Scofield Orphanage, located in rural Kenya, is home to about one hundred orphans. Ben and Emily Okello, the Kenyan founders, instill in each child that they are capable and worthy. They dedicate their lives to this ethical endeavor and invest in the self-sustaining future of each child despite the ongoing difficulties caused by food shortages and the pandemic.
A Self-Sustaining Future
The Borgen Project spoke with Patty Congdon, a longtime volunteer who works alongside Ben and Emily Okello. Concerning the start of Scofield Orphanage, she said “Most of them, the parents have died of HIV, and therefore, they are seen as unclean, and people just leave them to die, and so, he just couldn’t stand it anymore…he said, ‘Emily, can I bring ten children home?’ And she said yes… and that was the start of Scofield.” After starting the orphanage, Ben and Emily realized that they would need to provide an education to the children. By doing so, they invest in each orphan’s self-sustaining future.
A population-based survey conducted in Kenya found that 93.9% of school-aged single orphans had never attended school. Orphans in rural parts of Kenya struggle to complete an education, and many of them never have an opportunity to attend school; without passing the national exam and acquiring a university degree, orphans struggle to acquire a job that lifts them out of poverty. Additionally, without a supportive community, orphans are at risk for exploitation, life-threatening food insecurity, medical complications and a variety of other dangerous circumstances.
Education in Kenya
In Kenya, students must pass eighth-grade national exams to advance into high school education. From there, they must pass twelfth-grade national exams to acquire university education. Patty Congdon shares that over this past decade, every single student at Scofield Orphanage has had a 100% pass rate in the eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. During the pandemic, children in Kenya faced school closures and many lost access to educational resources.
The loss of education especially affected vulnerable children in rural areas. This is attributable to the fact that remote learning is not an option in many isolated locations. Vulnerable children in rural areas are at much higher risk for food insecurity as well as exploitation. This is especially true when they lose access to the resources provided to them by schools. The pandemic heightened the struggle for children located at Scofield Orphanage in Kenya. However, they continue to find ways to provide education, food and shelter to each vulnerable child they house.
Fighting Educational Disparities
Due to the influx of young people pursuing higher education, many universities have increased their standards for grade point averages. Whereas students could previously apply to college with only a C+ average, many universities now require a B average. This heightened expectation has not diminished the opportunities available to the industrious orphans at Scofield.
Patty Congdon said, “Right now, not only are our kids going to university, but they are going to university for engineering, for medical, for computer science. They are going for high-level professional skills, which has just been the other thing that has just been unbelievable because Ben sets such a high standard for them from the minute they can walk on that they are capable. He just instills in them that they are capable, each to their own skills, and that they are to be professionals, and so, they don’t just want to be successful, they want to be successful at an incredibly high level, and it’s just amazing. So, every kid that we have right now who’s in school is going for all these advanced professional degrees on top of it and doing well.”
More than 90% of Kenya’s orphans do not attend school; meanwhile, the orphans housed at Scofield Orphanage have a 100% pass rate on both eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. Furthermore, those that have advanced to university are studying in prestigious fields. This is a meaningful step toward ensuring the self-sustaining future of each child. It also proves that, with proper support and education, the lives of orphans in Kenya can realistically improve.
The Challenges of 2020
Though Scofield Orphanage continues to succeed, it faced significant difficulties during the pandemic and locust invasion of 2020. Kenya’s government shut down all motor vehicle travel. As a result, no vehicles could come in and out of towns and villages. Additionally, Scofield Orphanage’s teachers were sent home; Ben and Emily Okello oversaw approximately one hundred children’s education.
Concerning the food shortages and travel bans, Patty said, “Ben had to go by foot to try to find food in villages that had been decimated by flood, drought and locusts.” She continued, “He had been able, in the past, to go over the border to Tanzania to try to get food. Borders were closed, and as he tried to go wider and wider—he’s doing all of this by foot— someone finally gave him a donkey cart. Can you imagine going forty miles with a donkey cart to look for grain? And then finding it and coming forty miles by foot with a donkey cart with, you know, ninety pounds of grain? It’s a lot, and everything is very expensive. So, everything’s been really difficult. Thankfully, none of the children have come down with COVID.”
Scofield Orphanage endured the food shortages as well as the pandemic, but Patty Congdon continues to advocate for consistency on the part of donors who contribute to Scofield Orphanage. Scofield needs consistent support so that they can afford food, necessities, medical treatment, teachers’ salaries and education.
The Need for Support
When asked, “What are the biggest needs facing Scofield right now?” Patty Congdon said, “Consistency in funding and at levels that are sustainable is still the number one challenge. A big goal that we still have is trying to get them solar power because they still don’t really have lights. They don’t have running water, and from a health perspective, running water would be a game-changer, and being able to have things like computers to study, it all goes back to electricity, and right now they don’t have that.” She continued, “Basics like lights and running water and being able to plug in a computer, those things don’t exist. Those are the big challenges right now.”
Scofield Orphanage faces immense difficulties and is in need of consistent support. Nevertheless, it continues to transform the lives of orphans in rural Kenya by investing in the self-sustaining future of each child. The ethical role model it provides demonstrates how to effectively help vulnerable children.
– Hannah Brock