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C  O  V  E  R      S  T  O  R  Y

E WAS AN ORPHAN, pulling himself and his useless legs through the dust with no one in the world to care. He looked up into a man’s face—the only man he’d ever heard of who might help. “Want walk,” he implored. “Want walk!”

Those words so touched Ken Hill that he determined to do whatever he could to give the young boy at his feet—Moses—legs that worked and a future. And not only Moses, but also the 80 other children dragging around a compound near a government school at Kendu Bay, Kenya.

In this malaria-ridden area with an unemployment rate of nearly 90 percent, even the fit struggle for food, and historically there has been an extremely high mortality rate for children with disabilities.

“It was just a collection of children with physical disabilities—no medical attention or other things we take for granted,” recalls Hill, a retired physical therapy instructor, of the sight that greeted him and the three other physical therapists he’d brought with him. They were there at the request of Eric Rajah, a Canadian businessman, and ADRA/Canada to assess the situation and start a treatment unit for the children at the government-run Nyaburi School for the Physically Disabled.

The rehabilitation facility was built and partially equipped by A Better World, the umbrella name for overseas projects of Canadian University College’s Campus Ministries Department. The idea was the brainchild of Rajah and Brian Leavitt, then college/academy chaplain. Canadian missionary and pressman Ted Proud, who worked at Kendu Bay, had told Rajah of the children with disabilities who were one unit in the 500-student public school serving children without disabilities as well. Based on Proud’s observations, Rajah and Leavitt pushed ahead, convicted that even a few individuals working together could alleviate some of the suffering in the world.

As Hill surveyed the children in the compound, he saw that many of the deformities were caused by polio. Although new incidences of polio are practically unknown in industrialized countries, Hill had had a lot of experience with it in the 1950s as a therapist at England’s first national health rehabilitation center. Standing there, Hill realized he was exactly the kind of therapist these children needed.

The Impossible Dream
That was in 1991. Ten years later Hill and his dream for young Moses have been the driving force to accomplish what seems almost impossible: a multifaceted surgery/rehabilitation, education, and primary medical-care program covering more than 150,000 Kenyans in three municipal districts, built on cooperation with the local people and government. In the Kendu Bay and Homa Bay areas, about 3,000 individuals with disabilities now have lives they never dreamed possible after rehabilitation and vocational training that traces its roots to the involvement of Ken and Hazel Hill and A Better World.

More than 200 children have received corrective surgeries; adult as well as child outpatients receive physical rehabilitation plus education or vocational skills; children and adults with disabilities in far-flung villages are visited by 15 local therapists led by Hill and paid by the Kenyan government.

Nearly every year since his first visit Hill has spent about three months at a time working at the Nyaburi school and its rehabilitation center, mostly at his own expense. Through the rest of the year he raises funds for the ministry (channeling most of the money through ADRA/Canada) and enlists other volunteers. “It’s wonderful to start something new,” observes Hill, “but there is no way this could happen without thousands of individuals giving their small donations.”

Among the volunteers have been Hill’s colleagues, physical therapy interns and supervisors from Andrews University (where Hill’s daughter taught in the physical therapy program). Members of the Canadian University College campus church—Darrell and Lynda Krenzler—used their vacation and vocational skills to design rehabilitation equipment from durable local materials. Even a Red Deer, Alberta, physical therapist with no Adventist connections (except that she heard about A Better World while taking the marital and family therapy program under the auspices of Loma Linda University on the campus of Canadian University College) worked for two weeks at Kendu Bay as part of her African vacation.

An Ongoing Partnership
Local involvement and talent are critical to the Kendu Bay project. The project is now comprised of: (1) food, housing, and support for the disabled unit of the Nyaburi School for the Physically Disabled (for children 6-16); (2) a rehabilitation unit on the grounds of the school; and (3) a community-based rehabilitation (CBR) program that sees 15 local therapists going out into the villages of three districts, including Homa Bay.

The CBR program is by any standard a great success. Not only is it one of the primary medical services for three municipal districts, it has been a major force in turning around community attitudes toward people with disabilities. In 1994 Hill was asked by the Kenya Ministry of Health to implement a World Health Organization program in CBR. Today there are 15 therapists, trained by Hill, following the structure and procedure he put in place, and paid by the Kenyan government. These therapists have in turn trained front-line advocates for people with disabilities in hundreds of villages.

Ten Years of Progress

Over the past 10 years A Better World has been involved in the following community/humanitarian projects around the world:

1990—Physical therapy center established in Kendu Bay, Kenya.

1991—Emergency medical examination room established at Scheer Memorial Hospital in Banepa, Nepal.

1992—Corrective surgery provided for 75 children in Kendu Bay.

1993—Medical clinic and care for 90 children in Somalia, with health and family training for mothers.

1994—Medical clinic established in Pothanagama, Sri Lanka.

1995—Anatha Ashram orphanage and family planning clinic in Hosur, India, completed and services expanded.

1996—Bridge in Thailand reconstructed.

1997—Multiservice center for education, medical care, and agricultural training built in Gandiganumala, India.

1998—School in Philippine village of Tacucon constructed and teachers recruited.

1999—Health-care center established in south Sudan.

2000—Can$250,000 worth of medical equipment shipped to India.

The work and dedication of the 15 local therapists is so highly regarded that the CBR training course is now also taught at a government hospital in Homa Bay. Social workers, local therapists, and CBR representatives cooperate in getting assistance for those who might benefit from surgery or treatment at Kendu Bay, where many of the corrective surgeries have been done by a skilled and extraordinarily dedicated surgeon at the Seventh-day Adventist hospital, Erastus Odira, who is originally from the area.* “Without Dr. Odira’s work, we wouldn’t get the results we do,” says Hill. “It’s the combination of surgery and physical therapy that puts the disabled on their feet.”

The Kendu Bay project has another important ally in the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the branch of the Canadian government that assists private humanitarian work overseas. Because of the successful long-term linking of Canadian and local community involvement, ADRA/Canada received block funding (funds it can use at its discretion) of Can$100,000 each year for 1999, 2000, and 2001 for the proj-ect from CIDA.

“We like working with ADRA,” says Fatima Ameen, the CIDA program officer who oversees ADRA’s involvement in Kendu Bay, “because they’ve been on the cutting edge in taking risks, going into areas other NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] might not go.”

The financial arrangements between humanitarian organizations are, by nature, complex. For example, the training and wages of the community rehabilitation therapists and the school’s teachers are paid by the government, but some essential items such as food and shelter for the students depend entirely on donations received by Hill and A Better World. CIDA money pays for community projects and rehabilitation costs. Some corrective surgeries are done by Dr. Odira at the Adventist hospital; some corrective surgeries and specialized plastic surgeries by visiting U.S. doctors are done at a large hospital five hours away, where the cost is underwritten by the Anglican Church and Christian Blind Mission International.

“The NGOs work together,” says Hill. “We have to; we can’t do it all ourselves.”

Positive Self-help
Indeed, everyone connected with Kendu Bay and A Better World acknowledges that cooperation is the key to the project’s success on every level, including a shift in local attitude. A report written for ADRA/

Canada and CIDA by independent observer Clarence Hyde noted a remarkable change in the community’s attitude toward its members with disabilities. Hyde was born to missionary parents in Kendu Bay, living there and in other areas of Africa until his late teens. Based on his 1998 site visit and his prior personal knowledge of the area, Hyde wrote that there is now “a recognition that [people with disabilities] are human beings that can contribute to society instead of being cast aside and hidden.”

Hyde found it remarkable that during his 1998 visit, “the term ‘my disabled’ or ‘our disabled’ was used very frequently. Culturally, people with disabilities were [in the past] identified as the disabled. This tells me, through community awareness, there has been an acceptance of the disabled as part of the community.”

An October 2000 field audit by ADRA/Canada personnel confirms the lasting nature of the shift. “They hold and cuddle [the children with disabilities] now,” reports Nola Pal, ADRA/Canada’s associate director of finance. In addition, parents of children with disabilities are creating projects to support their children’s schooling and rehabilitation—something previously unheard of. “It’s a most touching thing,” says Pal.

Hill, an understated gentle man, explains the transformation in attitude that therapists and A Better World have facilitated: “When we stand them up, they get some status. When they get a skill, they become important in the village.”

A Growing, Versatile Idea
A Better World started in 1990 as a campus ministries project and grew into an association that incorporates the College Heights (campus) church and Canadian University College, community businesspeople with different or no church associations, college alumni, and an assortment of funding sources. It starts with the goal of raising Can$5,000 each year for “seed funding” and parlays it into sums as large as Can$88,000 for the year’s project.

It takes planning, research, and a fair bit of business acumen. It also takes time and dedication on the part of organizers/directors Leavitt, now the vice president for student services at Canadian University College, and alumnus Rajah, the owner of Advanced Systems, a computer sales and service company in central Alberta.

How does A Better World make things happen? Often the project is suggested by a member of the College Heights congregation with links to an area where a small amount of cash can make a significant difference. Some-times members of the Canadian University College faculty organize the project, particularly when it appears that direct student participation can benefit the undertaking. A presentation is made at the campus church. One week later the fund-raising closes.

The funds in hand are dealt in the way that will make them go farthest. Depending on the nature of the proj-ect, funds may be submitted to ADRA/

Canada, as in the case of  Kendu Bay, where ADRA is able to substantially increase the funds with matching or block government grants at a three-to-one ratio. Thus Can$25,000 in ADRA’s hand plus Can$75,000 from CIDA becomes Can$100,000. Sometimes other funding sources are tapped.

Despite the demands of their regular jobs, family life, and the challenges of red tape, the vision and energy of Leavitt and Rajah has never flagged. With 10 projects given a running start—the fulfillment of the church’s original commitment to the Better World concept—in the spring of 2000 Leavitt and Rajah received a renewed mandate from the College Heights church to continue to lead the growing initiative.

Local Links to the Global Village
Unexpected sources of support have evolved in the community. Articles in the local daily newspaper have drawn positive attention to the church and its college. Rajah’s business and personal contacts have also brought the church/college projects to the attention of local businesses and the provincial government.

When Rajah told Gary Gant, a Red Deer, Alberta, cabinet manufacturer, that he was planning to take a group of church members to visit Kendu Bay, Gant asked if he could go along. Surprised by the request, Rajah welcomed his business friend as part of the tour group.

“I’ve been looking for a charity where all the money goes to the intended recipients,” says Gant. Upon seeing the frugality of the operation and the great difference a few good tools could make, Gant wrote a check to buy metal- and leather-working tools to be used in rehabilitation/

vocational training. When Gant saw that the Nyaburi schoolchildren had only one meal a day—not uncommon in the area—he pledged funding necessary to serve three meals a day for a year.

Back home, Gant told a well-known housing developer over breakfast about what he’d seen and how every dollar went to the direct benefit of disabled victims. Gant articulated A Better World’s goal of doubling the capacity of the children’s dormitory so that 100 or more could attend rather than the current 60. Spontaneously, Gord Bontje, president of Laebon Development, pulled out his checkbook and wrote Gant a check for Can$5,000—the amount Gant said was needed to build the necessary bunk beds.

“If someone I know is watching the dollars,” says Bontje, “I’m happy to contribute. I know Eric [Rajah], and I trust him. He wouldn’t invest in something that wasn’t good.”

Bontje loves the fact that CIDA matches Kendu donations three to one, and tells his friends, “My dollars had babies!” Gant, bouyed by what he saw at Kendu Bay and the support of his business associates, now feels strongly about keeping the school open and the children fed and housed.

Links with the East Indian community of Alberta have also brought the church-based project to provincial government attention. Dr. Robinson Koilpillai, who was made a Companion of the Order of Canada (Canada’s highest civilian honor) for his community activism, told Rajah about some possible government funding for the Anatha Ashram project in India. The orphanage and health/family planning clinic run by a local doctor now provides alternatives to infanticide for financially challenged families.

In 2000 Rajah and Leavitt didn’t need to raise funds. Because of a Red Deer hospital administrator’s familiarity with A Better World and Paul Dara, a member of the College Heights church who initiated the 1997 project, the hospital donated vast amounts of equipment for distribution in India. Combined with an equipment donation from an Edmonton hospital, about Can$250,000 worth of medical equipment was shipped by A Better World to underequipped clinics and hospitals in India. To cover the Can$3,000 shipping cost, organizers dipped into A Better World’s Can$12,000 bank account (“We’re always ahead on our fund-raising,” says Rajah).

What A Better World projects have in common is a little seed money, matched and multiplied, in the hands of dedicated on-location managers. The long-term legacy of the investment is evident in the most mature project, Kendu Bay.

The Face of a Miracle
Today Moses walks. The boy who once pleaded in the dust for legs is now in secondary school, a bright young man with what Hill describes as a lovely character. “He’s just blossomed,” says Hill with affection.

Hill puts names and faces to many miracles—miracles such as Grace, who, because of tragic burns as a baby and then polio, had no feet and had never walked. When she was 16, Hill, Odira, and the local staff began working with her, and now Grace “walks everywhere,” Hill says, and runs a business—the sole breadwinner in her extended family of three brothers and two mothers (her father’s two wives).

Hill recalls his most recent trip, when he led Rajah, Gant, and the rest of the church group to a village so remote even a Jeep couldn’t navigate the trail. They were there for one purpose: to find Janet. A social worker had told Hill about the 12-year-old, burned so badly that she had no right hand and only half a face. Her ear, buried in a mass of scar tissue, was attached to her shoulder.

“She’s just a normal little girl,” says Hill softly, “in a deformed body.” A normal little girl for whose rehabilitation Hill has fought hard. After two surgeries her head is free. More surgeries will be required to reconstruct her face, but she walks and uses her stump of a hand.

Among the many faces, perhaps it is Janet’s face—her evolving face—that tells the breadth of the miracle of Kendu Bay and the difference a few committed people can make.

“I was just amazed at the progress that had been made,” says Clarence Hyde, con-trasting the Kendu Bay of his youth with the present reality. In his report to ADRA/Canada he wrote: “I was really impressed with the excellent qualifications, skills, and commitment of the health teams at Homa Bay and Nyaburi. The commitment, hard work, insight, and foresight that Ken and Hazel Hill had in coming to this area is immeasurable. . . . The dedication of Dr. Odira and others from Kendu Adventist Hospital can be appreciated only from an on-site visit.”

“This area,” concludes Hyde, “will never be the same because of what Ken and Hazel Hill have done.”

They’ve helped bring thousands a better world.

*Though the hospital is officially a Seventh-day Adventist institution, the church funds only those activities directly related to spiritual outreach. As in most Adventist mission hospitals, the staff raise funds and operate the hospital as a self-sustaining business in order to pay salaries and keep the facility running, which, unfortunately, puts medical procedures financially out of reach for many of the local people.

Lynn Neumann McDowell is director of college relations at Canadian University College, in College Heights, Alberta.

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© 2001, Adventist Review.