SRU group heads to Kenya for ’CareBreak’

 orphaned school girls from Kenya

Students and faculty from Slippery Rock University will travel to Kenya Jan. 5-18 for a CareBreak excursion to Hekima Place, a home for orphaned girls.

Dec. 15, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For many, a 21-hour plane ride to Africa would be about as far from home as one could get. But for Alice DelVecchio, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of interdisciplinary programs, the journey is more like "going home."

Hekima Place logo

During SRU's winter break, DelVecchio will be making her 11th trip to the continent, Jan. 5-18. She will be joined by her husband, Russ, and a quintet of University students as they travel to Kiserian, Kenya. The group will be visiting Hekima Place, a home for girls orphaned, primarily, by HIV/AIDS.

Founded in 2005 by U.S. native Kate Fletcher, the home opened with just 10 girls. The girls are given a loving, faith-based home with nutritious meals, health care and an education to enable them to succeed on their own once their schooling is complete. At Hekima Place, each girl lives with a Kenyan staff member called "mum."

The home is located just outside Nairobi, on property purchased by its U.S. board of directors in July 2009. It is comprised of six cottages and a dining hall along with a significant amount of land for gardening.

alice delvecchio

   DELVECCHIO

"The girls who we will be meeting there come with sad stories, but because of Hekima Place, there are now young women in Africa who have gone to college, are professionals and living the dream," said DelVecchio. "If not for Hekima Place, their situations could have very well been bleak and hopeless."

The SRU contingent - which includes Molly Cain, a senior from North Canton, Ohio; Erica Lukaschunis, a sophomore from Penfield; Madison Roxbury, a freshman from Butler; Mary Adams, a sophomore from Hawthorn; and Jessica Gdandtz, '15 - is taking the trip as part of the SRU CareBreak program.

For the girls who live at Hekima - the Kiswahili word for "wisdom" - education is key to empowering their lives. They attend community elementary and secondary schools throughout the region, with study support provided at the home by staff and by volunteers from around the world.

"I'm looking forward to helping the girls with homework and passing along the passion I feel towards school," said Adams, a biology major and the lone member of the group not pursuing a degree in non-profit management.

"This might seem like a random trip for me. I'm just one person, but I know I'm going to change somebody's life and I'm so excited for that," Adams said.

In addition to assisting with homework in the evening, the group will be helping to maintain the grounds during the day. Duties will include painting both the interior and exteriors of the cottages, tending to the gardens and assisting in running the day-to-day operations. The SRU team will also provide the residents with a movie night and "flip-flop decorating party."

"I think the kids and their stories are going to teach me more than I'm going to teach them," said Cain. "The stories and backgrounds that we come from are a lot different than theirs, but they are still some of the happiest girls you'd meet. You wouldn't know the suffering they've gone through."

The group plans to spend a portion of the trip in the surrounding community, distributing 1000 birthing kits that were donated by UPMC. The kits - which include scissors, surgical masks, soap, sheets and gloves - can help reduce mother and infant mortality rates by as much as 90 percent.

Family members and church groups to which the SRU students belong have also chipped in by collecting school supplies, coloring books, dresses, leggings, vitamins and craft materials for the trip.

While the benefits of the supplies the group will be bringing with them are many, the cost of transporting the materials overseas is tremendous. To help offset the expense, the group began fundraising efforts in October, partnering with a local frozen yogurt shop and through a crowdfunding page - "CareBreak - Kenya - via raise.sru.edu."

At present, the group has raised only a quarter of the funds needed, with a deadline set for Dec. 18.

"We're hoping that people are able to realize that even though they are just one person, they are still able to make a difference in the lives of others," said Lukaschunis. "Although it's just a small group of us who are going, we are going to make a big impact on them and they are going to make a big impact on us."

While the team's primary focus is community service, they will be spending some time enjoying the cultural experience that Africa has to offer via a safari trip and visits to a Maasai museum and an elephant orphanage.

For more information about Hekima Place, visit: www.kekimaplace.org.

To make a contribution to help support the trip, visit: https://raise.sru.edu/project/2731

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu