Summit Christian Church’s youth ministry, 1-Life, has raised more than $55,000 during the past few years to directly assist a slum region near Nairobi, Kenya, called Kiamaiko.
“With an overall goal to develop a holistic approach to poverty alleviation, the money raised has helped to start an elementary school, currently with an enrollment of 230 children,” said Michael Shigeta, photographer and Sparks resident. “Additionally, the funds have been used to partner with Christian Missionary Fellowship (CMF) to bring healthcare personnel into the area to educate the community on basic hygiene and nutrition. In an effort to help the residents gain increased independence, a micro-finance business group has also been created.”
Shigeta said more than 70,000 people live in Kaimaiko, most of them residing in 10-foot by 10-foot shacks comprised of sticks and metal sheeting.
“The shacks are devoid of plumbing, flooring and electricity,” he said. “Forty percent of the population is HIV positive or currently has AIDS.”
In August 2010, nine teenagers and 10 adults from Summit Christian traveled to Kiamaiko.
“The youth and their leaders worked hand in hand with CMF employees,” Shigeta said. “They met and saw firsthand the residents who are directly benefiting from their fundraising efforts here in Sparks.”
Among the short-term missions team was Jenny McCaffrey, who said being able to go to Kenya in person was an amazing experience.
“We really believe in sharing our love with others,” McCaffrey said. “It is amazing what is happening over there.”
McCaffrey said children in Kaimaiko desperately want an education.
“There are kids waiting to get into school,” she said. “But they need a bigger school.”
The majority of the 11 days the group was in Kaimaiko was spent in the school, she said, but many afternoons were spent out in the community.
“Mostly our project focused on kids,” McCaffrey said. “We spent a week at the school teaching Bible studies, school lessons and just loving on them.”
School supplies were given to the school while the group was there as well, she said.
Dave Macaulay and his son David, who was 17 at the time of the trip, and daughter Erin, who was 14 at the time, also went to Kaimaiko as part of the group.
“It was quite the experience,” Dave said. “We are all going back in June, but this time my wife (Renee) is going too, so it will be a family trip.”
The Summit group is returning to do work similar to what was done last year, Dave said.
He explained Summit sponsors a school for children up to sixth grade, and that all the students are sponsored by people who pay a monthly fee of about $35.
“We sponsor a 7-year-old girl, and we got to meet her,” Dave said. “The kids get two hot meals a day and get to go to this school.”
At night, the children return to their homes in the slum, but they are taking their knowledge of important concepts such as hand washing before meals back home with them, he said.
Erin said the church’s youth ministry wears “prayer bracelets” featuring a photo of a child in the school. The bracelet reminds the Sparks teens to pray for that child each day. While in Kenya, the youth got to meet the children they pray for.
“It was really cool meeting the kid you pray for,” Erin said.
David said he was taken aback by the kindness the children showed and how the Summit group was welcomed upon arrival.
“We rounded a corner and saw this valley of tin houses and dirt,” David said. “And the kids gathered around us and sang a welcome song.”
It was surprising to receive such a cheerful welcome from people living in such sad conditions, he said.
The Summit group worked with the school children in the morning, and then while the students were napping, would go outside and play with children in the neighborhood, Erin said.
“They were very creative,” she said, as she explained that the children made up a game involving balancing a ball. “But they didn’t have a ball. They pretended to have a ball.”
Working alongside CMF, Summit’s missionaries spent time teaching community members about the gospel and about sanitation practices, Dave said. Also, as part of a project called “Bring the Light,” fiberglass skylights were installed in the tin roofs (since many do not have lights or electricity) while the Summit group visited with families.
One of the best parts of the trip, Dave said, was seeing the Sparks teens working hard to make a difference.
“Watching these kids go to a place like that and work their butts off was awesome,” he said.
McCaffrey said part of the funds raised for Kenya go to finance a micro-loan development program that helps the people of Kiamaiko start their own businesses and get out of poverty.
“Like a soap-making business,” McCaffrey said.
Kenyans who utilize the loan service are quite diligent about repayment, she said.
“Their loan repayment rate is something like 98 percent,” she said. “It’s not like it is here.”
During a Sparks City Council meeting Monday, Mayor Geno Martini recognized Summit’s youth ministry for their efforts, and youth pastor Bryan Smith accepted the commendation on behalf of the group.
“Several of the 1-Life students, parents and youth group coaches filled seats at Sparks City Hall and applauded as Mayor Martini handed the certificate to Smith,” Shigeta said.
“I am truly blessed by the opportunity to work with these kids who are making a difference in the lives of many others,” Smith said, adding that it was “really cool to see kids think about the world outside of themselves.”
As an ongoing effort to generate the funds needed to perpetuate the momentum created in Kiamaiko, 1-Life will be hosting a dessert night at Red Hawk at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, Shigeta said. The featured speaker will be Mary Kamau, the Kenyan woman responsible for starting much of the work in Kaimaiko. Seating is limited and tickets are available through Summit Christian Church by calling 775-424-5686.