Children and teenagers who live at the Sikizana Rescue Center, as well as a Greater Project volunteer, gather in a circle on their makeshift soccer field for a game they made up, in a village near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Monday, July 19, 2021. The rescue center helps nurture and support orphaned or underprivileged kids in rural Kenya, providing the opportunity for kids to attend boarding school and university after growing up in poverty. Sikizana works closely with non-profits, including the Cincinnati-based Greater Project, who I was invited to travel with to document this story.  

Souls of Sikizana

There are about 80 beautiful young souls that live at the Sikizana Rescue Center in a village near Mtito Andei, Kenya. These children and teenagers face poverty, drought, pandemic, and gender-based violence, but remain resilient because they know they can make change.

This summer, I was invited by the Greater Project, a Cincinnati-based non-profit, to document their first in-person visit to the rescue center in two years. Greater Project helped grow the Sikizana Rescue Center up from the ground as an early supporter, when the center's two directors, Cosmas and Rachel, only hosted a handful of orphaned children in their Nairobi home. The non-profit has expanded hugely since then, and even with the hardships and physical disconnection caused by the pandemic, children have continued to thrive. Through a constant flow of resources and funding to allow each child a path to education through a sponsorship program, an e-tutoring program allowing the children to practice their english outside of school hours, and the creation of a Girls Leadership Program to uplift individual and community strength in a self-sustaining way, an on-going collaboration built with love has made a real difference.

While some non-profits tend to parachute in to international communities, donate books or build schools, then never offer sustainable plans of development or even return, the Greater Project works to create continuous growth by investing monthly resources for the individual children and the rescue center to develop beyond annual visits. As the Matthew 4:19 verse goes, and the founders of the Greater Project paraphrased during the visit to Kenya in speaking about the non-profit's goal, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

Musa, 27, a park ranger, leads a hike down the Chaimu Crater in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya, on Friday, July 16, 2021. “I’ve used my rifle a few times … only to scare away animals, never to kill,” said Musa. As Tsavo West National Park is a part of the largest conservation area in the country, and is home to each of the big five game animals, the Sikizana Rescue Center lies only miles away from one of its borders. Among the worst drought in a decade, the coronavirus pandemic, gender-based violence, and a general lack of resources, wild animals are another looming issue for everyday people in rural Kenya.

Faith, a secondary school student with a goal of becoming a journalist, sits for a portrait at the Sikizana Rescue Center near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Thursday, July 22, 2021. The Greater Project worked closely with the rescue center to create and continues to uplift the Girls Leadership Academy, which promotes discovering, learning, and serving — allowing girls like Faith to realize their individual strengths and grow beyond the social standards. Violence against women is very common in Kenya as women are underrepresented and face dramatic inequality through unfair laws. “When I was not (involved) in leadership, I could not stand in front of people … I would always cover my face,” said Faith. “But now I can stand and address people and do everything. I'm not afraid of anyone. I’m always brave, and I can make change.” 

Words of encouragement and inspiration are written and passed between girls during the Girls Leadership Academy meeting at the Sikizana Rescue Center near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Through the Girls Leadership Academy, the Greater Project and the rescue center hope to create self-sufficiency, promote a sense of community, and encourage long-lasting growth in individual girls who face social and legal hardships only because of their gender. 

Tens of pairs of shoes are left behind as kids dance and sing before the start of a birthday celebration at the Sikizana Rescue Center near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Sunday, July 25, 2021. Coca Colas and special homemade cakes are features of a once per month celebration that the rescue center organizes for all children whose birthdays fell in that month, in July there were three. 

A group of teenagers perform their dance routine as large piles of unused books are stacked in a corner at the Sikizana Rescue Center near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Many non-profits donate to the rescue center, such as Books For Africa which contributed these mountains of books, but the Greater Project works to make a lasting change by providing a steady flow of resources for each child through a sponsorship program — allowing individuals to find a better life and reach generational change through guidance and education .

Boys who live at the Sikizana Rescue Center examine one of three greenhouses that uses a filtration system to grow fruits and vegetables year round on site near Mtito Andei, Kenya, on Monday, July 19, 2021. While the year-long drought has dried out many of the nearby farms, leaving families without food, the rescue center works to use its resources to create a sustainable lifestyle for the children by building features like greenhouses or fish ponds. 

Jennifer, a secondary school student who lives at the rescue center on breaks, proudly shares her childhood home — a solid hut made of mud and sticks with a metal roof — in a village near Mtito Andei, Kenya on Friday, July 23, 2021. She told us that she was proud to share it because she knows how far she has come since leaving her home and making it to secondary school with the help of Sikizana and the Greater Project, and she knows how far she will go once she moves on to college and beyond. 

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