Amelia Island-based charity helps HIV/AIDS orphans
On her first visit to Kenya in 2006, Diane Hamrick fell in love with its people. “The people are gentle, loving, kind and respectful,” Hamrick said. “... And their faith is so big. Even in what may seem a hopeless situation, they have faith that tomorrow will be better.”
Hamrick was deeply moved by the plight of Kenya’s many orphans, victims of the country’s longstanding battle with HIV/AIDS. In Kenya, impoverished women are overrepresented among victims of the disease. According to UNICEF, by 2011 the number of AIDS orphans in Kenya was more than 1.1 million.
Although Kenya has since been touted by the Avert HIV/AIDS charity as “one of sub-Saharan Africa’s HIV prevention success stories,” the disease persists. As of 2016, an estimated 1.6 million people in Kenya were living with HIV: 910,000 of them were women. Despite a dramatic fall in new infections in recent years, there were 62,000 new infections in 2016, most among women ages 15-24.
When Hamrick first arrived, the Kenyan government was not yet providing financial assistance to these orphans or their caregivers. Recalled Hamrick, “I saw lots of malnourished children. Some of them were much smaller for their age than they should have been. There were 9-year-olds who looked more like 6-year-olds. Some of these children were going two days between meals, especially in the dry season when food was scarce. They weren’t in school because there was no money for shoes or school uniforms. Children were dying of common childhood diseases like measles. I knew I wanted to do something to help.”
Within a year of that first visit to Kenya, Hamrick and her friends established a nonprofit organization called Kenya Partners that now operates a 600-bed boarding school for impoverished children grades K-12 and two pre-schools with feeding programs.
Through a companion Kenyan non-governmental agency, the organization also operates a 24/7 maternity hospital and health clinic. With the exception of a pre-school in the city, programs are located in the village of Lanet, just outside the city of Nakuru, in one of the geographical areas of the country hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Hamrick’s background was no doubt an asset in fulfilling her philanthropic ambitions. With a master’s degree in education and a law degree from Emory University, she waded intrepidly into the international bureaucracy. The medical facility was the first program to be established, followed by the school.
The official address of Kenya Partners remains in High Point, N.C., where Hamrick and her friends were living at the time they established the nonprofit. However, Hamrick and her husband, John, became permanent residents of Amelia Island three years ago.
Retirement for Hamrick means she can devote herself full-time to Kenya Partners. As chairperson of both the U.S. nonprofit and the Kenya NGO, Hamrick spends about five months of the year in Kenya. When back on Amelia Island, she is on the phone to Kenya daily. All work in the U.S. is done by volunteers. Volunteers going to Kenya, including Hamrick, pay their own travel expenses.
Another cost savings is that the sites in Kenya strive to be as self-sufficient as possible. The ten-and-a-half-acre school campus includes farmland where cows and chickens supply the school with milk and eggs and garden plots supply fresh produce. The school has its own well. Even the bricks to construct the building were made onsite. One hopeful outcome of the upcoming benefit is to raise enough resources to invest in solar power at the school since electricity is costly in Kenya.
Also on the wish list are a portable ultrasound and a portable X-ray machine for the hospital, a vehicle that can serve as an ambulance, and bunk beds and mattresses for a new dormitory so the youngest boys at the school will no longer have to sleep in classrooms. This year’s goal is to raise $50,000 from the benefit.
According to Hamrick, 100 percent of funds raised go directly to programs in Kenya. With an annual operating budget between $250,000 and $300,000, Kenya Partners relies almost entirely on individual donations.
Memorial United Methodist Church in Fernandina Beach is one of two U.S. churches that regularly include Kenya Partners among their missions. While 83 percent of Kenyans are of the Christian faith and Christianity is required to be taught in all Kenyan public schools, Hamrick points out that Kenya Partners is a humanitarian effort unaffiliated with any religious denomination.