KISUMU, Kenya — Christmas came early for the residents of Busia Compassionate Centre, an orphanage in Western Kenya supported by World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) and Kenya's savings and credit cooperatives, thanks to the work of a Pennsylvania credit union and the state league that represents it.
Bruce Foulke, president and CEO of American Heritage Federal Credit Union, Philadelphia, last week found himself donning a white beard and red suit and delivering a sack full of toys, games and books to some 85 residents of the orphanage. Rick Myxter, director of small credit union development with the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, trailed behind, acting as "head elf" and delivering a lighted 4-foot Christmas tree.
"I don't know how many of the kids knew who I was, but you could tell they didn't know what a present was because they never had anything of their own before," Foulke said.
Most of the residents also may not have known that Foulke and American Heritage have been feeding the orphanage, committing US$12,000 annually to cover a year's worth of food for residents and staff. This was Foulke's second trip to Kenya but his first to the orphanage, which he described as a life-changing experience.
"It's so rewarding to help people who have so few things in life," Foulke said. "It makes me appreciate my life and the freedom we have so much more."
Delivering presents wasn't the only task that brought Foulke, Myxter and other volunteers to the orphanage, first introduced to WOCCU through its Kenya development program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During the weeklong trip, the volunteers also built a fence around a 3.5-acre parcel of land that will serve as home to a new orphanage, scheduled to break ground in 2012.
The original orphanage was established in 2003 by Stella Achieng Egesa to house Kenya's growing number of homeless children, many of whom lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Staff from WOCCU's USDA-funded credit union development program assisted Egesa and her staff, introducing agricultural crops for greater food security. When the USDA project ended in April 2010, WOCCU stepped in and, with donor support, improved security and sanitary facilities, provided the orphanage's residents with nutritious food and medical care, and eventually secured the land to construct the new facility.
"It's always a draw for me to see how much progress Busia has made," said Myxter, who has traveled to Kenya six times, including three trips with WOCCU to the orphanage. "If it hadn't been for Stella and her staff, these children would literally be living on the street."
Dr. Bernard Micke, a Madison, Wis., physician, and his wife Linda, a nurse, also made their second trip to Busia, providing physical exams and first aid for many of the children. The couple created a medical records system for the orphanage and taught health education courses to older residents. WOCCU staff also reviewed the orphanage's business practices and carried out other tasks needing to be done.
"Our goal ultimately is to make Busia financially self-sustaining," said Brian Branch, WOCCU president and CEO, who led the volunteer delegation. "In the meantime, the children are happier, healthier and more likely to succeed in life thanks to the financial and volunteer support contributed by American Heritage Federal Credit Union, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and other generous individuals and organizations."
Learn more about Busia Orphanage and how to help at www.busiaorphanage.org.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.