By: Judi Healey
Remember the rows of hoodies and jackets and other clothes carefully displayed on hangers in front of school? Remember all those notices to parents to take a look before they were given away? Ever wonder what happened?
They are now being worn by students at a village school in Kenya, and how they got from here to there is a unique story that begins with the Otieno family, connects then to Sarah Obama, wife of Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, and ends in Nyang’oma Kogelo, a village about 30 miles from Lake Victoria in Kenya.
As the school year ended, PCR student Elijah Otieno, an incoming sixth grader, was walking by that lost and found display daily and wondering about some kind of outreach. His siblings Ashley, a fifth grader, and Nicole, a second grader, were wondering too. Elijah came up with an idea, which he took first to teacher, Mariana Valderhaug, and then to Principal Hurley: Why not ship the unclaimed clothes to Africa?
It was not as far-fetched as it sounded. Elijah’s grandmother hails from the same region of Kenya as Sarah Obama, also known as Mama Sarah. Mama Sarah started SOWO (Safeguard Orphans & Widows Organization) and Elijah’s dad and uncle have strong ties to this Kenya organization that tries to address unmet needs in various villages. His uncle is chairman of SOWA, and his dad, Dr. Charles Otieno, is both an SOWA board member and also a frequent traveler to the area because he is working to bring genetic counseling and sickle cell screening machines to children in Kenya and Nairobi. Together the men worked to ship the garments appropriately so that they could enter the country with tax exempt status.
The result? This summer, two different schools of needy orphans and vulnerable children received the unclaimed PCR clothes. More importantly, a bond has been formed, and there are thoughts of even more connections. In the future, perhaps PCR students will have two sister schools in Nyang’oma Kogelo. Perhaps they will be sharing experiences with kids for whom the internet...or even electricity... is not always part of everyday life. It would be a newfound awareness on both continents.