Bend and Africa
We may not have all been to Africa, but we have all been exposed to it. The hollow faces of starvation. The innocent eyes and swollen bellies of barefoot orphans begging on the streets. For many people living in Africa, reality is a desolate picture. UNICEF’ s emergencies communication officer, Patrick McCormick, has seen his share of desperate conditions. His work with UNICEF began in 1994 in Rwanda and has since brought him to places like Kenya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and most recently Myanmar, where a typhoon in May killed more than 10,000 people. When it comes to making a difference, McCormick insists that it takes more than just dollars to facilitate changes. “It’s a mindset as much as it is money,” said McCormick. “Support from the public is hugely influential in the work that UNICEF, and others like it, does. People need to know that some of the greatest changes come from the bottom up. Future generations are counting on our assistance so they can survive the first years of life, so that they can go to school, and grow up to lead a productive and healthy life. They are counting on our hope and belief in them so that they can hope and believe in themselves.” Here in Bend, some extraordinary people have heard this call for help and have rushed to the aid of this continent thousands of miles away. Though they’ve taken different paths, their purpose is the same—to bring hope to those whose voices have gone unheard. —Nichole Patric.
e ight-year-old Mwaba only recently started to go to school. Mwaba, a Zambian, now eats regular meals and finally lives in a real home. When she was an infant, her mother contracted AIDS. Upon learning of her infection, her husband left, in an act that has de - fined the AIDS generation in Africa. Abandoned and living in a desperately poor compound by the tracks near the station, her mother attempted to provide for them both, while slowly dying. With no means to seek medical treatment, the illness took over. By the time Mwaba was about 18 months old, her mother died. Mwaba crawled, sat and waited in the shanty by her mother’s body for an unknown number of days and possibly weeks. One day a neighbor saw this tiny girl crawling along the tracks and brought her to the police. Several days later, the po - lice made the connection between the infant and the body of the woman. During the next few years, Mwaba lived in many places, with neighbors or extended family members, but she was often left on her own. She got no schooling, little food and was scraping out a hopeless life in the streets where she was abused. Now, living in a special home for orphans and vulnerable children, since January, Mwaba is late in starting school; but her hopes are high. Aspiring medical student, Malerie Pratt, a Bend native, and her teacher, Marlena Bellavia, from Belgium, The Congo and, for the past twenty-five years, Bend, are now looking out for Mwaba. Because of these women and others, children like Mwaba can have a future and place to call home in the midst of a dire situation. For the past five years, Bellavia, a foreign language profes - sor at Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and her student, Pratt, 22, have been involved, either academically or with their nonprofit organization, called Vima Lupwa Homes. The surprising result of their relationship has benefited children, orphaned mainly due to AIDS, in Zambia, a country of about 12.2 million. Zambia ranks among the top ten countries with the greatest population afflicted with HIV worldwide, accord - ing to the United National Biennial Zambia Country Report for 2006-2007. As of last year, Zambians could expect to live to be only 39, primarily due to the AIDS scourge, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Facing these challenges, Pratt and Bellavia opened a home for orphaned and vulnerable children on the outskirts of Lu 74 BEND LIVING • s E pt E m BE r/octo BE r 2008 s E pt E m BE r/octo BE r 2008 • BEND LIVING 75 anshya, a Zambian city about the size of Salem. By December 2006, through hard work and planning, they had built a self- sustainable home called, the Vima Lupwa Home. Lupwa means `family’ in Bemba, a widely spoken language in Zambia. “It took a lot of help from the local communities of Bend, with grassroots fundraisers, garage and bake sales, car washes, powder-puff football games—put on by the student council at Bend Senior High—and many caring local sponsors.” Bella - via said. Their Zambian partner, Violet Membe, and the local people were instrumental in getting it off the ground. Vima Lupwa is dif - ferent than other Afri - can orphanage models that bring in troves of cash, pour a lot of it into construction and seal it with outside ideology. “The main difference is that we are within and the others are on the outside,” said Membe. Instead Vima Lupwa works with people from the community and uses local resources to pro - vide a homey, non-in - stitutional atmosphere for twelve children and teaches and practices the native Zambian cul - ture. The boys and girls learn to make their own hand tools and to sew. They also raise chickens, grow their own vegeta - bles and fruit trees, and take responsibility for the daily chores of this large household. “Everybody pitches in there,” said Bellavia, “The children fetch water, pick the corn and go to the mill to grind the maize.” These are useful skills they’ll need after they leave the home. “Education is a priority for the children,” said Pratt. “The children attend local schools, some for the first time, and are catching up with their peers.”Ultimately, local self-sustainability and giving back to the community are the organization’s aims. “One of our goals is community outreach where we can bring in local successful workers to provide training to our children and the people in our community,” Pratt said. “Another goal is to instill environmental practices, like composting, that will benefit not only the environ - ment, but also the growing possibilities of crops,” added Pratt. Eventually she plans on building a community center where workshops will be held to teach basic agricul - tural skills that were lost during the rise and fall of the regional copper mining industry, dental care will be offered and English—the main lan - guage of Zambia—will be taught.English is taught at school, and most people who’ve been educated speak English as well, since Zambia was for - merly Northern Rhode - sia, an English protec - torate,” Bellavia said. The Vima Lupwa or - ganization also provides jobs by using only local resources and people for any work necessary. They recently started a bicycle rental and re - pair business, for ex - ample. “It’s about what the community wants and needs,” said Pratt. “It’s an organic process and it’s how everything has taken shape; we ask Violet and our Zambian board how they perceive being able to expand and we provide empowerments. ... The less they need me there, the better it is so I can focus on getting funds there.” Having one of the largest populations of people infected with AIDS, Zambia’s needs are daunting, but this doesn’t discourage Bel - lavia or Pratt. “One day, one child, one project at a time, we are helping break and reverse the cycle of poverty and suffering,” said Bellavia
Nomad Charities Janette Hofmann was only looking for an escape from Alaska’s harsh winters. She ended up with her life’s purpose. Hofmann is the executive director for Nomad Charities, which, this summer, completed construction of an orphanage to serve dozens of home - less children in Kibwezi, Kenya. A decade ago, she was a young interior design graduate beginning her career in Ketchikan, Alaska. In exchange for her annual pay raise, she’d take two months off and travel to warm destina - tions—first Nepal, next Cambodia, then Thailand and finally Kenya. At the end of each trip, she’d volunteer at a local orphanage. “I wanted a way to give back,” Hofmann said. “These children just grab at your heart.” Ultimately it was more than just the children that motivated her. “I’d see so much corruption,” she recalled. “There would be so much money going in, but it wasn’t going where the books said it was.” In Alaska in 2000, Hofmann sat down with her computer and a mission. “It didn’t take long to realize this is what I am meant to do,” she said. Today, Nomad Charities ensures that 84 cents out of every dollar do - nated goes directly to Kenya. The balance goes to money transfers costs. All operational costs for Nomad, which is based in the O’Kane building in
owntown Bend and run by Hofmann and her twin sister, Jenn Hofmann, come through grants written by Jenn. At the outset, the Hofmanns knew they wanted to focus on one com - munity—Kibwezi, Kenya. “We both love Africa; it’s raw,” said Hofmann. “And we wanted to stay small, to really be able to make a difference.” In 2005, they bought five acres of land in Kibwezi for $5,000 and began saving to build an orphanage. They’d go to Africa, work on the project un - til the money ran out, and then come home to raise more money. A Bend Rotary grant plus $100,000 raised in Nomad’s 2007 Climb for a Cause charity ascent of Kilimanjaro got them the final distance. The African orphanage became a Bend community project. Bend builder Pat Huffman, with assistance from a Nairobi contractor, built the 7,200-square-foot orphanage. The finished structure has its own well and is powered by solar panels purchased with a grant from Bend’s E2 Pow - ered. The sisters, together with the help of private donations and grants, completed the orphanage this summer and named it, Gail’s House, after their grandmother who died two years ago. In the AIDS-ravaged country, more than 500 orphans, ages 5 to 10, vied for a space in a facility designed to accommodate thirty-six children. The orphanage operates on a $21,000 annual budget that includes: wages for two caretakers, one accountant, one cook, two guards, plus for the chil - dren, three meals each day, school fees, uniforms, clothing, shoes, all medi - cal expenses “and lots and lots of love,” Hofmann said. “You really can make a huge difference in a child’s life with a small amount.”
At Grandmothers’ Education Fund Africa (GEFA) on Bend’s west side, operations are modest, but its impact is large. In fact, the only indica - tion that Suzanne King’s living room is GEFA headquarters is a handful of GEFA flyers strewn on her sofa. King, known to most locals as a former Olympic Nordic skier and five-time winner of the Pole Pedal Paddle, is the treasurer. Janice Hall, her mother, is the organization’s director. Hall and King named their nonprofit after the Kenyan grandmothers who raise their grandchildren, often because their parent or parents have died from AIDS. A decade ago, Hall moved to Nakuru, Kenya as part of her church’s mission to build a school. For most of the following nine years, Hall was the anchor to the church’s mission house in Nakuru. Within the first year of her mother’s work in Africa, King and her husband, Mark, visited Ke - nya, as well. “One of the first things that we saw were these kids, hanging around outside the school fence,” recalled King, who teaches Spanish at High Desert Middle School. “It was a startling realization, and an imme - diate motivation, to realize that not all kids got to go to school.” Hall, too, had noticed the children, and understood that the cost of school fees, a uniform, hot lunch and books were prohibitive to many Kenyan families. Hall, a former teacher, began supporting a handful of children’s school funding on her own—and on the sly, as it was not her church’s formal mission to pay for children’s schooling. “It started very in nocently,” recalled Hall, “but I had to keep it a secret.” Soon the Kings were helping, too, spreading the word among their circle of friends in Bend. More money brought the opportunity to sponsor more children in Hall’s se - cret Kenyan project. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago, however, when Hall formally left her work with the church, that all of these clandestine efforts were formalized and GEFA was officially born. Today, through private sponsorships, GEFA supports the schooling of 150 Kenyan children. “We’re still very grass roots,” said King, who attracts sponsors and through their networks of friends, and by posting profiles of the young Kenyan beneficiaries. The cost of a sponsorship for a year is modest by Bend standards at $100 to $700. Nursery and public primary school is $100 a year. Private primary school is generally $200, secondary schools range from $300 to $600. Those costs covers school fees, uni - forms supplies such as books, paper and pencils and lunch at school. Some sponsors and King’s students exchange letters and drawings with the Kenyan students. “It’s not too speedy, but it gives a lasting impression,” said King. One of GEFA’s earliest sponsored kids, Duke Sitemba, is studying at Moi Univer - sity in Eldoret, Kenya to become a teacher. Two of Sitemba’s siblings, high-schooler, Geoffrey, and nursey-schooler, Zeke, are also GEFA supported. The Sitemba family scratches out an existence selling small staple items from their home. Need in Nakuru still outweighs care. Hall admits it’s hard for her to turn away a needy child, even if GEFA doesn’t have a sponsor. “There are still a lot of us spending our own money to cover the kids,” she said. “It’s hard when you see the need—and I know what helping these kids means.