Tellico Villagers Aid Kenyan Children

By Hugh G. Willett, Sunday, April 20, 2014

According to an African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child.

In the spirit of that proverb, Tellico Village residents have been helping raise an entire school of children in Kenya.

Ruth Thornton began studying at the university in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1972. Since then she has made about 25 trips to the country on special missions to help support the education of more than 100 children, about half of them orphans, at the Lion’s Academy.

The academy was founded in 2008 by Harriet Nkatha, a teacher who rescued abandoned children from the streets and took them into her school.

“Harriet has a real passion for these children,” Thornton said.

Thornton and her husband, Paul, donated money to help build the school and kitchen facilities and have provided regular financial support to help meet the children’s basic needs.

“It’s a very poor area. They can’t grow a lot of food,” she said.

A few years ago, the Thorntons recruited the Tellico Village Kiwanis Club to provide additional support. The group has been holding pancake breakfasts twice a year to raise money for the school, according to member Ray Scott.

“Last year we bought them shoes,” he said.

Donations have helped pay for a well that relieved the children of the duty of carrying water long distances every day. The school still has no electricity, and meals are made up of beans and rice.

The school has faced challenges that include accidents, storms and most recently robberies by armed bandits intent on stealing the children’s food.

The gunmen entered the school at night and told the children to keep silent. While the children cowered on the floor, the robbers loaded the school’s monthly food supply onto trucks, Scott said.

“The local police said there was nothing they could do, but they should build a fence around the compound,” he said.

Raising an additional $4,000 for hundreds of feet of heavy-duty fencing was no easy task, but was accomplished with the help of fundraisers and donations from other Tellico Village residents.

The children are grateful whenever they receive gifts, even T-shirts, and write regularly to their benefactors in Tellico Village, Thornton said.

Academic performance of the children ranks among the top 10 for schools all over Kenya. Last year the children achieved sixth place in a nationwide drama competition, Thornton said.

At the core of the school’s success story is Nkatha, the headmistress.

“I don’t know how Harriet does it, raising 48 orphaned children in a hostile environment, but she does,” Thornton said.

Recently Nkatha was faced with another challenge. The government of Kenya has added new requirements for teacher certification. The cost of certification, about $1,000, would be prohibitive except for the generosity of the Kiwanis Club, Thornton said.

She said the Tellico Village Kiwanis and the Lion’s Academy would welcome any additional support from local individuals or groups.