NAPLES — Twenty-nine needy and disabled children in Kenya now have better living conditions, thanks to a group of people living half a world away.
In late June 2004, Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community began its St. John’s Small Home Outreach project. Fifty donors and several volunteers have raised more than $13,000 for the home through this effort, according to Katie Robinson, coordinator of the outreach.
Built in 1985, St. John’s Small Home is located in Subukia, Kenya, in the Diocese of Nakuru. Subukia is the hometown of Father John Gathenya, a parochial vicar and sacramental minister for Our Lady of the Lakes. Needy and disabled children receive nourishment, education and medication at St. John’s Small Home, which is one of seven such homes within the Nakuru Diocese.
Since its inception, St. John’s Small Home has been supported mainly by St. John’s Parish, which is about 60 feet from the home. The home is also next to Our Lady of Victory School, where students attend first through eighth grades. After learning about the home and its connection to Father Gathenya, Our Lady of the Lakes parishioners began raising money to fund much-needed repairs at the school.
Charles Gitau, coordinator of planning and development for the Diocese of Nakuru, visited St. Januarius Parish in Naples on April 20 to thank members of the community for their support.
“This to me is a dream come true. I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people who have made a big difference in the lives of 29 children,” Gitau said. “St. John’s Small Home is now a model of how a community can take care of another one so many thousands of miles away.”
Gitau showed a video documentary of the home, making special mention of areas that had been renovated or repaired through donations from Our Lady of the Lakes.
Through these donations, ceiling lights and adequate ventilation were installed in the home’s bedrooms. The cracked walls inside the bedrooms and on the outside of the home were repaired, and an emergency-exit door was put in. A ceiling, window and new electric lights were installed in the kitchen, and new tables were constructed for the dining hall. The kitchen was expanded, and ventilation in the home’s bathrooms was increased.
The condition of the home in the video was in stark contrast to another video of the home shown at St. Januarius in September, Robinson said. She was overwhelmed by the improvements that had been made since the first video was recorded over the summer, she said. Robinson was also glad to finally meet Gitau in person after exchanging frequent e-mails with him for almost a year.
“So many times we had e-mailed one another about the best way to help the St. John’s children, and to finally meet him was quite amazing,” Robinson said.
Once repairs and improvements are complete, Gitau and other diocesan officials in Kenya hope to build a vocational school near the small home. Many of the home’s residents are not able to continue their schooling past eighth grade because of their disabilities or limited funds, Gitau said. After completing eighth grade these students would benefit from going on to a vocational school, where they could gain skills that would help them generate some income, Gitau said.
At the proposed vocational school, students would be able to learn to sew and make dresses and clothes, do some basic computer work or take courses in mechanical or electrical work. Some students might be trained to take care of children with disabilities, so they could take care of younger students residing at the small home, Gitau added.
People from the small home and Subukia have already started to gather rocks and pile them at the site of the proposed vocational school. These rocks will eventually be used to build the school, Gitau said, and he is sure more people from the neighborhood will help with the construction once they see some progress being made.
“For eight years they’re taken care of, they’re given love, they’re given shelter. We put so much into the home, and we get so close to the children in the home, and we have to remember that at level eight they’re really on their own,” Robinson said, urging her fellow parishioners to consider extending the outreach to include the vocational-school project.