As I (Nancy) sit down to write this letter, I am grateful for the abundant blessings of the past year. I’ve been thinking lately about seeds. How you plant them, water them, pray for the sun to shine on them. Some people even sing or talk to them. You pull the weeds so that precious nutrients are not stolen from them. But we can’t make them grow, that’s God’s domain. I think it’s the same with this ministry that we have lovingly named Hearts of Hope International. We plant seeds in the lives of our students by offering them training. We do our very best for them and we ask God to provide their growth. God’s provision in both our ministry and in the lives of our students has been exceedingly and abundantly more than we even considered asking for.
In September of 2021, I was able to travel to Kenya again after the international travel restrictions due to the covid pandemic were lifted. I was overjoyed to be able to participate in a graduation ceremony for over 50 of our catering cohort students. Most of these women were over 30 years old and had never worn a cap and gown or participated in any type of graduation ceremony. In addition to celebrating with the women during my visit, we researched and shopped for a ministry vehicle. I also had the privilege of visiting the majority of our scholarship students at the place that they receive their training. I loved getting to meet many of our students for the first time and encouraging all of them to 1) trust God 2) work hard and 3) be kind. This is the commitment I ask every scholarship recipient for when I meet them in person. It was wonderful to experience the fruit from our labors over the last several years.
We have also experienced abundant fruit from our fundraising efforts. With the help of our faith-filled friends, Deb & Lou Ronayne, we far exceeded our goal of raising $55,000 for a ministry vehicle and raised over $70,000. It’s a good thing we exceeded our goal because our new Ford Ranger 4×4 pick-up truck cost almost the exact amount that we raised! After facing challenges of chip shortages, questionable sales tactics and inventory delays, in March of 2022 we were finally able to purchase our new truck. Our initial concern for needing a dedicated ministry vehicle was safety for Jane, our partner on the ground in Kenya. God had so much more in mind! Not only were we blessed with safe transportation for Jane up and down the mountain, we also have experienced unanticipated benefits from the truck. First, we elevated the status of a woman leader in the community. As villages saw a “zero milage” vehicle, (which is highly unusual in Kenya) they were surprised to find a woman driving it. Next, along with Jane’s elevated status, the truck has brought Hearts of Hope increased visibility. Everywhere Jane drives, it’s like she is driving a billboard. Villagers shout “Hope, Hope” as she drives by. Third, Jane has had many opportunities to extend kindness to the communities where we serve. She regularly offers rides to people who would normally be walking up and down the mountain. She has requested jumper cables and tow rope to be able to help anyone in need while she is out on the often almost impassable roads. Lastly, Jane has been able to reach more interior areas to do research about which villages have the greatest need for vocational training. This will be invaluable information as we extend our ministry geographically in the future.
With the blessing of the truck has come the blessing of increased requests for scholarship applications. In the first location which was a collection of villages that we advertised our program after we purchased the truck, we received over 150 requests for scholarship applications. The demographics of Magina location, and therefore the needs of the community, are different than we have seen in other areas. The applications from Magina have been primarily younger people with many males applying for scholarships. While we continue to focus on women because the global research suggests that they are the best investment, we have never excluded men. We are now excited to see what the young men in these villages will do with their training opportunities.
At the completion of our fourth year in ministry we have granted approval to over 150 scholarship applicants. Our students range in age from 17 to 59 years old. 75% of our scholarship recipients are women, 25% are men. 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 now also offer scholarships to diploma programs that we feel will help us to work toward our long-term vision of community development. These programs include teaching, nursing and pastoring. In addition to granting vocational scholarships, we have continued making small entrepreneurial grants to our trained students.
One of the biggest blessings we have witnessed this year is the success of many of our students. While some of our students study only for three months, others are in programs that take three years to complete. In our fourth year, we are now in a position to see our work bear fruit. Lydia, a 39-year-old embroidery apprenticeship student, is now able to sell her work to supplement her family income. Martha, a 30-year-old hairdressing apprenticeship student, has taken over management of the salon she was trained at and is now training students on her own. Amos, a 26-year-old plumbing student, learned all that his teachers had to teach him and is working while he waits to take his certificate examination. Maureen, a 23-year-old cosmetology student, earned her certificate at a government vocational school and is now gainfully employed in a salon where she loves her working environment. Many of our women from the catering cohort have joined together to start small businesses. Jane & Beth received training in pastries and have taken it upon themselves to train other students in the community. As our trained students gain opportunities to earn income, we become even more firmly convinced that training is the dignified way to help someone escape the challenges of poverty.
Jane has taught me a Kikuyu saying “Urimu uukaga mbere” or “Uugi ndutongoragia”, literally translated “foolishness comes first” or “wisdom never comes first”. When Jane and I started working together on the scholarship program three years ago neither of us had any experience in the work. It’s been a journey of learning together and from each other. There have been roadblocks and speedbumps and surprises along the way. We, like our students, are learning and growing into the work that God has for us to do. Over time, we are becoming less foolish and gaining wisdom for the work. Our prayer is that as we continue to learn and grow that God will open doors as we are ready for them. We trust that it’s His work and it is our job to complete it.
We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for continuing to cover our work with your prayers and with your finances and well wishes
“’My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’” – John 4:34
For His glory,
Kevin & Nancy Sell
Hearts of Hope International, Inc.