By Mumbi Mwangi
On July 7th 2006, while on a fact finding mission to Kenya on behalf of NGATHA International, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with several women groups about their community self-help development projects in Ndaragwa division, Nyahururu, Kenya. Due to the fact that this area is part of Kenya’s Semi-Arid region, frequent draught and famine conditions have immensely exacerbated the level of poverty in many families. Despite the deplorable status and harsh economic conditions, women in Ndaragwa have organized and initiated various self-help community-based projects to improve their lives and those of their children. However, their efforts are greatly hampered by lack of material and financial resources.
One thing that touched me the most is the plight of orphans in the area. Poverty, compounded by the devastating HIV/Aids pandemic has contributed to a high number of orphans. When famine strikes orphans are the most affected. And, because such children are always at the mercies of the already impoverished community for provision, their schooling and livelihoods are adversely affected. It is heartbreaking to see women who are already overly burdened with their household tasks taking up and extending their mothering and care-giving roles and responsibilities to the orphans thus stretching even thinner their meager resources.
The main objective of the orphanage is to give the most needy and at-risk-orphans a home-like environment that will cater to their total well-being. The care of millions of orphans has become one of the greatest challenges facing many of the African countries including Kenya. In the past, the burden was often assumed by the extended family but unfortunately many people are experiencing an acute economic hardship. NGATHA International Children’s Home opened its doors to 60 (Sixty) needy children in January 2007 and is currently taking care of their daily upkeep, including food, clothing, health and counseling. We also started a school providing primary education from Kindergarten to 6th grade. Because of the acute need for resources to run the orphanage, I started to mobilize the students at St Cloud State University to get involved in fundraising activities on campus to benefit the orphanage. In addition to working with student organizations, I asked several faculty members to include NGATHA International orphanage project in the list of the service learning opportunities for their students. I have had tremendous support from such programs as Social Responsibility, Human Relations and Women’s Studies as well as students’ organizations such as OPAA, African Students Association, and Women’s Action for Liberation and Leadership on campus.
In line with the university’s mission to provide our students with international experience through globalizing our programs, this project has opened up new avenues of engagement with global issues for SCSU students. The project has also enhanced my teaching, scholarship, and contribution to the university and the community as stipulated in Article 22 of EPT. I have begun to see new lines of connection between teaching, creative scholarship and research emerging out of my teaching of the International Perspectives on Women and Gender, Women and Development in Third World, and the Study Abroad to Tanzania and the subsequent linking of these courses with Global/Transnational/Postcolonial activism through students’ initiatives and involvement with international outreach projects on campus through NGATHA International. NGATHA International hopes to establish networks around its projects with the aim to connect the SCSU students with the St Cloud community and with the larger global community.
NGATHA website: www.ngathainternational.org