WAPAKONETA — Melissa Odira fell in love with Africa when she took her first trip there at the age of 16.
“My first trip to Africa was to South Africa,” said Odira. “I went with my church youth group. From then on, I knew I was going to do something with or in Africa.”
When Odira graduated from college, she moved to Kenya, Africa, to teach. While Odira was there, she visited the Kibera slum, which is the second-largest slum in the world. When she visited there, she realized that a lot of children were not attending school.
“Just a few years ago, Kenya finally started offering free education,” she said, “but the children go to a 12 by 12 foot room, and there would be 35 to 50 of them in there. It was really a waste of time, so a lot of parents pay a little bit of money to put their children in schools with smaller class sizes. For the parents in the slums, their priority is food and water. There is no money for school.”
When Odira moved back to the States in 2012, she settled back in Wapakoneta where she grew up, but her heart was still in Africa with the children in the slums, particularly the young girls who had bleak futures without an education.
So, Odira decided to start the non-profit organization, Acacia of Hope. “Our mission is to empower the people of East Africa spiritually, educationally and economically,” she said.
Odira’s main focus is to raise enough money to build a schools in Kenya to meet the need there. At this point, though, her organization is partnering with Damside School in Kalsina, Nairobi, which is in Kenya. Through a sponsorship program, Acacia of Hope connects a child in need with a person in the United States so they can attend school.
“I started with $100,” said Odira. “After next week, we will have 47 girls sponsored, and we are almost at the point where we can build a school or at least buy the land. I’m very excited for what the next two years will bring.”
The goal of the organization is not just to provide regular academic classes through the schools they want to build, but to also offer evening classes in reading and writing for the parents of the students, as well as, workshops.
“We want the parents to become more self-sufficient, too,” said Odira. “We also plan to have church, Bible studies and youth ministry on the weekends at the schools. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Acacia of Hope is funded mainly through donations.
“We do have a jewelry case in Mercy Unlimited in Wapak, to help raise money,” explained Odira. “We have women who live in the slum in Kenya that make jewelry. They send it here and we sell it to raise money. It’s beautiful jewelry.”
All the staff at Acacia of Hope work on a volunteer basis. Odira works a full time job and takes no salary, so all the funds donated can go toward their work in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Nobody is paid,” said Odira. “That’s one of the reasons that is only costs $25 a month to sponsor a child so they can go to school.”
Currently, they have nine long-term volunteers and 10 to 15 volunteers that help on a more as-needed basis.
“We also have a small group that works in Kenya,” said Odira. “They kind of help watch over the girls and the principal at the school helps, too. It rotates a bit more over there, as far as volunteers go.”
Odira plans to go to Nairobi, Kenya, in December, and one of the long term volunteer staff from the organization goes at least two to three times a year.
“This is my life and my passion,” said Odira. “These girls we are sponsoring, we are not just giving them an education. We are literally saving their lives because without an education, girls who are between the ages of 9 and 12 would be sold into the sex trafficking trade or bought for a child. Most of all, we are sharing Jesus Christ with these girls. They are receiving spiritual food, too.”
Odira said the conditions in the slums are unimaginable to the average American.
“There are no toilets or water,” she said. “About 90 percent of them have no electricity. You have to pay to use a bathroom. They live in dirt houses with mud floors, and yet, they are happy. We have all this stuff, and we are not happy at all.”
Odira, who has been married to her Kenyan husband for two years and has a daughter of her own, said Africa has always been her mission.
“Mark 16:15 says, “Go into all the world,’” she said. “So, that’s what we are doing. Preaching the Word of God, loving on these girls, and we do it because that’s what Jesus told us to do.”
Rosanne Bowman is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Lima News. Share your upcoming events with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.