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.
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*