World-renowned drummers from Kenya and Senegal, a colorful traditional Kenyan fashion show, a local singer and celebrities including Hall of Fame broadcaster April Sutton as presenter highlighted the third annual “Adopt a Village” black tie gala at the Hyatt Valencia Saturday night.
“We’re trying to raise money to build a medical clinic and a water well, and help orphaned children go to school in one of the villages we have adopted in Kenya,” said Debra Akello, co-founder and CEO of the Saugus-based Helping Hands International Foundation, which hosted the event.
To be built in an under-served equatorial village in the remote district of Kamreri Okumba in western Kenya, the 2,340-square-foot clinic would serve about 10,000 people, mainly area’s women and children, Akello said.
Everyone in the village would benefit from the well because clean water, a basic need for survival and good health, is scarce there, she said.
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“We need about $200,000 -– that will be enough to build the clinic, furnish it, and drill the well,” Akello said before the event, which drew about 165 people. The $100-per-plate dinner plus live and silent auctions raised about $25,000 toward the goal, she said Wednesday. More smaller-scale fundraisers are in the works, including some by volunteers from local high schools, she said.
Helping Hands International recently adopted the Kenyan village and pledged to help improve the quality of life for its people, particularly women and children. The organization’s mission is to empower women who are in political, economic and social crisis to break the cycle of poverty, through educating leaders and teachers and partnering with medical experts.
The Adopt-a-Village program also includes opportunities to adopt orphaned children in the area. For $25 a month, a sponsor helps a child with basic needs and supplies for school, and receives regular updates from the child, including pictures.
“We have about 18 children who need sponsorship,” Akello said.
Helping Hands International projects such as this also provide assistance with clean water, housing, micro-business development, and other basic needs for survival, so that remote villages like Kamreri Okumba can become more self-sufficient.
At the gala, organizers also recognized orthopedic surgeons Dr. Raymond B. Raven III and Dr. Stephan V. Yacoubian for their invaluable work on behalf of Helping Hands International.
Helping Hands International co-founder Philip Kabasa (pictured, right) has visited the village. He saw first-hand the profound need for basic medical care and clean water in the village and the entire region.
“It is extremely remote…to get to any hospitalization, the nearest is more than 100 miles away,” Kabasa said. “People walk 50-60 miles to a main highway, and even then there is no reliable transport. The roads are really terrible. Most people walk, use bicycles, tricycles, even wheelbarrows to get to the hospital.”
The new clinic is very basic, but provides a place where doctors who staff the clinic can see many people in a day, instead of having to go out into the field and being able to treat relatively few people in the same time, Kabasa said.
Photos of the village some of the children in need of adoption as well as architectural renderings for the new 60’ x 39’ clinic were on display in the lobby of the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, where the guests socialized before dinner, the live auction and the evening’s entertainment.
“This is not just for this town, but for the surrounding towns as well,” said Bill Tapp (pictured above, left), who coordinated the clinic’s design for Helping Hands International, describing the drawings for a reporter.
Tapp pointed out the exterior waiting room around the periphery, and separate rooms for general examinations, triage, minor surgery, birthing, orthopedic treatment, recovery, medical records and more, plus a lab, a pharmacy and storage. The triage and other rooms are multi-purpose rooms as well, he said.
Among the dignitaries attending the gala was Martin Greenridge (left), president of the Barbados Association of California, accompanied by Marcelle Greenridge and Patrick Osborne.
“The primary purpose is to concentrate all this medical help in one location,” Tapp said.
And because it is so isolated, the clinic has to be a stand-alone building, he added. “You have to drill for a water well, which is near one end of the structure, and you have a storage capacity. Solar panels on the roof take care of all of the electrical requirements and heat for water. Utilities there otherwise just don't exist. So it has to be self-sufficient.”
Kabasa said the clinic would also provide health education to people in the region. “It will teach them the best sanitation procedures to carry on good health, which they lack. That is just as important as medical treatment, to prevent (the spread of epidemic-type) diseases.”
Preventing the spread of disease through education is part of the clinic’s mission. “We have people with HIV, which we know can be prevented if proper education is given to the people, so they definitely know what to do,” Kabasa said. “A classic example: Some of them have heard -- just heard -- about the use of condoms. They've never seen one with their own eyes. If we have a facility like this, people can be educated, pick them up and they will always know how to be safe."
Celebrity guests at the gala included Miss Tanzania, Nuya Munis, pictured with Debra Akello.
“In this area of west Kenya, sickle-cell (anemia) is another big problem because of the nature of tribal interrelationships,” Tapp said. “It is a very painful and a lot of infant deaths and children are affected with it and die, so educating people about that is another aspect of the clinic’s mission. We're working with several local medical people on beginning projects in this area, not only to document it but also to use the latest treatments to hopefully cure or control this disease.”
“So we're taking general health education to the people, right in the village,” Kabasa said.
Lily Otieno, CEO of Infinity Business Solutions in Buena Park, Calif., pictured with Debra Akello, wore traditional African dress to the gala.
Kabasa said donors would soon be able to see their money at work. “People here in Santa Clarita, L.A. and even the U.S. in general want to help others, want to put whatever little they’ve got toward helping somebody needy somewhere. Americas are known all over the world for this. With this clinic, we give them a situation where they realize the tangible effects of their help, to actually see the health in the community improve.”
“We are limited only by the breadth of our imagination and the strength of our will, and we are truly our brother's keeper,” said Baret Sarshae, one of the event’s coordinators, echoing Helping Hands mission in her welcoming speech. “In the words of the old negro spiritual, 'If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.’ Upendo kote, amani, which means love everywhere, and peace.”
Representing Union Bank, a gala co-sponsor, were (from left): Oscar Dominguez, Christina Grey, Mabel Herrera, Savier Soriano, Alex Akso and Allen Varitian.
Among the performers was African drummer Djumbi (pictured below) and singer Melanie Parson, also a member of Helping Hands International’s volunteer committee. The 17-year-old West Ranch High School senior, who fronts the local rock band Open the Coda, sang four songs solo during the evening.
“Helping Hands is such a great organization because not only does it open up doors and opportunities for volunteers in our area –- like the nurses and doctors and people like myself -– but also shows how even the smallest gestures, such as donating a few dollars, can help children and families in Africa to obtain simple necessities that are so often glossed over,” Parson said.
“Shoes and clothing are luxuries for a lot of the children, just as clean drinking water is hard to come by,” she said. “Debra's work in Africa and in the U.S. is bringing a better standard of living to those who may have never imagined it. It’s so incredible.”
Parson will be among the volunteers arranging more fundraisers for the Adopt-a-Village program. “We’re hoping to involve as many people as possible,” she said.
The Helping Hands International Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Additional donations toward completing the clinic may be made online at www.hhifinc.org  or by mail at 26893 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350.
Event photos: Stephen K. Peeples; other images courtesy Helping Hands International Foundation.