Hearts Open to the World

St. Denis Hearts Open to the World
Our Partners in Kenya – Their Needs and Our Goals

Hearts Open to the World (HOW) is an initiative of St. Denis Catholic Church in Hanover, NH to befriend and serve the people of western Kenya. Guided by our principles of caring for all of God’s people, solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, and the call to family, community, and participation, Hearts Open to the World strives to serve those in need by: 

  • building strong personal relationships with our Kenyan partners (in education, health care, and community development) to better understand their needs.
  • assisting effectively – that is, assisting locally in ways that both remedy need and ultimately promote self-direction, self-respect, and self-sufficiency.   
  • committing the professional and personal talents of our members in service trips to western Kenya and in follow-up support across the miles.

While our long-term goal is local self-reliance, we recognize that this is an ongoing process rather than a direct outcome of every initiative we undertake. HOW was inspired by the work of 1958 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Fr. Dominic Pire, O.P., who reminded us that “the noblest virtues that initiate pacific action [are] Love, Initiative, Tenacity, Realism, and Patience.”HOW members commit themselves to a process born of those virtues.

HOW Mission Statement, adopted 20 October 2015

1Dominique Pire, “Brother Love: Foundation of Peace,” Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1958

Let us open our eyes to our neighbor, especially to our brothers and sisters who are forgotten and excluded, to the “Lazarus” at our door. That is where the Church’s magnifying glass is pointed.”   

Pope Francis

“The Church continually combats all forms of poverty because as Mother she is concerned that each and every person be able to live fully in dignity as a child of God.” 

St. John Paul II

An Overview of our Goals

As a generous supporter of Hearts Open to the World (HOW), you have consistently shown that your eyes and heart are open to the plight of those in need.  We thank you heartily for your work combatting poverty in order to help our brothers and sisters in western Kenya live “fully in dignity” as children of God.

In 2020 Hearts Open to the World continued its work with the Nyakach County hospital, Lady of Grace School and St. Denis Konditi School in this impoverished region, which was beset not just by disease or drought, but by the pandemic.  Because of the lockdown, emergency food supplies were needed, and because of your past generosity, our parish was able to respond. Overall, we made substantial progress.

This year for the first time, Nyakach County hospital patients will be able to count on a major improvement in sanitary facilities.  Hearts Open to the World funded and has overseen the building of four functional, modern ablution blocks (bathrooms) with Handicap access on the hospital campus.  These are nearing completion and feature toilets (replacing latrines), sinks and showers in a tiled facility for the first time.  This upgrade comes on the heels of a major borehole drilling project four years ago, that provided running water at the hospital for the first time. The twelve thousand people served by this very modest facility are DEEPLY GRATEFUL.

Your generosity also continues to support the operation of two elementary schools (Our Lady of Grace and St. Denis Konditi) that educate and feed more than five hundred children daily.  Many of these children are HIV-AIDS orphans, and most return to homes where they will not have another meal.  Before the pandemic, HOW helped St. Denis Konditi School build a new cooking facility for the daily lunch program we sponsor there. 

During the pandemic, we were able to provide emergency food assistance to those trapped in their homes, and not just for the children but for their families as well.  We worked with administrators and teachers on the ground at both schools to increase food assistance and make sure it got to families in danger of starvation. Early in 2021, our students went back to school; we continue basic support, as well as much needed scholarship assistance for 20 graduates to area high schools. Maria Oguom, the principal at Our Lady of Grace, has prepared a video to introduce us to OLG and to express their gratitude for all that St. Denis has done.

Hearts Open to the World is blessed in its ongoing partnership with IKODI, a community development group that supports numerous initiatives in Kisumu.  We recently funded a workshop for women entrepreneurs who have started a sewing business.  The workshop is aimed at providing them with training in business planning, financial management, marketing and evaluation.  The goal is to help them help themselves as they embark on their income-generating projects.

This year we did not undertake projects with Christ the King Katito parish, since they have recently completed the church we helped them build, and are reveling in the wonder of its existence.  We remain in contact with Father Atemo, and alert to their future needs.

Our fund-drive this year is more modest than in previous years.  We seek to raise $30,000 for maintenance of our ongoing programs (daily lunch program at St. Denis Konditi, high school scholarships, operating assistance for Our Lady of Grace, hospital ablution block wrap-up). We anticipate a capital campaign for Our Lady of Grace in the future, but in the meantime we seek continued support for these much needed initiatives.

You have touched and saved lives every day this year in western Kenya, contributing to a life of dignity and hope.  We ask for your prayers and if possible, for your ongoing financial assistance. We sincerely thank you for keeping your Hearts Open to the World and for all you’ve done and will do for our partners and friends in western Kenya.

St. Denis’s Outreach to Kenya

Many of you know that for eight years our parish, working through the “Hearts Open to the World” (HOW) committee, has been actively involved in fruitful development efforts in the impoverished Kisumu region of western Kenya. With your prayers and invaluable financial assistance, we have partnered with four different groups in Kenya, each headed by people we know and trust, some of whom have visited us here in Hanover. Together we have helped advance health care (by working closely with the Nyakach County Hospital), education (supporting both St. Denis Konditi Elementary School and Our Lady of Grace School), self-sufficiency (working with IKODI Women’s Group), and faith (supporting the work of Christ the King Katito Church). 

St. Denis’ introduction to the people of Kenya began about 10 years ago when parishioners raised funds for a new altar for a very poor rural parish in Katito, a cross-roads settlement in western Kenya.   From this first act of charity came HOW, a group of parishioners who work together to contribute their “time, talent, and treasure” on behalf of all St. Denis parishioners to help the needy and vulnerable children, families, and community organizations in Katito and Kisumu Kenya. Most of us on the Committee have been to western Kenya and seen the efforts up close. We steward efforts here with particular care.  The past year has been a challenging one.  The pandemic lockdown in Kenya resulted in a food crisis for all of our partners.  So, in addition to our usual projects, HOW assisted in much needed emergency food supply and distribution, made possible by your gifts. 

For our annual Lenten appeal, we’ll use the bulletin to introduce you (or re-acquaint you) with our efforts.  Each week for the next four Sundays, members of HOW will describe one of our partners and our ongoing work with them. You’ll learn what the fruits of those efforts are and have been.  St. Denis parishioners have been extraordinarily generous with HOW and the people of western Kenya over the years, particularly during this season of alms-giving.  This year we are attempting to raise $30,000 to support our ongoing programs.  We ask for your prayers and if possible, financial assistance.  Help us keep our hearts open to the needs of the world. Thank you for all you’ve done and will do.

Our Kenyan Partners

St. Denis Konditi School

Very special in the hearts of all of us at St. Denis Church in Hanover is the St. Denis Konditi School in Pap-Onditi, Nyando District, Nyanza Province, Kenya. St. Denis Konditi is a public primary school that renamed itself in our honor about 7 years ago after members of HOW first visited Kenya. Since that time, Hearts Open to the World (HOW) has partnered with a local nonprofit self-help group called I-KODI. As has been our tradition, at least one member of HOW has visited St. Denis Konditi School each year. Working together, we support a cafeteria and lunchtime feeding program, an orphan-feeding program as well as high school scholarships for graduates of the school’s eighth grade.

Emergency Food Distribution: The pandemic impacted Kenya as it did the rest of the world. Schools closed in March 2020 which meant that the children’s school lunch program was unable to provide food for our children.  As the pandemic took hold, we realized in April 2020 that our 350 students, who relied on the lunch-feeding program, lacked what in this area of the world was their one main meal. With I-KODI’s help, HOW initiated an emergency program that provided food for all children. I-KODI worked with the teachers to identify 170 families (parents, family members) who took care of our kids. Through your generosity, HOW provided funds to purchase basic food staples including maize, beans and cooking oil. HOW made the decision to not only provide food for each student, but to include enough to feed the entire family. Working with the teachers, I-KODI developed a safe and effective rotating schedule to allow family members to pick up supplies while maintaining safe social distancing. We began this program in early May and continued through December 2020. In November 2020, the government opened classrooms for Class 4 and 8 because of their exams. As of January 2021, the children are now back in school and the lunchtime feeding program continues.

Food for AIDS orphans: Through your generosity throughout 2020, we continued to support an HIV orphan feeding program that brings hope to 25 orphans. In this program, we provided these children and their caregivers, usually a grandparent or other relative, with basic food supplies that are distributed every 3 months. Recognizing the ravages of the HIV epidemic and its impact on the most vulnerable, we began this program in 2011. Through the program orphaned and vulnerable children are being given a new lease on life.

High School Scholarship Program: With your generous help, we contributed to a scholarship program for promising students to attend regional and national high schools. In Kenya, the public school system provides education for children through the 8th grade. Because high schools are tuition based, we have worked to provide students with financial support to cover their expenses for four years. We currently support scholarship students to attend local and regional high schools. This past year, we provided high school scholarship assistance to a total of 20 students at St. Denis Konditi School and 41 at Our Lady of Grace School. Through your support, we are breaking the cycle of poverty, and enabling young people to embark on a life with hope.

Cooking Facility: Owing to your generosity, early in 2020, we built a covered cooking facility for the lunchroom. Our commitment to providing food enabled these children not just to attend school but to learn well and have the energy to focus on their education rather than on the pangs of hunger. As of January 2021, it is back in full operation.

Leadership and Business Training for Local Women’s Group: Jakech Ratego Women’s group is based in Kisumu County and consists of 23 women who are committed to enriching the lives of their families by strength, perseverance, and hard work to provide much needed food and prevent starvation which is rampant in this part of the world. The group is engaged in income generation activities including, knitting, soap making and the sewing of uniforms for the area schools. Currently, working with I-KODI, we are providing a Business Course that includes leadership, self-governance and marketing capabilities, with a view to their independence from want for them and their families.

Our Lady of Grace School

Imagine it’s a century ago and you are visiting a school in rural Appalachia.  It’s a low one-story building, corrugated rusty metal roofing and siding, so utilitarian you might mistake it for a farm shed.   The few windows sag open in the afternoon heat.  But despite the shabby appearances, you hear the lively, energetic voices of children — singing at one end of the building, reciting poetry (or is it scripture?) at the other.  

So as not to distract the children, you walk around back and peer in at an open window.  Even in the bright mid-afternoon heat, the classroom is dim, no lights.  Except for a tired, chalky blackboard at the front of the room, the walls are bare, just corrugated metal, inside as well as out.   You see that the voices are of thirty children, maybe ten-year-olds, boys and girls.  They stand at their desks, riveted on their teacher at the front of the room.  They seem transported, lustily sing-songing in unison. Their English is heavily accented, but you can make out the words:  they are reciting from memory a passage from the Prophet Isaiah.

At the end of the passage, in unison the children sit down at their old, worn wooden desks. The teacher, in gentle voice, comments on their recitation.  She sounds like a coach consoling her team after a close game.   The children are quiet, listening attentively.  Abruptly, the end-of-day school-bell rings.  The room erupts.   The children stand, and again in unison, say in full-voice, “Thank you, Teacher!”  They gather their books and tumble out into the cloudless afternoon sun.  Amid chatter and excitement, pairs and groups form, and the children scatter away to play kick-ball and hop-scotch on the dusty school playground.

What you have just seen isn’t a school in Appalachia a century ago, but a school today in present-day Kenya.   And as poor as the school might seem to our eyes, in truth you are visiting one of the most wonderful schools of its kind in western Kenya.

This is Our Lady of Grace School.  Founded a decade-and-a-half ago, in a time of humanitarian crisis in western Kenya, by Dominican missionaries, the School is now run by dedicated Kenyans, and sponsored by parishioners here at St. Denis, in partnership with generous Catholic friends in Houston.

Only by the devotion of its Kenyan staff and teachers and the generosity of American Catholics including the parishioners of St. Denis Church, our Lady of Grace School is able to provide free education for the poorest of the poor in western Kenya.  Many of the children are abandoned or orphaned.   For 250 needy pre-k and elementary students, the School provides three meals a day and an extraordinary education informed by Catholic teaching. The result is a closely-knit community of students and their families, teachers and their leaders — dedicated to caring for one another, nourishing the spirit, and nurturing young minds.   Amazingly, but not surprisingly, in nationwide testing Our Lady of Grace students outperform virtually every other elementary school in western Kenya. 

During much of 2020, Our Lady of Grace School, like all schools in Kenya, was shuttered by the pandemic.  Students and their families, like folks in so many parts of the world, found themselves stranded, penniless, hungry.   Seeing the suffering, Our Lady of Grace School staff and teachers swung into action, purchasing food staples in bulk and organizing a weekly ‘food pantry’ for the families of the School’s children. The entire food panty program was paid for with $10,000 in gifts from the people of St. Denis Church.   

Remarkably, after eight months of pandemic lockdown and no schooling at all (Kenya doesn’t have the infrastructure for remote-learning), Our Lady of Grace School re-opened in early January and is back in full-swing — with more needy students than ever, and a community energy that is breathtaking.  The School’s 2020 ‘food pantry’ initiative — and the generosity of St. Denis parishioners eight thousand miles away — affirmed yet again that even in the worst of times Our Lady of Grace School and its American sponsors are steadfast in their dedication to the well-being and education of needy children in western Kenya. We the members of Hearts Open to the World (HOW) are deeply grateful for your generosity. 

To view the progress that we have made, and to meet the children of OLG, please click on Our Lady of Grace School Movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NXHt5W7zuk

Nyakach Hospital

Located in the village of Pap Onditi, Nyakach District Hospital is a primary public facility for the rural region of Kisumu County in western Kenya. Kisumu County is the epicenter of HIV in Kenya.  HIV care (which is administered free) through treatment services, curative in-patient services and outpatient services are all offered at the hospital. Nyakach District Hospital, which serves a population of about 45,000 people, has only one medical doctor, Dr. Anifill Agwanda, Medical Superintendent, who is in charge of the facility. In addition to its one physician, the Nyakach Hospital staff comprises 13 clinical nurses, seven clinical officers (similar to a physician assistant), two pharmacists, one occupational therapist and one physical therapist. Through clinic visits about 22,000 outpatients are treated each year. The hospital’s inpatient capacity is 10 pediatric beds, eight women’s ward beds, 10 men’s ward beds and 10 beds in maternity with eight in labor and delivery. The hospital services include x-ray facilities and a lab to screen blood.

Since 2013, the Nyakach District Hospital has worked to establish a strategic plan to improve hygiene and sanitation throughout Kenya. Towards that goal, the generosity of St Denis parishioners in 2017 made it possible for HOW to undertake our biggest project to date: funding the drilling of a deep well to provide a consistent source of clean running water for the hospital.  This life-changing project occurred at a time of severe drought and dramatically improved the lives of many, who are enormously grateful for the result.

 During this last year, HOW’s most recent project has been the construction of four multi-fixture restroom structures, called ablution blocks, to replace the existing pit latrines throughout the hospital facility. The project consists of separate restroom facilities for the women’s ward, men’s ward, outpatient and visitors and staff. Each of these facilities will be equipped with a sink to wash hands, shower and handicap access. Part of the program is also to improve the sanitary waste system. We are very pleased to share with you, our St. Denis community, that with your generous contributions, this important project is nearing completion.  This vital improvement will make a difference in the health and hygiene of not just our friends at Nyakach Hospital but for the families, children and patients they labor to serve.  On their behalf, we the members of HOW at St. Denis sincerely thank you for your continued kindness and generosity.

Asanté sana (thank you!) to the parishioners of St. Denis! Every gift is greatly appreciated; each helps these beautiful children to thrive!!

Hearts Open to the World Committee:

Fr. Jacob-Bertrand, O.P., Randy Mudge (Chair) Chuck Wira, Joseph Bafumi (Treasurer), Theresa Bryant, Amy DeMatteo, Mary Durand, Suzanne Lyons, Bridget Mudge, Janice Pilon, Mary Ann and Fred Salvatoriello, Madelyn Wira.

PLEASE JOIN US and be a part of the HOW Committee.  For more information, please contact:

Chuck Wira, Charles.R.Wira@Dartmouth.edu

How You Can Help

Who we are:   HOW volunteers are students and adults, folks with families, jobs, and commitments to life here in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire.   Working right here in the Upper Valley, volunteers plan and support HOW’s work in western Kenya.   When personal time and finances permit, HOW volunteers travel to western Kenya to work directly on the ground with our Kenyan partners.

Hearts open to all:   Just as we serve all people in western Kenya without regard to their religion or faith, so too we welcome volunteers, without regard to their religion or faith, to join us in opening hearts to the world.

Join us:   Join us in any way that suits you.   Help us with your time, or your talents, or your financial contribution.   Be involved as little or as much as you wish.   Work here with us, or travel with us to Kenya to work there with our Kenyan sisters and brothers.

To make a contribution, you may either:

Send your check (payable to “St. Denis Church” with HOW in the memo line) to:

St. Denis HOW
8 Sanborn Road
Hanover,  NH  03755 

Or make an online contribution here.

(Your contribution is tax-deducible as provided by section 501c3 of the IRS code.   Please provide your mailing address and an acknowledgement and receipt will be sent to you.)