in Meru.

The Makena Textile Workshop was started in 1979 when a group of women from churches in Meru, Kenya, joined together in an entrepreneurial business initiative to improve their quality of life, support their children, and contribute to the local economy in this poor rural area. The group of 21 women members/owners have continued the business and invested toward the purchase of the warehouse shed where they work. When we first met with them in 2007 they were struggling after years of limited sales and often no salary.

ACOHF provided funds for new equipment, boilers and an industrial sewing machine, entrepreneurship training and marketing strategies that increased sales and allowed the members to take a salary. “You have given us hope,” the women said. “This year we had a Christmas.” ACOHF has been working in partnership with the women at Makena Textile Workshop in Meru for more than seven years to help them sell their rugs and fabric and develop new products. The women have enhanced their tie-dyed products and also innovated with different types of fabrics, multicolored designs and natural dyes. They continue to make distinctive household items from these fabrics including tablecloths, napkins, placemats and drapes.

In 2013 these artisans have for the first time created intricate patterns of color on silk scarves. This initiative offers some opportunities for new partnerships and distinctive one-of-a-kind artistic products. The women have also placed their products in home goods stores in Nairobi and have delivered some limited customized work for national and international customers.

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