Bringing hope to children of the slum

Woodinville parish is creating a brighter future for Kenyan orphans by sending them to school


When tribal violence erupted in Kenya following last December’s contested presidential election, members of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish would ask fellow parishioners Carol and Ken Fabrizio: “Are our kids okay?”

The “kids” are three young people in Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum. And parishioners in the Woodinville parish have gotten to know them through a parish effort, the Kibera Orphan Education Project, that is sending them to school in a quest to break the cycle of poverty one child at a time.

The Fabrizios were the ones who introduced the project to the parish last year.

In 2006 they had initiated another parish project to raise money to buy 8,000 malaria-thwarting mosquito nets for residents of a parish in western Kenya. The fundraiser was successful. And when Ken Fabrizio, a retired sales and marketing manager, went to Kenya last year to help with the distribution of the nets, he made a stopover in the capital city of Nairobi. There he accompanied an American Carmelite priest, Father Dennis Geng, to the Kibera slum, a former garbage dump that is home to an estimated one million people.

Bleak future for slum’s children
The priest took him to the 10-by-10-foot metal-and-scrap-wood shack occupied by two teenage sisters, a male cousin and their 90-year-old grandmother. The three young people are bright, but their futures would be bleak unless they could continue their education beyond the state-funded primary grades, the Fabrizios said.

“On kind of a prayer and a spur of the moment, I decided we needed to try and get these kids in school,” Ken Fabrizio said.

Upon his return home, the couple brought the idea to their parish’s Social Justice Commission, of which they are members, and the Kibera project was launched last November.

To date, more than $28,000 has been raised through parishioner pledges and a bring-your-spare-change-from-home style collection held during Advent. So far, the project has 74 donors who’ve committed to quarterly, biannual or annual contributions, Ken Fabrizio said.
The support is even more impressive given the fact that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish was established just four years ago and has only 300 households.

“It’s really the parish’s program…it just happened to be our idea,” Ken Fabrizio said. “And we’ve been fortunate that both of our pastors, (former pastor) Father Scott Connolly and (current pastor) Father Frank (Schuster) have been 100 percent supportive of it.”

Father Schuster said it’s appropriate that a parish named after Mother Teresa would be following her credo to ‘do little things with great love.’

“This Kibera orphanage project is an opportunity for our parishioners to do just that,” he said. “We help change the world a little bit through the lives of those that we help.”

The  goal of the project is to have 25 young Kenyan orphans attending high school or college or a trade school at any one time. The parish is currently supporting five young people, paying for their schooling and lodging. Father Geng screens the candidates for the project.

It costs approximately $500 a year to send a child through a high school boarding school and another $100 for uniforms and schools supplies, Ken Fabrizio said.

“Our reward,” he said, “is literally knowing that these kids went from having an unattainable dream to having a future.”

Dying mother’s dream
For Carol Fabrizio, it’s also knowing that a dying mother’s dream is being answered.
Mary and Martha – the two teenage sisters that Fabrizio met in the slum — had lost their mother, their last surviving parent, to AIDS about three years earlier. Fabrizio was told that her dying words to the oldest daughter, Mary, were these: “Go to church. Get an education. Take care of Martha. I love you.”

Now, said Carol, “to see a mother’s dream for her children come to fruition is such a wonderful thing.”

Mary, 18, who starts college next month, wants to study communications and become a businesswoman. Martha, 15, a high school student, has hopes of becoming a doctor. Their cousin, John, 24, a college student, is planning to become a psychologist.

The Fabrizios have a photo of the three in their Woodinville study. They say they are inspired by their hopefulness and drive amid such bleak conditions.

Their shack, like the others in the slum, had no electricity, running water or toilet facilities. They’d study by kerosene lantern, with the two older ones attending school whenever they could beg for or scrape up the money.

“We’ve heard all our lives through our faith and even elsewhere how we learn from the poor,” Ken Fabrizio said. “Carol and I learn from these kids. They have absolutely nothing. But here they are, still banging away. And when they get the slightest little opportunity (to attend school), they get all A’s and B’s while studying with a kerosene lantern.”

During the recent violence in Kenya, the family was burned out of its shack. But a weekend collection at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish raised more than $1,100 to help them replace what was lost. The family was separated for a while by the violence. But now it is together and living in an apartment.

Ken Fabrizio notes there are an estimated 100,000 orphans living in Kibera. “We can’t take care of everything,” he said, “but if our parish and our Social Justice Commission can just help some kids, we’ll see what happens.”

How to participate:
To donate to the Kibera Orphan Education Project, make checks payable to “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish” and mail to the parish at

17856 NE Woodinville Duvall RD
Woodinville, WA 98077

Write the name of the project on the memo line.

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