Children of Hope

Eleven Cal Poly students and two professors with diverse academic backgrounds spent three weeks this summer in July at the Children of Hope orphanage in Kikuyu, Kenya as part of the Internship in Agriculture class.

The orphanage, just outside of Nairobi, has two children’s homes on 50 acres of rolling farmland. It is largely funded by donors from the United States and operated by a nonprofit based in Colorado. When purchased, the property came with six small cottages, a large kitchen, a dining cottage, and space nearby for soccer and other recreation activities, group camp outs, or weddings.

The team of Cal Poly students had one objective: to increase the orphanage’s revenue by utilizing and improving its existing resources. Ideally, the orphanage would generate more income from farm production by selling crops and livestock such as cattle and by renting out their facilities for weddings, or church and corporate retreats.

The students, who were divided into two groups to analyze both tourism and event management and agricultural production, came from seven different majors in three colleges: the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; Architecture and Environmental Design; and Orfalea College of Business.

Jana Russell, a third-year agricultural science major, assisted with the sustainable tourism plan and a project focused on the swine portion of the agriculture study. She said the trip inspired her to pursue a path in international agriculture in addition to her longstanding dream of teaching agriculture. “I would like to work with a company or nonprofit to help educate farmers in less developed countries on simple agricultural practices,” said Russell. “Being able to share everything that I have learned from Cal Poly and the industry with those who don’t have the same opportunities is very inspiring to me.”

Ashraf Tubeileh, assistant professor in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, led the students in the agricultural study, assessing the farm, doing soil samples and analyzing the cost and production of the cows and chickens. Students also visited other farms including a swine farm and an agricultural supply company. “I had two main goals,” said Tubeileh. “I wanted to improve the profitability of the farm by improving crop and animal management, and to expose Cal Poly students to tropical agriculture in a developing country.”

Assistant Professor Keri Schwab, of the Experience Industry Management Department, guided the students in the sustainable tourism study by examining the domestic market, visiting nearby hotels and venues and delving into the orphanage’s existing marketing and business plan.

“In the end, the students created a more than 100-page business and marketing plan, complete with redone spreadsheet templates for accurate reporting, suggested a new name, logo, and brochure for the cottages, and dozens of social media posts,” said Schwab. The team of students also suggested both short-term and long-term plans for facility and service upgrades.

Being able to share everything that I have learned from Cal Poly and the industry with those who don't have the same opportunities is very inspiring to me.

— Jana Russell

Between the long hours of working at the orphanage, Cal Poly students traveled to nearby destinations such as Hell’s Gate National Park, the Giraffe Centre, an elephant orphanage, the local farmers market and a major sports event in Nairobi.

“We were almost always greeted with smiles, and what I felt was an open and accepting attitude of mazungos (white people),” said Schwab. “The Kenyans seemed happy to welcome us to their country and often asked if this was our first time and what we thought of their country.”

However, the nearby political strife and violence pulsing throughout the area was a reality that the group became well versed in through the stories of those they met and the orphans living at the compound. “We were incredibly lucky to have the peaceful respite of the Children of Hope property. We were safe in the tall hedges and trees, the rolling hills and the 50 acres that kept Kikuyu town at bay,” said Schwab, who described the cities as rough, gritty and crowded.

The orphanage supports up to 30 youth at one time, from infancy through college age. Any additional revenue would be used to support that mission. The orphans’ stories were interlaced with that violence — many having witnessed their parents being beaten or being beaten themselves. Many of them were HIV positive.

“But the warmth and love given to the children by the ‘aunties’ and the family feeling created on the property as a sanctuary, make it feel like a different world,” said Schwab. "That feeling is in part created by the amount of space they have, but even more so by the people who work and live there. They were giving, caring, open, and honest with us and with the children.”

Their charisma also inspired Russell.

“I think the biggest lesson I learned was to take everything around you and always find the positive,” said Russell. “We would be driving or walking around and every person we passed would wave and smile. If we stopped, we were asked questions and taken in without hesitation. This was a huge lesson for me to be a part of; taking the time and treating each person that I come in contact with as a way to improve my own life and theirs as well.”


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