WOODBURY - "It takes a village to raise a village" was the theme at B. Bourgeois Antiques, Saturday afternoon January 27, as members of a local organization, the Women's Initiative for Knowledge and Survival, gathered to welcome its founder and coordinator, the Rev. Evalyn Wakhusama.
The Kenyan resident and minister visited Woodbury to conclude a two-week excursion throughout the eastern U.S., including Miami and New York, to promote efforts to raise funds towards the construction of the Nambale Residential School in western Kenya.
The one-year-old organization is seeking to provide funding through donations for the construction of the school, which hopes to house more than 128 children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has ravaged the country.
Organizers plan to use half of the school as an orphanage and the other half supplemented by tuition-paying students to supplement the facilities' needs.
WIKS has already raised enough funds to purchase seven acres of land in the desert region and is now looking to continue its efforts with the next phase of the project. The organization has all ready raised $180,000 towards the ultimate goal of $3 million.
The organizations website, www.WIKS.org, states, according to UNAIDS, The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, "Since 2001, more than one in nine children under the age of 15 years-old had lost a parent in Africa due to the AIDS virus."
Some orphaned children are taken in by their grandparents, but according to Rev. Wakhusama, "They are too poor or too old to take care of them."
Other children less fortunate are forced to live on the street, resorting to theft and prostitution for survival.
Kenya has partially addressed the AIDS pandemic in Nairobi located in the eastern part of the country, but there are few resources in the western region where support is most critical.
Rev. Wakhusama, who a received a master's of divinity and a master's of theological studies from Yale University in 2002, returned to Kenya where she is currently pastor of the St. John ACK KARI Church.
She said the goals of the orphanage project are empowerment through education and building self-confidence.
"The children have been through dehumanizing experiences and are trapped in a cycle of poverty and depression," she said. "Education will tap into their abilities."
Rev. Wakhusama said are other issues in the region range from poor child labor practices to neglect and other abuses.
"Without these efforts to help them, there is no hope for their future," she said.
Site plans displayed at the event show a sizable school building that includes a meeting hall, gathering hall, classrooms, living areas and medical facilities.
Plans for the school building include electricity and well water. The cost of the project is an estimated $3 million.
Martine Nolletti, member of the Board of Directors and adviser for WIKS, said she met Rev. Wakhusama while the minister was attending Yale.
"I was captivated by her quiet stature," Ms. Nolletti said. "She spoke of the need of a community decimated by AIDS to a point where it revealed a critical mass. Evalyn is very powerful and I was inspired to do something to give back."
Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other difficulties in the region, WIKS endorses scholarships to educate young women, develop children's programs, supplement higher education and fund meal programs.
"The goals are to empower women and discuss avenues for survival for the children," Ms. Nolletti said.
Ms. Nolletti said the organization's 26 active members in the local community have been conducting craft fairs and yoga classes to raise funds and have recently produced a documentary film about Nambale. The organization plans to show the film at upcoming fundraisers.
"We have fun in making this happen, sharing in a part of the world that needs it the most," said Ms. Nolletti.
Rev. Wakhusama concluded her stay in the U.S. by presenting a sermon at the Christ Episcopal Church, Bethany, Sunday, January 28, which is a sister church to St. John in Kenya.
The church recently donated $13,000 from its 200th Anniversary Fund to support the land purchase. The Rev. Peter Stebinger, rector of the church, serves as chief U.S. fund raiser for the project.
Rev. Wakhusama noted that her message centered around the progress of her work on the orphanage.
"We have been very busy at home and I want the people to know that we are getting support," she said.
Ms. Nolletti reported that following Rev. Wakhusama's sermon, an anonymous member of the congregation issued a challenge to WIKS, pledging to donate $90,000 if the group can collect an additional $45,000.
Those seeking more information or wish to make a donation may visit www.WIKS.org.