The Stahili Foundation was founded by Laura Walker, Hannah Ackerman and human rights lawyer, Michelle Oliel. The organization was created in response to abuse, trafficking and child labor that all three women encountered through their volunteer work at an orphanage in rural Kenya. Stahili truly began when Walker rescued one child from the orphanage, who was a victim of forced labor (Read Laura Walker's account of this situation: http://tinyurl.com/kqdbkux). Following the rescue of this child, three more rescues followed shortly after. The three women began moving children to safe and established boarding schools, where they had a chance to be free of abuse and exploitation. Before the women knew it, together they had rescued 15 children from a life of abuse and forced labor from the orphanage. They rescued their first 15 children by working with community leaders and local guardians, and through successful community-based acceptance, the Stahili Foundation began to grow.
The organization is rooted in the belief of providing guidance, education and love to proactively combat child labor, abuse, neglect and trafficking. They aim to provide children the tools they need to succeed, and importantly, education through post-secondary school. In Swahili, Stahili means, “to deserve.” Stahili believes that all children deserve to be free from abuse and exploitation and have the right to achieve their full potential. The organization is also rooted in the idea that education is a vital tool to break the cycle of poverty.
While Stahili Foundation has rescued 15 children, many more children remain neglected, abused and exploited at the orphanage and in the greater community. The organization's first priority is to rescue those children that remain in the abusive situation at the orphanage. After these children have been rescued, Stahili will reach out to the community to assist other children in similar situations. While they would love to help as many children as possible, the organization feels they cannot do so at the expense of quality care. Stahili aims to focus on a group of children who they can holistically care for and assist through the entirety of their education. As such, Stahili works with 30 children at a time. Once a child is fully sponsored, Stahili then brings a new child into the program.
Through the course of their work, the women of Stahili Foundation have faced some key challenges:
1. There are two types of orphans in Kenya. Some orphans have extended families who, for many reasons, cannot care for the child but nonetheless serve as a legal guardian while they reside in an orphanage. There are however children who have been completely abandoned and are under the legal guardianship of the Kenyan government. Without the cooperation of the Kenyan government, Stahili can only currently rescue those children from the orphanage with approval of legal guardians. This serves as a barrier to us rescuing the most vulnerable children at the orphanage who do not have extended family.
2. The lack of government oversight of orphanages and NGOs in Kenya has contributed to child labour, trafficking, abuse and neglect. The government of Kenya neither asks for financial records nor investigates when engaging in such activities. This results in already vulnerable children being abused, trafficked, forced to work and deprived of an education and future.
3. Western donors do not always properly investigate where their money is going which fuels and perpetuates countless problems. A very high proportion of orphanages that are specifically set up to receive western donors/volunteers are run as businesses. Children are, unfortunately, the commodity.
4. The lack of education and tools for effective parenting contributes to the problem of forced labor and trafficking. Child trafficking is a huge problem in poor communities/slums. At times, grandmothers sell their granddaughters to someone who promises to send them to school in exchange for help around the house. This more often is not the case and the child is used as slave labor. For Stahili, their future goal is to expand to working with community leaders, parents and guardians on this very issue.
Stahili aims to create awareness of, and put an end to, child labor, trafficking and abuse. They believe that education is the key to not only improving the life of one child, but to enable communities to break the cycle of poverty. Please visit www.stahilifoundation.org and find out more how you can help rescue a child.
Michelle Oliel, Co- Founder