John Wilson’s Story – Hope Kenya

I came to the United States in the early 1980s with a single mission…to further my education, so I could facilitate community development in my homeland of Kenya. At nineteen years of age and with an academic scholarship to study in Southern California, I was ready to begin the journey. My village of Machakos even pooled their resources to pay for my airfare and provide $200 for expenses. On arriving in the U.S., however, I learned that my scholarship had been a mistake on the university’s part and I was left with the option to return to Kenya at the University’s expense or stay in the US at my own expense. I chose to stay.

For a time I lived among the homeless in downtown LA, found refuge in the love and care of an African-American congregation who took me in and, no doubt saved a young 19 year old boy far from home, from all kinds of unknown perils. Eventually I made my way to the mid-west where I attained my degree, met my wife, started a family, earned more degrees and attained leadership positions in corporate America. I found the personal success I had come to this country to pursue. However, my mission for my boyhood village of Machakos remained elusive. I had the passion. I had the vision. But I needed help to bring it to life.

That help came a couple of years ago when I met Tom Bassford with Significant Matters (SM) and shared my dream. He began by helping me develop a strategic plan for what I wanted to do. My commitment was rejuvenated and I began to understand that I COULD turn my passion into reality. I could actually be a part of community transformation in my hometown of Machakos. However, even with my advanced degrees, I had a lot to learn.

First, I needed to clarify my mission. Taking time to think about the problems in Machakos helped me to do that. With high rates of HIV and AIDS, I envisioned safe places where families could be educated about healthy lifestyles. These centers for learning would offer education that would benefit the entire community. I wrote a mission statement and defined my vision.

The Mission of Hope Kenya

We exist to help community leaders develop self-sustaining resource centers within their communities to be used to train and educate people in economic, spiritual and physical development.

I had clarity!

Next we worked on the idea of collaboration; a core and strategic value of SM. I could see the value and necessity of partnerships if you’re going to create any kind of sustainable change. We looked at various models around the world, from America’s inner cities to South Africa and India. Seeing how those partnerships WORK gave further direction for my journey.

It was a journey that I knew would include big challenges. One of those would be acting as a “cheerleader” from here in the US for holistic community development in Machakos, where government officials do not often listen to those advocating change. We continued to lay the groundwork and think through contingencies to help increase the long-term success of the program. The process has taken a lot of time and I’ve learned a bit of patience along the way. After all, my mission had been 20 years in the making. Another year or two to build confidence and partnerships began to make a lot of sense.

In December of 2007, I began to build those partnerships. On a trip to Kenya, I met with government officials, social workers, educators, and the director of the Kenya National Public Library. The exposure SM gave me to some “best practices” and the clarity I had gained about creating sustainable partnerships prepared me for a series of difficult discussions with my Kenyan partners on this trip. Through those discussions and a lot of prayer, the barriers slowly began to dissolve, allowing a spirit of cooperation to develop.

I was able to form a leadership team in Kenya that is actually doing the work on the ground and SM helped me form a strategic advisory team here in Kansas City. They help me think through strategies, develop policies and evaluate the ongoing effort. I’ve been fortunate to be able to raise the necessary funds for this project and SM has helped give oversight and accountability to how those funds are spent.

As a result Machakos Hope Preschool opened as planned on May 5th with 30 students. Our plans are centered around the idea of a “Village Community Center” which serves as a hub to provide services for the whole community in the four areas of: Child Care & Education, Leadership Development, Economic Development and Health & Wellness. Additionally, we have piloted a micro-finance/industry with a local man to raise and take to market chickens. Our first loan was for $300 to raise 100 chickens which were then sold for $420 at the end of six weeks. We have so far to go but are filled with deep gratitude that finally, 20 years later the dream is alive and coming to pass!

John Gakuha (Wilson)

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