The Umoja Partnership centers on the need for humane and compassionate care for the children of Chulaimbo, Kenya. This area near Lake Victoria was (and is) hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. This has led to countless children being orphaned by one or both parents. These kids are often single heads of household and continue to live in the small hut where their parents resided. They are unable to sustain their subsistence, as little income is available to secure food, clothing, and other basic needs. The ability to obtain an education single-handedly is impossible… if the older siblings were absent, then who would look after the little ones? Recognizing the need to design a program that would include all of the services required for children to be children… the concept of Guardians was conceived.
The Guardians are the heart and soul of Umoja. These (often elderly) men and women have stepped forward to assume the position of adult head of household and willingly undertake responsibility for their “adopted” family. This has allowed the Umoja project to achieve its primary goal: educating and supporting children living in abject poverty. Few of us have a clear appreciation of the level of commitment and love it takes to become a Guardian; fewer of us would assume the responsibility. Yet… their unwavering support for the children of Kenya remains is the pillar around which Umoja stands.
Each year Jim and I visit the Umoja Partnership in Kenya. Each year the Guardians are central to our welcome. They travel great distances (19 elementary school districts) to welcome us with open arms and gifts. They continue to donate a monthly fee of their own to help sustain the project. They clearly understand that the hope for the future country is in the hands of its children.
We cannot thank them enough for undertaking the daily wear and tear of raising children. The Umoja Partnership supports the educational fees for primary and often secondary education. It gives 3,400 orphaned children one protein-rich meal every day (with field-to-table purchase of food in the immediate region). It supplies uniforms, books, and other materials necessary for learning. Hygiene products for both boys and girls are distributed, so that bodily concerns do not prohibit school attendance. A “Link Teacher” provides the liaison between the household Guardian and the individual school enabling frequent and accurate exchange of information. There are so many critical needs that are met by the partnership, it is impossible to list them… but central to all the surrounding support services is the key ingredient… the unconditional love of the Guardians.
This fast paced world of ours is compressing childhood into an ever smaller and smaller time frame. Children with the freedom to be kids are a concept that seems so fleeting. Time is perhaps the greatest gift a Guardian gives. Time for these orphaned children to leave responsibility for others behind and be fully present at school with their peers.
We salute this particular group of men and women and recognize them as the heroes of Umoja. They are the definition of sustainability at its foundation… love.
Pam and Jim Lemons