Connect // A bike ride for Kenya

When Kathryn Nelson visited Kenya in June 2007 to volunteer for the Red Cross, she was overwhelmed by the conditions in the impoverished African villages.

“It was just one of those moments,” said Nelson, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. “You see it on TV, the kids who haven’t eaten or are drinking out of puddles, but it doesn’t really come to life until you see it yourself.”

Nelson, who was working as a volunteer at a Red Cross refugee camp in Kenya, was staying in the home of Kenyan pastor named Daniel Muyelele Makecho. When her refugee camp became too dangerous for her to work in, Nelson accompanied Makecho to his church, which he built with his own money in a neighboring village called Chebukwa. It was there that Nelson said she was inspired to do something for the people of Kenya.

“I just felt that if people in the United States knew what was going on, they’d want to help,” she said.

Nelson began planning with Makecho and when she returned to the United States in August of 2007, she co-founded a nonprofit called the Nafula Foundation from her parents’ home in Tangletown. The Nafula Foundation will be moving to an office in Loring Park this summer.

The foundation raises money through events and donations and uses the funds to provide education about HIV/AIDS, access to doctors and schools, and, recently, a pair of dairy cows for the village.

“Most of the kids had never had fresh milk, ever, and that can cause major health problems,” Nelson said. The two cows, which were purchased on Nelson’s second trip to Kenya in June of 2008, both recently gave birth.

Recently, Nelson said hard times in Kenya and the current U.S. economy has caused a serious lack in funds.

“It’s hard to ask for donations when people can’t even pay their rent,” Nelson said. “But the economy is affecting Kenya even more.”

In order to offset the need, the Nafula foundation is hosting the Harambee Ride, a cross-country bicycling event. Harambee, which literally means “all pull together” in Swahili, is the official motto of Kenya.

Ryan Morgan, a civil engineer, his sister Rachel, who recently served in the Peace Corps, their father and a friend will bike from San Diego, Calif., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in April. They will be stopping along the way to volunteer at organizations like Habitat for Humanity, and Ryan will be donating his hair to Locks of Love.

The event will mainly be raising money for a rainwater harvesting system in Chebukwa, which costs about $7,000. Sending Morgan over to install the system will cost an additional $2,500.

Nelson said the event is about raising awareness as well as money. She said the foundation is hoping to organize a way for people to donate by the mile for the 3,110-mile trip and is also taking general donations.

During the trip, the bikers will be keeping a video diary of their thoughts and volunteer experiences, which will be posted on the Nafula Foundation’s website along with a map of the journey.

“Everyone’s so excited in Kenya, and we just want to show people what’s going on there,” Nelson said. “Times are tough, but when we remember how much change can happen with just a little money, hopefully people will find a way to donate.”

For more information about the Harambee Ride or the foundation, visit www.nafulafoundation.org.

If you know of good opportunities for community involvement, please pass along tips to Journal editor Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com.