Couple’s nonprofit work benefits Kenyan children
Art sales will help pay boy’s way to U.S. for surgery
When Paul and Connie Zimmerman were tourists in Kenya, they quickly fell in love with the country and its people. Just about as quickly they discovered incredible poverty and a seemingly endless need for education and medical help. Not to mention how difficult it is for many Kenyans to access clean water.
Feeling an urge to do something, the couple started the nonprofit Small World Education Foundation, which, among other things, collects and ships school books to Kenya. This summer, they shipped 6 tons of donated books and 30 rebuilt computers. Paul Zimmerman, for 105 days, participated in the construction of a water filter manufacturing facility in Kitale, in western Kenya – a project he worked on with students and faculty at Gonzaga University.
“This is all under the umbrella of Rotary,” he said. “I may be the one who goes over there a lot, but it’s Rotary that makes this happen.”
Shortly after he arrived in Kenya this summer, Zimmerman met a boy named Kevin Wafula.
“His face is so badly burned, he’s disfigured,” said Zimmerman. “I took pictures of him right away, sent them back to Rotary and said, ‘Hey, we have to fix this kid.’ ”
First Friday, downtown Spokane’s business and arts festival scheduled to take place near the week’s end, is expected to include an art sale to benefit Wafula’s trip to Spokane this spring and the reconstructive surgery that awaits him at Shriners Hospital for Children. Zimmerman is hoping to staff every First Friday venue with a Rotarian and some of the African art pieces he has imported from Kenya. The festival is scheduled for this Friday.
“Every penny we make will go 50 percent to Kevin Wafula and 50 percent to Shriners Hospital,” said Zimmerman, who hopes to raise $5,000.
Russ Brine, a member of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, a Roman Catholic missionary group, introduced Zimmerman to the orphaned Wafula. Maryknoll runs St. John Bosco, a rescue and rehabilitation center for very young street children in the Kitale area.
“Kevin is 10 or 11 – they are not really sure – and he got burned when his stepmom pushed him into a cooking fire,” said Zimmerman. Wafula is missing part of his left hand and he has scars around his mouth, nose and eyes. “They told me that it’s socially OK for stepmothers to hate their stepchildren and treat them terribly, while they dote on their own kids,” Zimmerman added. “Kevin’s dad and stepmom ran away. They are now fugitives from the law, I guess.”
A neighbor found the boy and took him to the hospital. From there, he went to St. John Bosco, where he’s been living for four or five years.
Doctors at Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane agreed to treat Wafula.
“They are fairly certain they can do something good for him,” said Zimmerman, who already has two families lined up to host the boy when he makes it to Spokane in early spring. “He doesn’t speak any English at all, but I’m sure he’ll pick it up fast. And he’s traveling with a chaperone.”
The artwork being sold to benefit Wafula – Christmas cards, watercolors and posters – also comes from Kenya.
“It was Russ Brine who said I should come take a look at this art school, and that’s how I met Alfred Oduya,” said Zimmerman. Oduya runs a small art school that teaches young people a craft or a trade so they can make a living.
Zimmerman said he brought back more than 200 pieces of Oduya’s hand-painted watercolors.
“We are hoping we can get into a lot of different First Friday venues, and when people hear about Kevin Wafula, hopefully they will help him.”