Makindu Children’s Program is a charitable 501(c)(3) non-profit organization headquartered in Eugene, Oregon that supports a day resource facility called Makindu Children’s Centre (MCC) in a rural region of eastern Kenya. The Centre provides for the nutritional and medical needs of hundreds of destitute AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children, as well as access to primary education through high school, psychosocial support, advocacy, and vocational training. The children live in guardian homes in the community, and come to the Centre daily for food, recreation, bathing and laundering facilities, emotional support, and crisis intervention.
History of Makindu Children’s Program
The asphalt lanes of the Mombasa highway wind over three hundred parched miles from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. About a third of the way from Nairobi is a truck stop called Makindu, whose residents eke out a living tilling the red soil and serving the trucks that roar by endlessly. It is a poor place, with few reliable resources. The poverty is further complicated by lack of food and jobs, with many unable to access education or medical care. People die daily (especially the children) of preventable medical illnesses and diseases. AIDS flourishes, leaving many orphans.
In 1996, Oregon paramedic Winnie Barron volunteered as a medic in Makindu and met the hungry, sick and dying orphans the community could not find ways to support. With a local teacher, Dianah Nzomo, she planned a children’s center, and with the help of friends in Oregon, founded the Makindu Children’s Program in 1998.
Initially, many Makindu residents questioned Winnie’s intentions, wondering if hers would be another ill-conceived project that would raise expectations and then disappear. The problems facing the orphans were greater than a lack of food or education. “What are you going to do with the children after you have educated them?” they asked. Without prospects for work, “they will become educated thieves.”
Barron and her supporters reconsidered their approach and decided the Program would succeed by going one step at a time, following the suggestions of the community. Instead of maintaining an orphanage, the children are placed with foster parents (typically grandparents, the poorest in the area who are receiving no other aid). During the day, the children come to the Program center, a simple concrete building, to receive food, to bathe and to wash their clothes. They receive periodic medical checkups, have their fees paid at local public schools, and receive job training. The children are also taught nutrition, HIV/AIDS awareness and learn agriculture at the Project’s shamba, or garden, where they grow high-protein crops for food and to help defray expenses. Recently, the Program financed a well to provide the shamba and the Centre with water. By operating in this way and teaching the children to support themselves, the Program serves and educates the larger community as well. And community support for the Program has soared.
Today, hundreds of children, from infants to 18-year-olds, are served by the Centre at an annual per capita cost of about $420. The staff is hired locally and cooperates with other international aid agencies. Winnie Barron’s vision has taken root and celebrates the success of many of its children, who have completed education and are now self-sustaining citizens giving back to the Makindu community. But the problems afflicting Makindu and Africa persist, and effective grassroots operations like the Makindu Children’s Program require continued support from aboard in the form of money, time, effort and participation.
In terms of human misery, Africa often appears to be a kind of black hole, where things go from bad to worse and vast amounts of aid disappears or lines the pockets of local kleptocracies. What would be the point of giving to yet another aid program? It may be useful, however, to recall a time and place closer to us where poverty was rife, disease was prevalent, and the rate of illegitimacy and child abandonment was high.
This was the American frontier in the 1740s, into which immigrated a quarter-million people from England’s northern and western borders violently driven from their homes. Despite the robust growth and revolutionary success of America, the problems of the place persisted and Appalachia became synonymous with misery. It takes a long time and long effort to rectify old problems. Africa is a modern human frontier and Makindu is a small place on the road. The Makindu Children’s Program offers hope. The kids could use your help.