A Message from IPI Founder & President, Dr. Karambu Ringera
I am writing this from the United States, where I am visiting for the next few weeks. I wanted to take this time to update you on the exciting things happening at International Peace Initiatives in Meru, Kenya!
IPI creates spaces where orphans can find who they are and thrive. Our homes provide a place where vulnerable children find love, care, shelter, food, education, and a roof over their heads so that they can break the cycle of poverty in their lives and that of their families. Additionally, IPI works with women living with HIV/AIDS, survivors of violence, and communities to provide them with the tools and resources to move to stability and self-reliance.
20 Years of Service
IPI has been in operation for 20 years! It started with a simple request from a widow living with HIV/AIDS: “Please help me take my child to school.” I was a student at the time and I had no answer to that request. I had not figured out how finish my own master’s degree at that point. Listening deeper, I knew I could not ignore her request. My very first fundraising event was held 20 years ago in November 2002 in Denver, Colorado. I hosted a Kenya Cultural Night event where I served Kenyan food, entertained people with African music and spoke about the impact of HIV/AIDS in my community. I shared stories from women who were left desolate when their husbands died from the disease, and the relatives who chased them from their homes so that they could grab their land. I shared stories of children left behind to fend for themselves when their parents died. And, I inspired and invited people to join me in creating a solution to this mind boggling global challenge!
At IPI, we dwell on crafting solutions to challenges we face in our communities. We inspire action for peace. Along the way, we have discovered that solutions are within us, never outside of us. We have come to understand that we are the solutions we have been looking for!
Twenty years later, IPI has supported the education of more than 2,000 children, with 52 attaining bachelor’s degrees! Many others have attained skills in various fields that have enabled them to break the cycle of poverty in their lives and in the lives of their families. In 20 years, we have been able to create a home for orphans that can house more than 80 children. We have created programs that enhance people’s ability to transform their lives. Women who saw themselves as hopeless and helpless today see themselves as the hope they have been looking for. They KNOW what that looks and feels like. They have broken the ceiling of their marginalization and they have tasted the sweet waters of a wasteland turned into a food forest!
COVID-19 in Kenya
Eighteen years we worked, and then COVID hit our shores! COVID-19 was/is both a disaster and an opportunity. With 63 children to feed and protect at the Kithoka Amani Children’s Home (KACH), I had to think outside the box. The Kenyan Government’s policy was to close all institutions nationally, including children’s homes, and send the children to their homes. The problem this policy created for KACH is that some of our kids have no home to go to. I also know the background of our children and I knew that to return them there would reverse so much of the good work we have done so far. For these reasons, I made the decision to keep the kids at KACH. That was a very good decision, as we learned from the stories that emerged about family situations because of COVID were horrible and sad.
COVID-19 created a huge gap in young women’s opportunities to transform their lives. During 2020-2021, there was a distinct increase in rape cases of underage girls in Kenya in general and in Meru County, specifically. Teenage pregnancy cases rose significantly during this period due to the high incidence of rape within and outside the home environment (by family members – dads, brothers, cousins, uncles, etc.). Mental health became a huge issue because of depression and trauma stemming from the abuse children experienced in their homes.
Our society is very patriarchal. The lives of children, especially girls, were further complicated by COVID-19 in a society characterized by gender inequality where women and children are considered valueless. Consequently, many girls dropped out of school over the past two years. Gender-based violence incidences also increased tremendously, further complicating the family domain. When young girls drop out of school due to early pregnancy, they are rarely able to go back to school.
Looking Forward to the Future
At our home, everyone stayed safe, and no one contracted COVID. All the girls and boys are back to school. In 2020, while schools were closed due to COVID-19, KACH kids thrived. Not because we are better than others, but because we discovered long ago that we are the solution we are looking for! We were able to build a boy’s dormitory, grow our own food, learn survival skills in the remote part of Meru where we lived for seven months, and bonded more as a family. They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In Africa we also say that when we walk together, we go far. COVID taught us that there is no force more formidable than a group of people committed to keep each other safe from the challenges life throws at us.
There were many people who stood with us during the COVID-19 years: those who donated to IPI, locals who brought us food, and everyone who kept us in their hearts and prayers during those challenging years. THANK YOU for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Together, we grew stronger. And today we have a powerful story to share with the rest of the world. Indeed, I am the solution I have been looking for!
I would love to share more with you about the powerful, transformative work happening at KACH. I’m in the U.S. for the next two months, visiting with partners and supporters. If you are interested in attending one of my scheduled events or getting together to discuss the work we are doing, please let us know by replying to this email! I will be in Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and New York. We cannot do the work we are doing without you, and I am so thankful for your partnership!
Dr. Karambu Ringera
IPI Founder & President
IPI-U.S. Board of Directors: Timothy Ehlinger (Chair), Mike Beerntsen (Vice Chair), Kathleen Holton (Secretary), Angie Phetteplace (Treasurer), Eamon Aloyo (ICSP Director), Bridghette Parker (Director), Michael Steinback (Director), Nancy Martin Ross (Advisory Committee)