Wanji’s Story.

The Story

I was born and raised in the countryside in Gitombo, a small village in Kenya, Africa. I came to the US to attend Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado in September, 2000. Since my graduation in 2004, I have been working as chaplain in Denver. After living in the relative ease of the US, I began to think about my village, sensing a need to change some ways of life. For one, I developed a desire to do something about the impoverished lives of the majority of the people in Gitombo.  As early as I could remember, my father was always making efforts to develop our village. One of his major concerns was water. While he had been opposed to my coming to the US, once I was here he asked me to seek support to make water accessible to the people of Gitombo.  In 2002, an opportunity presented itself when I happened to share about my life in a Sunday school class, unaware that, the pastor’s wife was in attendance. She went home and talked about me and the village to her husband, the pastor. This compassionate and mission-minded pastor felt prompted to help my village get accessible water. He took the need to the church’s missions committee for assistance upon which they asked to provide details. My dad was so excited about the news. He went out of his way to have a survey and report completed immediately and sent it to me. Unfortunately, the pastor left the church soon after, and with his going, so went the water project efforts. I was discouraged, and so was my dad. However, the idea did not die.

PAAV vision is born

In 2003, an idea came to me while I was still at the Denver Seminary. While considering the idea of child sponsorship, and realizing how limited that would be in terms of meeting the needs of only some, I realized my entire village needed the adoption! The idea of “Project Adopt A Village” was born. I envisioned people from the US adopting the whole village. The thought seemed funny as I imagined a group of couples visiting the village and working alongside the people of Gitombo. An interesting sidebar to all this would be for our African men to see American men doing domestic chores traditionally assigned to women! For example, in Gitombo men do not go to the kitchen and do not hold babies – simply because they are men!  In addition to exposure to different models of behavior, the people of Gitombo would be empowered to realize their own resourcefulness. Together with others, they would become involved in activities that would result in the transformation of their lives and the village at large. I wrote all these ideas down in many subsequent journals over the ensuing years. The development and transformation of Gitombo has stayed with me since that day.

PAAV Vision and Family Involvement

In 2007, while in a Sunday service in another church in Denver, my thoughts traveled back to Gitombo village. This time the vision was of a multi-purpose building that would house a community hall, a library, a clinic, kindergarten, etc.  I may not have paid attention to what was going on in the service that day, but I believe God spoke to me! I put down my thoughts in the margins of a church bulletin. At the end of the service, I asked a woman sitting next to me to pray with me about the vision. The idea was so real that I hurried home to call my dad before he slept (Kenya is 9 or 10 hrs ahead of us, depending on the season). I talked to my dad and asked him to donate a piece of land. His response was: “if you are sure that this is something worth uprooting coffee trees,” he would not be opposed. However, he added, such an important matter should not be discussed via phone. He suggested that I come home and we discuss the proposal as a family. I come from a large family: my parents, four brothers, three sisters, my son, and many nieces and nephews.

Soon I began to plan my visit and in May, 2008, I traveled home. The year 2008 was a traumatic time in the nation due to tribal clashes triggered by the December, 2007 national elections. It so happened that my elder brother and his family lived in the part of Kenya where the clashes were intense, and they were directly affected. By the grace of God they escaped, traveled home and moved in with my parents. My other siblings are scattered all over Kenya. During my visit we held a family reunion weekend in Nairobi, during which time we discussed many family matters and the issue of land. I returned to the US, not knowing that would be the last time I would see my dad. In September, 2008, he unexpectedly passed away.  When I returned to Kenya to attend his funeral, I was gratified to see the way in which he was honored because of his life and accomplishments in the community.

Neither of my parents had formal education, yet in spite of that, they moved away from their ancestral home, relocated to a new village, and built a new life in Gitombo. Through hard work and entrepreneurship, my parents bought and developed their farm. Their life accomplishments remain a challenge to my life! They brought up and educated eight children, helped other relatives, and reached out to neighbors. In the 1960s my dad was instrumental in starting a village community water project, which supplied water to the entire village for about two decades. This project was the pride of the area until the 1980s, when older folks passed it on to the younger generation. The water project became run down due to lack of proper management and the inevitability of fast population increase. I am proud that I grew up in this village. I feel an affinity to the people and appreciate my early years and the memories. I am, however, surprised by the realization that even after so many years; the village has economically and socially not changed! Now that my father is gone, I sense a desire to build upon his overriding aspiration to develop and transform our village.

PAAV is born

After the burial, I returned to the US.  I lived with much sorrow and by 2010 I had to do something constructive with my grief. In November-December 2010, I applied for family leave from my employer to return home. I deliberately chose to spend most of my time in Gitombo with my mother. My stay in the village gave me ample time for reflection, but also helped to lighten my grief. The PAAV vision which had been developing for years gained momentum. I gained a stronger challenge and a passionate desire to make a difference in the village.

I became determined to build upon the work and vision my dad had for the village, combining it with my own vision. This thought makes happy:  I am doing this for God; for Gitombo; and for my dad! I know I have a God-given vision for this project.

The project will bring about a comprehensive community development; change people’s attitudes and way of living; do away with old and oppressive ways of life and adopt new ways that would bring the village into the 21st century. The project will enlist the participation of the local people in Gitombo as well as outsiders, and will function as a model to be emulated by other villages throughout Kenya; opening opportunities for children to be exposed to the outside world and live out their dreams, develop their God-given talents, and fulfill their purposes. They will then be encouraged to take ownership of the village, develop leaders and have young people finish school. As it stands now, children drop out of schools due to lack of school tuition, lack of support and motivation. Adult literacy is another major concern. Many older adults would benefit from adult education.

The health status of the population, especially for children and women, is another major concern. During one of my visits in the village, a woman sought my help because she had been told she has cancer. According to her story, she had miscarried months before and had since been bleeding! There are many horrifying stories of women dying in childbirth and infant mortality and other similar incidents that should not be happening! Evidently, this sort of life has been accepted as a normal way of life. It is unacceptable! Knowing that most of the unfortunate incidents and prevailing illnesses could be preventable through health education and basic hygiene, I feel a passionate desire to seek help to empower the people of Gitombo, resulting in the transformation of the entire village.

PAAV humble beginnings: Party for Gitombo children December 2010

Before going home for the two month family leave, friends in Denver had given me gifts for the children of Gitombo – developmental toys, school supplies, shoes, t-shirts and hygiene items. I went home with seven suitcases! While I had in mind giving gifts to a lesser number of kids, I was amazed at the population increase and was at a loss as to how to dispense the gifts. My family members, who had come home for Christmas, came up with the idea of hosting a Christmas party for all the children in Gitombo.  Along with the great idea, my family contributed to and planned the party to be held on December 26, 2010. We had a very large turn-out of kids in our compound that afternoon. God provided and somehow every child went home after having something to eat and receiving a gift from the US. I however, did not share their joy. Interestingly, I went to bed that night frustrated and discouraged, because while dispensing the gifts, some of the children had become unruly and failed to line up as a way of creating order. More than that, some children were openly dishonest, pushing ahead and coming back a second time to get gifts while others had none. Additionally, some of the older children would snatch from the younger ones. Why am I sharing this? That night God confronted me on my attitude. He helped me to see the unfortunate situation from another perspective. The question I felt God was asking me was “why do I think the children behaved that way?” He reminded me that I too may have behaved in the same way but for his grace. That night the idea of reaching out to the children in a compassionate way was reinforced.

One Sunday Morning

I returned to the US in January 2011, with both a desire and a challenge to do something about Gitombo village. It was overwhelming. For the next two months I was desperate and frustrated, not knowing what to do or how to begin. One Sunday morning, March 5, 2011, as I was thinking about it all and crying to God, God pointedly spoke to me about the project for Gitombo. This time I sensed the Lord saying: “open up Gitombo” to the outside world. I did not know what that entailed. All I could do then was write. And write and write I did that whole morning. I wrote out the PAAV vision and plan. Soon, I began to share the vision with my family and friends, mostly via email. I received heartening and encouraging responses.  I do not remember anyone saying anything negative. The responses could all be summed up in the question: “How come you never did this before?”

I became so passionate about the PAAV vision and shared it with anyone who cared to listen! One thing was obvious: Water had to be a priority. My dad had always been right about this. My biggest problem was then how to raise support. With a few of my concerned and mission-minded friends, we began to think about forming a non-profit organization. We explored many avenues. PAAV has since become a project of stories orchestrated by divine appointments, relationships, and networking! I have sensed God’s approval in the project all along the way.

Back in Kenya, my family looked for a local company that would take on the drilling project. Different companies gave quotations. Finally the “Qara Agencies Ltd, Borehole Drilling Contractors was selected and contracted to help with the drilling. Qara Agencies began by carrying out a water survey of Gitombo, upon which they sent a detailed report. I gave the report to one of the PAAV members, a Colorado water engineer, to review and give comments. His feedback was very positive, describing the report as professionally done.  PAAV then requested Qara to go forward and apply for a permit to begin drilling. Compared to American costs, their charges were relatively reasonable. Moreover, it felt right to use a local company that would also work with the local people to ensure Gitombo’s community ownership of the project.

Qara Agencies understood right from the beginning that that this is a compassionate project that would depend on donations. So that way they would need to patiently work with us. The cost of the project, according to their estimate given in Kenyan Shillings would cost KShs.3,934,500. 00 ( in dollars that would be between $40-45,000 dollars), depending upon the exchange rate and changing cost of materials. The figure was overwhelming, and I requested they divide the project into three phases, which they gracefully did. Payment schedules for the same are as follows:

Phase 1 – Documentation and Drilling – 1,853,500   (Kenyan Shillings)
Phase 2 – Supply and Installation of Borehole
Phase 3 – Piping

In October, 2011 I was connected to a lady named Cyndi, who has since donated many hours to PAAV creating the website and doing other computer-related tasks with a big heart! Thank you, Cyndi for all you have done and continue to do! Only God can repay you, my friend. Cyndi has since relocated to Conshhocken, PA and is no longer in Colorado. Yes, she has relocated but her desire to help PAAV-Gitombo remains in the same place – her heart!

In April, 2011,  Dori and her husband opened their home in Englewood, Colorado to hold another PAAV jewelry event. This event, led by Glea with the support of Dori, MaryAnne, Shirley, and Judy (who donated her own hand-made jewelry), raised over $7,000.00. This included a grant donation of $2,500.00 from Caryn through the Denver Foundation, Colorado. This is another example of God’s favor on PAAV: to have a family trust donated to PAAV, for the sake of the people of Gitombo!

In June, 2012, Jared another PAAV member offered to hold a fundraiser BBQ at his Miner’s Maze Amusement Park at Heritage Square on Sunday, July 22, 2012. This event demonstrated, leaving no doubt, that God has been orchestrating PAAV. The event raised $5,000! Praise God! To me, the biggest miracle was the compassion factor. I was amazed at the way mission-oriented people, consisting of both friends and other people I met for the first time, gave of themselves, their time, and finances to the project. They invited friends to join them in this wonderful venture.  Jared rallied his staff to do their best. Bel Mar Baptist church provided all the food and drinks, went above and beyond, as their pastors flipped burgers and hot dogs in the scorching heat with a contagious, enthusiastic spirit. All the other volunteers joyfully contributed:  a family and friends live band organized by my boss at work; a Kenyan mother-daughter duet, jewelry sales, face painting, puppet show etc. This was indeed a Miner’s Maze- PAAV -True Impact-and friends partnership!

Most PAAV donations come through individuals, and especially friends. One of my friends donated her entire income tax return. Another lady saved for five months to make a substantial amount. I have received donations from the residents of Christian Living Communities, who gave donations amounting to over $3000.00 from funds collected during Chapel offerings for an extended period. When we were close to drilling, we lacked finances, Georgia and Joe Berger, active members  of PAAV presented a request to Our Father Lutheran Church who came to our rescue by donating $1500.00! Other wonderful friends have diligently been sending monthly donations. Every dollar has counted. On April 1, 2012, another PAAV member visited Southern Sudan, and while there he decided to visit Gitombo. His visit is another step towards deepening relationships between the people of Gitombo and my American friends.  Thank you, every one of you! I am only a bridge between you and the people of Gitombo as I obey and open up Gitombo to you and other interested people!

Jesus charge: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matt 25:40.

The Bore Hole Drilling

In November, 2012, heavy equipment landed in Gitombo village, to the amazement of the residents! The borehole was drilled 250 meters (820 ft) deep and the casing was completed!  The Gitombo people were so ecited. The dream of having water flowing in Gitombo is half-way won. A glaring need for an electrical  powerful pump remains. Raising funds for this is in process. A total of $14,000.00 is needed for acquisition and installation. The water will be pumped into a medium-sized storage tank, already standing and waiting. In the future, a bigger storage tank will be constructed. Water will then be piped two miles down to the village. My desire has been for the people of Gitombo to come up with the funds for Phase three, to purchase the pipes. It is obvious that this has been a struggle and overwhelming for them. PAAV will continue to raise funds and hope that we can also assist the villagers with Phase three. The residents of Gitombo will however, be instrumental in digging the trenches and bringing the water into their own individual compounds, and ultimately be responsible for monthly payments.

In December, 2012, I travelled to Kenya. I held a meeting with the Gitombo committee members. Together we planned a meeting for the entire village. This meeting took place on December 27th and was very well-attended, representing all populations. It was evident from the meeting that the people of Gitombo are very pleased with PAAV. They vowed to do the best they can to participate in the envisioned community development which will be instrumental in having their lives and the village transformed. (More on my trip can be seen in the updates on the PAAV-Gitombo website.)

The consensus from the meeting was that it was crucial to have a leadership program in the village. Evidently, leadership education/skills are greatly lacking. The desire is to have training take place in the village to ultimately identify and single out a few potential younger people to own and champion PAAV activities. Water is life. Life will indeed change for all the people with the availability of clean drinking water for good health and hygiene; food production; water for their domestic animals etc.

In the meeting, the desire to build a multi-purpose community center was emphasized. This will be the next PAAV project.  The center will serve as the hub of the village, and with proper creativity and management, can be instrumental in income-generating activities, while acting also as a training center for the village.

The fundraising continues. Mission-minded friends and donors have continued to give support, either as one time gift or on monthly basis. I have received checks from people who have come to know about PAAV-Gitombo through my friends or others. In February, Our Father Lutheran Church came into the scene once again by giving $3.000.00 a substantial amount that has made a huge impact to the pump fund-raising drive!  The Lord bless you all for making efforts to support the efforts of PAAV to adopt, empower and transform the people of Gitombo! True Impact has promised to contribute a substantial amount towards this second phase. I believe very soon we will  have Phase two – pump acquisition and installation accomplished! Thank you fellow partners!

Mr Kamau, the Gitombo Village elder assures me of the expressed appreciation by the Gitombo community. They are appreciative of you all and what you have done and are doing for them. They constantly remember you all in their prayers, and they can pray! I join in that, and truly express my appreciation of you all as well. Without your support PAAV would not be in existence. I remain a humble bridge between you and Gitombo.

True Impact has informed me that they and a team mostly made up of young people will spend one day in June, 2013 in Gitombo, on their way back from Uganda. While in Gitombo they will visit, give gifts and form relationships with the people of Gitombo. This will be Andy’s second visit, the first being on October 2011. In retrospect I reflect on March 2011 when God asked me to open up Gitombo for others. Within three years, this has started to happen. The little village of Gitombo is welcoming visitors from beyond the hills and oceans. The vision to see Gitombo transformed lives on! There are many opportunities for carrying out many kinds of ministry in the future. Soon Gitombo will become a model to be emulated by other surrounding areas!

I plan on visiting Gitombo in August, 2013 and welcome anyone who wishes to join me in the trip to contact me, so we can plan early. The trip will include time in Gitombo village:

  1. To meet and visit with the people of Gitombo, to teach children or adults, encourage/ inspire, or share a talent/skill, etc, Assuming that by this time we will have water then, it will be fitting to hold a village-wide celebration meeting to thank God for how far He has brought us “Ebenezer.” (Still planning and working on the details for that.)
  2. A Kenyan game safari will be included!
  3. Experience an African wedding — my son is getting married on August 30th.

Two ladies are making plans to travel with me. I look forward to your support in all these endeavors. Please feel free to contact me any time.

One final thought to leave with you: Part of my desire is to collect books, good utensils, good musical instruments, developmental toys, Veggie Tales, etc to ship to Gitombo in the future. I need to explore this to ascertain whether this is a viable endeavor. It breaks my heart at times to see so many unread and sometimes, sorry to say, discarded books and other items while there is such a glaring need for reading materials in the Village. How I desire to see the children exposed to life outside Gitombo in a good moral development way! For now this is an idea, a dream, at this point. Who knows, you may be reading this and want to run away with it! Go for it! There is no limit to how much we can do if we put our hearts to it! Thank you all for all of your support and encouragement!

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