Personal testimony - Michele Sprada

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Country: USA
Name: Michele Sprada
Date of birth:
Home: Buffalo, New York,USA

EMail: michelesprada@msn.com

I first travelled from my home in Buffalo, New York to Kisumu, Kenya in July of 2001 as a volunteer with Future In Our Hands. I had never been to Africa nor had I ever travelled so far from home alone. Upon my arrival, members of Future In Our Hands, Kenya met me with open arms. I immediately felt at home and at peace. After a good night's rest, I was greeted by several members who began to tell me about their organisation and its mission. I was given a copy of the book The Future In Our Hands by Erik Dammann, which I read within the first few days of my arrival. Reading this book opened my eyes to the real cause of the unfair distribution of resources in this world. I was incredibly impressed with the work that is being done by the volunteers in Kisumu and wondered why most people in my own country don't seem to work nearly as hard to help others.

The FIOH branch in Kisumu was founded by Cecilia Obuya in 1985 with the help of Mike Thomas from Great Britain. Mrs. Obuya now resides in the USA but continues to pay the rent on the flat, which is now the office of FIOH, Kisumu. The co-ordinator, Mr. Rom Wandera, is a strong leader and extremely dedicated to helping the poorest families in his community. Mr. Wandera, along with Mr. Robert Kodinga are both teachers at a very poor primary school in Usoma. But I think they spend more hours doing their volunteer work for FIOH than they do at their "real" jobs or at home with their own family. I was inspired by their commitment to helping their community.
There are so many exciting projects going on in Kisumu that I hardly know where to begin. The Education department provides sponsors for orphans and other students who are unable to pay for education. In 2001, even primary school was not free so we had to find sponsors for children from age 5 to 18. Now that education in Kenya is free up to Standard 8 (year 8 or grade 8), we have focused our efforts on finding sponsors for students attending secondary school and college. To date we have found sponsors for about 25 students but we are finding more and more sponsors each day. We also started a uniform fund so that families who live in complete destitution can send their children to school with the mandatory uniform and shoes. I have shipped hundreds of children's books to Kisumu, which now make up a mobile library that teachers carry on their bicycles to different primary schools throughout the Kisumu area. Since I am an elementary school teacher myself, I have enjoyed my work with the education department the most. During my first trip to Kisumu, my favourite job was teaching a group of child labourers in the evening. This group of girls, ages 10-15 was so eager to learn. I taught them reading and writing in English as well as maths. It took them a while to get used to my American accent but they learned quickly due to their strong desire to learn. I still keep in touch with several of them and have even found sponsors for two of them to attend vocational training.

The Health department is focusing on HIV/AIDS Awareness programs in rural villages, local pubs, primary and secondary schools. I was able to purchase a VCR and a generator so that FIOH volunteers can show videos about AIDS in rural villages where there is no electricity. They even have a public address system now so they can speak to a large group of people. Their AIDS programs are entertaining as well as very informative. The key to eliminating the AIDS Epidemic in Kenya is to make people aware of the problem and how to avoid spreading the disease. FIOH in Kisumu is doing an incredible job of spreading the information and telling people where to get help if they think they might be infected.

There is so much more to say about the amazing work being done in Kisumu. The Environmental Department has ongoing tree planting projects at primary schools. They also have planted bouganvelia in the centre of the city to beautify the main thoroughfare. Rom Wandera has studied botany and raises most of the seedlings himself at his own home and then they are planted at schools around the community.

Two new Youth Groups have recently been started. Both created income-generating activities that involve young people who have finished Form 4 (high school) and do not yet have a job. One group is selling corn meal and the other is involved in farming. These activities give the youths hope that they can earn a living by working together rather than turning to prostitution or other illegal means. Both groups have enjoyed success in their first year.

FIOH has also established a women's credit co-operative in which 9 or 10 groups of women work together and save money together. They meet on a monthly basis to problem-solve and celebrate their success each year.

The second year that I travelled to Kenya, I brought my aunt, Sister Linda Glaeser with me. Together we have managed to do some fund-raising in the United States, which goes directly to Future In Our Hands, Kisumu. FIOH does not receive any funding from the Kenyan government or any source other than donations from individuals. With the funds raised here in Buffalo, New York, FIOH Kisumu was able to build three wells in villages that did not have access to clean water. We are continually doing presentations about our work with FIOH at churches, schools, organisational meetings and even peoples homes. Our goal is not only to raise funds for these worthy projects, but also to raise peoples' awareness of the types of problems that people living in developing nations face and how we can help them.

If you have any questions about my volunteer work with Future In Our Hands in Kisumu, Kenya, please feel free to contact me at MSprada123@adelphia.net