C.B. group helps kids in Kenya
BILL SPURR FEATURES WRITER
Published April 21, 2014 – 6:35am
John MacInnis of Judique travelled to Kenya to lend a hand at the St. Charles Lwanga School, which is supported by the group Inverness County Cares, of which MacInnis is a member. It started as supper for a guest in a Cape Breton village, it turned into an all encompassing desire to give aid to destitute children halfway around the world.
John MacInnis is from Judique, where each fall students from the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University stop on their way back to Antigonish from a visit to Margaree.
Villagers each take three or four of the international visitors home for supper. The year before last, a man named John Kennedy Omondi Oronjo, a brother in the St. Charles Lwanga order, came to eat at the MacInnis home.
“He started telling us about the school and all that kind of stuff. I never said anything at that time, but I went to Antigonish maybe three weeks later and took him out for a drive,” MacInnis remembers. “That’s basically how it happened.”
What happened is that MacInnis, an electrician who has to commute to British Columbia for work, told a group he’s a member of about Kennedy’s school in Kenya, a school for AIDs orphans, for kids abandoned by their families or whose parents can’t look after them.
The group, appropriately named Inverness County Cares, immediately shared MacInnis’s conviction that there was something they could do, especially when they heard the brother was feeding 100 kids on $500 a month. Not $500 each. In total.
The group’s first plan was to convince 50 people to pledge $10 a month for a year. But when group members Hermina and Ted Van Zutphen made a trip to the school and saw with their own eyes the conditions there, especially that kids were walking two kilometres a day to fetch buckets of water, the group upped its monthly donation to $800 for more food — and for water.
“Now we need 80 people to give us $10 a month for the next year. If we can get 80 people, then that will meet our obligation,” says MacInnis. “Any other fundraising that we do can go to water, to buildings or whatever. The needs are phenomenal.”
MacInnis and his son, Mark, who’s in construction, travelled to Kenya last September to lend a hand. The committee sent with them money so a building that had been serving as an open-air classroom could have a roof and electricity.
“It was a big job. We put lights and plugs in the building, had to put a panel in another building and run pipe to the building, and by dark we had lights and plugs and everything working in this classroom,” says MacInnis.
“Look, it was hard to believe, those kids. You’d show them once — there’s a picture of five of them up a ladder trying to hook up wires. We had a lot of fun with them. The next day we decided to paint the inside of that classroom, just to brighten it up.”
You can hear the smile in his voice as MacInnis talks about working with the kids whose classroom is two desks wide, desks shared by three students.
“It’s hard to believe how nice they were and how welcome they made us feel,” he says. “It was so nice to be able to work with them.”
During the week the two MacInnis men were at the school, Kennedy told them how useful a barbershop would be. Mark called home to his girlfriend who’s a hairdresser. She told him what equipment to get. He went out, bought clippers, dryers and straighteners, and work began.
“The day after they finished the painting, Mark and about 15 of the kids started building a barbershop. They built it in 21/2 days,” says John MacInnis, admitting the first haircuts weren’t that pretty.
The goal was to attract outside customers by charging 25 cents for haircuts, with proceeds going to the school.
“I hope we can continue,” MacInnis says of the assistance his group is providing. “People have been excellent in supporting us.”
There are now more than 170 junior high and high school students at the St. Charles Lwanga School, most of them rescued by Kennedy from the desperate slum of Kibera, outside Nairobi, where one child in five dies before the age of five.
The life stories of the students aren’t pretty, so complaints about sleeping three to a single bed and a diet of maize and beans are few. Because they don’t have any other clothing, they all wear a school uniform.
While MacInnis was there, he organized a project in which a ditch was dug across a road and a pipe was attached to the city water supply so the school could fill a cistern.
“They don’t have to carry water anymore,” says Colleen MacLeod, a member who runs the group’s website and helps with fundraising.
The Sisters of St. Martha’s in Antigonish bought the Lwanga school a car for $2,000, a committee of students at Dalbrae Academy, the Inverness County We Act group and St. Stephen’s church in Port Hood have all donated. Dutch and British groups are also helping to support the school.
“We had a huge pizza sale last August, made about $6,000, a yard sale did really well, made about $1,600 and we collected recyclables, made about $450,” adds MacLeod.
The water pipe has allowed a garden to be planted and the students are raising rabbits for meat. But the school’s kitchen is nothing more than a shack, where three rocks, with a smoky wood fire underneath and a pot on top, serves as the stove.
The Sisters of St. Martha’s are funding a floor for the kitchen so the cook doesn’t have to stand in the mud, but MacLeod says lots remains to be done.
“The kitchen was really important. There’s a group in Holland raising money to build a dormitory. It’ll house 64. A group in England is going to give a rainwater collection cistern,” she says. “We’re not just feeding them. We’re enabling them to get an education and a better life.”
MacInnis, MacLeod and the other 20 or so members of Inverness County Cares have been involved in charitable works before, but there’s something about this project that’s especially consuming.
“They need us,” MacLeod says. “These kids had been living in that slum and if you read some of their stories it’s unbelievable, the hardship. The money that anybody gives us goes straight there, a hundred per cent.”
To donate, click on lwangachildren.com and go to How to Help.