The Ojola Children’s Project: A Decade of Support and Collaboration

Background

Syprose07The Ojola Children’s Project (formally called “Ngoge Children’s Home” by our Kenyan partners) grew out of a collaborative effort with the Odero family in the village of Ojola in Western Kenya. In 2002, Syprose Odero, a schoolteacher and old friend of Cindy Hoehler-Fatton, took in several young children who had recently lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Syprose appealed for assistance in feeding, clothing and educating her charges, and the members of Sojourners responded generously. Fortunately, in the decade since then, HIV infection rates across sub-Saharan Africa have declined. Fewer people are dying from the dreaded disease, thanks to the introduction of antiretroviral therapies. Nevertheless, UNICEF reports that approximately 2.6 million Kenyan children are growing up without one or both parents, and HIV incidence in Nyanza Province, where Ojola is located, remains high. So while the world may have “halted and begun to reverse the epidemic,” many communities in developing countries continue to grapple with the disease and its aftermath (2010 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDs Epidemic , p. 5).

Shelter, Schooling, Food, and Medical Care

ChildrenresidenceunderconstructionThe Ojola Children’s Project (OCP) supports 6-8 children per year by providing money for school fees, food, medical care and other basic necessities. Since its inception, the project has sponsored more than 25 different children. In 2003, the small earthen house in which the children were staying collapsed during heavy rains. Luckily, no one was hurt, but Syprose quickly decided to use her late husband’s pension to begin constructing a safe, permanent, residence for the children. Over the next four years, with the help of donations from Sojourners, two brick and cinder-block “dormitories” were completed. The buildings have three rooms a piece and face each other “for security purposes.” Today, the children occupy a couple of rooms, while others are rented to teachers and various tenants. Not all of the children we sponsor reside in the Odero compound; some live with relatives—kin who need help meeting the needs of the children they have taken in. Some OCP youth have successfully completed secondary school and are now pursuing diploma courses and/or technical training elsewhere.

UntitledOver the last decade the cost of secondary school has risen. Currently, in 2012, tuition for “day scholars” (i.e., students who do not board) in the Ojola area averages between $225 and $275 annually. Students in Form IV (the last year of high school) pay a bit more to cover expenses associated with preparing for, and taking, the KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exams. In 2003, the Kenyan government introduced free primary education for all, but the cost of uniforms, books, writing material, and exam fees must still be covered by students’ parents or sponsors. (See the list below for more details.)

In addition to shelter and schooling, the OCP provides $95 a month for food for the children and their care-givers, as well as a number of elderly widows who stop by Ngoge Home when they are in need. This amount pays for a basic diet comprising mostly maize, beans, fish, and vegetables.

Over the years, the members of Sojourners have supported the Ojola children and youth in a variety of ways. Our Sunday School kids have written letters to their Kenyan “agemates,” and even donated their annual offering to the project in 2004. We have collected headscarves for the widows, and sent “success cards” to Ojola students sitting the KCSE. Money from Sojourners has helped buy Christmas gifts and soccer balls for the youth, and covered the cost of critical medical care. For example, in 2005, when one of the boys came down with typhoid, our financial support literally saved his life. That same year, the money we sent paid for a much-needed operation for Syprose.

The Service and Missions Committee (SAM) has facilitated our work by extending considerable support to OCP. Early on, SAM contributed funds for school fees and housing for three years in a row (2003-05). In subsequent years, SAM has awarded special grants to enable OCP “graduates” to further their education. For instance, Victor Ochieng completed a two-year course at Eregi Teacher’s College in 2011.

Striving for greater self-sufficiency

VictorOchiengandManasesOdero061 In 2006, the Ojola Children’s Project was approved by the Sojourners Church Council as a sponsored project. In 2008 a social justice group was formed to sustain the project. When Cindy visited Ojola later that year, she met with our Kenyan partners and discussed their ideas for income-generating projects that would move the Ngoge Children’s Home toward greater self-sufficiency. While the Ojola Group is enthusiastic about some of these ideas—especially a proposed tailoring shop that would train young women while generating funds for Ngoge Home—we decided that our first priority is to maintain our current level of educational support. We hope to offer seed money for one or more of the proposals when/if funds become available. That said, some of the money we send has already been used with an eye toward self-sufficiency. For example, with our support, Syprose bought a few cows, whose milk can both be sold and consumed by the children. Several years ago, our contributions enabled the Oderos to launch a small poultry business, which supplied the household with meat and eggs, but also generated income. (Unfortunately, the business folded when disease wiped out several sets of chicks, but it may be revived again soon.)

In 2009, Syprose turned the administration of the project over to one her adult daughter, Christine, who is a trained accountant. The Ojola stakeholders revived the Board of Governors by bringing in the local chief and a number of well-respected women from the area.  Together they took steps to ensure more community involvement and oversight, and conducted a review of the project that identified weaknesses as well as strengths. In addition, they drafted a long-term strategic plan, which Cindy shared with the Ojola Group. Christine continues to manage the project’s finances, sending periodic updates and balance sheets to Cindy. In turn, we send her a modest stipend for her work.

Meetings and Activities

 Stakholdersmtg5The Ojola Group consists of about a dozen members. We generally meet after church during the regularly scheduled Social Justice Sundays, and stay in touch through email. We discuss the many challenges our Kenyan partners face, and try to decide how best to respond to their requests. We make periodic presentations to the congregation in an effort to solicit support, and, in the past, have regularly applied for funding from SAM. Thanks to the generosity of local glass artist Bruce Galloway, our most successful fundraising event thus far has been the annual Advent Fair, for which Bruce donates dozens of his handcrafted ornaments. Recently, David Marshall created a miniature replica of the Ojola “dormitories,” with a slot in the roof, so that it functions as a piggy bank. The very first Sunday it was displayed, church members stuffed it with bills and checks totaling $ 200! We hope to find more ways to capture people’s imagination and raise awareness about the lives of our friends in Ojola. If you would like more details about the OCP, please contact Cindy Hoehler-Fatton at chh3a@virginia.edu for a copy of our annual report.

How You Can Help

Join the Ojola Social Justice Group! Our group may be viewed as a charity, but we also see our work as a matter of social justice. In sending what might be considered “remittances” to our brothers and sisters in Ojola, we enable them to meet their basic needs and pursue education so that they can improve their lives and the lives of those around them. In our own small way, we act in the spirit of redressing some of the glaring disparities within our so-called global community. We welcome your ideas. It costs approximately $5,000 per year to run the OCP at its current size. We need to come up with creative ways to sustain it. If you are already committed to another social justice group, but would like to support OCP, please consider a financial gift. (Checks can be made out to Sojourners UCC, with “Ojola” in the memo line.)

As you can see from the list below, a little bit goes a long way!

Schooling

$ 63           1 secondary school uniform (includes shoes, belt, tie cardigan, shirt/blouse & skirt/trousers)
$ 36           1 primary school uniform
$ 24           books for 1 primary school student for 1 year
$ 73           books and exam preparatory material for 1 secondary student for 1 year
$ 225-275 school fees, on average, for 1 secondary student for 1 year.

Food

$ 2.50       1 basket of dried omena (minnows); $60 buys omena for 10-12 people for 12 weeks.
$ 2.50       1 kilo of rice
$ 4            1 kilo of beans
$ 11          cooking oil for one month for 10-12 people
$ 36          1 large sack of maize

Household items and other basics

$ 2.50      1 plastic washing basin
$ 4            1 blanket
$ 14          1 set of sheets
$ 15          soccer ball
$ 16          1 medium-sized cooking pot
$ 75          1 durable mattress
$ 63          Project manager’s stipend for one month
$ 25          Cook’s stipend for one month