Proceeds will help complete community center project

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Grace Kuto and Pat Gayman hope to raise enough money at this weekends rummage sale at Tigard Community Friends Church to finish building a new community center in Kutos hometown of Chwele, Kenya.For Grace Kuto, the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child rings especially true.

Growing up an orphan in rural Kenya, Kuto had little. Now, she wants to give back to the village that helped raise her.

Tigard Community Friends Church is hosting a rummage sale and pancake breakfast this Friday and Saturday to benefit a special community center it is building with Kuto in Kenya.

Kuto, a Portland resident and longtime member of the church, has been working to improve her hometown of Chwele (pronounced cha-way-lay), a small town of about 10,000 people near the Uganda border in Kenya’s Western Province.

More than 70 percent of Chwele’s residents live in poverty and getting access to basic care is often difficult, she said.

Check it out

What: Rummage sale and pancake breakfast

Where: Tigard Community Friends Church, 15800 S.W. Hall Blvd.

When: Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Proceeds will go toward completion of a community center in Chwele, Kenya.

Want to make a donation? Call 503-620-7836 or visit

Kuto has plans for a new community center called the Chwele Community Amani Centre.

Amani means “peace” in Swahili, and the center would be a place where people could go to seek refuge and services, Kuto said.

Kuto said she owes so much to the community who helped her during a difficult time.

“I want to do more for my village,” she said. “I have lost so much in my life, but the people that surrounded me as a child have given me so much.

“And even though I grew up an orphan, they instilled in me values and qualities and gave me so much encouragement and wisdom. I am so grateful to them.”

'More people know, the better'

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Chwele Community Amani Centre has been half finished since 2009. Kuto estimates she needs to raise about $15,000 to finish the project.The rummage sale and pancake feast will be held Friday and Saturday at Tigard Friends Church, 15800 S.W. Hall Blvd.

Rummage sale items include donations from the congregation, friends and community members, including a college dorm-fridge and Sleep Number mattress.

Located just blocks from this weekend’s Tigard Festival of Balloons at Cook Park, Kuto said she expects to see thousands of cars driving past the sale and hopes to entice some of their drivers to stop with a pancake breakfast.

“I love to cook,” she said. “The pancake feast is my family’s original recipe from Kenya.”

Pat Gayman, a retired registered nurse who helped organize the rummage sale, said although the rummage sale may not net the organization all the money it needs, it will help spread the word about what the church is doing.

“The more people know, the better,” Gayman said. “Someone who comes to the sale might know someone out there who might be willing to help donate.”

More work to do

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Chwele Community Amani Centre has been half finished since 2009. Kuto estimates she needs to raise about $15,000 to finish the project.The idea to give back to Chwele first began in 1992, when Kuto attended her brother’s funeral.

Kuto was taking her niece to get treated for malaria, when it started to rain heavily. Sitting in the dark to wait out the storm, Kuto realized how lucky she was to be alive.

Living in the U.S., Kuto had suffered from toxemia during pregnancy, which nearly claimed her life. It’s one of the biggest killers of pregnant women in Africa, Kuto said. As she waited for the rain to stop, she thought about all the people in her home village who had died from the disease.

It was then that she realized she needed to do something to help her village.

Three years later, Kuto and Tigard Community Friends Church began working on a host of projects in and around Chwele.

They helped deliver 35 computers to a local high school, sold quilts made by Chwele women to help give them a bit more income, built a community library in her husband’s village, and in 2000, opened the Chwele Health Clinic, a 24-hour medical center providing much needed medical care to about 60,000 people in the surrounding area.

Kuto began planning the community center in 2004, and construction began in 2009.

The economy went south not long after shovels hit the dirt, and funding for the program dried up, Kuto said.

Today, the community center sits half built while Kuto and the church have continued to raise money.

It has taken years to raise the $240,000 needed for the center. Kuto said she is within sight of meeting her goal, with about $15,000 left to raise to complete the center.

This summer Kuto and 25 church members will head to Kenya to oversee the final construction of the project and begin planning programs that will be offered at the safe haven.

“We have been able to do a lot through the church,” Kuto said.

And she plans to do more.

Kuto also has plans to purchase an ambulance for the medical clinic. In a country where most people can’t afford a car, an ambulance can mean the difference between life and death.

“So many people depend on the clinic, but they live too far to walk there, especially if they are ill,” she said. “You can usually count on one hand the number of people in your village with a car.”

Not a handout

Chwele is a poor community, Kuto said, with most of the residents living on less than a dollar each day.

“We want to inject some energy into it,” Kuto said. “They have a lot of energy already, but we have more resources than they do, and we don’t even realize it.”

The idea isn’t to give the community a handout, Kuto said. The 700-square-foot community center would have several programs designed to help locals — many of them peasant farmers — get the services they need, including micro-enterprise opportunities for women, a dental clinic, library and support groups for orphans, widows and people living with HIV.The rummage sale and pancake feast run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday

For more information about Kuto’s work in Kenya, visit

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