In March, 29 child sponsors and donors traveled to Kenya to discover how ChildFund projects are changing lives. They were met with open arms and open hearts.
One word that is heard all over Kenya is karibu, which is Swahili for "welcome."
It began at the airport with small children decked out in ChildFund's signature green color welcoming study tour participants with songs and well wishes for the visit.
ChildFund Kenya National Director Victor Koi added his voice. "I felt that as you stepped on Kenya soil, you must know just what your commitment and generosity has done. You must be truly aware of just how far sponsorship can go in changing lives and making a difference in those lives."
ChildFund President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard, who was in Kenya to travel with study tour participants to various projects and participate in child sponsorship day, recounted her time spent in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer. "Although I've been back to Kenya many times, it's a great honor for me now to come back here after 30 years, [this time] as president of ChildFund. You'll be learning more about a country that holds a special place in my heart."
ChildFund has worked in Kenya for more than 50 years, reaching more than 1 million children and families over the decades. "I think you'll see some exciting programs here," Goddard said. "I encourage you to learn about where we're going with those programs including ChildFund's area of excellence—how we're bringing children's experience of deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability into our programs. How do things look from where they sit? How do they feel about poverty, and how do we help them make a change?"
She pointed out that children share the same hopes all over the world. "As you were landing, you probably didn't hear," she joked, "but there was quite a ruckus in this room as the plane came into sight because all the children were at the window. And all of a sudden, they started jumping up and down. So you're going to see a lot of excitement from kids during your visit."
Over the course of the next 10 days, study tour participants, ably guided by the ChildFund Kenya staff, visited six projects where sponsor and donor resources are at work.
At an Early Childhood Development program, children in red-and-white gingham school uniforms invited visitors into their classrooms. At the Karai Pamoja Support Group, members shared heartfelt stories about coping with HIV/AIDs and how home-based healthcare through ChildFund had restored their health and livelihoods.
The Wamunyu Children's Rights Club performed lively songs, poems and skits, demonstrating their knowledge of children's rights. With ChildFund's help, the Wamunyu Breakthrough Youth Group is promoting youth education and vocational training while participating in community improvements, like tree planting.
Traveling the countryside, study tour participants learned of Kenya's environmental challenges that result in severe periods of drought and then flooding. Access to fresh water is often a matter of life and death. At the Manza water project, beneficiaries of a water bore installed by ChildFund in partnership with the local community shared how a steady supply of fresh water has helped more than 3,000 residents, allowing them to readily grow food.
Other ChildFund projects on the tour included the Kisongeni dairy goat association. Children in this community now have nutritious milk, and parents are improving their incomes by selling the extra milk and offspring. Seventy-two families have received training in dairy goat management skills. Also on the tour was the Wendani Self-Help Group that supports entrepreneurial small businesses through community loans. Women in the community use their newfound incomes to buy additional food and pay for school materials to ensure children's regular attendance and retention.
The ChildFund Study tour also included a few days of safari in Kenya's beautiful national parks and reserves, with incredible opportunities to view elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, wildebeests and exotic birds up close.
Yet, that excitement did not compare with the trip's culmination on child sponsorship day, when 20 sponsors met face to face with their sponsored children—most for the first time after getting acquainted first through letters.
"Meeting my child was fantastic," says Sylvia Moran, who traveled from Alexandria, Va. to Kenya. "Moreen is three years old, and she's just a beautiful little child. It was just such a wonderful day. I'm so glad I did it, and I'm looking forward to going on more study tours with ChildFund."