LIFE-CHANGING- Red Deer resident Alma Funk recently returned from a journey through several African nations with International Needs Canada.

City woman works to improve African education

Alma Funk reflects on inspirational overseas journey

A Red Deer woman experienced both overwhelming inspiration and the realities of harsh living conditions on a recent trip to three African countries.

Alma Funk made the trip as a program liaison between the International Needs Canada (INC) board and the organization’s partners. The International Needs Network works within 37 countries, and one of its purposes is to support projects initiated by residents within these nations.

From Canada’s vantage point, one of the major means of providing support is via child sponsorships and strengthening educational opportunities in developing countries. “It’s a Christian organization, so some of it is also faith-based which includes church planting,” added Funk.

Ultimately, it boils down to partnering with the locals and helping them in regards to what they want to see in their own communities.

“It’s a great mandate of supporting local people, and I have valued that perspective for many years,” she said. “My purpose was to go and learn as much as I could in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. I would listen to their situations and build platforms for partnership. Last fall, our board did a study on the beauty of partnership and it was excellent. So it’s all about community development and partnership, and therefore something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Her first stop was in Kenya, a country she visited in July of 2010. She visited the city of Nairobi, which she describes as a study of contrasts. There is natural beauty and some wealth, but also stark realities of horrendous poverty.

Kibera, a sprawling slum within the city, houses nearly one million people and has been described as one of the biggest slums on the continent. Funk visited Kibera a couple of years ago and looked forward to connecting with workers who give so much to bring light, hope and practical assistance to its inhabitants.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” says Funk of observing the hardships of those living there. “A house might be 10 feet by 10 feet with a family living there. It’s a bit of metal sheeting or a bit of dirt, sticks and mud with metal sheeting overtop.”

Funk said International Needs Kenya has been working with the children of Kibera. “We call the program OVC – Orphans and Vulnerable Children. They have more than 100 children that are sponsored, and the beauty of it is that 27 of those children are sponsored by local Kenyans. I was so excited about that – I thought that’s what we need to be seeing.”

Life in Kibera is a constant struggle. Many residents eat only once a day, said Funk. OVC provides simple foodstuffs including sugar, oil, beans and corn flour to help families get by.

Fortunately, children who are sponsored can also attend government schools. And although the Kenyan government stipulates that children attend several years of school particularly in their early years, the expense of doing so means many can’t.

Uniform, shoes, scribblers and books cost money, and therefore priceless educational opportunities bypass many families. Thankfully, OVC helps enable families to send their children to the government schools. That’s also why bolstering child sponsorships is so critical.

Something else OVC provides is a ‘Saturday morning PSS Club’ – a psychological, social and spiritual club. Meals are provided, which is of course key to the children’s development. “They have five churches doing these clubs with 400 kids. Their aim is to have 10 clubs with 800 kids next year. That’s what they are working towards.”

Staff also try to instill in the children a message of hope. “I watched these guys telling the children that they have a better future. And education is the key.

“They also have 112 sponsored kids and their aim is 300. They’ve got the profiles ready to go and they want them sponsored by next year.”

It’s an ideal opportunity for Canadians to get onboard with an incredibly worthy cause. “They’re plea to us was ‘Could you please, please sponsor some children’. That was their strongest plea to us.”

Meanwhile, being back at home offers time to reflect on her experience.

“I learned a long time ago that you make a difference one person at a time. You don’t focus on the vastness of it over there because that paralyzes you, and then you do nothing.

“Did I go with hope? I did because of the staff, and I would support them. I look forward to going back. I told them it’s not for me to go in there and do this – it’s for you. And if I can give you tools that you can use and adapt, that’s what I see as partnership.”

For more information about the International Needs Network, visit www.innetwork.ca.

editor@reddeerexpress.com