Partners in Kenya is on a mission to give AIDS orphans hope and provide them with a high school education to fuel their dreams for a brighter future.
With that goal in mind, the local nonprofit organization is inviting the public to join its partnership with Wash Jo Humanitarian Outreach and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aloha to fund sponsorships for students at two Kenyan secondary schools.
'In Kenya, the government does not pay for education after the eighth grade,' said Joyce Maier, a Cooper Mountain resident and the driving force behind Partners in Kenya.
'With only $450 you can pay for a full year of high school tuition and room and board for a child. That's an impossible amount for these kids. Our sponsorship gives them some hope for the future.'
In 2004, Joyce and her husband Paul Maier were so moved by a presentation by Wash Jo, a native Kenyan who talked to members of Bethlehem Lutheran about the plight of children in his native land, that they signed on to sponsor a couple students and help them continue their education.
'After a while, I wanted to get more involved and take our sponsorship further,' Joyce said. 'I wanted to build a relationship with these kids at the school and meet them face to face.'
In May 2005, Joyce, Paul and their eldest daughter Ashley decided to take a mission trip to Kenya with their former pastor, Jonathan Dinger.
'I knew that if I was going to be representing a program, I couldn't go blindly into it,' Joyce said. 'I needed some proof that the funds we were sending were actually helping kids, and I wanted to build a relationship of trust with those we were serving.
'I wanted to take the kids' pictures and hear their stories and then share them with my family, friends and church. I wanted everyone to be confident that their money was going where I told them it was going.'
Wash Jo arranged for the Maiers to spend time with the kids in West Uyoma in the Bondo District right on Lake Victoria in Kenya.
'We asked to help the neediest of the needy, those kids with no families or only one parent who had no possibility of being able to pay for their child's education,' Joyce said. 'A lot of the children we met with had parents who died of AIDS.
'I remember coming home and being fired up.'
Before leaving Africa, the Maier family took photos of 20 students - 10 boys from the Makasembo Secondary School and 10 students from the Nyakongo Girls Secondary School.
'We met all these kids and told them that by September, we would have sponsorships for them,' Joyce recalled.
The Maiers returned to their Cooper Mountain home with a renewed sense of purpose. With the support of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Partners in Kenya was born and set out to line up the first 20 sponsorships, then an addition 10 and another 10.
'It never felt like enough because the need is so great,' said Joyce. 'You can't help but take a little piece of the experience with you because you are so moved by the whole situation.
'Our lives are forever changed - our priorities as a family have just changed.'
Her daughter Ashley Marcus agreed.
'It was an incredibly humbling experience,' said Ashley in a phone call from Colorado, where she lives with her husband Travis. 'Any lack of physical things they made up for in their joy for life and excitement to learn.
'I was amazed by how hard they worked in school. They had to share books and help each other out with their studies. There was a real sense of community. It's an incredible feeling knowing these kids will be able to continue their education.'
In January 2007, the Maiers were again inspired to return to Kenya, this time with Ashley's husband and sister Morgan in their group.
They were delighted to meet up with some of the first students Partners in Kenya sponsored and learn about their academic successes.
'They were so polite and so wonderful to us,' Joyce recalled. 'They were so exuberant and happy and so very thankful.'
Seeing that the sponsorships were positively affecting young people's lives meant a great deal to the Maier family, who couldn't wait to return home and share the news with those who supported the program.
'As long as our relationship continues, we would hope to have 25 to 30 kids sponsored at each school every year,' Joyce said of Partners in Kenya's future goals. 'We've helped 92 kids so far.
'I'm doing this because it's where God has put me. People really can do a lot with a small amount of money. It can really save a life.'
For more information about Partners in Kenya, visit www.partnersinkenya.org.
Share A Meal and Hope
Partners in Kenya invites the public to a benefit dinner Sunday, April 27, in The Governor Hotel's Heritage Ballroom in downtown Portland.
The evening includes performances by The Rhinos, an African marimba band, and traditional drumming and dancing of Ghana by Nii Ardey Allotey and Ekome.
A silent auction and cocktail hour begin at 5 p.m. followed at 6:30 with dinner and entertainment.
Tickets are $125 per plate or $1,000 for a table of eight. Dinner includes filet mignon and salmon stuffed with Brie, Dungeness crab and bay shrimp. Proceeds from the evening will support educational expenses of Kenyan orphans.
To register, call Joyce Maier at 503-626-4239.