GUILFORD—On a recent chilly Sunday, a group of teens and adults gathered in the downstairs meeting room at the Guilford Community Church, United Church of Christ, to pack huge suitcases full of medical supplies, clothing, and books.
These items were donated by locals, and their destination will be a small Kenyan village called Kaiguchu.
In February, adults and teens who attend the church will travel to Kaiguchu to bring the supplies, and help the villagers with projects. The parishioners stressed the villagers would direct the work.
“Let’s find out what they need, rather than tell them what they need,” said Marguerite Monet.
Richard Davis, a registered nurse and Guilford’s health officer, added bags of little bottles of hand sanitizer to the suitcase holding the medical supplies.
While the group of adults and teenagers packed the suitcases, Davis schooled them on how to prepare for their trip.
He distributed copies of the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, and told the group to visit the Keene Travel Clinic, and their doctor, to get their immunizations and vaccinations.
“Probably the best recommendation I can make is frequent hand-washing,” Davis said, suggesting the travelers, “go to the dollar store for hand-sanitizer."
The connection between the town’s United Church of Christ and Kaiguchu is the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Muta Maathai.
When working with Amnesty International, Lise Sparrow, pastor of the church, met Maathai, and traveled to Kaiguchu to visit her.
When Sparrow began her tenure as pastor at the Guilford church, the parishioners began raising money to support children orphaned by AIDS in the village.
Sparrow characterized Kaiguchu as being smaller than Guilford.
Kaiguchu is the home of approximately 140 children orphaned by their parents dying of AIDS.
In all of Kenya — which has a population of 44.35 million as of 2013 — there are now 1.1 million children orphaned by AIDS, according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.
“Our church has been supporting children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya since 2006,” Sparrow said in an email to The Commons. She noted that in Kaiguchu, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles often take care of the orphans, and the idea of building an orphanage has been soundly rejected.
“They just take care of each other,” Sparrow said.
The relationship the parishioners developed with the villagers inspired many of them to want to travel to Kaiguchu, Sparrow said. In 2013, a group of teens made the trip, led by Monet and Cheri Ann Brodhurst. In 2014, another group — this time, mostly adults — visited. In addition, “every year we send money to Kenya to help” the orphaned children.
The third trip, in February, will coincide with the opening of a new secondary school in Kaiguchu, partly funded by the Guilford church’s donations. The school will allow 40 students per grade to attend, and all students attending the school are those orphaned by AIDS.
“Children cannot go to secondary school without paying tuition,” Sparrow explained. Building this school “will allow these orphans a chance they would not otherwise have to attend secondary school,” she added.
“This year, our teens are selling Kenyan tea in boxes decorated by Kenyan women living in poverty to raise funds for our upcoming trip,” Sparrow said.
She said the boxes come from a village near Kaiguchu. The women there decorate the boxes with appliques made of banana leaves.
By purchasing those boxes, filled with high-quality Kenyan coffee and tea, the village’s women earn money. Then, when the Guilford church’s teens sell the boxes, they use those proceeds to help the people of Kaiguchu.
“Kenyan tea and coffee are really good,” Sparrow said, adding the country has “the perfect climate” to grow the valuable cash crops. She said the items are fair-trade grown, and the coffee beans arrive green in the United States.
“The coffee will be roasted on Monday for Saturday’s sale,” Sparrow said, noting the freshness of the product.
The boxes of Kenyan tea and coffee will be available at the church bazaar on Saturday, Dec. 5. Sparrow also directed interested parties to the church’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/guilfordVTUCCchurch to purchase the tea and coffee.
The church’s youth group will sell other crafts and baked goods at the bazaar to help raise money for the trip.
Payton Lawrence made colorful, woven potholders. Rhys Glennon said he will bake pumpkin bread.
Alice Salter-Roy and her brother, Tim, said they are “excited” to visit Kenya with their parents, Wanda Salter and Todd Roy. It is their first trip to the country.
“At first, it was just the kids,” Salter said, but she and her husband decided to join them. Salter said she had a college friend from Kenya and has always wanted to visit.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the kids we’ve seen in pictures,” Lawrence said.
Glennon’s father, Bob, said the church’s project in Kaiguchu represents a “message of hope” for those villagers, and Guilford’s.
“During a hard time, they clung to their faith and hope,” Bob Glennon said, adding, “they just soldiered through."
Seeing so much poverty and sadness in the world can weigh heavily on a person, suggested Wanda Salter. “We have this need to feel that things aren’t hopeless,” she said, and helping the people in Kenya serves this need.
Through “the progression of projects in the village,” Glennon said he and the other members of the Guilford group understood “it wasn’t a hopeless task."
“We’re helping people have better lives, especially AIDS orphans,” he said.