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