Take a stroll through Lancaster Central Market on a Saturday morning. Weave through the communal hustle and bustle and you will find far more than fresh, aromatic foods, where Rafiki's Deli is among the many stands offering one of a kind delights. Not only will you find authentic African dishes full of color and flavor, but you will be greeted with the same hospitality that, through this very market, offers refuge to the AIDS ravaged community in Alendu, Kenya.
The beautiful remote village of Alendu rests just south of the equator, not far from Lake Victoria, and is the birthplace of Dorothy Dulo, who with her husband Roger Godfrey, are the founders of Rafiki's Deli as well as Rafiki Africa Foundation. In 1996, during a visit home from school in the United States, Dorothy returned to find thirteen children living with her parents. Orphaned by AIDS, they had no place to find refuge. These children were no exception to the rule as the entire Nyanza Province has been decimated by AIDS, losing nearly an entire generation to the disease. Consequently, this has led to greater preventable disparities, reciprocating poverty, illness, HIV, malaria... the list is seemingly endless. It was then that Dorothy started on this journey; it was then that Alendu started to find hope.
The community may not know what they need, but they know deep hurt. Rafiki’s approach is to start with that hurt and work with the community to identify their needs, providing training, equipping and supporting both individuals and families. Rafiki’s goal is to achieve optimum health: the capacity of individuals, families, and community working together to transform conditions that promote sustainable spiritual, emotional, physical, social, environmental, and economic well being. While it may seem unfathomable, the dismal collision of cultural tradition and oppression make it difficult for the community to discern even the causes of transmitting HIV/AIDS. Through the loss of so many, there has been a breakdown in passing on education, technical training, and life skills.
LightHouse Academy is a school founded exclusively for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, and would otherwise not have the hope of an educated future. Their teachers are immensely invested in their students, to the point that they will often cover student fees independently. In a country where resources are limited, Dorothy has established the anti-private school. Rafiki provides medical care to the students and, as resources permit, to the surrounding community at a small fee; a means to instill ownership. This is often met with great animosity, as the “Missionary Model” of free services has replaced independence with entitlement through generations of fruitless handouts. The development of Rafiki’s farm provides some of the food needed for breakfast lunch daily for their students, often the only consistent meal in their lives. The following stories from Alendu intimately reveal hope that Rafiki has bestowed upon the community.
Benta is a mother of nine children, a grandmother to four, and is the first wife of Akuno, who currently has two spouses. Her oldest three daughters married when they were children, in a culture that readily chooses marriage for a fourth grade girl over an education. Their husbands cannot afford to support their children, so Benta has taken them into her home. Akuno is unfaithful, but he ignores Benta's pleas, so every six months, Benta goes to an HIV clinic and waits for the result; still negative, though she believes it is only a matter of time until she tests positive for HIV. Akuno doesn’t see the connection between his unfaithfulness and the costly potential, as his personal actions have thus far gone without consequence. Akuno tells Benta that she can go back where she came from if she isn't happy, yet she has remained faithfully by her family's side.
Benta lived a life entirely at the mercy of her husband. She existed as a second class citizen, subject to physical and verbal abuse with no hope for independence. Today she works for Rafiki managing the farm, directing staff, and cooking amazing food. Benta is the sole provider in her growing household. She is also a member of Rafiki Women, a women’s empowerment program that provides life and agricultural skills, economic and spiritual support. Benta has become self aware, and is one of the few, independent women in her culture who can stand up to her husband, rejecting violence and gaining equality. She is among the most loyal, dedicated, and courageous to be found anywhere, having an immensely driven work ethic and devotion to her family. Other women in the community are beginning to see the difference in Benta’s life and asking questions on how to start their own journey of empowerment.
Meshack is a single father of five living in Alendu. He once worked in the city of Kisumu as a tuk-tuk driver, a three wheeled taxi, and his wife owned a produce business. Today he is dressed professionally, and you might think he just left a meeting at Prince Street Cafe. That drastically changed in July of 2007, when his wife had an obstetrical hemorrhage while birthing to their youngest daughter. Despite receiving care during delivery at a government hospital, she bled to death in Kisumu. Your own mother will probably tell you that hemorrhage is both common and easily treatable in the United States.
Meshack’s eldest children, Esther and Nelly, are fourth and second grade students at Light House Academy. Sleeping under a mosquito net, the two girls and their brother share a bed in a one room mud hut bed with their father. Unable to care for his infant after the loss of his wife, Meshack’s sister-in-law has taken care of the two youngest children. At age 7, Meshack’s fourth daughter has been charged with watching her baby sister instead of attending school. Meshack was building a second mud hut for all of his children to live in, but ran out of money during construction. He has been praying to God for a means to provide for his family. Rafiki has been working with a donor to complete the project, adding a rain water collection system and solar panels for lighting. Meshack’s story is by no means uncommon; there is much work for Rafiki.
George is a young boy in the seventh grade with four paternally orphaned brothers. He lost his father over five years ago in the war against AIDS. George’s mother was then given a husband to look after her and the boys. As it turns out, they are both HIV positive, and she visits a clinic each week to receive antiviral therapy. Concurrently, she is pregnant with a sixth child to her second spouse, who does not provide for the family.
Daily at sunrise, the four oldest boys, George, Stephan, Clifton, and Brian, walk hurriedly together for LightHouse. The journey takes over an hour, through the hills and under the hot Kenyan sun. There, they find the only consistent food and clean water in their lives, learning and singing along with their classmates. After a full day of classes, they face another adventure returning home. The boys have only one hour of daylight to complete any school work before it is too dark to read.
After sunset, the four eldest sleep together on one bed, lying width wise with their legs hanging off the edge. Brighton, the youngest, shares a bed with his mother. On weekends, the young boys show tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and make rope from sisal leaves, and burn trees to make charcoal. They sell both products to buy and plant seeds to grow food in support of their family. Clifton, who is only in sixth grade, is also responsible for taking care of their neighboring grandparents. A day of making charcoal will yield 100 Kenyan Shillings, or the U.S. equivalent of earning $1.15. A few bundles of rope produce half that sum, enough for a large bottle of Coke. Their mother supports Rafiki’s vision entirely, knowing that her boys only hope for a promising future rests entirely on the education they receive at LightHouse.
Fifteen years ago, Evans was living as a paternal orphan with his mother and younger brother, Wycliff. Evans mother became ill in bed, and hadn't been seen for a week, so her brother came to check on her. When he asked Evans where his mother had gone, Evans told his uncle she was sick in bed, feeding the 18 month old baby Wycliff. Evans’ uncle found his sister passed away in her own bed, where she had been for some time with her baby still attached to her breast.
Evans has mental retardation from malnutrition as a young boy, but despite the obstacles he is expected to graduate from vocational college for carpentry at the end of 2012. He is one of Rafiki's earliest and greatest successes at LightHouse Academy due to his accomplishments from first grade all the way through college. Rafiki also provided him his own hut and helped raise him from about 5 years old into adulthood. Rafiki is presently working to build Evans a new hut after he graduates. Evans has faithful sponsors from Lancaster that provided the means of sending him to vocational school to master a trade to support himself as an adult.
“Rafiki” means "friend" in Swahili, and the community of Alendu could use just that. A true friend goes well beyond simply offering money to resolve an issue, and coming alongside those in need. The “Missionary Model” of blindly giving handouts has perpetuated greater issues. Simply by being white, or “mzungu,” it is assumed you are a western missionary, and going further, that as statement of faith, you are commanded to provide resources such as food and health care to the hungry and sick. A wave to say hello quickly turns into an open hand.
LightHouse Academy reaches out to two hundred children who would not otherwise have access to education as a result of being abandoned, orphaned, or impoverished. 134 of those students are supported by Dorothy & Roger out of their own paycheck from their stand at Lancaster Central Market, and that doesn’t include their graduates who are hoping to attend college for nursing and education. 100% of the profits from the Deli goes to support the Alendu community directly. Resources are limited, and there are many children who are not yet a part of Rafiki’s reach.
The school has enough solar power to operate a single computer, used only for administrative purposes. Yet LightHouse Academy has the third highest academic scores in the entire province, with the potential to go beyond if grades were the priority. The dedicated teachers and administrators at Light House are the backbone of this institution. Dorothy spends extended periods of time in Alendu developing Rafiki's programs, while Roger often remains at Central Market to manage Rafiki Deli. The couple hope to spend two continuous years together working at Rafiki in Alendu, to further its development as resources and staffing permit.
Certainly there are great costs required to fund any relief aid, especially in a country with corrupt government officials that prevent even free medical vaccinations from reaching those in need. In the physical, Rafiki's most urgent needs are to obtain a well for clean drinking water, reliable transportation, and housing for students and visiting medical teams. They are always in search of medical professionals to come to offer care to the community, as well as teachers. Dorothy & Takiya McClain recently led a team of nursing students from Harrisburg Area Community College to the village, offering acute medical care for three weeks.
The children in Alendu are no different from Americans, but their resources are fewer, while their challenges are so overwhelming. The situation is complex because life in Kenya is so simple; and so simple, because the situation is terribly complex. Supporting Rafiki Africa means providing resources directly to everyone in the community spanning education, agricultural support, clinical care, clean water, job skills, economic empowerment, and a hope for a brighter future. Every effort put forth in Kenya can have tremendous results, be it in offering acute medical care, seed to grow crops, elementary level education, love and friendship. Even if it doesn't seem substantial in the western world, it may likely seem the world to this community.
The next time you are at Lancaster's Central Market, stop by the deli and become a “Rafiki.” There is a community out there in need of your support, where immediately you can change a child’s destiny.
For more information on how you can help the community of Alendu, please visit www.RafikiAfrica.org, or in person at Rafiki’s Deli, Lancaster Central Market, Pennsylvania.