Cherish Our Children International (COCI) is committed to the future of Africa’s most vulnerable children who are victims of armed conflicts, extreme poverty and the AIDS pandemic.
History: Children First was started in the 1990′s by native Kenyan, Joyce Odongo. Joyce was a retired pre-school teacher with 9 children of her own. Seeing the desperate need in her community, Mrs. Odongo set up a preschool and took orphans into her home in the Nyalenda slums surrounding Kisumu, Africa. In 2002, it was evident that Mrs. Odongo would be unable to sustain her efforts without the commitment and support of others. When Judy Ernst, a Nutritionist and Researcher saw the need, she knew Cherish Our Children International (COCI) could help. Eventually joined by others such as Jill Thomas, a pediatric nurse from California and COCI volunteer, they set into motion to create the COCI Project named Children First Organization (CFO).
In 2005, through the incredible combined efforts of our teams in Kenya and the USA, CFO became one of COCI’s Signature Programs. Nearly 7 years later, the program continues to grow with much potential for growth.
Whom we Serve:
- 16 Resident Orphans
- 125 Pre-School Children
- 25 Outreach Homes with 51 supported children
- Building micro-industry
What we do:
Resident Orphan Program: Due to the devastation of famine and the AIDS epidemic, family life has been nearly destroyed in this region of Kenya. Thanks to the effort of Children First and teams of volunteers, we are able to provide loving care, nutrition and eduction for 16 resident orphans who without COCI’s support would have limited chance for long term survival.
Our orphans live in a group setting with a “mama” who devotes her attention to their basic care, nutrition, self esteem and well being. In addition to their home life, they receive access to education which will prepare them for the best possible chance for a more promising future.
The children remain in the community where they may have extended family such as aunts, uncles, cousins to maintain relationship with and yet the burden of providing for their daily needs is sustained by Children First.
Our commitment is to support our children until they have completed their secondary education. Some of these children have been in our program for several years.
These darling children are not “adoptable” orphans.
Children First Pre-School: Providing a safe and structured environment, children attending the preschool receive safe daycare and education. Our pre-school targets the most vulnerable children and is the only “free” pre-school in the area.
The Kenyan school system provides accessible education to children beginning in the 1st grade following the completion of an entrance exam. Unfortunately many of the children in this area are not accepted as they are unable to pass the exam. Children First focuses on “readying” the children for the exam.
In addition to supplying free day care and education, the community impact of the program is widespread. Children attending school receive nutritional meals and medical care that would not otherwise be provided in the community. The parents of the children are relieved and grateful to receive the help that gives them some hope for the future of these very vulnerable children.
Through partnerships with others, we have been able to build a pre-school building to house the children. Buildings that previously did not have doors now have electricity.
It is with this expansion that CFO has been able to be such a powerful force in their local and extended communities.
Community Outreach: As the Kenyan laws regarding the care of orphans began to change, Children First responded in stride by developing and sustaining community outreach programs for children who would otherwise be orphans. The program aims at integrating the children into an existing home environment within the village while providing needed support and supplies to the guardians of the home. This type of community outreach benefits the children and the community by integrating them into existing homes and providing the caretakers with assistance to help with the additional care of the added children. The community outreach program also incorporates training the families in building micro-industry for long term sustenance.
Building Micro-Industry: As the unforgiving conditions in Kenya affect more than the children we serve, we are also working towards community sustainability and giving them the opportunity to take a greater part in a more prosperous future for all. By providing funding for raising chickens, a micro-industry for broilers now exists in Kisumu. The chicken broilers are sold for profit which has allowed for the creation of an organic “Mandela” garden to further central sustainability and self-sufficiency.
In addition to the chicken micro-industry, a bee keeping project has been developed and we are proud to announce our first producing hives.
- Other accomplishments: In 2007, a water well was completed to service the CFO homesteads. This well is the first and only source of clean water in the area and provides a healthy resource and community pride.
- COCI is honored to have a strong network of dedicated volunteers for this program and continually seeks to have more help.
- Preschool preparation for primary school entrance exam, school fees, uniforms, shoes and supplies for public primary school, tuition with room and board for secondary education. Resident orphans receive individual tutoring as needed for school success. Staff receives opportunities for continuing education.
- Current immunizations, treated mosquito nets, clean water supply, medical facility visits if necessary, part time on staff visiting nurse, first aid kits with training provided to all three programs, and an InstaProduct nutritional program.
- Pre-school curriculum with positive self esteem objectives, care givers, teachers and guardians workshops on self-esteem, positive self-esteem development as part of CFO goals. Resident orphan self expression groups are held weekly by visiting registered nurse/staff.
- Community: Resident Orphan Program’s “sibling” groups formed by the children with a chosen resident orphan spokes person. Children participate as volunteers in activities involving all three programs. Cultural exchange with letters, pictures, artwork with individuals outside of CFO, locally, nationally and globally, outreach program committee formed by participating guardians to enhance community building, communication and work groups to share the responsibilities between the homesteads. Active Parent Teacher Association at CFO Preschool and a growing community volunteer base.
This successful model has proven that children will thrive when loved, honored, nurtured, educated and protected in a family environment. The future for the children at Children First is indeed brighter, but there is still more need. Our current facility limits the number of children we are able to serve, and the needs of the community continue to rise. Inflation, drought, poverty and civil unrest constantly press on the program.
Funding such a program is not easy when you live in a country with a per capita income of less than $2 a day. Facilities are primitive and the threat of closure for lack of funding is always there.Joyce Odongo, Kenya Program Director
COCI, through generous donations from The Bridgeway Foundation, other organizations and individuals, has been the sole support of Children First since 2003, aiding it to become a recognized non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kenya and a strong model program.