It’s the Youthlinc philosophy to partner with impoverished communities so that those who are struggling can receive assistance with basic necessities. We forget that in the U.S., our government provides us with clean water, schools, and to some degree, basic medical care for those in extreme poverty. How hard would it be to live without these services we take for granted? A visit to Tharaka, Kenya answers that question.

Like those without resources or opportunity anywhere, when given a chance, Kenyan villagers rise to take our hand with determination and pride.
In our four year partnership with Kiamuri, Kenya, we have worked together to establish clean water sources, classrooms, community health, vocational training, and microcredit loans. The people of Kiamuri have a chance at a better future.

With so many impoverished communities to help, so many places where our teams can know they have made a real difference, Youthlinc moves on to Kajuki, Kenya after this June 2011.

My site visit to Kajuki began as site visits always begin, by meeting the community leader. Father Joe was stationed in Kajuki when he was ordained as a Catholic priest nine years ago. At that time, there was one primary school and one secondary school for 40,000 people – his parishioners — living in a 200 sq. kilometer area. Kajuki receives as much rainfall as Utah – 400 mm/yr. It’s a desert without irrigation.

The streams that run through this area – weak in times of drought such as now — are far apart and used by many animals. They are a polluted water source. Water must be boiled before drinking, but often isn’t. Irrigation systems would help sustain family gardens, and supplement diets of boiled maize and beans.

Father Joe is a dynamo. He actively seeks donors, lobbies a recalcitrant Kenyan government, and works around the clock to help the people of Kajuki. He’s organized a community leadership team, and managed to get the government to build another secondary and primary school. He’s begun to build Sacred Heart pre-school and primary school – all the way to class 6 (sixth grade). The school is for the children of the extreme poor he finds in his ministry across his wide parish – children with nothing but intelligence and promise. Someday, he hopes for a Sacred Heart secondary school.

Now, a few teenage girls attend a ‘polytechnic’ – a dilapidated wooden shed with a couple of beat up sewing machines where they make school uniforms. A Rotary International Grant funded by Utah Rotary Clubs will provide new sewing machines soon.

All of these structures are very humble, and all but Sacred Heart do not have a reliable water source or adequate dormitories for the children who live too far away to walk each day. Dorms are corrugated tin structures with dirt floors and no lighting at night. Pit latrines are simple deep holes in the ground.

And so there are many needs for Youthlinc teams. Sacred Heart primary needs a water tank for rain catchment, a kitchen, bathrooms – and a serious renovation to make it safe. Can you imagine your children attending this pre-school? And feeling lucky that they are?

Kajuki secondary needs solar panels so the students can study at night. Now nine lanterns are the only evening illumination – and it gets dark in Kenya (on the equator) every night at 6pm.

The ‘science lab’ is pathetic, and we can easily make a commitment to remedy that room. Eventually, we can ask Utah Rotary clubs to help fund grants to provide bathrooms and showers, and hopefully, we’ll find donors to upgrade the dangerous dorms students now sleep in.

Community leaders are interested in partnering with all Youthlinc committees, but especially vocational training (to upgrade the ‘polytechnic’) and microenterprise, to give people a chance to start a small business. For example, tamarind trees grow wild here, and the fruit has culinary and medicinal uses. Villagers would like to start some kind of enterprise around this product.

I’ve lost track of the number of site visits I’ve done for Youthlinc over the years. No place was drier or dustier than Kajuki, and on no other site visit, did children approach the community leader and say they were hungry. It’s truly enough to break your heart. But if Father Joe and his flock can soldier on, making things a bit better day after day, I know Youthlincers – and our generous donors – can find a way to lend a hand.

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