Just two days before the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s death, Marilyn and Terry Congdon were able to witness how her memory was benefitting orphans and street children in Kenya.
They were part of a crowd at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption June 24 that viewed a presentation on the latest progress of Joining Hearts and Hands, a two-year-old charity founded by fellow Assumption parishioners William and Joanne Cala.
The charity broke ground June 8 on a prekindergarten and kindergarten school in Katito, Kenya, in memory of Hannah Congdon, Meredith McClure, Bailey Goodman, Sara Monnat and Katie Shirley. The five friends were 2007 Fairport High School graduates who were killed in a car crash June 26, 2007.
The Kenya school, named Hannah’s Hope, is progressing rapidly, the Calas noted. The first classrooms are scheduled to be finished by August, and then the charity will construct latrines and a kitchen. The construction is scheduled to be completed by January, when the new Kenyan school year begins.
Hannah Congdon had accompanied the Calas and other Fairport students on a school trip to India in 2006, where she was drawn to the orphans in the tsunami-torn areas the group visited. In 2007 she also participated in a walk to benefit African orphans.
"We miss her dearly, and on this trip, she was on our shoulder," Joanne Cala said.
Hundreds of people from Katito showed up for the June 8 groundbreaking at Christ the King Katito Catholic Parish, a new church that is under construction by the Diocese of Kisumu, the Calas said.
Members of the parish carried large rocks on their head to donate to the school’s construction, and they also brought chickens, bags of rice and other food as offerings during the Mass that took place prior to the groundbreaking.
Father Alfred C. Atemo Ogada, pastor of the Katito parish, also recorded a video message for the Congdons, thanking them and letting them know that Hannah would have new life through the children of Africa.
So far, fundraisers for Hannah’s Hope have raised more than $47,000, exceeding the original goal of raising $45,000. Since fundraisers large and small continue, the project will be able to expand, the Calas said.
"We decided to add a phase two to add grades," William Cala said.
During their presentation, the Calas also updated the group on the progress of other Joining Hearts and Hands initiatives in Kenya. During their early June trip there, they were able to visit all 65 students who receive scholarships through the charity, noting that most of the students have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
"All of you here who have scholarship kids, thank you so much," William Cala said. "You are saving lives."
During their trip, the Calas also stayed in Kurogwe, a city in northeast Tanzania, with sisters from the order of Our Lady of Usambara. The sisters run a farm, sawmill, auto body shop, repair shop and are working to start a new secondary school for girls. The Calas said they are exploring the possibility of partnering with the sisters.
The Calas also are considering partnering with other schools in Kenya as well. Joining Hearts and Hands has already expanded and outfitted the Mbaka Oromo, Iranda and Lufumbo primary schools. New projects at the schools have included building latrines, building water tanks to collect rainwater and constructing kitchens to replace the existing smoky, hazardous kitchens.
"We’re like Mr. and Mrs. Latrine," William Cala remarked. "We build so many latrines, but these basic needs have to be met before you get to esoteric, higher-level things."
The Calas also have set up microindustries that include several tailoring and horticulture projects and two dairy goat cooperatives. They have organized health camps to distribute vaccines, mosquito netting and antibiotics, to provide AIDS tests and to allow people to see physicians.
During their recent trip, Joanne Cala said she began a project of collecting the life stories of women from a Legion of Mary. Many had faced great hardships, but said they would advise Western women facing similar hardships to have faith and not give up.
That also was a message that the Calas shared with Kenyans as they told them about the prayers that people in the West said for them during violence there in December that was sparked by presidential elections.
During the violence, Joining Hearts and Hands helped sponsor food distributions and health camps for internally displaced people living in camps. Though many of the camps for the internally displaced are being dismantled, most of the displaced ethnic minorities said they do not feel it is safe to return to their homes, William Cala said.
Other challenges remain as well. Rampant inflation and the high cost of fuel have hurt Kenyans, who often purchase goods shipped by truck and who live on $1 to $2 per day.
During the presentation, the Calas spoke several times about why they have been so active in helping people in Kenya.
William Cala, former Fairport Central School District superintendent and former interim superintendent for the Rochester City School District, said that during a 2005 trip he and his wife took to Kenya and during the 2006 India trip, they realized they would be unable to return to the U.S. unchanged.
"The poorest of the poor in the U.S. are wealthy by African standards," William Cala observed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on Joining Hearts and Hands, visit www.joiningheartshands.org or call 585-377-8298.