What I Learned from Rehema Home, A Home for Orphans in Kenya

“Rehema Home is not an orphanage; it is a home.”

After hours of interacting with children from Rehema Home, I had the chance to speak with one of the institution’s founders, Irvin Schwandt, under the shade of a tree. Impressed by what the institution had achieved in its 16-year history, I engaged him in a conversation about how the orphanage started and its roadmap ahead. “People say that Rehema Home is not an orphanage, it is a home,” said Irvin. “We were convinced that we had to put up such a facility, because we saw how government-backed orphanages were crowded and under-supported. My wife and I, thus, started this facility in 1998 with four children under our care, and has since then never turned our backs on this advocacy.”

Rehema Home is home to more than 100 children, half of which are HIV positive. “We are committed to caring for each child, regardless of health status, because we believe that the shelter, care and love that we provide them instill in them hope for their future,” continued Irvin. “But, we cannot do it alone, Robert. We need more help from people like you and your wife.”

Irvin invited me to take a tour of the facility. As we walked towards the entrance, I saw how Irvin patted the head of each child that would greet him, and I witnessed what that gesture meant for the children. They were seeking for attention and affection, and they find it in Rehema Home, through the founders, volunteers and social workers.
There were six bedrooms, a common area, a kitchen, a small library and toilets inside the facility. The amenities were decent, but were obviously sub-furnished.

Walking through the hallway, I saw a sizable refrigeration equipment where specialized medicines were stored. “Most of our children need special medical attention,” said Irvin. “These medicines are delicate and need to be stored in a climate-controlled environment. This is one the most daunting challenges that we encounter in running Rehema Home.” Power interruptions are frequent in Kenya and the 30 kVA generator that they have installed is not enough to keep the vital equipment running. “Truth be told, we need at least a 90 kVA, better 125 kVA, to power this whole compound and the expansion project underway.”

With the increasing number of growing children, Rehema Home needed to expand. “See, Robert, these children will not remain children. Naturally, they will grow and venture into adult life. This is what this building is for,” said Irvin, pointing at building they call ‘The Bridge’. Irvin explained that ‘The Bridge’ was intended to be the second home for children that turn 18 and were currently in college. “When these children become adults, they will cease to be under the care of our institution. Yes, the Kenyan Government permits that these young adults leave the orphanage when they turn 18, but most of them do not have anyone to go home to outside these walls. We cannot simply open the gates and let them out, because we are all they have,” said Irvin.

“To run a home for orphans,” he said, “you need to have the passion to love unconditionally. You need people who can devote time, effort and perseverance to take care of orphaned children.” But more than love and dedication, institutions like Rehema Home needs funding and a proper strategy to manage operations. “As I told you before, we cannot do it alone. These children will have increasingly complex needs as they grow up, and to fulfill them, we need all the help we can get.”

Irvin said that they welcome support from all walks of life. “We need business leaders and marketers, like you, to orient and train NGOs how to manage their processes and leverage the power of social media. We need social entrepreneurs to fund small-scale NGOs, so more assistance may be available at the grass-root level. We need engineers to assist us in expansion activities and to support our need for more viable and sustainable electricity. We need architects to improve the design of our facility, so as many as 80 children can be housed here. We need large companies to help these children when they grow up, by giving them career or further-education opportunities. We would be delighted to accommodate every helping hand.”

“Some people do not realize how helping others can bring joy and peace in their lives. Today, distance is no longer an insurmountable odd to help people thousand miles away. Imagine adopting a child, who will be grateful to you for the rest of his or her life. Imagine making a difference in the life of a perfect stranger, and seeing him or her become successful in the future. Imagine the exhilarating feeling of seeing him or her for the first time and actually sharing stories and experiences that were only read on paper and postcards. These are the intangible benefits of helping these children, Robert. It’s beyond words – beyond imagination.”

An excited voice called out to Irvin and invited him to see what was happening outside. When we went out, we saw that some of the children were dancing while passing the ball that my son, Lincoln, gave them as a gift. Lincoln was dancing with them, while my wife and the volunteers were clapping. “This right here is exactly what we envisaged when we opened Rehema Home,” said Irvin, adding that the initial setbacks did not discourage them from going on. “When we were still starting, there was a time when we lost three children in a span of three days. We could not afford a chicken pox vaccine, because it was so expensive at that time. It was our darkest hour, but we knew we could not give up. As years go by, we understood what we bring to the lives of these children. A simple birthday celebration, with a plain cake and traditional Kenyan dishes, brings such indescribable joy to their hearts. Every time they approach me, the volunteers, the social workers and their sponsors to express their gratitude, I know that in our own way, we are forming them to be productive citizens of the world when they grow up.”

At that point, I realized that what my wife and I are doing transcends helping a child or two. Ems and I are just two of approximately seven billion people in the world, and we admit that what we are doing cannot change how the world is. Our efforts cannot respond to all the needs of the world, but it can mean the world for all the children whose lives we have touched and will be touching.

We recently took two children under our wings, and we vowed to support them until they complete their education. They need intensive medical and emotional care, and we hope that by sponsoring their needs, we could provide them the decent life that they deserve.

My husband and I are blessed with a smart, energetic and intelligent son, and this urged us more to multiply and share our love with other children, especially in underdeveloped communities. We want our son to be exposed to the realities of the world he is living in: We want him to understand not only how privileged he is but also how he can help other children that are also worthy of being loved and cared for. We want him to be aware that life in this world is not about who should be above and who should remain below, but about how you can impart your resources and work together to live better and dignified lives.

Because of our marketing projects from various clients, Lincoln Martin is able to sponsor these children’s education and the entire organization’s causes. Lincoln Martin is pioneering a “social impact” business model, called Client+Agency+NGO Partnership (#CANpartner). To learn more on how we give back to the community, write to ems@lincolnmartin.com.

Categories:   CSR, Social Entrepreneurship