Annual Letter 2023

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. 

How do you build a non-profit ministry that operates 7,000 miles away? One step at a time.

This summer we celebrate the five-year anniversary of Hearts of Hope International.  As I (Nancy) think back to the beginning, I’m in awe that we had the courage to step out into the unknown and follow the call God placed on our hearts. Like Abraham’s call, the Lord did not explicitly tell us where we were going, He just told us to take a step of faith.  For five years we have taken one step of faith after another.  As I stand at this five-year mark, I turn to look back and I see many steps forward despite what felt like roadblocks, speedbumps and surprising turns in the road.  We see our students succeeding in their training, gaining employment, increasing household income, and positively impacting their communities. With the help of our dedicated friends, Deb & Lou Ronayne, our financial support has grown exponentially. We have continued to expand geographically, now impacting 27 different villages in Kiambu County.  We have learned that with prayer, patience, and persistence, fruit will come from our efforts.

Many of our very first scholarship recipients have displayed great resilience in persevering through the pandemic to complete their training.  Samuel has earned a diploma in medical engineering and for his final project engineered a newborn warming unit.  Peninnah completed her training in both braille and braille knitting and now is able to work on a braille knitting machine from her home.  Solomon completed his training as a community health nurse and is currently preparing for his licensing exams.  Margaret completed her internship teaching 53 second graders. Lizzy is sewing school uniforms. Hearts of Hope Baking Club continues to improve their skills by meeting together monthly. Esther completed her training in hair dressing, was approved for a micro grant to buy a blow dryer, and is working from home.  These early students feel to my mother’s heart a bit like my firstborn child.  We have trained them up and now we give them their wings to go out into the world with renewed hopes for their futures.

In December of 2022 I visited Kenya once again with the goals of listening, learning, challenging, and encouraging. I had the opportunity to meet with many of our students in their homes as well as lead a workshop where we could hear firsthand from the students what is working well and what remains a challenge for them. Both of these experiences create opportunities for us to continue to learn from our students how best to support their journey from chronic poverty to becoming contributors to a flourishing, self-sustaining community. One of the home visits that Jane (our Program Manager in Kenya) and I made was to see Lydia, who had recently completed her embroidery apprenticeship. Lydia was working from her home and travelling to Kimende Town to use her former trainer’s embroidery machine as necessary.  We dreamed together of Lydia owning her own machine.  We offered Lydia a microgrant for 50% of the cost of an embroidery machine and by March, Lydia had saved enough money and found a machine she wanted to purchase.  Lydia is now working out of her home with her own machine.  Lydia is a wonderful example of the success we are experiencing. Her training cost was $160. The microgrant for her embroidery machine was $50. Our cost, $210 to change a life, a family, and to begin to change a community!

In the workshop that we held with our students we learned that our students are motivated by the ability to choose their course of training based on their passions. This motivation helps them to keep going in the face of the many obstacles they face in their day to day lives. The majority of our students come from homes where their past experience is that if school fees are not paid, they will be sent home from school.  With the Hearts of Hope International Scholarship, students’ fees are paid on time, there are no interruptions in their education, and this gives them confidence that a smooth path of learning is possible for them. One theme that emerged at the workshop as a challenge for students is lack of access to capital to purchase materials and tools for their trade. This information will help us define our next steps.  We know from global research that vocational training is the most effective way to combat the challenge of chronic poverty.  We also understand from our students that in our next steps, we need to have a three-pronged approach. First, we need to continue with vocational training scholarships.  Second, we need to add on to that training with entrepreneurial skills. Third, we need to continue to grant qualified students access to capital through microgrants for tools and materials to start their businesses.

At the five-year mark of our ministry, we understand that not only are the needs of each village that we serve unique, but the landscape of Kiambu county continues to be dynamic.  Currently, post-pandemic inflation has had a big impact on the families of our students.  A typical student that we scholarship for vocational training comes from a family of substance farmers earning the equivalent of $2.90/day.  A packet of ugali to feed a family one meal is $1.50.  In the 27 villages where Hearts of Hope is active there is an average Secondary School completion rate of 36% according to Kenyan Census Data. Our student’s range in age from 14 to 59 years old. 73% of our scholarship recipients are women, 27% are men.  We have granted approval to 169 scholarship applicants. 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 continue to 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. We are currently in the process of researching opportunities to offer all of our students entrepreneurial skills training.

I have been aware for the last five years as Jane and I have worked to build a foundation for Hearts of Hope International that the time would come when Kevin would retire and have more opportunity to lend his experience and expertise to the growth of the organization.  That time came at the end of June 2023. Kevin retired from a long and successful career in the auto industry and we are all excited to see what contributions he will make in the coming years to Hearts of Hope International.  Due to travel restrictions stemming from the pandemic Kevin has not had the opportunity to visit Kenya since 2019.  I am very excited as we plan a trip for late 2023 or early 2024 to go together and meet with local leaders and pray together about what the Lord has for us next as we continue to step out in faith.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  One student at a time.  One family, one village, one location at a time. Please keep us in your prayers for wisdom and clarity for our next steps.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…So Abraham went, as the Lord had told him” ~ Genesis 12:1-2, 4

For His glory,

Kevin & Nancy Sell
Hearts of Hope International, Inc.