Junior Roxanne Benedict traveled to Kenya during a May 2010 cross-cultural course, and returned to campus inspired and motivated to positively impact the lives of Kenyan children affected by poverty and AIDS.
Together with Dawn Gearhart, instructor of family and consumer sciences, Benedict, a family and consumer sciences major, devised a plan to sew book bags; fill them with school supplies, hygiene products, books and notes of encouragement; and deliver them to Kenyan children.
Benedict, through participation in the Pennsylvania Family and Consumer Sciences Conference in Gilbertsville, Pa., in October of 2010 was able to secure additional assistance from family and consumer science majors across the state. Soon the project was embraced by dozens of like-minded students and professors.
“I just felt God’s hand was behind it all,” said Benedict. Students spent class time sewing the bags from materials provided by teachers and parents.
A remaining detail for Benedict to figure out was how to distribute the bags. She asked Njoroge Mbito, professor of human development and family science at Messiah, to help with the project. Raised in Kenya and currently running the Child AIDS Africa organization in Anderson, Ind., Mbito knows the country well and has many connections there.
“I am happy to be an instrument that touches lives of kids and gives hope, as well as be a change agent in the name of God,” said Mbito. Mbito travelled to Kenya in May 2011 with individuals from Gearhart’s class to distribute the book bags.
Gearhart said she is proud of her students and the endeavors they have made on the project. “Great things were created,” said senior Amanda Alexander, one of Gearhart’s students.
Senior Bethany Grab, also a student in the class, observed how kids sewing book bags in classrooms did so with pride and seemed to “feel purposeful and good about the project.”
More than 200 book bags were packed and distributed.
A shared goal among the project coordinators and volunteers is for Kenyan orphans to know they are loved and to have their day brightened with a book bag. “A life, freedom and not being exploited,” said Gearhart about what she hopes Kenyan students will someday have as she anticipates the joy the bags will bring them.
The bags play a small part in improving Kenya’s overall impoverished state but are a great start to cheering up the children. Gearhart also hopes her own students will broaden their worldview and become more aware of those who are not as privileged as students in the U.S.
“This project reflects James 1:27: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,’” said Benedict.
Benedict is looking forward to seeing how the project will further develop and hopes to witness a real change in the lives of these Kenyan children that impacts them for the better.
Story by Priscilla Morales ’12 and Beth Lorow. Photos courtesy of Mary Benedict `12 and Njoroge Mbito.