As Susan Montgomery '80 prepares for the Christmas season in her suburban Philadelphia home, she’s also making sure children more than 7,000 miles away are not forgotten.
Montgomery’s goodwill is put into action by the Friends of Kenyan Orphans (FOKO), a nonprofit organization working to rescue the hundreds of children orphaned or abandoned in Kenya every day, largely due to the AIDS epidemic, but also as a result of crushing poverty and disease.
“You look out on the world and see all the problems and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed,” said Montgomery, current FOKO board president whose aunt and uncle founded the organization. “Giving to FOKO is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to combat that helpless feeling. This effort is really making a difference.”
The organization was founded by Bud and Sue Ozar '63, of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, who went to Kenya and witnessed for themselves the human catastrophe unfolding in East Africa.
“We saw the alarming increase in the number of orphaned and abandoned children on the streets and languishing in villages,” Sue said of their experience as volunteers at the Children’s Village in N’chiru. The home was founded by Father Francis Limo Riwa, a Catholic priest trying desperately to stem the deluge.
“Our mission crystalized in that realization: Bud and I knew we had to help these children," Sue said.
So, in 2009, the couple created FOKO, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. To date, donors have contributed nearly $1.5 million and helped nearly 5,000 children.
But the work is far from over, which is why Montgomery is helping her aunt and uncle make a special push to help boost efforts as the year closes. To contribute go to the "Save Another Child" campaign on the FOKO website: https://www.friendsofkenyanorphans.org/our-work/saving-one-child-at-a-time
It’s estimated that there are more than 3 million orphans in Kenya, many losing parents due to HIV and AIDS. They suffer stigma, as well as traumatic stress. Not only do they lose their parents’ care and protection, they are often abandoned by relatives. They lack both basic needs, such as proper healthcare, education, shelter and nutrition as well as a community to provide social support.
“They are truly bereft of any and all life-sustaining supports,” Bud said. “Friends of Kenyan Orphans steps up to fill that gaping wound, and we are incredibly thankful for the thousands of people – including those in the Philadelphia area – who have helped us do that with their donations.”
In 2013, both Sue and Bud were awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Chestnut Hill College for their humanitarian efforts. Father Riwa was also honored earlier this year with his own honorary doctorate.
FOKO raises and disperses funds and resources to grassroot centers in Kenya, working with the founders of such centers, including Father Riwa, to ensure their funds directly support needy children. FOKO is specifically partnering with Father Riwa in efforts to reach children with HIV and those suffering from AIDS. It’s believed that 12-15 percent of households in Kenya are headed by an orphan sibling.
FOKO also supports the St. Clare Girls’ Centre in N’chiru, Kenya, which provides daily meals, shelter, schooling, medical attention and personal direction to young girls as they grow to become confident women. Mercy Thuranira '18 came from St. Clare Girls' Centre to CHC nearly seven years ago. As a student, Thuranira was involved in many clubs on campus and also worked in both the library and the controller's office, taking what she learned both in and out of the classroom to help her find a fulfilling career at Deloitte. An accounting firm that specializes in auditing, tax services, consulting and advisory, Deloitte's website states that what sets it apart from other firms is its "drive to make an impact that matters in the world." It's a message that is not unlike FOKO's own, as through the organization a real difference is being made in the lives of thousands of children.
"I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in shaping and building my future so far; Father Riwa, my CHC family, my host parents and most of all FOKO members who have sacrificed a lot not only for me but also for the St. Clare Family," Thuranira wrote in a reflection for the FOKO website. "Thank you all for your unwavering support. Stay blessed!"
Another young girl from St. Clare, Lilian Nabaru, 15, would not have gone to school had Father Riwa not rescued her from an early marriage that her uncles had secretly arranged with a 60-year-old man. Nabaru told the Catholic News Service that the priest returned the 10-cow dowry the man had paid her family. Today, Nabaru is a 10th grader at the school and has her sights set on a bright future dedicated to helping children who once were just like her.
“I want to become a nun and teacher so that I can also change lives of vulnerable children,” Nabaru told a reporter. “I want to go to my community and fight for the rights of girls to education.”
That kind of impact inspires Montgomery like nothing else, who said: “These children deserve a dignified life, and we believe it is our mission to rescue and educate them.”