After moving to Kenya in 1998 with her family, Michele Ostertag '87 saw that because of the HIV Aids epidemic there were many widows and orphans living at the poverty level. At that time, over 32% of the population was affected in some way. In the Kenyan culture families are more united – you will see different generations living together and caring for each other but she saw how hard it was for families who were barely getting by to take in another orphan child of a relative and having one more mouth to feed
Having lost her mother as a young adult, she had a special interest to help children, especially orphans, and she began working with the local communities. She found that in order to strengthen the families to allow them to care for the children that they needed to be given life skills. Using her combined skills and experience in business and holistic health, she identified a need for capacity building initiatives that recognized the importance of individual and community growth going hand in hand. She started the first of these community projects in 2002 with the Rafiki wa Maendeleo Lusi Trust and Resource Center in western Kenya.
Here families are taught how to raise chicken and goats to take to market, they learn how to sew and keep beehives. They teach families how to increase their income, so that the profits raised from these businesses would help these orphaned children to be able to attend Secondary schooling, and to eventually be able to pay for all educational fees and not be a burden to their families. In the first Village, the women even created a small Savings and Loan and from their savings were able to "loan" money to other's so that they too could begin to break the cycle of poverty. Michele explained that after a few years, what she was doing came to be noticed by World Organizations. At that time Rafiki was helping 1 village of 83 children. With their help and resources, Rafiki now serves 35 villages with over 2,500 children!
Michele spoke of how Mercy engages their students in what's happening in the world and teaches them to be conscious members of society. For her, this has been a journey of Faith and is her calling in life. Michele stated that "It is all about uniting people, and that once you have that "buy in" from them, then the community takes this into their own hands and moves forward to make improvements in their life. As the saying goes.... If you give a man a fish he has food for the day, but if you teach him to fish he has food for a lifetime! Thank you Michele!