Kenyan teacher in NJ leads delegation to meet Kenyan envoy


Kenyan teacher in NJ leads delegation to meet Kenyan envoy

Kenyan teacher in NJ leads delegation to meet Kenyan envoy
The Kenya House leaders receive a picture book from Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae. From left are Ronnie G. Mutethia, second secretary/trade; Dr. David Angwenyi,

Dr. David Angwenyi, Hopewell Valley Central High School science teacher and founder of Global Connections Kenya, and Ellyn Ito, founder of the Hopewell-based Seeds to Sew International, led a group of 20 students, parents, educators, business leaders and community activists to the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on April 16 for a private meeting with Kenyan Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae.

The purpose of the meeting was to share with the ambassador the many initiatives underway in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that support Kenyan interests, culminating with a formal invitation to the ambassador to visit Hopewell later in the spring.

The meeting started with a message delivered on behalf of the visitors by Jessica Heller, chairwoman of the Hopewell-Keroka Alliance, that expressed solidarity and sympathy in recognition of the recent terrorist attack on Garissa University in Garissa, Kenya.

Ms. Ito then gave a presentation on the many institutions, organizations, student groups and programs in operation in New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas that benefit Kenya and, in turn, provides an educational opportunity for those involved in the United States to gain an understanding of how a little bit of effort can make such an impact on communities across the world.

Some of the organizations highlighted included:

   • The Hopewell-Keroka Alliance — Since being founded in 2007, it has raised more than $117,000 for projects that benefit rural Kenyans, including the installation of clean water wells, the building of a tea buying center, construction of a road used to improve commerce, tree-planting projects, malaria bed-netting and the funding of medical centers.

• Seeds to Sew International — Since being founded in 2010, it has delivered more than $80,000 in proceeds to help women and girls gain access to education and skills training, and is sponsoring 23 girls in attending school in rural Kenya,

• The Lions Club New Jersey — An initiative led by Dr. Lillian Rankel, a former Central High School science teacher, raised more than $20,000 in support of the Kiomiti School for the Blind and the construction of a dormitory for sight-impaired students.

• Shelter Housing Cooperative Society and ICRSD — Organizations that focus on community building are led by professor Joel Ongaro, a professor at Bergen County Community college and Kenyatta University.

• Hopewell Valley Central High School — The Model WHO Club, which focuses on health, wellness and community building around the world.

• Roxbury High School Global Connections — An initiative led by student-entrepreneur Spyridoula Fontanis inspires students and parents in Succasana, New Jersey, to participate in global service-learning partnerships.

Ms. Ito emphasized how Dr. Angwenyi’s vision for Global Connections Kenya is being realized as students, community members, business leaders, nonprofit volunteers and educators are combining efforts to generate more activity and interest in support of Kenya-related initiatives.

Dr. Angwenyi, a Kenyan native, founded Global Connections Kenya with the idea of bridging communities in America with communities in Kenya to enhance understanding and develop lifelong relationships.

Dr. Angwenyi, who also co-founded Hopewell-Keroka Alliance, has led four service-oriented trips to Kenya over the past seven years, which included students and faculty from Hopewell Valley High School.

It was this experience that inspired his vision for Global Connections Kenya.

Dr. Angwenyi said, “Seeing the impact firsthand on what the trip did for some of our young people was monumental. It changed their lives, and it changed the lives of the people in the communities that we performed services in. I know that if we can connect people at a young age with people in different cultures that the world will be a nicer place.”

Ms. Ito, who also has had students travel with her organization to rural Kenya where Seeds to Sew has its operations, agreed.

”It often takes stepping out of one’s comfort zone to gain an understanding of how people in other parts of the world live,” she said. “This then provides a fresh perspective to how we operate here in the U.S. and how we might do things differently to make the world a better place.”

Many of the students who had been with Dr. Angwenyi or Ms. Ito have developed a passion for international service, and many were able to attend the visit with the ambassador. These students included Samantha Lee, a sophomore at Georgetown University, a board member of Hopewell-Keroka Alliance and an active Hopewell Valley Kenya student ambassador and Debra Keen, a senior at Hopewell Valley Central High School, who has founded Keen4Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to serving youth in Kenya suffering from HIV.

In addition to providing a history of programs, Ms. Ito also shared the many new initiatives underway, including the Kenya Experience 2016 and the launch of Kenya House.

   Spyridoula Fotinis and Sara Ali, seniors at Roxbury High School and Hopewell Valley Central High School, described the Kenya Experience 2016 and the planning underway to Ambassador Githae.

The Kenya Experience 2016 is an endeavor that will bring together 250 participants, mainly from the United States, during the summer of 2016 to Kenya to participate in a variety of projects ranging from education, environmental conservation, global diplomacy, health issues, poverty alleviation and public policy on development.

When shared with Ambassador Githae, he said with a laugh, “Why only 250 people? Why not many, many more?”

Paul Jingo Masai of Jingo Tours and Safaris, who also was at the meeting, will coordinate all logistics for the safe and efficient transport of the participants in Kenya.

Sutinder Singh Dhanjal, a former resident of Kenya and retired aerospace engineering manager, described the Kenya House initiative.

Through the collaborative efforts of Mr. Dhanjal, his wife, Nirpal Dhanjal, and Dr. Angwenyi, the Dhanjals will open their Pennington home once a month for two hours in the evening for guests to experience a slice of Kenya.

Without air travel and with a little imagination, visitors to the Kenya House will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Kenyan culture by sampling Kenyan cuisine, hearing the Swahili language spoken, listening to Kenyan music and socializing in a modern-style Kenyan home.

A donation will be requested per person of which a portion will directly go to helping Kenyan families in need.

Ms. Keen then extended a formal invitation for Ambassador Githae to come to the launch of the Kenya House in May and learn firsthand of the many groups who are supporting Kenyan initiatives.

He accepted the invitation, and planning for his visit is underway.

Also among the attendees were Dr. Joel Ongaro, founder of Shelter Housing Cooperative Society; Paul Jingo Masai, founder and managing director of Jingo Tours and Safaris; Annie Saunders, who serves on the PTO of HVCHS and has been working with the D.C. chapter of Save the Elephants; Vasiliki Fotinis of the PTO of the Roxbury High School; Swati Joseph, HVCHS PTA president; Jessica Heller, secretary of Hopewell-Keroka Alliance and a teacher; Nina Moukova, operations manager of Seeds to Sew International Inc.; Frank Flegeal, HVCHS television production teacher; John Mogaka, admissions and marketing Director at Devereux Children Behavioral Hospital; Zachary Moitui, educator and volunteer leader for the Kenya 2016 trip; Chelsea Moubarak, Swahili language and cultural education consultant; George Maragia, founding member of Shelter Housing Cooperative society; Sara Ali, student liaison between GCC and Hopewell-Keroka Alliance; Spyridoula Fotinis, a senior at Roxbury High School; Kira Olander, a senior at HVCHS; and Kevin Phelan, a senior at HVCHS.


Kenyan teacher in NJ leads delegation to meet Kenyan envoy 

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