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Another Voice: WNY nonprofit changes lives in Sierra Leone

By Ken Houseknecht

In a time when it’s hard to find good news, I’d like to share a story that is nothing short of remarkable.

In the late 1990s, in the aftermath of the Civil War in Kosovo, my brother-in-law, Ken Krieger, and his wife, Jen, helped families displaced by the war to resettle in Western New York. That experience sensitized them to the plight of refugees around the world, especially children.

Eventually, that journey led them to adopt two girls from war-ravaged Sierra Leone, Mariatu in 2000 and Wara in 2002.

I accompanied Ken to Sierra Leone in 2004, representing dozens of families from Western New York who had adopted children from Western Africa. Collectively, they were looking for a way to give back to a nation that had suffered so badly, yet shared their most precious resource, their children. Out of that trip was born EduNations, a new nonprofit committed to building schools for the children of Sierra Leone.

The thinking went something like this: To change the future of a community, you best do that by working with the children.

In a nation where education was scarce or nonexistent, EduNations had a vision to build first-rate schools, open to all students. By educating a child, you change their future. Educate enough children, you change the future of a community. Educate enough communities and you change the future of a nation. Hence the name, EduNations.

This small group of volunteers had no expertise or experience undertaking such a mission, but they were strong in their faith and committed to doing right by the children of Sierra Leone.

But this small band of devoted volunteers persevered and now – 15 years later – EduNations is about to open its 15th school. Together, those schools educate nearly 3,000 children and employ more than 100 teachers.

In addition to a first-rate education, those children (and their communities) are also given access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation facilities, feeding programs, health care and microfinance to fund startup businesses.

Tens of thousands of lives – half a world away – have been dramatically improved because a small group of committed people wanted to give back to a country that had given them so much, its orphaned children.

On June 27 at Babeville, Asbury Hall, in Buffalo, they will discuss their amazing adventure, outline plans for next steps to reach even more children, and detail how interested people can help.

Details can be found at www.edunations.org.

Ken Houseknecht is executive director of Mental Health Advocates of Western New York.

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