How Can We Help Orphans in Kenya – With 2.4 Million of Them?

By Jim Luce with Rebecca Aikman.

Becca Aikman was just reflecting a few weeks ago on the New Year with me.

We were still feeling the happy glow of the past holiday season when we basked in the sunshine of close friends and relatives, ate too much of everything – sweet and savory – and somehow still felt genuinely good about it all.

Imagine for a moment, she told me, that you were to wake up one day to discover that all that bustle of family wasn’t there anymore.  There was no one to bake the cornbread, candy the yams, or forget to buy eggs.  You were completely, alone.  It’s a frightening thought isn’t it?

AIDS orphans, here with Ripples International in Kenya, are like any other kids.

Becca has these thoughts because she is connected to CharityHelp International (CHI), an organization that sponsors orphanages around the world – including Ripples International in Kenya.  CharityHelp is a U.S.-based charity that believes the best ideas stem from within local indigenous communities.

I know CharityHelp well because they partner with the organization I founded, Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW).  They help connect child sponsors to our kids in Haiti and Indonesia.

People familiar with the world know there are problems – but there are also solutions.  And like the story of the starfish on the beach, we can only throw back into the ocean so many.  But to those returned to the sea’s embrace, we are everything.

There are 2.4 million orphans in Kenya.  Half are orphans caused by the AIDS pandemic.  According to the 2008 UNAIDS Report on Kenya, in one year was responsible for the death of between 90,000 – 110,000 people in Kenya; not just numbers, but teachers, mothers and fathers.

What happens when 100,000 adults succumb to the terrible illness of HIV/AIDS every year, and when whole families disappear before parents and aunts have time to transfer vital cultural wisdom?

Ripples was founded by Mercy Chidi along with her husband Chidi Ogbonna.

There are many organizations doing wonderful work to help these little kids not only survive, but grow up to be secure young people capable of achieving their own dreams.  Two of these are partners of CharityHelp.

One is Gua-Africa.  Gua-Africa was started by Emmanuel Jal, an ex-child soldier turned rap artist.  I met Emmanuel Jal last fall at the United Nations.  What a story!

I met ex-child soldier turned rap artist Emmanuel Jal at the U.N. last fall – what a guy!

Gua-Africa builds schools that help many child solders find their way back to school.  The other organization is Ripples International.

Orphans International Worldwide is awarding Emmanuel Jal our 2010 Global Citizenship Award for Leadership in Helping Humanity at our Webster Hall 24-hour Event for OI Worldwide Haiti (donate), Sunday, Feb. 28 in New York City.

Ripples is a grassroots organization working with vulnerable populations in the regions on the North East slope of Mount Kenya.  Ripples was founded by Mercy Chidi along with her husband Chidi Ogbonna.  Mercy is from Meru, one of the regions hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In 2001, the HIV/AIDS infection rates in Meru where the highest they had ever been, 40% by some estimations.  Soon after reading this appalling figure, this husband-and-wife team gave up their comfortable jobs in Nairobi, where Chidi worked for the world food program of the U.N., and returned to Meru.

Chidi and Mercy have big hearts.  They have dedicated their lives in an approach to development that takes the health of the whole village into consideration.  Orphaned children stay in their communities, cared for by surviving relatives or community nannies.  Family care.

This softens the trauma of losing both parents suddenly.  Keeping children close to their roots also increases the chances that children will thrive and attend school.  For these orphans, school attendance figures are up.

The goats of Ripples International, sponsored by CharityHelp International, in Kenya.

Community-based child care is just the beginning.  The concept is that strong communities make for strong children.  Take the community goat program for example.  Those caring for orphaned children – often aged grandmothers – are given a goat, sometimes its poultry or agricultural seed.

These goats help households gain an independent future through income generating activities.  Besides being cute, goats are chosen because they are tremendously hardy animals who need very little tending to thrive.

These goats provide an important source of milk protein and help households generate much needed supplementary income.  In this way, and with a little outside help, everyone benefits.  See it on YouTube!

Becca Aikman of CharityHelp International visits kids and caregiver in Mexico.

How many times have we heard this famous African adage? “It takes a village to raise a child.”  For years families and villages have been absorbing these innocent little guys, but traditionally tight knit communities are feeling the strain, and I would argue that they too need help from an even larger group, the global community.

Ripples International has been supporting HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya since 2001.  They have an orphanage for HIV/AIDS Children from new born to age three.  According to Ripples:

Many of these children have been abandoned and left to die.  The Ripples team gets calls from the hospitals, law enforcement, and others when a child has been found and needs immediate care.

Ripples provides institutionalized care and support for children who are completely abandoned without trace of relatives under the age of two irrespective of their HIV status.

Children are provided with love and care, restoring them to health in a home like environment that promotes growth and development.

The goal is to transition abandoned children to a loving home, through foster, adoption, reintegration to the community by locating extended family members, or long term placement into a safe and secure homes.

In consideration of the future of these babies as they grow, vocational training programs are integrated into the Ripples set of programs.  This vocational training ensures the continued welfare of babies, children, youth and the community as a whole.

Youth outreach activities are also provided in the form of music concerts and talent shows, schools weekend challenges, debates on various topics, workshops and seminars, counseling, games and sports and library facilities.

Ripples International’s Rescue and Shelter for Abused Girls offers a safe environment for girls that have been through the trauma of abuse.  The girls are provided with education, healing through counseling, legal help to get the perpetrators into court, and much more.

The HIV/AIDS statistics have changed significantly in the past five years – a positive shift!  According to Kenyan National AIDS Control Council:

Kenya’s HIV prevalence has halved in a decade — a dramatic and sustained decline that has rarely been seen in Africa.

The most recent modeling of sentinel surveillance data indicates that prevalence stood at 5.1% among adults at the end of 2006 compared with 10% in 1997/98.

Of the 1.1 million HIV-positive people, 18% are either children (0–15 years) or older adults (50+ years).

The epidemic in Kenya continues to rapidly reverse the significant gains in child survival that had been achieved over the decades.

HIV infection has increased child mortality despite the availability of cotrimoxazole and ART.  The national under-5 mortality rate was 97 per 1000 in 1990.  This had risen to 121 per 1000 by 2006.

Kenya is a low-income country with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$21,186 million in 2006.  Approximately 80% of its 37.2 million people live in rural areas and subsist almost entirely on agricultural production.

The epidemic threatens Kenya’s long-term ability to provide the infrastructure and services essential for robust economic growth

The majority of Kenyans rely on the agricultural sector for their livelihood, from subsistence farming through to cash crop foreign exchange earners.  It has been set back by the negative impact on labor supply.

Loss of labor due to illness and caring for sick family members has resulted in delays in agricultural production, land being left fallow, changing crop mix and dependence of labor sharing.

The epidemic has particularly affected education.  The increase in morbidity and mortality among teachers and education officials has caused a decline in educational quality.

With the introduction of free primary education in 2003, schools have more orphans and other students than teachers can cope with, further compromising the quality.

Gender disparities in education have also emerged.  Girl children, rather than boys, are expected to stay at home to care for parents or other relatives dying from AIDS-related illnesses or to work on the farm.

Children, particularly younger ones, from affected households are more likely to drop out of school (36%) because of education-related costs than children from unaffected households (25%).

Becca also mentioned that the Stephen Lewis Foundation supports Ripples International.
This foundation focuses on the grandmothers.

Written with Rebecca Aikman. Originally published in The Daily Kos, January 27, 2010.

Related Videos:

Baby Brenda RescueNew Start CenterMicael Polaski Pediatric Hospital
Brenda Boone New Hope Center (HIV/AIDS Girls Rescue Center)

To support Ripples International Kenya:

Go to CharityHelp International’s contribution page.

To read related stories and videos by / of Jim Luce, see:

First One Orphan, Then Many More (New York Times)

New Year’s Resolution: Sponsor an Overseas Child in 2010 (Huffington Post)

As if They Were His Own: Toastmaster Finds Courage to Transform World’s Orphanages (Toastmasters Magazine)

Video Interview with Jim Luce on Founding Orphans International Worldwide (Vimeo)

Chatting with UNICEF’s Director Ann Veneman (Huffington Post)

Orphans in Afghanistan Thrive Due To CharityHelp International (Daily Kos)

U.N. Birthday Rocks for Its Peacemakers (Huffington Post)

CharityHelp: An Electronic Bridge to Kids in Need (Huffington Post)

Madonna, Africa and Child Mortality (Huffington Post)

Ending Orphanages Globally (Huffington Post)

Working to Serve AIDS Orphans (Blogspot)

Embracing Family Care For Orphans (Huffington Post)

Follow Jim Luce on Twitter:

Originally published in The Daily Kos, January 27, 2010.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce ( writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (, he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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