Reverend Teri Thomas, Northminster Presbyterian Church
In front of us sit 144 elementary school children, almost half of the total student body. Their uniforms are slightly dirty and tattered; only about half have shoes of any kind. They are smiling and attentive and curious about the “mzungu” (white people) sitting before them. They also are orphans.
We are visiting Chulaimbo Primary School near Kisumu, Kenya. As part of my sabbatical journey, I wanted to see the school lunch program funded through the Indianapolis Hunger Initiative in partnership with the Umoja Project. What we are seeing is incredible, shocking and challenging.
These orphans have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Some live with grandparents or other relatives. Many live in child-headed households. Most of them will eat only one meal a day, and it will be a plate of corn and beans provided by the Indianapolis congregations that make up the hunger initiative. When school is out, they do not eat.
This year, the hunger initiative will provide 526,500 meals to children in 15 schools surrounding Kisumu. That will feed 2,700 children at a cost of $0.087 per meal. For only $17 a year, a child will be fed, encouraged to stay in school and have a healthier future. But the issues go far deeper than food.
The school buildings around us were built in 1972, and some have been officially condemned. They are still in use because there are no other options. The government requires one toilet hole for every 25 students. In this school of 400, there are only four usable holes. The school desperately needs a new water tank (or better yet, a well) so students don’t have to drink from the contaminated stream and risk cholera. That would cost $300 it does not have.
Umoja provides kerosene so children can study at home after dark. It provides food assistance for the child-headed households, school uniforms and an occasional blanket. If students do well enough on national exams at the end of eighth grade, Umoja will pay $325 per year for secondary school tuition and expenses. Negotiations are just beginning with Comtiah College to provide post-secondary education and job training.
Indianapolis Hunger Initiative, Umoja and Heifer International have been working together to develop income-generating projects for the schools so some of these other needs can be met and so the lunch program can be self-supporting. The partnership of faithful folks in Indianapolis and Kenya working together is making a difference in the lives of these children, their teachers and guardians, the communities and these mzungu, who simply watch and pray and learn and hope.