Mary Kamau, Executive Director of Missions of Hope International (MOHI), first encountered the Mathare slums (Area 2) in 1992 as a student in university. Mary met a young man at the church she attended who was one of the worship leaders. She learned that as a child, he lived on the streets of Nairobi. As they became friends, he took Mary to visit his prior home. It was the first time Mary had ever been in Mathare.
Mary describes that initial experience as "horrifying." She saw and smelled open sewers in the streets. She observed children wandering around aimlessly, unattended and left to themselves for the day - or in many cases, permanently. "Where are their parents?" she thought,"Why aren't these children in school?" She saw people lying on the roadways, crawling with maggots. At the time, she thought they were dead bodies just lying in the streets.
Mary's first visit to Mathare was an experience that profoundly affected her.
Mary continued her education and even traveled to the United States to further her studies in childhood development. She worked and volunteered with various organizations that worked with children. Soon Mary began working with one of the churches in Mathare, ministering to the children.
Mary met Wallace Kamau, her future husband, pastor, and director of MOHI, at a prayer meeting in 1994. They were married the next year. Like Mary, Wallace first visited Mathare (Bondeni and Mworoto) as a university student in 1991, the year before Mary's initial visit. After college, he ministered to the churches in Mathare.
Through their own work in the slums, Mary and Wallace observed numerous organizations working in Mathare. They watched many of what they now call "hit and run" efforts. Organizations held open-air revival meetings, invited people to make decisions for Christ, and then left a week later. Mary and Wallace noticed that despite many who accepted Christ at these crusades, none became part of a church. Other organizations would come and teach community members about sanitation, clean water, and basic hygiene, only to leave a few weeks later and never follow up. Mary and Wallace clearly recognized that this "hit and run" approach did not work.
From these experiences, they knew that they wanted to minister long-term to entire families in Mathare. They also realized that ministering to children best utilized Mary's skills and gave them an entry point into family units and, thus, the whole community.
In 2000, Mary began a school for the most desperate children in the village known as Mathare 1, Mlango Kubwa ("large door" in English). Community Baptist Church (CBC) committed to support the start-up costs. They rented a tiny, two-room "house" in the community. Mathare community leaders helped them identify and enroll 50 four- and five-year-old children in the school. In addition to educating the children, Mary conducted home visits with each family, sharing the love of Jesus Christ and offering advice for health improvements within their homes. From this initial effort, a Community Based Organization was registered with the Kenyan Government as "Mathare Family Hope Center."
By 2002, the number of children enrolled in the school had grown to approximately 140 students. Numerous parents visited the school each day, seeking to enroll their children, but the organization had no space or resources to accommodate new students. These new children were put on waiting lists with the hope that one day, the organization would have the funding and space for them as well. It soon became overwhelming for two people to teach school and visit every family, yet there were no resources to employ more staff.
Mary learned about a development model called "CHE" (Community Health Evangelism). Mathare Family Hope Center began training community members in CHE. Because the organization was already well-known and well-respected in the community due to the school, the local community received this new ministry with open arms. Soon other areas of Mathare heard about the community transformation occurring in Mlango Kubwa and requested similar programs for their communities.
In 2004, missionaries from an American-based missions organization, CMF International (CMF), visited the Mathare Family Hope Center to learn about its CHE program. Following this initial collaboration, CMF invited some of donors to come and see the work being done in Mathare. This relationship soon developed into a long-standing partnership between Mathare Family Hope Center and CMF.
Also this year, the organization officially registered as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the Kenyan government and changed its name to "Missions of Hope International."
In 2005, the number of children on the waiting list for enrollment in school continued to grow. A visitor suggested a child sponsorship program and offered to help. Based in the U.S., this volunteer began to work out of her home, speaking with churches and sending out cards to sponsor children in the program.
The 50 students who began school with MOHI were reaching year four in school, an age when they are particularly vulnerable to negative influences in the slum. MOHI leadership clearly felt that God was calling the organization to begin a boarding school for these older children to provide a safe environment where they could continue to learn and experience life apart from the slums. God provided funding to buy land for a future boarding school in Joska, approximately 24 miles northeast of Nairobi.
As MOHI continued to grow, the ministry needed its own space for administration and a bigger school. Thus, in 2006, MOHI began raising funds to purchase property in Mathare. The Mathare community displayed overwhelming support and raised more than $4,000 USD for the effort. Ministry partners assisted in supplying the rest of the funds to purchase and build what is now the Pangani center, the "home base" for MOHI.
As in previous years, the needs continued to grow. A small notebook contained the names of children on the waiting list who anticipated joining school-- page after page of children in desperate need, longing for an education. When a visiting American pastor saw the list, God touched his heart about this need. He recorded a video of the notebook, simply turning each page to show his congregation at home the lengthy list of names. His home congregation responded and sponsored 470 children!
By 2007, it became clear that MOHI's current child sponsorship program simply did not have the capacity to keep up with the volume of new sponsorships. Thus, responsibility for management of the child sponsorship program was transitioned to CMF. CMF continued to seek more sponsors so that more children could enroll in MOHI's school.
The growth in child sponsorship allowed MOHI to take a huge leap forward. Sponsors answered God's call and ALL of the children on the waiting list were sponsored! This was far more children than the Pangani center could accommodate. The additional funding from sponsorship allowed MOHI to purchase properties in other areas of Mathare to open additional centers.
In March 2007, a team of visiting pastors had yet another great idea. Their churches wanted to assist MOHI beyond child sponsorship. They also wanted to connect more meaningfully with a single community in the slums. Thus, the Community Adoption program was started, allowing churches to "adopt" a Mathare community. Through this program, churches can support a MOHI center in their adopted community, sponsor children from that community, and support CHE projects there. Many churches also choose to send short-term mission teams to work in their adopted communities.
By September 2007, the number of sponsored children had increased greatly, and even more space was needed. Through donor funding, MOHI began construction of a new boarding school in Joska. On September 3, 2007, a group of 203 children from 4th grade through 6th grade were transferred to the Joska center. The boarding center allowed more room for other children who were on a waiting list to join school. Also, the children in the Joska school would experience a safer, more controlled learning environment, allowing for increased spiritual care away from negative influences in the slum. Children from the surrounding community also benefitted because they could enroll in the school. Previously, these children had to walk a long distance to and from school because the nearest government schools were far away.
After learning the Kenyan primary-school education curriculum at MOHI schools, 37 out of the first 50 children to join MOHI in 2000 sat for their exams to attend high school. Among them, two boys who earned exemplary scores joined a prestigious national high school in Nairobi. The other students also secured positions in other high schools from various parts of Kenya.
As more students reached high school, MOHI began planning for its own high school to ensure that more of its students could attend high school after completing their early education.
2010 - Creation of High School
In 2010, MOHI began a combined high school for boys and girls at Joska. This school started with approximately 200 students. This was a huge step in assuring that students in MOHI schools could attend both primary and secondary schools and potentially go on to university.
In 2011, MOHI initiated various projects to generate income and financially support the organization in its daily operations. These sustainability initiatives also created opportunities for training and employment of community members in Mathare in areas such as:
· Water bottling
· School uniform production
· Medical Clinics
Recognizing the differing needs of students and a greater opportunity for individual mentorship, MOHI constructed another high school in Ndovoini-- a few miles from Joska-- and transferred all of the male students from Joska high school to this new facility. This center has now grown to more than 700 students in both primary and secondary levels. The Joska girls school now educates than 850 students in both primary and secondary school.
In January 2013, MOHI expanded to northwestern Kenya in Turkana county, an extremely impoverished region with limited schools and employment opportunities. MOHI recruited children from the Napuu area for a new school center. Currently, the Napuu school center educates more than 700 students.
At the end of the year, MOHI's pioneer students sat for their KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) exams. More than 20 students attained university entry points, with one student scoring straight As in high school! Also, the first student from Ndovoini also scored an A-.
Today, Missions of Hope International provides a quality Christian education, medical care, nutritious meals, love, and encouragement to more than 13,000 children in 16 different centers throughout Mathare Valley and in other parts of Kenya. CHE is active and growing in many different communities. Children, families, and entire communities are being transformed through continuing education and Christ's love.
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