By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service www.assistnews.net
NASHVILLE, TN (ANS, November 15, 2015) – Naomi’s Village sits on 5-acres outside Maai Mahiu, Kenya.
The main 9500 sq. foot home can house up to 80 children ages 0-12. A large dining facility doubles as a multi-purpose hall. A caretaker’s apartment allows their Director of Caregiving, Outreach, & Activities and family to live on site, providing consistent love and supervision to the children. Beautiful landscaping, a playground, basketball court, and soccer field have all been added by visiting teams since 2011. A separate guest house was completed June 2013 for visiting teams.
Naomi’s Village President, Kevin Perkins, likes to tell the story of how the founders started going to Kenya for two-month mission trips to work in a hospital in Kijabe, Kenya – and how he got ‘roped in’ to becoming the charity’s first president, in an interview at the 2015 Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters.
“I knew that Bob was going over to Kenya,” said Perkins. “I was doing my law practice. He was actually doing his orthopedic surgeon practice and he would go for two months and come back; and we would always get together and talk about his trips. Then they decided they were going to move over to Kenya permanently in 2008. They did work for Kijabe Hospital and a ministry called Cure International.”
They arrived right after the 2007 election violence. Bob was doing surgeries and his wife Julie was teaching at a local school on Kijabe Mission Station. “They started seeing the effects of the violence, refugee communities coming in, a lot of orphans from the AIDS crisis,” said Perkins. “Their perspective was raised from their immediate work within the school and the hospital to start a children’s home. They were working with a Kenyan couple that wanted to start a children’s home. So we raised the funds in 2008 and sent them off to start building the orphanage. It was going to be a smaller orphanage, but the plans grew bigger because Bob and Julie are Texans!”
Perkins continued: “Yeah, everything’s big in Texas or in God’s will, which I feel was a combination of both. It became a vision to rescue, restore, and empower 100 children. Bob and Julie started working under the umbrella of another organization called Lost Orphans to build the home. Where I came into the picture was after that first fundraiser — Naomi’s Village was growing to a spot where they needed to become their own 501©3. Bob and Julie called an interest meeting on a trip to the States and I was at that meeting. Since I had done the paperwork for several friends that formed 501©3s, I reluctantly raised my hand and said I’d do the paperwork for no charge. That turned into me forming the corporation. The corporation needed a physical address and the Mendonsas lived in Kenya so my home address became the physical address. They needed an EIN number and a bank account. Well, that needed a physical address too, so we used my home as the physical address.
“Before you know it, along with my law practice, I’m forming a small company, a small non-profit with the help of the Mendonsas guiding the whole thing. We submitted the application to the IRS and Bob formed a board, which I was then on. Although I was the youngest person on the board I became the chairman. Before you know it, I was spending an inordinate amount of time at Naomi’s Village — seeing enormous blessings coming from it. I took several trips with the board and because we had no stateside staff at the time — we just had a board in the States and all the staff was in Kenya — our DNA became very Kenyan-lead. The Mendonsas were working in other ministries when they first started Naomi’s Village, and then slowly God started pulling them into fulltime work for Naomi’s Village. Julie stopped teaching and became the head administrator. Bob is now down to one day a week of doing orthopedic surgeries, and the rest of his time is spent at Naomi’s Village. In the beginning, they really didn’t have anybody coming from the States to help them, so they just started hiring good Kenyan staff.”
Perkins said it made sense to hire Kenyans because they’re a Kenyan ministry. “Now we have 50 Kenyan staff and we have three Stateside.”
Perkins then told the story of how the name Naomi’s Village came about and also the story of Joshua, the village’s first orphan resident.
“The name Naomi comes from the book of Ruth. Julie was praying and studying Ruth at the time she was thinking about what to call the orphanage. Julie looked at the meaning of Naomi, which is ‘beautiful, pleasant and delightful.’ And the parallels between Naomi not having her family, but then God restoring a family; and Jesus coming from that lineage really just seemed like that was the story that connected with us.”
In 2008 the Mendonsas moved over to Kenya fulltime and in 2011 we welcomed home our first child, Joshua. A lot of our children are orphaned because of AIDS, violence, and terrorism. “But Joshua’s story was unique. His mother was pregnant and almost ready to give birth to her fourth child. He had one older brother and a baby brother so he was the middle child. His dad came home drunk one night in a violent rage. He took a knife and killed the mom and the baby that was inside of her, killed Joshua’s older brother and then finally his younger brother. Joshua snuck out of the house through a small hole in the wall. He waited outside until the noise quieted down inside. When he came back inside he found his father had hung himself. After trying to speak to his dad, not understanding why he wouldn’t respond, the 3-year-old lay down and slept the night next to his dead mother. The following morning Joshua went into town and some local villagers saw he had blood on his hands. Joshua led them back to his home to find the horror inside. At Naomi’s Village we try not to replace the nuclear family.
“If there are living grandparents, uncles, and aunts, we usually won’t displace that unless it is an unhealthy environment. However, sometimes there are situations where a child with family needs to be rescued and that was Joshua’s case. He had an uncle and some other distant family members, but in the Kenyan culture he was seen as cursed because of this tragic event. So he was left with no one and he became our first child. I recently watched a News Clip of Joshua on the day after the event. He was trying to get back in the house just wandering around confused. He didn’t even look like the same child we have today. Now Joshua has the biggest smile out of any of the kids at NV. He came in, he was loved on, he was treated like family. He was nurtured, received proper nutrition, education, and he has really blossomed. He is one of our children that have been severely scarred with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. One of the hallmarks of Naomi’s Village is that we will always do for these children what we would do for our own children. If our own children had PTSD and needed counseling we would get a counselor, so that is exactly what we did for Joshua. He is one of a handful of children going through weekly PTSD counseling. He sees an excellent professional counselor in Nairobi to help him process and work through his issues.”
Joshua is now 7-years-old and he’s in first grade.
“One of our other hallmarks is to raise our children with servant and leadership mindsets. We don’t want them to be Western. We want them to be comfortable with Westerners and be good Kenyans.”
In order to accomplish this, Perkins explained that Naomi’s Village started a school called Cornerstone Preparatory Academy with a Kenyan curriculum and Kenyan staff.
“We are intentional in how we raise them to hopefully stay in Kenya and help change their country. The children do weekly community outreach projects, often times in the Internally Displaced Peoples Camps, which now years down the road, are considered settlements. Through our children’s work in the community, we found a refugee camp the government had given no attention to called Mwi’Hangiri.”
“This is a refugee camp that is far off the road. With the help of our kids we started seeking outside help for the 24 displaced families. We built a church that they asked for, and kids now worship in that church. We’ve raised funds to build each family a home and purchase land for them. We’re trying to be an example for the kids so that it becomes a lifestyle. Our ultimate goal is to give the children a First World education, foster servant hearts, instill leadership and ethics so that they are empowered to create great change in Kenya.”
Naomi’s Village is in rural Kenya so there are a lot of educational challenges in the area. “In a local community study we found an average class size of 87 children to one teacher. And as Julie likes to say, ‘As a former teacher, that just becomes crowd control. That’s not education.’ They don’t have electricity or flushing toilets – but I don’t want to talk disparagingly as they’re trying their best with what they have. When Naomi’s Village first opened we sent our kids to a local private school and we didn’t feel like they were getting the education they needed. And again, if your child isn’t being educated like you want them to, you find a different solution. Our solution was to start a school on the Naomi’s Village property. We had a cow barn with one cow on our 5-acre compound. The cow wasn’t producing much milk so we decided to sell that cow and turn the shed into a three-classroom schoolhouse. So we started Cornerstone Preparatory Academy in an empty wing of the orphanage, transformed the cow house into a schoolhouse, and then moved our students from the main building to the new tiny school. We have 50 students from Naomi’s Village that made a dramatic turnaround once enrolled at Cornerstone. After our first eight months, Evalyne, our only 6th grader, became the #1 student in the entire district for her grade, and our 3rd grade class scored #1 as a whole. We do everything we can to pour into these children, and not only the brightest students, but the least of the least students. That doesn’t happen in the context of Kenyan education in rural Kenya. There are often so many students per class that only the smartest kids get proper attention. The lesser kids don’t. Poor children drift in and out of enrollment because of the need to support family and the lack of school fees. But with Cornerstone, we’ve taken children that have challenges in learning, poured attention, love, Godly affection, and best practices of education into them, and they’re doing amazingly well.”
Perkins said American Christians should care about what they’re doing in Kenya, “Because God’s moving!”
“What’s happening on the grounds of Naomi’s Village is something of God, and it can only be of God. The fact that an orthopedic surgeon would leave his practice to run an orphanage speaks to the sacrifice to build Naomi’s Village, and God’s blessing the sacrifice. The restoration that is seen every day with these kids is a picture of the gospel.”
Julie Mendonsa often drives out to pick up the kids and bring them home to Naomi’s Village. She speaks of the children’s arrival from nothing, into the Naomi’s Village family. “They don’t know what’s coming,” she said. “They drive up to gates that open and they don’t know what’s on the other side. What’s waiting for them on the other side is a picture of Heaven in that all the Naomi’s Village family, the staff and the kids, come out and sing and cheer as the car pulls in and the kids are welcomed into a new family. It is as when Christ woos us to him — we don’t know what’s on the other side of that. When Christ brings us into a new family we’re restored and made new; and we see that with these kids.”
One way American Christians can get behind Naomi’s Village and Cornerstone Preparatory Academy is child sponsorship. “If you go on our website www.naomisvillage.org you can see the children who need sponsors and start a monthly sponsorship,” Perkins said. “When we build the larger Cornerstone school, which will open in 2016, supporters will be able to sponsor a wide array of students. Another way to support Naomi’s Village is to come out. We built a guesthouse on the Naomi’s Village property which is very comfortable for short-term mission trips and families.”
Perkins added: “If you want to spend all day in the baby room, we’ll put you to work in the baby room. If you want to help with the daily routine to run the orphanage, you can assist in that. You can also go with us on our outreaches — whether we’re building a church or homes for the refugee camp. We’re in the middle of building a school so there are certain projects we can plug volunteers into there. You can go see the ministries around us that we partner with. There’s a school in the slums of Nairobi that our volunteers also serve. You can go on safari while you’re in Kenya as well! So really, you can come, you can touch and feel and taste what’s going on and see God move.”
In conclusion, Perkins said: “God’s doing something unique here. Naomi’s Village is going to grow and it’s going to blossom from these hundred kids that we are pouring into. God’s going to do something magnificent. To get in on the ground floor and help us pour into these hundred kids and see what God does is an opportunity I wouldn’t want someone to miss. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”
** ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.
Image One: Loving Up on a Kenyan child. (Naomi’s Village).
Image Two: The Guest House at Naomi’s Village (Naomi’s Village)
Image Three: One of the main buildings at Naomi’s Village (Naoli’s Village)
Bio Image: Michael Ireland.
About the writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael’s stories for ANS.
** You may republish this or any of ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net).