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Wise words and a lesson in giving

“Our success relies on education. Without education we will not be able to provide for our families and escape this cycle of poverty.” These are the wise words of Dennis Otieno, a 17-year-old from Soweto Slum in Nairobi, Kenya.
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Phillip Villeneuve, Jacqueline Villeneuve’s younger brother, found friends when he visited his sister’s Kenyan orphanage. Supplied photo.
“Our success relies on education. Without education we will not be able to provide for our families and escape this cycle of poverty.”

These are the wise words of Dennis Otieno, a 17-year-old from Soweto Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Dennis is one of the newest children supported by Zawadi la Tumaini.

Dennis and I met in 2012 when he visited our home for Christmas dinner, along with the other children from the Children’s Home where he was residing. Dennis and Felix, another 17-year-old at the home who is now being sponsored by Zawadi la Tumaini, immediately bonded with my brother when he and my parents were visiting from Canada.

Initially, they were shy with each other, but once the topic of sports came up, they connected. Phillip, a member of the Lockerby Composite Senior Volleyball team, spoke passionately about volleyball while Dennis and Felix spoke with great enthusiasm about soccer.

Within an hour, the boys were huddled together listening to hip hop, talking about school and telling jokes.

By the time our Christmas brunch ended, they had discussed everything from future ambitions to comparisons between Canada and Kenya to girls. They came to one conclusion: Although they were from different sides of the world, they had so much in common.

Afterwards, when our family discussed the events of the day, Phillip mentioned that although they were all the same age, and had so much in common, so many aspects of their lives were different.

At the time, Felix was about to graduate from Grade 8 and Dennis was only in Grade 7. Phillip was half way through his second year of high school. Both boys explained their family situations to Phillip and said their guardians couldn’t afford to pay school fees on time so they often missed school.

That amount their guardians were short was $500 — half the amount most Canadians spend on Christmas presents.

Phillip knew he had to do something to make a difference for Dennis and Felix. He saw their potential. So, Phillip began paying school fees for both boys.

My brother has been keeping in touch with his new friends through email updates and Skype chats.

Next month, Dennis and Felix begin high school. Phillip will continue to support them. Even though they are on the other side of the globe, they deserve the same rights my brother enjoys.

They deserve dignity. They deserve education. They deserve a chance to get out of the cycle of poverty.

Hanmer resident Jacqueline Villeneuve chronicles her efforts at the Zawadi la Tumaini Children’s Home, a refuge for HIV/AIDS orphans she started in Kenya.



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