A LEG UP FOR PRESCHOOLERS

S5000467My first trip to Kenya was a mission trip.  I traveled with a group of missionaries from the Community of the Crucified One based in Pittsburgh, PA in 1997.  We toured the country, starting in an upscale hotel in Nairobi and winding up in pup tents in Masai Mara. Everywhere we went we saw preschool-aged children.  They were either playing, carrying younger children or Kerry cans of water on their backs, or chasing us as we drove through their dusty towns.  “I’ve been with preschoolers for a long time, but I’ve never seen so many little children in my life”, I thought to myself as we bumped along roads that were only passable during the dry season.

students after school in Kiti

Our tour ended in Lanet Umoja, which at that time was 735 acres of grassland 12 miles outside of Nakuru. Our host had brought us there to introduce us an area where a school was needed. Although the region was thinly populated (maybe 50 to 100 families in total), many families were buying plots. Some were escaping tribal warfare in their villages; others were escaping the high prices of city living. There were very few primary schools within that area, and most children had to walk several miles to get to school each day.  A few homes had been built, but the only school we saw was a small preschool that had opened in 1996 with a staff of 3 teachers serving 25 children. The building looked something like a rudimentary American tool shed with brightly painted doors and window shutters and a rusted tin roof.

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Toward the end of the 1990’s the Kenyan government under Daniel arap Moi’s leadership had agreed to assist with teacher salaries, books, and even additional classrooms if communities could find sponsors to help erect primary or secondary school buildings. Our church community in the USA raised funds to build Lanet Umoja Primary School, and followed up ten years later with funding to build Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School. During those ten years funds were also raised to build two additional primary schools in and around Nakuru. The Kenyan government lived up to its promise of paying teacher salaries, supplying books and materials and providing funds for additional classrooms, and students began filling the classrooms. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki became the third president of Kenya, and in an unprecedented move eliminated school fees for primary school students, opening the door for thousands of children to enter primary school for the first time in their lives. Kenyans would say that this move gave their children a big “leg up” in life.  During this time enrollment at the preschool grew as well, as many families wanted a good start for their children. However, the Kenyan government’s building assistance and any other funding was restricted to primary and secondary schools and did not include preschool education.

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Twenty years have gone by since my first visit, and in that time the “village” of Lanet Umoja has grown from a few hundred people to over 28,000 residents.  The first school we built has grown from a hundred children to an enrollment well over a thousand students.  A chapel (Holy Cross Prayer Community) and a mission house were built for the missionaries who came from our church community in the USA to help introduce people to the Franciscan life that our church offers.  Today there are nine active church outreaches in Kenya that are connected with our community and Holy Cross Prayer Community in Lanet Umoja.

The original preschool building is still being used, holding approximately 75 children, several of whom are orphaned, in three small classrooms. The walls, like an old shed, have cracks where daylight streams in during warm weather, and wind and rain also make their way in during the cooler, rainy months. The windows have no glass or screens to keep bugs and other flying creatures out. Children nap on dirt floors, lined up like canned sardines between rows of rickety wooden tables and chairs. It’s not an ideal setting for early childhood learning by any stretch of the imagination.  As the director of a thriving preschool program in Vermont for 25 years I am well aware of the regulations surrounding early childhood education in much of the USA.  Like their American counterparts, these Kenyan preschoolers have the same need for a good start in school, yet their parents and teachers lack the resources to provide an adequate learning environment for them.

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Five years ago we heard of a disastrous incident where African killer bees were discovered near the preschool building when some children inadvertently disturbed their nest during their recess time. The bees responded immediately and with a vengeance. All of the children and staff were stung many times over, and one little boy lost his life due to multiple stings. Children who ran inside the preschool found no refuge since the cracks in the building and lack of window screens provided little to no protection from the angry bees. This event alone is a strong argument for the need for a local health clinic, which is currently in the works. But it also presents a very good reason for building a sound structure for these children where they can be safe as they learn.

This year Everyone’s Child is committed to raising funds toward a new preschool building for the children of Lanet Umoja. Our goal is to raise $22,000.00, which will allow us to build two of the three classrooms that are needed.  The blessing in all of this is that the pastor and members of Holy Cross Prayer Community have made a commitment to partner with us by raising the funds needed to build one of these classrooms too!

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“Our children are our future,” is a saying that people use all over the world. I believe giving children a solid foundation in their early years is paramount to their future as adults, beginning with a safe place for them to learn.  I invite you to join us in making a difference in the lives of these preschoolers by contributing to the Lanet Umoja Preschool Campaign. These children are the future citizens of Kenya and our world. Together, let’s give them the leg up they need to succeed!

To make a secure donation via PayPal online, please click on the “Donate” button on any of the pages on this website. You can also send a check made out to “Everyone’s Child” to 20 Vermont Route 100 South, Moretown, VT 05660.  (Please write “preschool building” in the memo section of your check.)

Faith on a swing

Thank you for your support for everyone’s child!

 

Water. Not enough, too much, then not enough again.

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Collecting water from the river in Kampi

a dusty schoolyard shows in this child's hair in Kampi Ya Moto

A dusty schoolyard shows in this child’s hair

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Clean water at last!!

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The tank & rain harvesting system

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Water = Life ~ a  garden begins.

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Abundant smiles from kids in Kampi

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The rain harvesting system

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Water has been an issue in Kampi Ya Moto long before I knew this place existed.  For years children in this area, many of them orphaned, have had the daily task of walking the hot and dusty two-mile trek to a river to collect water that was then used for drinking and cooking.  I’ve been told that the water was usually boiled before it was consumed, but the mere fact that the mortality rate in this area was 50% or higher leads me to believe that boiling alone didn’t remove the incidence of water borne illnesses.

Kampi Ya Moto is an arid region of Kenya that literally translates to “Camp of Fire”.  I used to walk to the river in this area with the children every time I visited their school.  In a word, it’s repulsive.  The water is brown, and the shore is filled with mud-pocked holes made by the hooves of the cows and other animals that share this water hole with members of the village.

For the past several years we have tried to have a borehole dug, but were met with obstacles at every turn.   It’s been an uphill climb since we’ve started this process, from the purchasing of the land to the conducting of two geological studies (yes, that’s plural – the first one was lost along the way!), and ending with the unfortunate circumstance of hiring a company who claimed to be Living Waters International but made off with our hard won funds instead.  In June 2013, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) – our partners in this project, hired a company that drilled down 215 meters before experiencing “high borehole collapse”.  At that point it was determined that the well was dry.  After some research and deliberation a rain harvesting system was set up as an alternative, a spigot was installed outside the school and today the children are able to get clean drinking water whenever they are thirsty.  This is a HUGE change for these kids, and the presence of the tank has revolutionized their school.  During our visit last May I immediately noticed two big differences, first in the appearance of the children – they met us with smiles and waves, despite the relentless heat. The second thing I noticed was that there was a small garden started outside the school.  This was a novelty, as prior to this time nothing planted there would have survived the trip up through the soil much less the searing temperatures at the surface.

By last May the 10,000-liter water tank had been in place for over a year, so the teachers and students had been through both the rainy and the dry seasons that dominate that region of Kenya.  At that point in the year they hadn’t run out of water, but the previous year they had watched the tank overflow during the rainy season, only to be used up during the months of hot, dry days that followed. The frustration of having more than enough water for a few months and then not enough throughout the remainder of the year, meaning that children would once again have to make the trek to the river for muddy water helped us make the decision to install a second 10,000-liter tank this year.  It’s a fairly straightforward process to purchase and install the tank, but one that requires funding, oversight and faith in the people in charge.  This is just one of the major projects EC is embarking on in 2016.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Health Center update for Lanet Umoja

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DSC01462Ruth shares a laugh with Mercy

putting baby on backMercy and her friend demonstrate how to carry a child Kenyan style

These photos are from a trip I took to Kenya in 2009 when EC conducted our first set of medical clinics.  The young mother is Mercy.  She was from Kampi Ya Moto, a very dry area where we built The Lord Ranjuera Primary School – our third primary school in 2003.  This school has the highest percentage of orphans and is also the place where the first orphan feeding program was established.  Mercy came and sat with me one afternoon on the school porch while the clinics were wrapping up in side the school.  She was curious about the differences between life in Kenya and life in America, especially when it came to child rearing practices.  She wound up giving me a gift that I still treasure – a small hollowed out gourd used for carrying milk and making yogurt.  Every time I look at it I am reminded of Mercy and her son Samuel and the conversation we shared that day.

That year I had the privilege of bringing several doctors and medical professionals with me to conduct the first set of medical clinics in three different locations.  Our team collaborated with the Kenya Ministry of Health to bring health care to over 1,000 individuals that week.   The following year I brought a second group of medical professionals from the USA to conduct another medical clinic – again in three different locations.  They were able, once again, to see and treat over 1,000 individuals who otherwise would not have had access to medical care.  An AIDS clinic was included in these clinics, allowing men, women and children to be tested for the disease that has taken Africa by storm in the past three decades.   Dr. Carol Vassar, an internist who traveled with us both years called these trips “reconnaissance missions” as they gave us an idea of the level of need in the areas where our medical clinics were held.  As a result, last year Everyone’s Child and the Waterbury Vermont Rotary Club raised close to $10,000.00 to initiate the building of a full-scale Health Center that will serve 28,000 residents of Lanet Umoja.  The clinic will be built next to the preschool and across from the primary and secondary schools that  we built in 1999 and 2010 consecutively.  Construction has begun, but only haltingly as they are only able to build when funds are available.  The initial phase required the building of a latrine that will serve the preschool, a trench (footing), and a fence to protect the children who are frequently on the playground next to the clinic.

Everyone’s Child is dedicated to improving the lives of orphaned and impoverished children around the world.  Our mission reaches out to children everywhere: to educate where there are no schools, to connect where there is isolation, and to care where there is great need.  Our main focus is education, we believe strongly that an educated child has a better chance at making positive changes in our world than one who is left with no education.   We are no longer actively fundraising for the health clinic, but we still believe strongly in the need for a clinic in this area.  The nearest hospital is 15 miles away, which is not much by American standards, but in Kenya this usually means a trip by matatu (bus) or on foot over very bumpy and often impassable roads.  Chief Francis Kariuki (Chief of Police in Lanet Umoja) owns a car that often doubles as a hearse.  Pregnant women are carried by wheelbarrow to the matatu stage (station), and in many cases people who make it to the hospital spend the entire day in the waiting room before being seen by a health care professional.

We are very much looking forward to the day when the people of Lanet Umoja can walk a short distance from their homes to receive medical assistance.  Our hope that the success will lead to a clinic being built in Kampi Ya Moto as well.

IMG_20151027_112321Building materials for Lanet Umoja Health Center

Ten Thousand Villages Holiday Shopping Benefit for Everyone’s Child!

 

Ten Thousand Villages info for website

Hey Vermonters!   Ten Thousand Villages at 87 Church Street in Burlington is donating 15% of the proceeds of their sales from 3 – 7 PM on Thursday, December 10th to Everyone’s Child!  This is a great way for you to do some gift shopping AND support what we do.  We’ll have a raffle with great prizes 🙂  I hope to see you there!

Ten Thousand Villages mission is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)

preschoolers on the slide at Lanet Umoja boy with a tire

When I first came to Kenya in 1997, the preschool (behind the kids pictured above) was the only building on this plot of land in Lanet Umoja.   The same building is still being used as a preschool today.  75 children ages 3 – 5 are enrolled here.  Just across the road is Lanet Umoja Primary School.  It was built in 1998 and started with 75 students in 1999.  Enrollment has now reached 1040 students in grades 1 – 8.  Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School, built in 2010, is also across the road, home to 250 students in grades 9 – 12.  The achievements at these schools have been many, from National awards for academic performance to government funding for new classrooms and lab equipment.  But my focus for this blog is on the preschool.

When I first visited Kenya in 1997 there was no slide on this preschool playground. In fact, there were no playground toys at all. There was a swingset, but the swings had been removed because the teachers were afraid that the children would get hurt if they used them.  The children often used the chains to swing from, which to me seemed far more dangerous than sitting on a seat to swing.  Children played with inner tubes or old tires during recess – rolling these with a stick and pretending that this was their vehicle. They also played running games like tag or “football” (soccer) using several plastic shopping bags tied together with string. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, no matter the age or place.

Last year (2014) I noticed that the swings were up, and this past May the swings and slides were in full use during preschool. The teachers still put the swings away on weekends and during vacations, but these preschoolers now have much more access to age appropriate toys than their older siblings ever had.

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) in rural Kenya is looked at more as using common sense than following a specific  protocol. (If you research DAP Kenya online the top hit is “Drivers of Accountability Programme”). I still believe that a combination of teacher training and access to equipment accounts for this change, both of which requires funding and understanding from the government about the importance of implementing developmentally appropriate equipment and teaching techniques.

The preschool building here also needs some serious attention.  Preschools in Kenya are not funded by the government, so parents are expected to pay tuition, which in turn pays the teachers and occasionally allows for limited supplies for the classrooms.  Unless there is outside funding preschools often lack appropriate materials and more importantly, less than adequate space for the children and teachers.  Floors, windows, walls, all the things we take for granted are severely compromised here.  Teachers have told me stories of children napping on the dirt floors and having to be woken up and moved because rain was coming in through the wooden slats in the wall and soaking the floor.  Although we think of Kenya as a warm climate, the temperatures in May, June and July can be chilly enough to warrant warm coats and hats throughout most of the day.   Children wear their coats and hats throughout the school day because the wind comes through the slats as well.  Bottom line, this preschool building is in dire need of replacement.  When we think about the environment where our children are being educated today, even the most run down building is 100% more appropriate for children than this preschool.

Everyone’s Child is committed to improving the conditions for children in impoverished situations.  The preschool children attending Lanet Umoja Preschool fit into this category, so our plan is to begin raising funds for a new preschool building in the coming year.  If this catches your attention and you would like to join us in this effort to make a difference for small children in Kenya, please shoot me an email at everyoneschildren@gmail.com.  I welcome your help!

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Faith on the “swingset” in Lanet

 

 

 

Wealth and sacrifice and children

I had a discussion about children and daycare with a colleague who runs a large childcare center recently.  The gist of the conversation was that she was seeing children acting out physically in daycare settings, but she was conflicted because these kids are being told that they can’t touch one another.  She said she wasn’t surprised, that most of these kids were spending up to 80 hours a week outside of their homes.  (There are 168 hours in a week – that’s almost half their lives!)  Most of the children involved have no siblings.  She quoted a parent of a two-year-old child as saying: “The only reason I’m [sending my child to daycare] is because he needs socialization.”

There is a certain sad phenomena happening with families in our country, and it has to do with more families only having one child.  Another phenomena is that one parent winds up working solely to pay childcare fees.  This turns into a huge sacrifice – parents sacrificing their lives with their children in order to pay someone else to raise their child.

Socialization used to happen within families.  Families with one child were a rarity, and one parent usually stayed home to raise the children – to teach them how to get along with one another.  The learning happened within the family dynamics.  Children learned social skills just by being together in a family setting, by playing, eating, talking, and even fighting together.   These are the things that people have done for centuries in order to learn what is acceptable in society.  Children who grow up in single child households lack the experience of trying out these different social behaviors, so they are compelled to seek these interactions with their peers in school or afterschool settings.  Are we trying to create a society where only certain “acceptable” behaviors are allowed?

I am reminded of an experience I had when I was conducting my doctoral research in Kenya.  I had the opportunity to interview 35 people during the two months I was there, and at the end of each interview I would always ask if the interviewee had any questions for me.  I was interviewing a teacher who also happened to be a parent of four children.  She asked me, “Why don’t Americans like children?”  I was stunned by her question and immediately replied, “But we do!  We love our children!”.  She responded very matter-of-factually, “Then why do you only have one or two?  Here in Kenya,” she continued, “our children are our wealth.”  I didn’t know what to say.  As the parent of one child I was guilty of the very thing she was speaking of.   She had spoken a truth, and yet I knew that the reason most of my peers in America were planning small families was mainly because of the expense involved with caring for a large family.  I mumbled something about it being expensive and people wanted to be able to do the best they could for their families, but the conviction was heartfelt.  In Kenya, their wealth is in their children, which is the future of their nation.  They also do the best they can for their children, and while it may not measure up to our standard of success, there is more joy and abandonment in the hearts and lives of these children than I now see in the young faces that are so often glued to iPods and iPads and Netbooks around our country.  America needs a wake up call when it comes to what we deem to be truly important, truly valuable.  I pray that our children can and will be seen as our wealth in days to come.  Instead of sacrificing for our children by never seeing them, I pray that we can sacrifice the need for material wealth in order to have the richness gained from spending time with our children.

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Schoolboys from Lanet Umoja Primary School

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  Nelson Mandela

Why should I care? Why should I give?

There are so many reasons to care about what is going on in the world today.  Caring is a key to living in a civilized society – it’s the part of us that makes us human.  Our society is becoming increasingly self-centered and narcissistic, owing in large part to the ability for all of us to record and share every aspect of our daily lives with the rest of the world, hoping that someone out there will care enough to notice us.  The result of this self-absorption is an endless hole of self-dissatisfaction.  I see that the only way out of this void is to give.  There is a certain freedom that comes from giving, from caring enough to see beyond our own needs to recognize the needs of another.

Current data shows us that nearly half of the children in the world live in poverty, 22,000 children die daily due to lack of basic needs, and at least 15 million children are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.   I find these numbers too overwhelming to even think about, so I tuck them away in my head and go about the day, ensuring that my family is clothed and fed and educated.  I am thankful, so thankful to live in a country that is free and full of opportunity, yet I still struggle with the question of how I am able to meet my needs and those of my family, when almost half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day.

In A Testament to Freedom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes the following:

“What if, precisely at the moment when we are thanking God for God’s goodness towards us, there is a ring at the door…and we find someone standing there who would also like to thank God for some small gift, but to whom such a gift has been denied and who is starving with starving children and who will go to bed in bitterness?  What becomes of our grace in such moments?  Will we really feel like saying that God is merciful to us and angry with them, or that the fact that we still have something to eat proves that we have won a special position of favor in God’s sight, that God feeds the favorite children and lets the unworthy go hungry?  May the merciful God protect us from the temptation of such gratitude.  May God lead us to a true understanding of God’s goodness…If we want to understand God’s goodness in God’s gifts, then we must think of them as a responsibility we bear for our brothers and sisters.  Let none say: God has blessed us with money and possessions, and then live as if they and their God were alone in the world.  For the time will come when they realize that they have been worshiping the idols of their good fortune and selfishness.  Possessions are not God’s blessing and goodness, but the opportunities of service which God entrusts to us.”

Everyone’s Child was formed to address this very idea, that we are all responsible for the children in our world who could do with, as they say in Kenya, a “leg up” just to enjoy something as necessary as a daily meal or as basic as an education.  I encourage everyone who feels this inconsistency, this imbalance in life, to do whatever it is within their power to give to someone who needs a leg up, whether it’s a financial donation, a note of gratitude or support, or the gift of your time.  You’ll never regret dropping that stone into the pond and watching how far the ripples go.

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Moretown, VT Special Educator Sara Baker assisting students in Nakuru

 

 

Resources:

http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

A new day

Here begins the use of this blog.  Finally.  I’m always thinking about what I should write.  Today I am determined to get something down on this page.

As the director of Everyone’s Child, I am often faced with making decisions about who we should support and how best to help those who lack the basic necessities in life: food, water, shelter, family, education.  My motto has become “There is no end to the need.”  There is great hardship in Kenya, particularly among the children.  But this is true everywhere we turn.   When I pick up the paper or listen to the news, I am reminded of the pain and distress that so many face, and to be honest, I find it more than overwhelming at times.  I struggle not to become indignant over the imbalance of poverty and wealth and wonder if we as members of the human race are doing enough to relieve the suffering of humanity.

Today I read a passage from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season that helped me comprehend this overpowering feeling of helplessness I have whenever I consider the needs in our world.

“We may be a global village, but instant communication often isolates us from each other rather than uniting us.  When I am bombarded on the evening news with earthquake, flood, fire, it’s too much for me.  There is a mechanism, a safety valve, which cuts off our response to overexposure.

But when a high school student comes to me and cries because the two- and three-year-olds on her block are becoming addicted to hard drugs, when the gentle man who cleans the building in which the Cathedral library is located talks to me about his family in Guatemala, rejoicing because they are alive although their house has been destroyed by earthquake…then in this particularity my heart burns within me, and I am more able to learn what it is that I can and ought to do, even if this seems, and is, inadequate.

But neither was Jesus adequate to the situation.  He did not feed all the poor, only a few.  He did not treat all the lepers, or give sight to all the blind, or drive out all the unclean spirits.  Satan wanted him to do all this, but he didn’t.

That helps me.  If I felt that I had to conquer all the ills of this world I’d likely sit back and do nothing at all.  But if my job is to feed one stranger, then the money I give to world relief will be dug down deeper from my pocket than it would if I felt I had to succeed in feeding the entire world.”

Madeleine L’Engle’s passage can be summarized in the words of Rabbi Tarfon from 2,000 years ago; “It is not for you to complete the task, neither are you free to desist from it.”

So now I can go forward in this day with renewed hope that whatever I do to relive the suffering of a handful of schoolchildren in Kenya will and does amount to something.  And not just me – I’m grateful for all those who have come alongside this vision to feed, educate and care for the orphans we serve in Kenya.  It’s the proverbial stone in the pond effect that is being enacted here.  One stone, many ripples.

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Our first Medical Clinic group (l-to r): Chris Ciccarelli, LPN; Lexie Pfister, RN; Carol Vassar MD; Nancy Hutson, RN. (back): Jill Ciccarelli MD; Jamie Worsley MD
Our first Medical Clinic group (l-to r): Chris Ciccarelli, LPN; Lexie Pfister, RN; Carol Vassar MD; Nancy Hutson, RN. (back): Jill Ciccarelli MD; Jamie Worsley MD
Dr. Carol Vassar assisting a patient in Kampi Ya Moto
Dr. Carol Vassar and Chief Francis Kariuki assisting a patient in Kampi Ya Moto

Sr. Shamima Thiongo, Sr. Bernadette Mastroni, Fr. Thomas Mugi and Fr. Paul Stewart

Sr. Shamima Thiongo, Sr. Bernadette Mastroni, Fr. Thomas Mugi & Fr. Paul Stewart.  Thank you!

Everyone’s Child has a brand new website!

We’re finally there!  I’ve been on an adventure I never wanted to embark on – the changeover of what I thought was a pretty good website to something that I am now able to work with.  Now  I am very happy to announce that EC is online and in business once again with an outstanding site – all thanks to Peter Dinardi and his expertise in creating an innovative web design that isn’t too difficult for me to navigate behind hte scenes.  If you want to see more of his work, check out his website at http://vermontdesignandmarketing.com/.

And now it’s time for me to get to work blogging and posting.  Stay tuned for more excitement!

April 29th ~ an evening with Jack Mayer

JOIN US on April 29th for a special evening with Jack Mayer, award winning author of Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project
JOIN US on April 29th for a special evening with Jack Mayer, award-winning author of Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project

In his bestselling book, “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project”, Jack Mayer inspires people of all ages to understand that one person can make a difference in history, and that every small act of goodness repairs the world.

Mayer’s book corresponds directly with the work of Everyone’s Child, a humanitarian non-profit organization based in the Mad River Valley dedicated to improving the lives of children in Kenya, particularly those whose lives are surrounded by invisible walls of poverty, poor health and lack of education.

Mayer will be connecting this wonderful story of the heroic woman who rescued 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto in the 1940’s with the importance of rescuing children in need today.

Proceeds from the evening will go to Everyone’s Child to help fund the completion of two classrooms at the Lord Ranjuera Primary School in Kampi Ya Moto, Kenya.

To see the full information for this event please click here.