The past year has been a unique one for all of us. I doubt any of us would have imagined last summer that the pandemic we have faced together would be raging on in a fourth wave a year later. As I (Nancy) sit down to write this letter and I think back over the last year, I am blown away by the consistency with which our great God has shown up, provided, connected us, and led us in the midst of chaos in our world. Thankfully, our communities in Kenya have not been hit hard by the coronavirus, though they have unfortunately suffered economically from the government shut downs. Things in Kenya now appear to be finding a new normal in spite of the growing threat from the delta variant and we continue full force with our work there. I’m happy to share with you some amazing progress from the last year.
In the fall of 2020, we were able to resume and complete our first Catering Cohort training women over 30 years old in their local community. We had abundant demand for the class and offered a second cohort. We were able to reduce our cost as well as increase our quality by hiring our own teacher, purchasing equipment and supplies and continuing to rent space from a local church for our classes. In all, over 50 women completed their training and look forward to a graduation ceremony together this coming fall. At the onset, our vision was that these women would join together after they completed their training and form small businesses together. We are thrilled to report to you that 13 of the women have joined together to start a catering business, three women have started a baking business and others have opened small businesses selling fries, smokies, samosas and coffee. In addition, we made our first entrepreneurial grant to one of these women, paying for half of the cost of a deep fryer for her small business to expand.
At the completion of our third year in ministry we have granted approval to 115 scholarship applicants. Our students range in age from 17 to 59 years old. We have students training in our own classes held in the villages, apprenticeships with local businesses in the nearest towns, as day scholars at local government vocational schools, and as boarders at national government schools. We recently expanded our scholarships to include training in teaching and nursing.
One of the most exciting things that happened this past year was an invitation from a local pastor to expand our ministry work into a new community on the mountain. We are currently accepting scholarship applications from 4 new villages adjacent to our previous ministry area. These new villages have high levels of poverty with many single mothers struggling to support their children. We have partnered with a local leader, who has a heart for educating the young people in his community. Our hope is to offer 30 – 50 new scholarships for apprenticeships and vocational training in government schools in this geographic area as well as offer our own training courses in animal husbandry and organic farming. A learning point for us this year has been that as we expand into new communities, programs that were a good fit for other villages may not be a good fit in the new community. We found that catering was not a demand in these new villages, but animal husbandry and organic farming was. We also found a different demographic in these new villages. There are more young people and specifically more young men desiring to be trained. This is very encouraging to us!
One of the most surprising things that happened this past year was our dear friends, Deb & Lou Ronayne, telling us that the Lord had placed on their hearts to lead a fundraising effort to provide the funds to purchase a utility vehicle for our ministry work on the mountain. Lou had heard our stories of the treacherous travel on the roads in Kenya, and our concern for the safety of our Program Manager Jane travelling up and down the mountain to do her work. Talented and successful in the Real Estate Market, neither had any experience in fundraising but when the Lord called them to the work they said yes! We have all had a bit of a learning curve with the fundraising efforts and it has been a lot of effort! Deb and Lou have worked tirelessly and have experienced God’s hand of provision over and over through this process. We see His favor on them as they step out and ask for support for this effort. We will host our first annual Golf Outing on Aug 27th and we are confident we will be able to accomplish our goal of raising $55,000. We thank God for their dedication and hard work on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Kenya.
Our plans for the future include continuing to expand geographically where the Lord opens doors for us through local leader invitation, offering local organic farming and animal husbandry classes as well as entrepreneurial training for our current students and graduates. Of course, we plan to continue offering 80% scholarships to students in vocational training, as we know from global research that this is the most effective way to combat the challenge of chronic poverty.
On a personal note, my (Nancy’s) heart has ached this past year not being able to visit with our friends, partners and students in Kenya due to travel restrictions from the pandemic. I have often been reminded of something my dear friend and brother Pastor Joseph says…”God’s time is the best time”. If it’s the Lord’s will, I will be returning to Kenya this fall with the great joy of being able to purchase a vehicle to keep our dear Jane safe and working efficiently. I’m very excited to participate in the graduation ceremony of our 2 catering cohorts. Many of these women have never experienced a graduation ceremony before and I anticipate sharing great excitement with them! I can’t wait to meet our new partner, Pastor Thumbi in Maingi, and visit our new villages. Lastly, but perhaps the thing I am most looking forward to is seeing our students and meeting many of them for the first time. I’m incredibly blessed to be able to do this work. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for continuing to cover our work with your prayers and with your finances and well wishes. Like Abraham, we are blessed in order that we be a blessing and you all have been a huge blessing to us as well as our partners in Kenya. May you be blessed as you have been a blessing.
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews 13:16
For His glory,
Kevin & Nancy Sell
Hearts of Hope International, Inc.