By Keith Clouten
Project Manager, Rapogi Primary School
When UNICEF published last year’s orphan statistics, our shrinking attention span was more likely to bring a tired yawn than concerted action. Cold, hard facts like 56 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa (more than 1.5 times Canada’s population) or 3 million in Kenya (that’s half of Toronto) no longer seem to appall us. We forget that many of these kids die before they turn five. The rest barely survive extreme poverty, have little or no access to school, are sick and malnourished, or become “street kids.”
HIV/AIDS has been a major contributor to these tragic statistics. A Kenyan widow shook her head as she commented: “In the past, people used to care for the orphans and love them, but these days they are so many, and many people have died who could have assisted them, and therefore orphanhood is a common phenomenon, not strange. The few who are alive cannot support them.”
In Migori Province – one of Kenya’s western regions that struggles to cope with the long-term impact of HIV on its society – supporters with A Better World Canada and from Australia have teamed with a local community to provide a school, housing, and three meals a day for about 100 orphans. Five years ago, Rapogi Lwanda had no school and struggled to assist many orphaned children in the neighbourhood. Today, the community operates a fine 8-grade school serving nearly 400 children and a dormitory housing 84 orphaned boys and girls.
The school’s first grade-eight class included 8 orphans. All eight passed their national examinations, and two topped their class. The boy, Elvis, is now enrolled in one of the best high schools in Kenya, thanks to a generous sponsor; the girl, Daisy, is also in high school this year, but only because of local support.
The Rapogi Lwanda community is blessed to have a talented, dynamic, and university-educated young man as its CBO school chairman. Wycliffe Odhiambo feels a deep concern for orphans in the neighborhood. “Many orphan boys and girls drop out of school because of lack of tuition for them to continue their studies,” he explains. “If God blesses us to start a vocational school, we can train and mentor more than one hundred orphans every year.”
Elaborating on the vocational school concept, Wycliffe talks excitedly about several interesting possibilities. “A dressmaking school will teach young girls to sew, so in the future they can start their own clothing business. Boys could learn tent-making because many organizations want to rent tents for community functions. A bakery could teach girls how to cook and bake bread. Boys could learn carpentry, build school desks, do welding jobs.” They could also repair bicycles and motorbikes, both popular modes of transport in rural areas where they get beaten up on the rough roads.
“We thank God for the donor group from A Better World Canada, for their support always,” says Wycliffe. “Because of their support, these orphans now have a place they can call their home. And the vocational school, when built, will give these boys and girls a future.”