Students raise funds for library in Kenya

Students+raise+funds+for+library+in+Kenya

Most Marquette student organizations stay local, but one group is making an impact across the ocean in a village of 60,000 people.

Marquette social awareness group Watumishi: People of Service recently finished a project eight years in the making — building a Library Learning Center at St. Joseph Shelter of Hope in Voi, Kenya. Beginning in 2004, a group of students traveled with Karen Ivantic-Doucette, former clinical assistant professor of Marquette, to the Shelter of Hope to assess the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the area. Upon the students’ return, three of the students, Greg Saint Arnold, Conor Sweeney and Timothy Kummer, wanted to continue their relationship with the people of Voi.

Colleen O’Conor, a senior in the college of Arts & Sciences, traveled to Kenya in Jan. 2010 and spent four months in the community of Voi helping in any way she could. She said the three students who founded Watumishi really enjoyed their time there but wanted to make an impact.

“When they left they wanted to continue to build their relationship when they returned to Milwaukee,” O’Conor said. “They talked to Sister Gen, the founder of St. Joseph Shelter of Hope, and this is what she recommended.”

Sister Gen came to Marquette in 1998, where Ivantic-Doucette worked with her to receive a specialized certificate program in health management that she could apply all of her skills and knowledge to the situation facing Kenya.

O’Conor said there are two primary goals of the library: improving literacy, and treating HIV and AIDS, which includes eliminating the negative connotations surrounding the diseases.

“At St. Joseph they are treating about 600 people at a time,” O’Conor said. “Having a library right next to the treatment center allows people to be comfortable with their circumstances and ignore the stigma. They could easily say, ‘I’m going to the library and to read but (I’m going to) actually seek treatment.’”

The organization sent its last wire transfer of approximately $6,000 in February. Construction will be completed in early May as the contractors can only work when money is sent so they do not go into debt. Each year the organization wires close to the same amount to the Shelter of Hope. Currently, workers are completing finishing touches like electricity and plumbing. 

Carissa Molina, a graduate student in the School of Dentistry, has been involved in Watumishi since her sophomore year in 2007, and traveled to Kenya for two weeks during summer 2009 with five other Marquette students (now alumni), Allison Berg, Pamela Livorsi, Micaela Robb-McGrath, Patrick Duffey and Sumeet Uttamchandani.

Molina’s trip was a way for the students to understand what was happening at the Shelter of Hope, since students had not traveled to Voi since 2007.

“Two main goals we had were to reestablish the relationship between Marquette and the Shelter of Hope and to learn more about the progress and development of the Library Learning Center so that together we could come up with strategies to complete the project,” Molina said.

While there, Molina worked with the Sisters of St. Joseph and the staff. The students assisted the staff and accompanied them on outreach and patient home visits.

“We also dedicated much of our time to the project that has been the central focus of Watumishi since its inception — the Library Learning Center. … To gain a better understanding of how the LLC may benefit the Voi community, we met with different groups of children, youth and school teachers.”

According to Molina, the most inspiring people she met with were in the youth group from Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Parish, who explained to her how the library would benefit them physically and mentally.

“They feel that the town is losing some of its most brilliant minds to the big cities because they leave Voi to gain better opportunities and few return,” Molina said. “They all agreed that the LLC, with books and Internet access, would provide them with the valuable tools necessary to achieve their goals.”

Watumishi is hosting a ceremony to publicly announce the results of the eight-year project. But Molina said she could already sum up the project in one word she learned in Kenya: “harambee,” meaning “all pull together.”

“To me, it also sums up what Watumishi and the SJSH is all about.  The dedicated men and women at SJSH, Watu members past and present, and generous donors have all pulled together for the common goal of providing access to education to the Voi community.”