Jumpstart 2012 with Oasis!

Dear supporters, followers and friends,

Whether your introduction to the Oasis Program came over one year ago or more recently, your interest in quality care for children and the Oasis model gave the program the financial and community support it needed to get beyond a first year of operation. Thank you for your faith and dedication!

While everyone seems to be heading back to school this September, Oasis is heading back to basics with the September Fundraising Campaign. The mission of Oasis remains the same; to provide capacity building support to Nairobi children’s homes, with the end of goal of improved quality of care for children. With the launch of the September campaign, we will show exactly what Oasis has accomplished, where it is headed and how you can support our planned efforts. We have developed clear, specific ways of contributing that acknowledge individual’s interest in supporting a particular area of our work.

This Oasis blog will be our new central hub. Through photos, Facebook, Twitter and the Oasis website, all linked to this blog, we’ve made it easy for you to see what day-to-day life is like Oasis staff and Oasis member homes. Hear from Member Home directors about their challenges and successes, learn from Oasis volunteers recently returned from Kenya, and connect with our incredible cadre of community organizations and partners.

Please join us, at home and abroad, in this adventure! While I will continue to update this personal blog, please visit our official program blog at: http://www.fkoasis.tumblr.com

Frannie Noble and Hannah Wesley
Flying Kites Oasis Program

 

 

Life in Nairobi and Beyond

One thing I was absolutely not prepared for when coming here in May was the large and active expat scene in Nairobi. My last time around, I was living full time at the FKLA house, staying at a hotel downtown on the days I spent doing Oasis visits. I met almost no expats during my six month stay (other than fellow FKLA volunteers) and had no idea there was any expat scene to speak of. However, since my arrival in May, I’ve camped at the base of Mt. Kenya and at Hell’s Gate National Park, gone to film screenings at the Alliance Françoise, been to birthday and housewarming parties, enjoyed a variety of culinary experiences in and around Nairobi, visited the giraffe center, watched the Stanley Cup with Vancouver fans, traveled to the island of Lamu off the Kenyan coast and seen the final Harry Potter movie in an air conditioned theater! There are several Facebook groups that organize get togethers, dinners and social hours which people attend for the exclusive purpose to make friends and have a pleasant evening with other expats. It’s been a great way to get to know people in a no pressure environment.

I must say, however, that the majority of my current social circle is derived from the Original Nairobi Hash House Harriers – or, the Hash Club. For those of you not aware of this ridiculous international “drinking club with a running problem” (as I wasn’t until I arrived here), please check it out and track it down in your city: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hash_House_Harriers. I promise you won’t regret it (unless you are easily offended and inclined towards political correctness, in which case, you will almost definitely regret it).The club is a fun Monday night event marked by a short (5-7K) run followed by dinner and several hours of drinking/socializing. Each week the run hosted by a different runner at their house/apartment/place of work; recently, Frannie and I were the “hares,” meaning we hosted the run and laid the trail – NOT an easy task car-less and navigation system-less, never mind the fact that I have yet to master the kilometers to miles conversion. A “rite of passage” in clubs throughout the world is receiving your Hash nickname; more often than not it’s an inappropriate and/or offensive name with which you are dubbed after doing something particularly memorable or stupid in front of the group. Frannie and I have both been christened with our individual nicknames….let’s just say that they are on par with my above description.

Needless to say, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Nairobi and am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience both the rural and city aspects of living in Kenya over the course of my visits here. I have made some amazing friends whom I will truly miss upon my departure in two short weeks. Frannie and I invited a couple Oasis volunteers who are at our Oasis homes to the run we hosted and were chatting the next morning about the importance of that experience for them. While obviously they are here primarily to spend time at their orphanage and with the children there, we thought it was equally important for them to see and understand that there is so much more to Kenya (and at the risk of over-generalizing, I will venture to say sub-Saharan Africa) than poverty and sadness. Yes, those things absolutely do exist, but they do not define the country. There is a life here, a culture, luxuries and reminders of home that we, unfortunately often do not associate with this area of the world. Not everybody here is working for an NGO or volunteering among the poor populations. We meet employees of Barclays Bank, PWC, KPMG, entrepreneurs, environmental engineers and techies. You can do good during the day and still meet your friends for dinner at night. That’s an important lesson that I’ve learned this time around.

Nairobi is a vibrant city with a diverse population of expats, some of whom have chosen to stay here for 10+ years. They’ve gotten married, have children and visit their home countries over the holidays. Their lives are here now. As we were driving home from the hills of Mt. Kenya a few weeks ago (from the 600th Hash Run, which was marked by a weekend-long retreat to the country) it struck me that I could see myself living here long term. It’s not where you are as much as the people you’re with that make the experience. I’ve met the kind of people who make living anywhere fun. Not to mention the fact that Kenya is such an amazing country with so much to offer that it would take years for one to explore its every nook and cranny. Its diverse climates and environments leave you little reason to travel elsewhere – you can be in the Masaai Mara in shorts and a tank top in the morning and at Mt. Kenya wearing a hat and gloves in the evening. While it took my heart a mere 6 months to fall for NYC I would venture to say that had I not yet betrothed myself to that city, I could see myself in this one. Never say never, right?

Now, enjoy some photos from above mentioned travels:

Celebrating with some Jack Daniels (pre-run) after successfully putting up my tent!

 

The view of Mt. Kenya from the 600th Hash Run location

I was the driver that day. On the opposite side of the road, blindly overtaking with oncoming traffic tearing towards me. It's no small feat to have made it back alive.

Hell's Gate National Park

A Zebra

I think this is the fountain of youth..or beauty at the Gorge located within the National Park. Either way, I liberally splashed myself with the magical elixer...

More Hell's Gate

Lamu, Kenya

Lamu, Kenya

Lamu, Kenya

Lamu, Kenya

Flash rain storm in Lamu

Pretty much the only means of transport

 

 

 

Back in Kenya – The Team

There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t been writing. A lack of time is certainly one of them; I underestimated how exceptionally busy my months in Nairobi this summer would be. I also don’t prioritize blogging, as I don’t necessarily see it as a required part of my job. With a to-do list longer than my arm, it often gets put on the back burner as a non-essential task, though I do understand that this serves as just one more way to communicate about the Oasis Program and all its glory. Then there’s the problem of having so many things to write about that I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of where to start. Not to mention the fact that this time around I’m blogging not as a volunteer, but as a Flying Kites staff member. What I write needs to be relevant not just to my own life and experiences here, but to the program as well (thus, my new blog site and theme).

My schedule is so full that it’s gotten to the point where I literally sit down every Monday morning and block out my entire week by hours: For example – Monday: 9am-10am: emails/admin work, 10am-12pm: grant writing, 12pm-2pm: volunteer recruitment and so on. It seems a bit silly, but it has really helped me focus and be much more productive; if I’ve written it down on the schedule, I have to do it, even if it’s something I’ve been putting off. All of this ends with me sitting here at 12pm, staring at a Word document I started on June 2nd (I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ve
been putting this off).

In an effort to not put anybody to sleep, I’m going to post these as separate entries, though they’ve all been written in one sitting. Hopefully that will help to break up the density of the material into smaller, more manageable bites. We all know how I like to write posts that rival some short novels. 🙂 There’s a lot here, but hopefully by the end you sit back with a more thorough understanding of The Oasis Program and its power. It’s difficult to put into words how amazing it feels to be so overwhelmed with work. It means that things are really taking off; it’s hard to believe that when I left Kenya in May of 2010, the Oasis Program was no more than a binder full of needs assessment surveys and a map of Nairobi with 20 little circles on it. While there are SO many people who are responsible for the success of this program, it feels good to know that I played a small part in the story.

The Team

To refresh the memories of those who don’t know the Oasis team, I’ll briefly introduce the two people who have been working tirelessly alongside me this summer.

Frannie Noble has been with the Oasis Program as Program Manager for over a year now. She’s based full-time in Nairobi and, pending some logistics, will be here for another two (!!). She is the incredible force of Oasis on the ground in Kenya and is largely responsible for leading the program to where it is today. I am insanely grateful for everything she has sacrificed to make a life here and I know the entire Flying Kites team feels the same way. It’s hard to put on a value on having someone stay on staff for 3 consecutive years; the relationships and trust she has worked to hard to build with our Member Homes and contacts in Nairobi will serve her well for years to come. While she was holding down the fort well enough on her own, I could almost SEE the
weight of the world lift off her shoulders when reinforcements arrived.

Nele Groosman joined the Oasis Program as our Program Assistant in May of 2011, just a couple of weeks after I arrived in country. She was immediately comfortable in her surroundings and her independent qualities have served her well in dealing with our Member Homes, going solo to conferences and making important contacts for the program. She will be with Frannie in Nairobi until the end of November, helping us with the important details of the program that often fall through the cracks with just 2 staff members. Situations will often arise that require us to visit one of our Member Homes (pictures for the website, checking on and approving volunteer accommodations, getting video footage for a clip we’re compiling, etc…). Unfortunately, these visits can quickly eat up an entire day once public transport, the notorious Nairobi “jam” and the visit itself are factored in, leaving Frannie or I’s chances of getting around to any computer work at slim to none.  Nele has been invaluable to us this summer, taking on the majority of the fieldwork burden, leaving Frannie and I to our computer-related tasks and meetings. It’s a great way for her to get to know the homes we’re working with and it gives us another, fresh perspective on our program.

I assume most people are familiar with my job description, but as US Program Director, I am focused primarily on fundraising and volunteer recruitment in the states. There are plenty of other tasks that fall to me on a daily basis: accounting, donor relations (sending thank you notes and tax receipts), compiling and creating our newsletters, researching and seeking new partnerships and being the “Face of Oasis” in any situations where our face is required. So much of my time leading up to my trip here this summer was focused on getting all of our volunteer contracts and documents in order and planning the events for this summer that I’m really excited to see how my role evolves upon my return in September.

I am living with Frannie and Nele in a 3 bedroom apartment which doubles as our office, in the Kileleshwa neighborhood of Nairobi, about 10 minutes from downtown with no traffic (an anomaly). We are actually saving money in many respects with this apartment and of course it’s an added bonus to be able to host Flying Kites staff as they come in and out of the city! During Frannie’s first 9 months here, she was commuting in from the Flying Kites Leadership Academy in Njabini, about 2 hours via public transport each way and spending her nights in a local hotel in downtown Nairobi. The emotional and physical toll that living out of a suitcase 3-5 days a week takes on a person, not to mention the cost of that many nights in a hotel, was reason enough to justify the permanent move to Nairobi. Needless to say, we’re very grateful and fortunate to have found such an amazing place and I’m already sad about returning home where I’ll be back to a NYC-sized apartment and paying 4 times the rent!

Please read the rest of today’s posts for an update on the work our dynamic team has been doing this summer!

Back in Kenya – The Homes

I guess the best place to start is with the round of home visits we did during Nele and I’s first month. We spent the better part of three weeks visiting two homes a day until we made it to 15 of our 16 Member Homes (one of our homes is located 4 hours outside of Nairobi so we have yet to make the full day trip that visit would require).

It was so amazing to go back to these homes, nearly all of which I had only visited one time in 2010 when I arrived on their doorstep notebook and needs assessment survey in hand, relying on the generosity of the director to share an hour of their time with me. Of the 50 or so surveys I ended up conducting among Nairobi children’s homes, I selected the 20 that stood out to me most – either because of the intense need the home had, or because of how well it was functioning. Across the board, however, I was impressed by the dedication and graciousness of the leaders; that was ultimately what determined if they were a good fit for our program. Over the past 12 months our Member Home list has settled at 16 – four homes were not able to participate for various reasons, but the relationship we have developed with these 16 homes is something I am proud to be a part of.

I was extremely moved and flattered when I was recognized by nearly all of the directors of the homes. I had spent literally 45 minutes sitting in their living room over a year ago, asking them a list of questions and talking about the yet-to-be created Oasis Program and all that it would be able to offer them. While Frannie has obviously talked about me to the members over the past year, the fact that they recognized me in person was astonishing. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that nearly every director commented on how “different” I looked from last year. By this, they were comparing the bright yellow FLYING KITES t-shirt, dirty jeans and sneakers I showed up in last year to the more pulled together and, ahem, clean outfits I arrived in this year. One director, who shall remain nameless, commented that I looked “bulky.” Upon consultation with several Kenyans, we have determined that this was NOT a compliment! Needless to say, I have not worn that flowy, hippie shirt since. 🙂

The first post I started back in June spoke to the incredible changes and improvements I saw at virtually all of our homes. While I won’t go into the details of every home, suffice it to say I was literally brought to the point of tears several times during my visits. Those that don’t yet have it are diligently working towards their CCI registration (charitable children’s institution), which often requires massive construction and infrastructure improvement projects and de-cluttering of dorms (inevitably an expensive task), which is great because it means several of our homes have either built new dorms or are actually working to reintegrate some of their children back with their families and supporting them financially. While the Oasis Program can not take credit for most of these improvements and changes, I’d like to think that some of the resources we’ve connected them with have somehow brought them to the point they’re at today.

Perhaps our most important contribution we’ve made to these homes (aside from an influx of volunteers) is providing them with a 4-day financial training seminar during which time they were able to learn the basics of accounting and keeping financial records so that they will be prepared to submit for a formal audit – another CCI requirement.

I will simply say that I was incredibly and pleasantly surprised at the wonderful work they are doing, both with us and on their own. I’m also really excited because we are weeks away from getting their websites up and running, a goal that’s been on the Oasis agenda from the start, but with one web designer and one staff member on the ground collecting information, it’s been slow-going to say the least. The three of us here this summer has allowed us to get a jump start on all of these projects.

Please enjoy a few more pictures from our days visiting the children and directors of Oasis Member Homes.

Back in Kenya – Summer Projects

Goodmakers Films and Flying Kites Oasis

About half of the blame for our crazy schedules can be placed on Goodmakers Films, an incredible organization that is arriving in Nairobi on August 2nd to film the Oasis Program and four of its Member Homes as they prepare for a large community music festival which will take place in Kibera on August 20th. View a preview here! By producing documentary films for non-profit organizations, Goodmakers helps charities visually communicate their message throughout the world.

We could not be more thrilled about this amazing opportunity; not only will the Oasis Program reach audiences worldwide, but the children who will be featured in the documentary will have a chance to share their story with the world. We’re all eagerly awaiting the performance of Silas, an inspiring 5 year old rapper from an Oasis home, Children’s Garden. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited that we’re so busy preparing for this project and we couldn’t be more grateful to Goodmakers Films and one of the Executive Directors of Flying Kites, Toby Storie-Pugh for throwing themselves into this project with such vigor.

Silas doing his thing at the Flying Kites International Day of the African Child celebration in front of thousands of fans

Silas, the incredible 5 year old rapper from Oasis Member Home, Children's Garden

TackleAfrica, Goodmakers and Alive&Kicking

In addition to the music festival, Goodmakers is faciliating a partnership between Flying Kites Oasis, TackleAfrica and Alive&Kicking. TackleAfrica uses football to reach young people in Africa to increase their understanding of HIV/AIDS and enable them to live safe and healthy lives. Alive & Kicking believes that by combining social entrepreneurship with sport’s mass appeal, lasting economic and social development can be achieved in Africa.

On August 25th and 26th, these organizations are coming together to run a football
clinic and tournament for over 300 orphaned and vulnerable children from Oasis’ Member Homes. The event, filmed and produced by Goodmakers will
bring international attention to Kibera and to several organizations that are
working within Kenya to improve the lives of its poorest children.

International Volunteers

The rest of the blame for our busy schedule can be laid at the feet of our volunteer program; another thing we’re grateful to be busy managing! While our inaugural volunteer season has been modest, we appreciate the time and flexibility it’s given us to figure out the best way to manage the volunteer program. We’re learning to strike the right balance between how to communicate what the Oasis Program is and how important our work is while at the same time encouraging our volunteers to form a bond with the homes they are volunteering with. The Oasis Program has set itself apart from other international volunteering programs by how we structure our fees. Aside from a small administrative fee, which is required for Frannie and I to continue doing our work here and in Brooklyn, we send 100% of room and board and volunteer fees DIRECTLY to our Member Homes. Other international volunteering programs keep the majority of the funds from the volunteer and send over $1 or $2 dollars a day for the orphanage to feed them. A breakdown of our costs is available here.

Samantha Holcombe, an Oasis volunteer at Day Love

Oasis stresses the importance of running a children’s home like a business; it’s the only way to break away from the dependence on well wishers and individual donations, which are sporadic at best. We aim to share our experience at FKLA with our homes. Volunteers not only provide their skills and an extra set of hands, they provide a source of income for a children’s home. By ensuring that 100% of the volunteer fee goes directly to the children’s home, we are creating an income flow that many of them have never had before. Many homes have successfully hosted international volunteers in the past, and while the contributions they made can’t be underestimated, the director’s are shocked to learn how much the volunteers pay and how little of that money they ever see. We strive to be very honest with what we do with the money the volunteers send over to us – and hopefully the volunteers this summer are seeing firsthand how the money they’re bringing in to their assigned home can be used in so many important ways. You can find out more information about our volunteer program here.

In addition to the all purpose volunteers we have this summer, we have a team of 6 med students from the University of Texas who are currently spending a week at Good Samaritan, one of our Member Homes. Next week they will be spending their time at Jenracy, another home in our program. The volunteers are using the week to help implement sustainable health programs at each home which include lessons in proper hand washing techniques, oral hygiene and sanitation. Additionally, the team will be compiling medical records for each child in order to streamline the healthcare process within the home. This is a partnership that holds such promise; the team leader, Lisa already has plans for an April and July 2012 trip during which they will revisit Jenracy and Good Samaritan as well as work with additional homes in our program. Please take a moment to read through their team blog here: http://uthoustonstringsattached.wordpress.com/

16 Homes – 1,200 Children – $8,000

Last weekend, as I strolled through the stalls of the Union Square Holiday Market in Manhattan, admiring intricate handmade jewelry, blown glass ornaments and furry parkas for lap dogs, I flashed back to this season last year. I had been in Kenya for about a month and was officially smitten with the kids. I remember traveling to Nairobi to purchase presents for them – toy cars, playing cards, dolls and books – and being approached by several street children with their hands out as we exited the store. At the time, I felt that since I was already helping orphans, I could feel morally okay about passing these children by. After all, how much can one person do? But it didn’t keep me from wondering where those children would be sleeping that evening.

A month later, I was given the opportunity to begin Oasis, a program that would address the problems faced by those orphaned street children and the tens of thousands like them who reside in Nairobi’s slums. The rest, as they say, is history.

I fear I have not been clear enough in what it is specifically that I do for Flying Kites. While every employee, by default, advocates for and provides general fundraising support to the 21 children who reside at our center, my program has nothing to do with Flying Kites Leadership Academy. Yes, those are the children I fell in love with over a year ago, but they are not the children my program assists. Yes, it’s an accomplishment to be proud of that we have a brand new primary school, a clinic under construction and a library scheduled to break ground early next year; however those are not the accomplishments of Oasis. Yes, we provide exemplary care to our 21 orphans, but that is not the care Oasis is concerned with. We are proud to educate 68 children from the local village and employ over 20 Kenyan staff, but Oasis does not pay their salaries.

Oasis seeks to build the capacity of well led orphanages in Nairobi’s slums by sharing a proven model of operation, establishing a forum for communication and facilitating greater access to resources. The Flying Kites model emphasizes extraordinary care and expects extraordinary results, but we understand that our model is not replicable for the 50,000 orphaned children in need of care in Kenya; children who currently reside on the streets or in overcrowded orphanages. The remaining 1.5 million orphans are cared for by immediate or extended family and friends. Our team has climbed many mountains to get to where we are today and there are certain to be more obstacles in the future, but we have learned some valuable lessons along the way. Oasis is our way to share these lessons; it is our answer to those children begging outside the Nakumatt in Nairobi. If I were to pass by them today, I could be assured that I was, in fact, working to brighten their future as well.

And we have. Brightened their future, that is. For the approximately 1,200 children served by the pilot phase of our Oasis program over the past 7 months, we have absolutely made a difference. Frannie Noble, my counterpart in Kenya has racked up some significant achievements in her first six months on the ground. She organized the inaugural Oasis conference for the 16 homes in our pilot group, bringing home directors together and creating a sense of community, reflected by the testimonials of our members in follow up conversations.

In partnership with the Divinity Foundation, she arranged for over 350 children in the Oasis program to attend a free clinic; here, children received checkups, immunizations and antibiotics. She has formed a partnership with the Mwelu Foundation, a photography program begun by Julius Mwelu, a former street child, that puts digital cameras in the hands of children in the slums, allowing them to both document their daily life and learn a valuable trade. Julius’ work has been featured all over the world and he organizes gallery exhibits for his foundation’s work around Nairobi. [Incidentally, we are currently collecting used, out of date, digital cameras so that we may empower the children in our Oasis homes. Please email me for information on how to donate.] The non-profit branch of a LA film company, GoodMakers Films will be sending a documentary film crew to visit our Oasis homes in the summer of 2011, filming the children as they prepare for a dance competition hosted by Kenyan popstar, Jimmie Gait.

Since Frannie has been home for her holiday break, we have both met and spoken with a number of organizations that are looking forward to connecting with her once she returns to Kenya. The two of us have been heavily involved with our creative director in the development of the main Oasis website, which will host sites for each of our member homes, allowing us to direct donations and volunteers. We expect this site to be live in the next few weeks and are preparing homes to receive their first round of international volunteers in June 2011.

As the US Program Manager of Oasis, I continue to seek these strategic partnerships both here and abroad so that we may increase our capabilities and capacity to create an all-inclusive support system for our member homes in Kenya. We have settled into a micro/macro routine that has served us well. Frannie is able to concentrate on managing the day-to-day concerns and problems faced by our member homes – problems which often require her intervention or support –and I can concentrate on “big picture” outreach and networking tasks.

An additional task of mine is to help raise monthly operating costs so that Frannie and Oasis can continue to function in Nairobi. This was a part time position for me until November; we had managed to live month to month for the past half year, but realized recently that we can’t in good faith send Frannie back to Kenya before we have at least 6 months operating costs in the bank. Neither of us is particularly happy with the idea of putting our program on hold while we concentrate on fundraising, but we understand it is a necessary delay, one that will allow us to hit the ground running. Flying Kites Leadership Academy has been, and will continue to be the priority for general Flying Kites funding; we will not compromise on our commitment to excellence, and that includes directing our operating costs to other programs. Oasis needs to be a self-sufficient program.

I got started on organizing three separate fundraisers in Massachusetts as soon as my previous commitment concluded, which will take place in late January and early February and Frannie has organized a small event in her hometown next month. I have a number of potential partnerships in the works here in NYC which promise to be consistent, long term sources of income, but in order to ensure that Oasis can continue to help the orphaned children in Kenya, we need immediate funds. We are both reaching out to our existing networks for one more holiday appeal.

Last year, I spent Christmas Eve visiting the poorest families in our village of Njabini, handing out paper sacks full of flour, maize, cooking fat and lentils – enough to feed a family for a week or so. If you missed the post, you can read it here. Forgive my holier-than-thou tone, but it would be behoove all of us to remember that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who don’t have the luxury to take a holiday break the way we are privileged to be able to. I begrudge no one their indulgences this time of year; you all work very hard year round to provide for yourselves, your family and perhaps those less fortunate in your community as well. But, I am going to specifically and directly ask that you remember Oasis this year when you budget for your giving.

Oasis indirectly assists over 1200 orphans in the largest, toughest slums of Nairobi. I will tell you right now, these kids aren’t having trouble going to bed Christmas Eve because they’re listening for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof or wondering if Santa will eat the cookies they left out. They may, however, have trouble going to bed because their stomachs are growling with hunger, or they are missing their parents they don’t even remember as they lay there, scared and lonely. There will be no presents sitting under a tree for them to open on Christmas morning; some of them may be lucky to have breakfast. Oasis is connecting children’s homes with services to help improve the conditions these children exist in, so that they may begin to thrive instead of just survive.

Several homes within the Oasis program are rescue centers with 6 or 12 month rehabilitation programs for street children. Many of the boys are addicted to glue; the fumes in a concentrated dose stave off hunger pangs but have deadly consequences for their young bodies (I have seen the devastating effects of this drug firsthand and would not wish it on my worst enemy). The majority of the girls rescued from the streets are involved in the sex trade, selling their bodies to feed their siblings and perhaps an ailing grandmother. 66% of girls in Kibera – Africa’s largest slum, located in Kenya – routinely trade sex for food by the age of 16. Many begin as early as 6. Workshops and resources offered by Oasis assist the rescue centers to provide the proper education, counseling and care to these fragile children.

As it stands right now, Frannie can not continue to do her important work through Oasis with these homes because she will be stuck in the states as we strive to pad our bank account. We will not be able to connect some of these homes with the life-saving resources we have access to. We risk falling behind on our schedule to have these homes ready to receive volunteers by June 2011. Volunteers not only provide a source of income for homes, but serve as ambassadors for the orphanage upon return to their home communities.

So these next few weeks, as you sit around the fire with your families, listening to your favorite holiday tunes and watching the snow fall outside your window, please remember that for so many citizens of the world, December is just another month. December is another 31 days of worrying about where the next meal will come from or where the next night will be spent. The word Oasis represents a haven, a sanctuary, a refuge. Help us continue to carry out the tenants of this program.

We need $8,000 in the bank before Oasis can continue to do good.

Give a little. Give a lot. GIVE. The wellbeing of 1,200 children rests in the balance.

www.firstgiving.com/fkoasis

Flying Kites
61 Greenpoint Ave, Suite 501
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Designate Oasis in the memo line of all checks

*For more information on past events or the day to day life of Frannie in Nairobi, please visit www.movewiththeshakers.wordpress.com*

Come Alive With Me

I have been meaning to write this post for some time now. I kept putting it off. To be fair, I’ve had other things going on, but who doesn’t? Frankly, I had been meaning to post an update since I got home from Kenya, six months ago. Really dropped the ball there. This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a fellows’ summit for StartingBloc, the institute for social innovation that helped change my life nearly two years ago, opening my mind to the possibility of making some changes and perhaps doing something different. Which I’d like to think I did. But, this post isn’t about the conference, though it was the catalyst for opening a fresh word document this morning and hunkering down to write as I gaze at the Empire State Building through the hail and sleet that is this Monday, November 8th – World Orphans Day.  November 8th holds a special place in my heart for a different reason; it marks 365 days since I arrived in Kenya, and I came alive.

I’ll begin with a quick update: Flying Kites has gone through some amazing transformations in the past few months. We have officially relocated to Brooklyn, NY from Newport, RI. While we are keeping a presence in Newport, the bulk of our business will be conducted out of the Brooklyn office. We have an incredible open space in an old pencil factory, with the team apartment 4 blocks away, which will make for a quick commute in the blustery winter months. Personally, I am in the process of transitioning here full time. I plan to be moved in by the end of the month!! This is incredible for a number of reasons; I’m not embarrassed to say that one of them is that I will finally be out of my parent’s house, where I’ve set up camp for the past 6 months, working part time for Flying Kites, and full time on my father’s congressional campaign. It’s been a convenient solution, but I think we all agree that a 26 year old social butterfly needs to be out and about in the city, not stranded in the suburbs with her parents… I will admit though, just typing this makes me miss the gas fireplaces, 800 HD channels, DVR and free food…

This transition feels like fate for Flying Kites. The connections, meetings and networking we have been a part of over the past 6 weeks are remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that it is my HONOR to announce to those who have not yet heard, that we recently received an anonymous $100,000 donation. The significance of this donation has not been lost on us. We are now able to purchase the RV needed to launch our country-wide MyTurn tour in January, which promotes Flying Kites to Greek chapters at colleges and universities nationally. We can also let our breath out a little bit when it comes to covering operating expenses both here and in Kenya, funding additional construction on Flying Kites Leadership Academy’s campus, and of course, we can pad the ever-present, “emergency” fund. There’s nothing like an unforeseen vehicle repair or doctors visit to tighten our belt for another month.

Not to discount the enormity of this donation, but realistically, running a home for 19 children (yep, we have 19 now), trying to fund a $1.8 million dollar capital campaign and running our programs (including my Oasis program) both here and abroad, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket. And remember, we’re not paying ourselves with this money. We. Are. Full. Time. Volunteers. Right now the priority is our children; at some point, we hope to be able to compensate ourselves as well. Our hope is that this donation will inspire others to give big.

At capacity, the FKLA campus will be home to 150 orphaned and vulnerable children. Children who are, as you read this, living on the streets, or in unbearable home situations, some spending their days caring for sick parents, grandparents, or siblings, others unsure of where they will sleep tonight; children who have been forced to grow up too quickly, and with no fanfare. Right now, our temporary home is nearly at capacity. The sooner we have the funding to build these dorms, the sooner we can give these children the childhood they deserve. The childhood that it is their right to have.

Overwhelming, I know. Where does one begin to give? Where will your money have the most immediate impact? Can’t afford to build a dorm? A school is too expensive?

Sponsor a child.

Flying Kites staff and volunteers have given ourselves the challenge to have all 19 of our children fully sponsored by January 1, 2011. Full sponsorship of every one of our children covers ~85% of operating costs. That means that additional donations will go towards the larger projects that need funding.

It’s not my place to tell you the story of each of these children, but really, I shouldn’t have to. You know by the fact that they are at our home that they have had a rough time of things for the first few years of their lives. No child should have the experiences these children have had. No, what they have been through are things that shouldn’t be part of anyone’s childhood memories. These are my memories. Help us make them theirs as well: Birthday parties. Watching the same movie so often it wears out. Water parks. Pizza. Games of hide-and-go-seek. Freeze tag. Bonfires. Dance parties. New clothes. Hugs and kisses. Gleefully running away from hugs and kisses. Ice cream. The smell of new textbooks. Goodnight kisses. Bedtime prayers. Homework help. Pancakes. Forts. Playing house. Imaginationing. Bicycles. Singing. Dancing. Laughing. Loving. Feeling safe.

Do you have children? Do you plan to have them? What do you want for the children in your life? Help us give our children the life you envision for yours.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. To fully sponsor one of our children, it costs $2000/year. This includes staff salaries, food, clothing, school supplies, teacher salaries, school bus maintenance, doctors’ visits, etc… To share sponsorship of one of our children, it costs $1000/year. To sponsor one of the 60 community children that attend our school, it costs $300. This includes school supplies, food, teacher salaries, uniform and school fees. Contact Leila De Bruyne at ldebruyne[at]flyingkitesglobal[dot]org for information on the children who need sponsoring, or send me an email at hannah[at]flyingkitesglobal[dot]org if you have questions.

Want to give an alternate amount? I am responsible for raising monthly operating costs ($600-$800/month) for Oasis, the program I began in Kenya and manage in the states. Through this program, we reach ~1200 orphaned children each month. I have a counterpart in Kenya, Frannie. While getting our children sponsored is a priority, Oasis can’t run and Frannie can’t work if there is no funding. You can read more about Oasis’ mission and give at www.firstgiving.com/fkoasis.

Yes, this is a lot to ask for. But it’s nearly the holiday season, and aren’t the holidays about giving? Forego presents for one year and make this a family donation; get together with a group of friends and change a child’s life; challenge your friends, family and coworkers to do the same. Awake your soul and then encourage others to do the same. It’s a phenomenal feeling, I promise. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

I’ll leave you with a quote we heard this weekend. It has really resonated with me, and I came to work today with a renewed sense of commitment to this cause.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs, is people who have come alive.”  Howard Thurman

What I do is not necessarily what is right for you. What you do is not necessarily right for me. But if you are alive in what you do, then carry on, my friends.

**Alternately, if you have not yet come alive – send me an email; I’ll set you up to climb Kilimanjaro, kayak in Baja, zip line in Costa Rica, or come volunteer at our home for a few months, all while supporting our mission!! 🙂 Visit www.fkadventurechallenges.org or send me an email for details.

Nakupenda. xx.