Americans frequently lend a helping-hand to orphans in Africa by building hospitals, houses and schools, but it’s not often that the children are given a credit union.
In July 2013, the first credit union–Marafiki SACCO–located in the tiny village of Nderi Town in Kenya is scheduled to open in a former pigpen. The CEO is himself an orphan from Nderi Town.
“It is the first [credit union] for Rafiki Children’s Center targeting HIV/AIDS orphans with the goal of empowering them after the death of their loved ones,” said Rev. John Nganga. “We have other SACCO’s in Kenya, but no one has targeted this population.”
“Rafiki” is Swahili for “friend.”
The Marafiki Credit Union is part of the plan that Nganga has been working on for more than 15 years.
“This idea came to me as a dream, woke up at 3 a.m., and I wrote it down on a paper,” Nganga said. “As soon as I graduated from college, I went back home and started the project from ground zero.”
While preparing for the ministry in Kenya, Nganga’s local bishop offered him the chance to study in the United States. The price for that education, though, was that Nganga had to give back to his community. He had to make a difference in Kenya.
“The dream that was in his head, at the time, was this little thing on the back of napkin, and it’s almost exactly what is here today,” said Terry Davis, a retired cardiologist from Ohio who runs the clinic in Nderi.
In 1998, Nganga and 11 volunteers from Ohio traveled to Kenya to witness the effect of AIDS on the country and to look for a way they could help. The group decided that AIDS orphans needed their help the most.
“Most of these kids come to us helpless and on the verge of going into an early marriage or a life on the streets, Nganga said. “But by giving them a chance for an education, and a new family, we have the power to give them hope.” It was on that trip that the plan for the Rafiki Children’s Center was created, and it grew from there.
Members of several Ohio Rotary clubs soon signed on to help. Gardens were planted, chickens and other farm animals were added and a tilapia pond and a catfish pond were stocked. The food not used in the children’s center is sold to the local community. Today, a technical school and academy for pre-school through college are in the works as is a second floor for the medical clinic and a shopping center that will house a barber shop, bakery, butcher and the first credit union. Ken Muriithi, an orphan who was educated in the town will be the first CEO of the Marafiki Credit Union.
Dayna Andres, former CEO of the $64 million White House Federal Credit Union in Washington, is working with Nganga and Kelly Cooke, the former CEO of the $744 million Firstlight Federal Credit Union in El Paso, Texas, on the Marafiki credit union development plan. Andres said that the Rafiki Children’s Center has become self-sufficient and is the economic engine for the local community.