The story of the Helgeo Hope Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and its founder, Mr. George Obanda, is a compelling example of the ability to triumph over obstacles in life and how even one small gesture can change the lives of many for the better.
Nearly two decades after they first met, Mr. Obanda recently contacted Costas Christ, after searching for his old friend on the internet. Costas, who serves as the Spirit of Big Five Foundation’s ambassador at large, immediately remembered him from when Costas and his family lived in East Africa in the late 1980s.
In those days, Obanda was a homeless beggar living on the streets of Nairobi. Walking to Nairobi city market each week to buy groceries, Costas regularly came upon Obanda sitting on the side of the road. The young, poverty-stricken polio survivor, who walked with crutches and dressed in rags, always had a bright smile. But his daily life was one of hunger and struggling to survive. Costas would stop to talk with him, give him some money and some food. Over several years, the two got to know each other and became friends. Obanda talked of his yearning to go to college, get a job, get married, and have a normal life – simple things we may take for granted in the United States, but what seemed like an impossible dream for a street beggar in Kenya. The week before Costas left to move back to the USA, he took Obama to dinner at a popular local restaurant and, amid stares from other diners and tourists, they enjoyed a leisurely meal together. In saying goodbye, Costas gave Obanda a donation to help him enroll in a business accounting course, which Obanda was eager to do. After that, they lost contact with each other until, more than two decades laters, Obanda contacted him again.
He wanted to thank Costas for his gift of a meal and the small donation to take the accounting class, and to tell him how that helped to change his life. And, not only his life! Obanda went to college and became a successful accountant, got married, and eventually established his own fly-tying business with his wife Hellen – manufacturing fly-fishing flies for export around the world. But Obanda never forgot his past, and the couple began to use the profits from their small business to help homeless children living on Nairobi’s streets today.
The Obandas founded Helgeo Hope Center (Helgeo is the combination of both of their first names), a non-profit charity to assist and support children in need, along with their families, in the Kibera slums in Nairobi. “My goal is to show these children that there is hope in life, no matter how hard it gets. I am living proof of that. We are extremely grateful to those kind people who donate to the Spirit of Big Five’s partnership with the Helgeo Hope Centre, making the dream of a better life become a reality for more of Nairobi’s street children,” says Obanda with his characteristic bright smile.
Helgeo Hope Centre (HHC) is a non-profit charity organization founded in 2008 to assist and support destitute children and their families, youth with special needs, and poor women living in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, through provision of educational sponsorships, mobility aid assistance, a day care feeding center, and provision of micro-credit loans for women and youth in need. They also offer youth counseling and free medical care for homeless children. The center operates in partnership, with support from the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, through travelers’ donations, and supplemented with income from the Obandas’ small fly-tying business venture. The center currently has 50 children, 22 women, and 8 youths enrolled in its community-based services.
HHC is currently involved in three basic activities:
(i) Educational Sponsorship Program for Destitute Children – HHC has 50 children in their program - 45 attend primary school and five attend secondary school. At the beginning of each year, they assist the students with new school uniforms, shoes, school bags, text books, writing stationery, and casual clothing. During school, they also provide meals three times a week as well as donate food to families in need once a month. For the secondary school students, HHC helps them by paying their school fees. The center currently has five such advanced students, who attend secondary schools around the country.
(ii) Youth Vocational Training Program - The main beneficiaries of this program are the homeless street children, especially those with physical disabilities. HHC supports eight young men, who are attending vocational training courses with their sponsorship assistance. HHC also supports disabled individuals who are in need of mobility-aid assistance, by linking them to organizations that can help provide the needed walking equipment or wheelchairs. Those youths who succeed under the training program are loaned funds to help them start their own businesses to become self-reliant.
(iii) Women Empowerment Project - Under this program, HHC currently works with 22 women, who are poor and jobless. Most of them are illiterate, and some are also widows with children. The center has organized them into small groups of five, and helps them develop and run small-scale businesses of their choice through micro-credit loans and additional support.
The long-term goal of HHC is to buy a piece of land and construct a multipurpose center with a boarding school and vocational training facilities, so the programs and activities can be undertaken from one central location.
The Spirit of Big Five Foundation’s ongoing grant support to Helgeo Hope Centre is helping them to advance to that goal, while supporting the three projects noted above.