Six Trinity students left May 20 for Kenya, where they will spend the next month rebuilding a girls orphanage in the small agricultural town of Njoro, about 18 kilometers west of Nakuru and situated on the western rim of the Rift Valley. The region was the site of ethnic violence in 2007-08. That fighting, along with the scourge of HIV/AIDS, has left about 2.6 million children (or 6 percent of the country’s population) orphaned in Kenya.
The orphanage project was made possible by an award of $10,000 through the Projects for Peace initiative, which has been supplemented by approximately $10,000 that the students raised through a series of fund-raising events and activities. Projects for Peace was the vision of philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis beginning in 2007 on the occasion of Davis’s 100th birthday. Until her death at 106 in 2013, Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace, and sought to motivate tomorrow’s promising leaders by challenging them to find ways to “prepare for peace.”
The two applicants from Trinity were Guarav Inder Toor and Marissa Block, both members of the Class of 2014, who are joined by Tanya Kewalramani and Juan Diego Lopez, also ’14, and Aurora Bellard and Paroma Soni, both members of the Class of 2017.
The Trinity contingent is truly international: Toor and Soni are from India; Block is from New Jersey; Kewalramani is from Dubai; Lopez is from Colombia; and Bellard is from North Carolina. They also represent a range of majors, with Toor majoring in political science and economics; Block, international studies and economics; Kewalramani, international studies; and Lopez, mathematics and economics. Bellard and Soni have not as yet declared their majors.
The students expect to spend a month in Kenya during which they will work on the Ananda Matha Mission’s orphanage, which at one time had grown from 24 girls between the ages of 10 and 24 to 72 in 2007. However, the orphanage was destroyed in a fire, and since 2007, the girls and the Mission staff have lived in a temporary, makeshift rented location. The orphanage now has about 40 residents.
The idea for the project was hatched by Toor, who spent his junior year at the University of Oxford in England and then went to Kenya in the summer of 2013 to conduct research for his senior thesis. Toor said that although the girls are educated, they have no life skills, no opportunities after school and no social network. Toor said “it really hit a nerve” when he discovered the girls’ plight and it was then that he decided he would apply for a Projects for Peace award. His goal, he said in a recent interview, was to build a “habitable home” for the orphans. Block said Toor approached her last fall knowing that she was interested in economic development and the pair decided to team up in applying for the grant. “His enthusiasm is infectious,” she said.
Kewalramani agreed, saying Toor had no trouble finding other students who wanted to participate, especially since they knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After the students arrive in Njoro, which is about a four-and-a-half hour drive from the capital of Nairobi, they intend to complete the physical structure of the building, which will require windows, doors, paint, sanitation facilities and improved flooring. Furniture, mattresses, kitchen amenities and a projector are needed to complete the project.
“Having a permanent structure that can sustain some income flow to the orphanage will be the first step to connect the girls with society,” said the students’ Projects for Peace application. “The grant serves a much greater purpose than its initial use for reconstruction.”
Beyond the physical construction, the students will seek to advance sustainability in four ways. The kitchen will be equipped with baking units so that the girls can bake “professionally for income.” A certified baker, Anna Maine, who is a freelance baker but has worked in five hotels in Kenya, has agreed to teach the girls how to bake with the goal of becoming partners in her business.
Also, a conference room on the first floor, if equipped with a projector, will serve as a meeting room for events. Income generated from bookings of the room will help maintain the Mission.
Third, efforts will be made to establish a program to connect each girl with a family in a nearby town. That way the girls can have access to a social network and the families will contribute towards basic necessities. Lastly, donors, including those in the business community, will be encouraged to continue their assistance so that the girls can come in contact with clients, help out at conference meetings and extend their networks.
In addition to the initial grant of $10,000, the students raised an additional $10,000 in a variety of ways, ranging from having Trinity students donate their extra food-service meals to selling postcards to bake sales.
The trip to Kenya is one of 127 projects selected from U.S. colleges and universities that were selected and awarded $10,000 each for implementation this summer. The Davis family chose to honor Kathryn Davis’s legacy by continuing to fund Projects for Peace and said it is heartened by the quality and inventiveness of the projects that are being undertaken.
"We congratulate those students whose projects have been selected for funding in 2014," said Philip O. Geier, executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers Projects for Peace. "We are pleased to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to improving the prospects for peace in the world."
For more information on Projects for Peace, see www.davisprojectsforpeace.org.