By Olivia Sellers
“We are making the final push to reach our goal before I leave in June,” Fennel said. “The building is there, and if I can’t help 25 orphans, I’ll help 10.”
Fennel’s “final push” has cumulated in Restore Humanity Weekend, which will take place as she turns 30 years old this weekend. The weekend will include a multicultural fair at the University of Arkansas, an Argentinean wine dinner at Bordinos and an art sale.
Fennel’s goal of $100,000 is enough money to fund the orphanage with 25 children in the African province of Nyanza for one year.
“We are halfway there with the funds — I really need the community to come together now to help these precious children,” she said.
Like most of Kenya, the small village of Sirembe has an overwhelming orphan population due to death from AIDS, malaria, malnourishment and other diseases.
“It is not uncommon for a grandparent to be raising seven children,” she said.
Fennel, who is originally from Fayetteville, had wanted to volunteer in Africa since she was a small child.
“I don’t know why, but since I can remember I wanted to go to Africa to volunteer,” she said.
In 2005, she traveled to South Africa to work in a hospice helping children and adults with HIV and AIDS. When she returned to her job as a French and Spanish teacher at the Montessori School in Fayetteville, she sent letters home with her students asking for donations to send to the children she had worked with in South Africa.
“The response was so overwhelming — in a week I had a room full of supplies,” she said.
Although she loved her job teaching, she felt that there was something else she was supposed to do with her life, so in September 2006 she started Restore Humanity
“At first everyone thought I was crazy — can one person really make a difference?” she said. “There is such a huge problem over there, but I just think about saving one child at a time.”
By December 2006, Restore Humanity had raised $19,000 from individual donors, mostly from people in Northwest Arkansas. The money was used to pay school fees and medical bills for needy people in South Africa.
In September 2007, Fennel traveled to the Nyanza Province of Kenya to lay the groundwork for an orphanage. Because her college roommate’s family lived in the area, she had a contact who helped her navigate the culture and terrain.
After a fierce fundraising campaign and with donated land and a donated building, renovations on the orphanage began in September 2008.
Fennel spent all of last summer overseeing the building renovation and by November, the rain harvesting water system was completed. Fennel hopes that by providing children with a safe, clean environment, they will thrive.
“Children are dying because they don’t have the basic necessities,” Fennel said. “Something as simple as providing a child with shoes can save his or her life.”
Thanks to the fertile soils that surround the orphanage, Fennel hopes that it will be a self-sustaining organization that expands into helping the community as a whole. Although the number of orphaned children in the Nyanza Province is staggering — about half the children are without their parents — Fennel said that helping just one child makes a difference.
“I know we are starting small, but we have to start somewhere,” she said. “Once we stabilize the home, then we will continue to expand to helping more people in the village.”
In addition to providing a stable and loving home for 25 children, Fennel also plans to provide health care and other basic necessities through outreach programs. She wants to have programs in place that test and treat HIV positive children and provide them with nutritious diets, vitamin supplements, shoes, mosquito nets and medicine.
The Western Province of Kenya is an impoverished area where one out of seven people are HIV positive. HIV is the leading cause of death among children, and 33 percent of these children are malnourished. Forty percent of the children younger than 5 years old have malaria parasites in their blood, and 36,000 children die each year from malaria.
Ten million Kenyans are affected by jiggers, or parasitic sand fleas, that burrow under the skin creating sores that fill with puss and can become infected. Secondary infections, especially tetanus, are very common.
After the children who live in the orphanage are healthy, Fennel will focus on providing them with a quality education, as well as for the other children in the area. She has already started a program, Local Change for Global Change, in which seniors at Fayetteville High School are researching issues that can have real-life applications in Kenya.
Solar technology, trash disposal, organic farming, rain harvesting and social issues are some examples of topics the high school students are currently researching. The students will present their findings at a Cultural Fair at the University of Arkansas’ Multicultural Center on Friday.
“My goal is to take what these students find and implement it at the orphanage,” Fennel said. “I’m extremely excited to see what these students have researched and learned.”
Through Local Change for Global Change, Fayetteville Public Schools have made Sirembe primary and secondary schools their sister schools. In addition to the research projects by the seniors, the program hopes to change mindsets and learning techniques locally to bring positive change globally.
The program also reaches younger students in elementary and middle schools with lesson plans that teach them about their peers across the globe. Fennel hopes that Local Change for Global Change will eventually connect children globally and inspire them to be better global citizens so that they can change the world in a positive way.
Restore Humanity will gather money from participating schools throughout the school year that will directly benefit Sirembe’s two schools.
A little money in Sirembe goes a long way. For instance: About $6 buys one book, about $40 buys one complete uniform and about $1,616 pays a teacher’s salary for a year.
The public can help by donating to Restore Humanity. Every little bit counts, Fennel said.
“I know a lot of people don’t have extra money right now, but even $5 or $10 really helps,” she said.
Fennel said that she wants people to understand that the people who live in this small village are “just like us.”
“They want the same things we do — to be able to spend time with their friends and family without having to constantly worry about being sick. I want people to want to help out of respect, not pity.”
Fennel will leave June 16 for Kenya to open the orphanage. In the village of Sirembe, there is no electricity or running water, but she says she feels comfortable there.
“Sure, it was a little hard getting used to bathing out of a bucket at first, but there is something really charming about a simple life. It’s kind of ironic that Americans try to make life simple with modern conveniences, but it ends up being more complicated than life in the village.”
To learn more or to make a donation or sponsor a child in the orphanage, visit www.restorehumanity.org. Tickets to the Argentinean dinner can also be purchased on the Web site.<