Let’s Keep Families Together

Julio is 10 years old. He has a million dollar smile and a puff of brown curls on his head. I’m taken to him particularly because he instantly attached to me when I arrive, holding my hand and showing me around. He clearly yearns for a connection, but unfortunately, his mother lives in extreme poverty and cannot provide for him- she wants to, but needs help.

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Paul is still at the Good Samaritan Home, 4 years later. I held him in my arms the first time I went to Kenya – he was oly months old.  He was abandoned in the slums of Soweto, with no record of his family. 4 years have gone by and no one knows who left him on the side of the road, and he has not been able to be adopted.

 

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Kevin is 13 years old. He ran away from home where there was no food and rife with instability, and ended up at the WTF center. But he has a family that he misses. And that he wants to go back to.

These are just a handful of children that I have met over the years – children with real stories of need, of hope, of trying to find a place they belong in the world.

And that place, truthfully, is not in an orphanage, no matter how well intentioned the directors who run it are, no matter how much the care givers who work there care, no matter how “inspiring” the naive foreign volunteers who come bearing gifts find them.

The place where children belong is with their own family, immediate family if possible, extended family when not, and at least within their own community.

Kitechild has evolved significantly in our past 7 years of operation. We started off with a goal to empower children living in orphanages, so that they could break the cycles of poverty that often led them there. We didn’t know how to do this, and we didn’t know much abut orphanages in general. We just thought what most westerners did: that orphanages were necessary because the parents of these children had neglectfully abandoned them, or they all had died of AIDS or other diseases.

But as we started to visit these homes, in places all over the world including India, Kenya, Mexico, and Central America, we realized that 90% of the children living there had families, families which they missed and who missed them. The main underlying factor that led these children to living in an orphanage, away from their families, was extreme poverty. When a mother faces the cruel reality that she has no food for her child, or no money to send him to school, leaving him vulnerable to recruitment into a hard life on the streets, an orphanage providing food, shelter and education is seen akin as a boarding school, albeit one that will separate her and her child.

As a mother myself, this is not a choice that any mother should have to make. It pains me to think of mothers, and fathers, who reach a desperate point in their lives where they feel like they can’t provide for their own child, and essentially send them away in hopes of a better life. Because truthfully, this is not about lazy parenting, or neglectful parenting, this is about families who live in countries with high poverty rates, countries where little to no social services exist (nothing such as food stamps in the US), or countries where the chances of a woman finding a stable, safe job are slim to none.

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Of course, not every child’s case is due to poverty. There are children who have experienced significant abuse, unimaginable torture, sex trafficking, willful and cruel neglect, stigmatization from their community due to AIDS or because of their caste, female genital mutilation, tribal warfare, etc. etc. Those are all very real cases that still happen today. And for those children, there is no “Child Protective Services” such as we have in the U.S. There is only the open door of the nearest orphanage, where they can only hope the staff will be kind, there will be social counseling available, and ways for them to find a new family or reunite with the old one day.

All this we have learned in our 7 years of research and traveling in the field, and this has greatly changed our perspective on how we feel we can best empower these children to thrive. We acknowledge the need of an orphanage in places where no other safety net exists, but we are also supporting community outreach programs that help families stay together and not be separated due to lack of food or access to education.

But it does not stop there. We have the ability to push for stronger policy in terms of child protection. That is why our latest project deviates from our traditional sustainable, income generating projects. This project is being done in conjunction with the Kenyan government, who have a very limited budget when it comes to their Children and Family services. (Why they have this small budget is another story (read: mismanagement) but we will not go there). Thus, Kitechild is sponsoring a 2 day training program for 27 orphanages in Nakuru county. This conference will focus on guiding each home to create an exit strategy for their children: meaning, a strategy to successfully re-integrate eligible children back with their families or with extended family in their own communities. The importance of social workers and commitment will be stressed. The timelines and budgets will be outlined, and we will have a follow up training in the first quarter of 2018 to follow up on progress and record how many successful integrations have occurred, what the challenges are, and best ways moving forward.

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The goal of this training is to further educate and spread awareness to these orphanage directors and caregivers of the importance of making every effort to keep children with their families, whenever it is safe and healthy for the child to do so. Many of the directors I have met are no doubt selfless, kind, and good hearted people who see it as their ‘calling’ to help at risk children, but they do not realize that rather than taking in as many children as possible, what would be better for the child is to support the child while living at home. Plus, these type of outreach programs are more cost effective than housing a child in an orphanage.

The funding needed for this campaign is not very much – around $1900.00. I strongly believe in the way in which Kitechild is moving forward, and I hope that you can join me as we continue to create real, measurable, and long term change in the way that at risk children are empowered to thrive.

With gratitude,

Jacqueline Herrera
Co-Founder and Director

It Takes A Village

Sometimes that village includes an orphanage, a school, a rescue center, a feeding program. Sometimes it includes volunteers, both foreign and from the local communities, engineers and project managers. Sometimes the village is located in a slum, on a farm, deep in a jungle, in a high rise in New York city, or a small office in West Hollywood. There might even be a member of that village in your own home. However the village is comprised, everyone’s heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

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Sometimes mom and dad pass away, sometimes they become too ill, sometimes there is not enough food, and unfortunately, sometimes not enough love. There are a myriad of complicated reasons why children end up at risk, so much so that they are placed in an orphanage, often by heartbroken parents who feel as if they have no choice, or by government officers who don’t know where else to send a child they find on the street.

I’ll admit, when we first embarked on our journey to start Kitechild and help these children, we thought that orphanages were the only choice they had, so we started there. And our thoughts were in a way true: orphanages are often the only choice for an at-risk child, because in the countries we work in, there are no alternative child protection services. No CPS, and little to non-existent foster care or adoption. After 6 years of research and being in the field, we know that an orphanage is only one option out of many, and at the end of the day, should be considered a last resort. But until better solutions start being implemented, for many children, it’s either an orphanage or the street.

Orphanages are currently getting a (rightly deserved) harsh scrutiny in the media. Many organizations are working to shut them down. We agree that they should be the last resort for children, but we think that a safety net must be put in place before we shut them down. Otherwise, children end up on the streets, end up being trafficked, abused, either in their homes or as runaways. They end up becoming malnourished or dropping out of school, when parents cannot afford to provide their basic needs.

So, how did we start brainstorming on better solutions? How did we manage to evolve and become a trusted NGO in the field? We listened to the community. We listened to the government officers. We listened to the teachers, to the healthcare workers, to the parents, to the orphanage directors, to the social workers. And most importantly, we listened to the children. Why were they in an orphanage? Where was their family? How can we prevent the breaking up of families, but still provide a safe shelter when children are experiencing danger at home?

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Which brings us back to the safety net – it must be cast by the entire community. It involves the parents, the teachers, the social workers, and yes, the government too must step up their commitment to seeing these at-risk children thrive. At Kitechild, we are helping to build that safety net through our sustainable projects which empower communities to support their children. Projects such as greenhouses, clean water access, and chicken farms generate income for much needed support including social work, re-integration with family, access to nutrition, and access to education.

Our projects employ local community members, because we believe in starting from the ground up. We know that the local community knows what is best for their children, but sometimes they need the financial means to lift themselves out of poverty. We hope to employ parents of at risk children in the near future, so that they are able to have income to support and keep their families together. Our projects provide fresh, nutritious produce to children who would otherwise suffer from malnutrition. Our projects teach children about entrepreneurship, about empowerment, about self-sufficiency—they see that their ability to thrive is not dependent on the charity of others. Self-sufficiency and personal fulfillment comes from within, and they are capable and deserving of breaking the cycle of poverty and living healthy, joyful lives.

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There is one final member of this village that plays an important role: you. To our donors and supporters, past, present, and future, you are very much a part of this village. We couldn’t cast this safety net without you. We hope we can continue to count on your support as we all work together to help at-risk children break the cycles of poverty and lead happy and productive lives.

Some of the children living at the Ashirvad Home.

Clean Water for All

We pull up to a muddy ally, and are greeted by Kevin, a shy boy who is proudly wearing one of his best outfits, his shoes a gleaming white against the brown mud. Despite him being quiet, he exudes a sweetness, an inner self assurance, something I especially notice a few minutes later when we are surrounded by the street boys. Kevin leads us into the gates of the WTF drop in center, a place where street boys from the neighboring slum come to hang out for a few hours a day. The center is specifically only open for a few hours each day, so that the boys don’t heavily depend on the the sparse services provided: counseling, prayer, and a cup of porridge. We see the boys slowly start to arrive. The contrast between their appearance, and that of Kevin, is stark. While Kevin is wearing clean clothing and looks healthy, many of the boys have glazed eyes, are in tattered and torn clothing, with mismatching shoes and some of them no shoes at all. They gather in a circle around Chris, who runs the center. He is a social worker on a 1-year contract.

The starting prayer begins, and all the boys close their eyes, the first time I see some sort of relief on their faces. While all of them are over 12 years old, in this moment, they look like the children they truly are: young, vulnerable, innocent. Their lives have been rough, the streets are unforgiving. Chris later tells me that many of them sniff glue, a quick and cheap way to get high, and forget their troubles. But here, in the moment of prayer, they are relaxed. They are safe from the streets, a moment in their day when they feel that someone cares about their wellbeing.

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In a couple of hours, the center will close for the day. They do this because the ultimate goal is to encourage each boy to move into the Boys Ranch. Nestled in the outskirts of Nakuru, about 30 minutes from the drop in center, the Boys ranch is a haven for these street boys who are looking for a second chance. These boys often leave their homes and end up on the streets out of desperation – they come from a background of extreme poverty. There is usually not enough food on the table, or enough money to send them to school. Fueled by depression, their parents often turn to alcohol abuse, drug use, or prostitution, creating unstable, often violent environments. After living on the streets for some time, the boys are at risk of falling into gang activity, drug use, and trafficking. But in order to come to the Boys Ranch, they must take the initiative. They must want to change, they must realize their potential. The drop in center helps them do this, through the counseling offered, and also through visits by former street boys such as Kevin, who come to give first hand accounts of life on the ranch.

The Boys Ranch was created by WTF, or Welcome to the Family, a children’s organization run by a Catholic ministry. The organization is composed of three crucial centers: the drop in center for boys, which is the first point of contact, after which they decide, on their own will, to enter the rehabilitation ranch for boys. In addition, the organization has a girl’s rescue center for girls who have been sexually abused, where the girls receive psychological support, safe shelter, and even legal counseling, while their cases are taken to court. The importance of the center to the community is clearly visible when you take into account that the there are no other social services in place to address these issues. The protocol in fact is, when a child is seen living in the streets or when a case of abuse is brought to the attention of authorities, the child is placed in a private center such as Welcome to the Family’s. The center receives no economical support from the government, so they are left constantly asking for donations and relying on the goodwill of the community. Eventually, the children are rehabilitated, a process that can take from 1-3 years, and returned to their families or extended family members in their community. What we love about this home is that they make all efforts to keep families together, and actively work with parents on solving their issues and creating more stable home environments.

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The work this center is doing, in providing these children a second shot at life, is critical to disrupting the cycle of extreme poverty that is often the root of the problem. And it’s not easy – it involves supporting these children in more ways than providing shelter. It includes providing psychological support for therapy and rehabilitation, and this means hiring qualified caretakers who are committed to seeing the children through their healing process – they do not want to hire someone who is simply looking for a job, any job. To get the kind of long term commitment these children need, you need to offer employees job security and compensation that is commensurate with their expertise and the incredible support that they can provide the children.

Our Water Bottling Purification Project will help the home do just that – generate enough income so that WTF can pay their staff the salaries they deserve, so the children can get the support and care that they need. Even better, is the way in which the project will impact the surrounding community. When you live in a time and place where 1 Liter of clean water is more expensive than 1 liter of milk, you can understand how this commodification of clean water, a basic human right, is creating challenges for the community. Our project will sell clean water to the community at a much more affordable price – 30 Ksh per Liter as opposed to the average of 50 Ksh (70Ksh in some regions!). In a country where 46% of the population live below the poverty line (source: UNICEF), those extra 20 cents in savings can go a long way.

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What happens when people don’t drink clean water? Well, it depends on just how dirty the water source is. In our case, the borehole at the WTF center has extremely high levels of fluoride. This can cause fluorosis, which mottles teeth and causes them to have a stained appearance, but more seriously, it causes calcification of the bones after long term exposure. Children are especially vulnerable to this effect, and when they drink highly fluoridated water, they develop weak bones during their critical growth period (source: WHO).

The way to remove fluoride from water is by running it through a reverse osmosis treatment plant. The plant itself is rather large, and our supplier, Davis and Shirtliff, are known in the industry for providing high quality equipment. With the right maintenance, the plant can last indefinitely, only requiring the filtration membranes to be changed out every few years, a relatively low cost upkeep.

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So, lets break down the multiple levels of impact this project will have:
1. Generate income for Welcome to the Family through the sale of clean water to the local community. The income will be used to hire and retain highly qualified, long term staff at the multiple WTF centers.
2. Provide the surrounding community with clean water access at an affordable, yet competitive price.
3. Lastly, and most importantly, provide vulnerable children with the psychological support and nurturing environment they need to rebuild their lives, and thrive.

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To donate and be a part of this project, please visit our project page. Every contribution helps, and the only way we get this project going is with your support. As a donor, you’ll receive updates on the project progress, exclusive videos, and photos. By donating to this project, you are creating real, tangible, measurable change. This is not a one-time handout, this is a sustainable project that is empowering children to rebuild their lives, and providing #cleanwaterforall

Jacqueline Herrera
Co-founder and Director
Kitechild

Purifying Water and Changing Lives

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We’ve been working in Kenya for four years now, having constructed greenhouses, trained caretakers in first aid, set up chicken coops, and even gave clean water access to hundreds of children. One thing we’ve realized through working closely with our partner homes and their communities, is the importance of implementing projects that are income-generating. Why? Well, because most children’s homes are sorely underfunded and need sustainable ways to generate income, in order to continually to give the best care possible to children.

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Enter our latest project: water purification. Through our water purification project, we’ll be able to hire more caretakers for children who desperately need them. We’ve teamed up with the Welcome to the Family Home, which is located in Nakuru, Kenya. It’s the home to 44 children, many of whom have suffered from sexual abuse or from living on the streets.

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So how does purifying water bring about change for these children? The home already has its own borehole, which has been tested for safety and quality already. So, with the purchase of a reverse osmosis water treatment plant, the water can then be bottled and sold. The home is situated in a middle-class community where there is a market for bottled water and there are also a lot of conferences that come through, also needing water. They’ll be selling the water in reusable containers, to keep the project eco-friendly, and the sales have a project income of $25,200 for the home. With this income, the home will be able to pay for 8 additional caregivers, which is especially important given the traumatic background that some of these children have lived through. And the home will also be able to hire a social worker, which will help these children be integrated back into the community. To be a part of this project and help initiate change, please click here.

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Kitechild’s co-founder, Jacqueline Herrera, will be going to Kenya in just a couple of weeks. She’ll be visiting the reverse osmosis plant, as well as checking-in with our projects, such as our greenhouses. So make sure to stay tuned to watch Jacqueline live in Kenya!

Traveling to Kenya: Creating and Checking In

In a few weeks, Kitechild’s co-founder, Jacqueline Herrera, will be going to Kenya! We’ve made a lot of progress since the last time we visited Kenya several years ago and now have future projects on the horizon. Here’s a look at some of the projects we’ll be visiting:

Welcome to the Family Home, where we’ll be running a water purification project.

Welcome to the Family Home, where we’ll be running a water purification project.

We are currently working on a water purification project at the Welcome to the Family Home. Jacqueline will be visiting the home, as well as meeting with the surrounding community to see how they will be involved in the project. This project involves setting up the home to purify the water from their borehole, through a reverse osmosis process. The water will then be bottled into reusable containers and sold to the middle-class community that surrounds the home. The 44 children living at the home will now have access to their own clean water and the income generated through selling the water will pay for additional long-term staff. As many of these children come from abusive or traumatic backgrounds, the hiring of caretakers and social workers will be very important to the proper care of these children. Check out the project here. And stay tuned from live updates from Jacqueline, including her visit to a reverse osmosis treatment plant to show us the ins and outs of this innovative process.

The greenhouses and crops at the Fiwagoh Home.

The greenhouses and crops at the Fiwagoh Home.

Jacqueline will also be checking in with our greenhouse projects, while in Kenya. We have two greenhouse projects already up and running, at the Fiwagoh and Watoto Wema Homes. She will also be visiting the St. Catherine’s Home, where we are currently fundraising for a similar greenhouse project. This greenhouse project benefits 43 children living at the home in Nairobi. The vegetables grown at the greenhouse will first go to the kids to supplement their diets. The excess will then be sold in the markets and the income generated will pay for the school fees of the older children and to hire a social worker, who will help reintegrate the children back into the community. Learn more about this project here and check out our live updates from the home in the coming weeks.

The children at the Good Samaritan Home, receiving the LED bulbs.

The children at the Good Samaritan Home, receiving the LED bulbs.

Another home that Jacqueline is looking forward to visiting and updating you on is the Good Samaritan Home, located in the Soweto slums of Nairobi. We recently switched out 44 traditional light bulbs at the home, for LED lights. With the money saved on electrical costs, the home has been able to hire an additional caretaker for the infants and children at the home. We’re really proud of the change these light bulbs have brought and are looking forward to their bright futures.

With all of our projects, we’ll be keeping you posted with live updates, live videos from the field and more photos! We’re looking forward to checking in with you from Kenya!

Making A Difference From A Distance

We often get inquiries from kind-hearted people, who are looking to give back to vulnerable children. Seeing their photos and reading their stories touch many readers and motivate them to act. Volunteering is an important part of making a difference and using your abilities to better the world.

Some of the boys at the Ashirvad Home in India.

Some of the boys living at the Ashirvad Home in India.

Being a social media ambassador is a powerful way to spread information about vulnerable children and to tell others about the mission of Kitechild. By sharing our posts and telling your friends and family about us, you can help give a voice to these children. Other ways to help include hosting local events to raise funding or awareness for vulnerable children. We’re currently working on setting up campus programs to provide opportunities for volunteering across the country.

Kitechild volunteers on campus.

Kitechild volunteers on campus.

As you may have noticed, we haven’t listed visiting an orphanage among our volunteer opportunities. While it is a well-intentioned endeavor, it often has unintended negative results on the children. These children have often gone through personal traumas and difficulties, particularly from living without their families. Most people who travel to an orphanage to volunteer usually only go for a short period of time, which leaves the children with additional broken relationships and hardships.

Some of the children living at the HHK Home in Honduras.

Some of the children living at the HHK Home in Honduras.

There are other reasons why we don’t support sending volunteers to foreign country, otherwise known as voluntourism. Often, the volunteers don’t speak the same language as the children, which makes it difficult to engage in meaningful conversation.  In addition, there are little to no regulations or background checks for foreign volunteers, which puts the children at risk for abuse.

Children living at the LAMP Home in India, where we currently have a solar lighting project.

Children living at the LAMP Home in India, where we currently have a solar lighting project.

Sometimes the best way to support a vulnerable child isn’t glamorous and won’t allow you the joy of playing and caring for the child in person. You can have a bigger impact on the lives of these children by supporting Kitechild, either through spreading the word or investing in a project. We currently have three active projects that need funding: a solar lighting project in India, a water purification project in Kenya and a greenhouse project in Kenya. These projects are sustainable and have meaningful impacts on the education, nutrition and quality of life of these children. Consider supporting one of our projects and joining us in transforming the lives of vulnerable children. 

In the Clear: The Value of Clean Water

Did you know that 783 million people do not have access to clean water? That figure, given from the UN, is a sad reality for many on our planet, but a problem that Kitechild is addressing and has already helped hundreds of children have access to life-sustaining water.

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Our clean water project in Kenya has provided clean water to over 200 children and the staff of the Fiwagoh Mission Home, located on the outskirts of Lake Naivasha. We installed 5 Lifestraw Community Filters at the home, which allowed them access to their own water. Since these children have had access to clean water, the number of waterborne illness has decreased and as a result, they have missed fewer days from school. Being able to succeed in the classroom is important for all children, but especially those in impoverished circumstances. Education is the key to more opportunities, to brighter futures and to empowerment.

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The home can now save $2,400 USD per year, since they are no longer purchasing their own water supply. As a result, they have re-allocated these funds towards the salary of an additional caregiver. Our field liaison has kept us informed on the new caregiver, saying: “The savings from the process of purifying water through boiling or buying have been used to hire an extra caretaker called Beatrice Wanjiku. She previously worked on casual basis but now has been hired on permanent basis.” This is especially important for the home, as it is understaffed, and children thrive when given more adults, who can care and supervise them.

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Like all projects, there are challenges that come up that need to be addressed. In this case, the well at the home was contaminated, which the home was able to fix through the use of the water filters. We’ve known the struggles, and also success, of partnering with this home, as we also have a greenhouse project, which provides the children with fresh produce and helps funds their education. Water, food and schooling are important human rights every child should have access to, and thanks to Kitechild supporters, there are now hundreds who do!

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Planting the Seeds of Education and Nutrition

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Our greenhouse project in Kenya is expanding! The greenhouse workers are now planting even more produce, in addition to what they currently grow: tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale and onions. From those vegetables, they have generated nearly $6,000 by selling the produce they grow- income which has been reinvested into the farm, keeping it sustainable. They have installed irrigation drips, which is even more eco-friendy and creates more productivity for less cost. They’re also working on opening a grocery stand on the highway to bring in even more funds!

As the farm continues to progress, the funds the greenhouses generate pay for the education of the older children living at the Fiwagoh Home. In addition to being provided with fresh vegetables everyday, the older kids can also have their schooling fees covered. Let’s keep planting the seeds of nutrition and education!

Water Wednesday: New Project in Kenya

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We have an exciting new project we just launched: Water Purification in Kenya! This income-generating project is happening at the Welcome to the Family Home, where 44 children live. Through a reverse osmosis water treatment plant, the home will treat water from their own borehole, which has already been approved for quality and safety by the local Water and Sanitation Services. Since the home is situated within an upper-middle class community that has a high demand for purified water, there is a huge potential for income-generation, which will be used to pay the salaries of caretakers and a social worker. This is real change in action! To be a part of this project please click here.