When Nedi Gaya, RN, BS, and her family founded Sequoia Helping Hands 17 years ago, the motivation was clear and so was the goal. The organization was born out of our desire to help the children and widows left behind as a result of AIDS and malaria in the province of Karachuonyo in Kenya, says Gaya, a cardiac care nurse at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. My family had been talking so much about orphans created by the disease, and we wanted to help.
Sequoia Helping Hands was formally incorporated in 2003 by Juni Asiyo, Gayas cousin. For about 10 years before that, Gaya and some of her family members in the U.S. would pool their money and send it to an aunt in Karachuonyo, who would use the money to care for orphans she took into her home. It was common for heads of households to be 13 or 14 years old, she says. They had no resources to take care of themselves.Students and faculty gather outside school in the province of Karachuonyo in Kenya.
The family soon expanded its efforts, fundraising in North Carolina, raising awareness of the organization and the situation in Kenya, and networking with those who were able to help. Some of us travel to Kenya to hold medical camps three times a year, Gaya says. We also provide shelter, clothing and food, as well as give micro loans to widows to start small businesses. One of the widows sells vegetables at the market and is able to sustain herself and four children. We have also built homes for some widows who help care for orphans.
Medical camps are held outdoors instead of in a facility or clinic, but there are plans to build a clinic. During these camps villagers are tested and treated for waterborne diseases and malaria. The organization also is making potable water a reality in the village. Many villagers drink and bathe in water from a dirty river that runs through the area. Sequoia Helping Hands is purchasing water tanks and corrugated tin to replace grass roofs on village huts. Rainwater runs down the grooves in the tin and can be collected into the tanks to be used for drinking and cooking.
Educational opportunity also is an important necessity in the village one which the organization is helping to remedy. We have helped about 100 students over the years, and we have 20 students right now who are sponsored by people outside the organization, Gaya says.
Construction on a secondary school and a girls dormitory also was completed. A girls dormitory was constructed because female orphans in the village are vulnerable to such things as being married off by relatives and being taken in as house girls to do chores. They end up fetching firewood and water, cooking and caring for younger children, instead of concentrating on their studies, Gaya says. The dormitory provides a better study environment.
Gaya says a challenge is financing. It costs about $600 annually to sponsor a child for a year, which includes school fees, clothing, food and shelter.
Not all the children are sponsored, but we are grateful for those who provide financial support to the organization. Donations have come from many people, including Gayas fellow nurses at Duke.
I cant imagine myself as a 13-year-old having to raise my siblings, like some of these children do, Gaya says. It gives me encouragement to know we can help them better themselves and become self-sustaining, with the assistance of those who have supported us.
Sequoia Helping Hands also is working toward building and operating a nursery school in the near future. One day at a time, Gaya says. We still have a lot of work to do.
Sequoia Helping Hands is a registered non-profit; 100% of donations go toward its efforts. For information on Sequoia Helping Hands, visit Sequoiahands.org.