PITTSFORD — For the price of a few lattes a month, people can help raise Kenyan orphans to age 18, notes Mary Clare Lyons of Pittsford.
Lyons is part of a local group of donors that is trying to engage sponsors to commit to paying $10 a month for 18 years — which totals just over $2,000 — to feed, clothe and educate an orphan in Kenya to age 18.
And several local supporters got the chance to hear about the need directly from Diocese of Nakuru Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba, who was in the U.S. and Canada in June to visit the Diocese of Rochester and other dioceses where priests from his diocese are serving.
"Many people have died, leaving behind very vulnerable children," Bishop Makumba said.
The bishop and Father Stephen Karani, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Community in Wayland, spoke to several local philanthropists and the Catholic Courier at St. John Fisher College in June about the need for more sponsors for AIDS orphans. Father Karani is originally from the Diocese of Nakuru and was incardinated into the Diocese of Rochester in 2006.
In the Diocese of Nakuru, three Helpers of Mercy Sisters from India operate Holy Family Children’s Home and Abandoned Home for Infants. The orphanage has grown from about 16 children to more than 40, and it has the capacity to house up to 80 children. It was recently was expanded to be able to take in infants as well, Bishop Makumba said.
Although extended families and tribes typically would take care of orphans in Kenya, sometimes families have been so decimated by disease that the remaining members are unable to care for the children, who are vulnerable to gangs and predators if abandoned. Additionally, some family members have shunned HIV and AIDS orphans because of cultural stigmas and misinformation about the transmission of HIV, Bishop Makumba said.
Slowly, though, stigmas concerning HIV and AIDS are changing.
"There has been a lot of education in Kenya on HIV," Father Karani said.
Although life-prolonging medicines are available for free through a government program, there is only enough supply for about 40 percent of people in Kenya with HIV and AIDS, Bishop Makumba said.
Desperate families sometimes abandon children at parish gates.
"Sometimes the church has to take them in," Bishop Makumba said. "One would expect there to be a facility in place by the government."
Instead volunteers and donors from the U.S. are helping the Nakuru Diocese to meet the needs.
"We want to see that every bed is filled," said orphanage supporter Mary Ellen Masterpole of Holy Family Parish in Fairmount, Onondaga County, a suburb of Syracuse. The parish, which became involved through efforts of a priest from the diocese of Nakuru who lived at the parish, has been securing sponsors and raising funds for the orphanage since 2010.
Speaking in a telephone interview, Masterpole noted that supporters are raising money now to make the orphanage’s kitchen more functional and acquire additional property for future expansions.
Yet one of the main focuses is on getting more sponsors for children, who lack other family supports. Sponsors are able to correspond with the sponsored child, and this communication establishes an important social connection for the young person, Masterpole said.
"It’s nice that there’s someone out there that they can write to and have in their life like that," Masterpole said.
The work has attracted the interest of local donors, including Lyons and Jack W. O’Leary of Fairport, a longtime philanthropist who most recently helped spearhead an effort to build St. John the Baptist Church in Soy, Kenya, which was dedicated June 24.
"If we can get things moving, maybe miracles will happen for these kids," said O’Leary, who serves as the treasurer of the Diocese of Nakuru Special Mission fund.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To get involved, visit www.myroadtokenya.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations to a fund set up by the Diocese of Syracuse may be made to Diocese of Nakuru Special Mission Fund, C/O Jack W. O’Leary, PO Box 387, Pittsford, NY 14534, or call 585-748-7872.