The story of Friends of Kenyan Orphans begins with two people who have dedicated their lives to humanitarian work, and whose path led them to a country where they witnessed children suffering and were moved to try to help: Kenya.
When Bud and Sue Ozar arrived in Kenya in 2006 to volunteer, they were leaving behind a comfortable life and close-knit community in Michigan. They carried very little with them besides open hearts and a calling to help those in need. Bud began a volunteer job in the diocese and Sue was assigned to teach English at St. Francis, a school for boys who are orphaned and abandoned due to HIV or tribal conflict, that had recently been started by Father Riwa, a local priest.
With her decades of teaching experience in the American school system, Sue immediately realized that the boys, resilient as they were, needed a counselor as much as they needed a teacher. As Sue puts it “it was immediately clear these boys had never had one thing to hang onto in their lives except God.” As their trust in “Mama Sue” increased, the boys confided their worry about their sisters, living on the streets or in servitude in their villages, vulnerable to being used in every conceivable way. If they survived past age 10, the girls were often sold in marriage as a cash crop. Fr. Riwa had begun to rescue some of the girls by finding them temporary homes with his parishioners. But as Fr. Riwa’s reputation grew, more girls kept coming. The need was great.
In 2008 the Ozars were ready to return to Michigan; Fr. Riwa asked if they would tell the children's story back home and raise money so he could build a school for the girls. Bud told him they would try. The Ozars arrived home and began to talk to anyone who would listen. “It was clear from the beginning there were God’s hands in this,” Bud says. People began to offer help and money, and in short order the Ozars formed a nonprofit. In 2009 they were able to return to Kenya to establish St. Clare’s School for Girls, and in 2010 Fr. Riwa secured the arrival of 140 girls from the northern desert.
Today St. Clare is a thriving refuge for abandoned girls, providing them with the security of family and an education, and raising them into independent, competent, and confident young women. In 2013, St. Clare graduated its first class of girls. In 2017, recognizing that this was not enough, FoKO oversaw the building of a Life Skills Center at St. Clare where sewing, childcare, and computer literacy are taught. Fr. Riwa and a dedicated staff oversee both schools, as well as nearby St. Philomena’s, which houses orphaned children with AIDS. Bud, Sue, and members of the FOKO board make frequent visits.
FOKO oversees and provides a yearly budget for St. Clare’s and now partners with other vetted local organizations that address specific problems caused by drought or other calamities. Recently, FoKO developed a Higher Education program to support and provide post-secondary training and career guidance to its graduating girls; many are now teachers, nurses, and businesswomen.
What began as a vision to help suffering children has grown into a dynamic organization that has stayed true to its original mission, fueled by love, compassion, hard work, and clear-headed oversight. The need remains considerable, and FOKO remains indebted to and grateful for your support, which powers everything we do.