By now, most people are aware of the plight of AIDS victims in Africa. Celebrities, including Bono, Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, have even started drumming up support for those affected by the illness. While she's not famous, Beaverton resident Joyce Maier is another person who can be added to that list of concerned people working to make a difference.
That's because Maier, in association with Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Wash Jo Humanitarian Outreach, has put together an organization to help those orphaned by the AIDS virus.
Partners in Kenya is a 100-percent nonprofit endeavor that works to provide sponsorship for high school-age children who, without financial help, could wind up on the streets and fall prey to the very same disease that took their parents' lives.
Because the Kenyan government only provides education through the eighth grade, those who wish to continue after that must come up with the funding by themselves; understandably, any amount of money is too much for an orphan to be expected to pay. This is where Partners in Kenya comes in.
The price of education
For between $400 and $500, people can provide these children with the funds for school fees, uniforms, textbooks and room and board for an entire year. Other contributions of any amount are also gladly accepted, providing much needed books and school supplies. Maier herself sponsors a child, and she said knowing a young orphan will be able to survive for another year is worth the sacrifice she has to make.
'I want to raise awareness about how even helping one child can make a difference … to that child … to give them hope for a brighter future. I can easily spend $400 shopping at Costco, but that same amount of money can let these kids eat, have a safe place to sleep and be educated for an entire year,' Maier said.
At this time, a total of 48 children have been sponsored for the entirety of their high school education. In order to make that number grow, Maier is putting together a Partners in Kenya fund-raiser for Sunday, Oct. 1. The benefit dinner will take place at The Governor Hotel's Heritage Ballroom and will feature performances by African Gospel Acappella and Loveness Wesa and The Kgotso African Dance Troupe, with Sheila Hamilton, of radio station KINK 102 FM, serving as master of ceremonies.
The evening will begin with a silent auction and cocktail hour at 5 p.m., followed at 6:30 by the program, entertainment and a dinner of Northwest salad greens, petite filet mignon and roasted salmon stuffed with brie, dungeness crab and bay shrimp with an herb beurre blanc, risotto cake, seasonal vegetables and dessert. There will also be complimentary wine and beer. Tickets are $125 per plate, $1,000 for a table of eight, and all proceeds will go to the educational expenses of Kenyan orphans.
This dinner is a way for people who are concerned about AIDS in Africa to make a difference, Maier said. She also hopes those who attend will learn a little more about Partners in Kenya and become inspired enough to sponsor a child.
'The bottom line is, we are so privileged in this country,' she said. 'All that we're asking is for people to help one child. It's just a way that people can do something.'
'More than just write a check'
Maier's labor of love started back in May 2005, when she and her husband Paul heard Wash Jo, a native of Kenya and the founder of Wash Jo Humanitarian Outreach, speak at their church about the AIDS orphans in Kenya.
According to the Partners in Kenya Web site, 'in some parts of Sub-Sahara Africa, 38 percent of the population is HIV positive. By the year 2010, it is estimated that there will be 40 million children who have lost their parents to this disease. Nearly half of the children in the West regions of Kenya have lost either one or both parents to AIDS. One of the fastest growing segments of the economy of this region is coffin-making.'
The couple were inspired to help after hearing Wash Jo's message, but rather than being content with simply donating some money, they decided they wanted to see for themselves just what was going on in the lives of these orphans.
'I knew that if we went to Africa, I would be able to talk from my own experiences and be able to do more than just write a check,' Maier said.
When they arrived in the country, the Maiers and their daughter Ashley, as well as their pastor and Wash Jo, met children who had lost everything but were doing their best to stay in school and someday make a better life.
The group visited a number of schools that had no electricity, had meager science labs with one microscope and Bunsen burner, and where a single textbook was shared between 10 students. Water supplies were also limited, forcing students to use the same lake to bathe, wash clothes, water herds, use for drinking water and fish for food.
'They really just virtually have nothing,' Maier said.
Before the five-week trip ended, Maier said she made a promise to get 20 of the children and teenagers sponsored through high school. After returning to Oregon, the Maier family spoke to friends, family and acquaintances about what they had witnessed in Kenya in the hopes that they would be able to get more sponsors for the children.
Soon after that, Maier said she began toying with the idea of a special dinner fund-raiser that would give people, who may otherwise not know how, a chance to help.
'There's so much that people can do, and they don't even know it,' she said. 'This is an opportunity for people to participate and really make a difference.'
Planning for the dinner really began in April, when Maier and her best friend, who is the sister-in-law of Doug Schmick of McCormick and Schmick's, came up with the idea of asking him if he would help out with a dinner event. Maier said Schmick was generous with helping Partners in Kenya, giving them a deal at The Governor Hotel and with the use of his catering service at Jake's Catering.
Other sponsors include Dr. Lee D. Robinson, for whom Maier has worked as practice manager for 17 years, Balloons on Broadway and Michaels Printing. Throughout this whole endeavor, Maier said she has received nothing but support from people from all areas, including Clackamas, Lake Oswego and Vancouver.
Back to the beginning
Maier and her husband are in the midst of planning a return trip for January. She said she wants to go and revisit all the children and see how they are all doing, as well as to assure everyone who has contributed that their money is being used in the way she promised it would be. While she is unable to visit the children as much as she would like, Maier said they are always on her mind and that helps her realize just how fortunate she is.
'I think about these kids many times every day, and I am constantly trying to think of what I can do to help make and impact their lives,' she said. 'I look around and see all the excess we have and know how lucky we are to have been born in a country that is so rich … in many ways. I thank God for everything that I have and try not to take things for granted.'
When she gets back, she said she would like to see about doing other events to keep garnering attention for the Kenyan orphans, though she is undecided on what she would like to do.
'I don't know what the next thing will be. I feel like we're just getting started.'