Shoreham-Wading River High School alumni Avery Friedman and Kyle Spillane traveled to Kenya this past year with one goal in mind: building bed frames.
During multiple trips to Meru, Kenya, the men, both 22, have visited the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home, an orphanage run by the nonprofit Hope Children’s Foundation. There, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Spillane found three to four children sharing beds that were dirty and mangled. In addition, some mattresses had been burned in some places in an attempt to get rid of bugs.
“I remembered the condition these children were sleeping in,” Mr. Friedman said in an interview last week. “It wasn’t terrible, but definitely needed some improving.”
Twenty additional children have moved into the orphanage over the last year, bringing the total number of resident orphans to 87, he added.
Before making their most recent trip in January, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Spillane established the GoFundMe page “Beds for Kenyan Children” in the hopes of raising money to build new bunk bed frames for the children.
Their campaign raised a total $1,855, the equivalent of about 186,000 Kenyan shillings.
“Over there, you’re considered very, very wealthy,” Mr. Friedman said. “With that much in shillings in Kenya, I can probably buy a five-bedroom house with a pool.”
Want to help?
Visit hopechildrensfund.org to donate.
The duo was able to purchase enough materials to build 25 new beds, as well as mattresses, pillows and blankets. They were also able to repair the damage to existing bed frames.
Because they couldn’t bring equipment, supplies or tools with them, they worked with their friend and host Joseph Kirima, director of the children’s home, to organize construction of the beds. He put them in touch with local lumberyards, carpenters and transporters, Mr. Spillane said.
Additionally, a local carpenter and two of his workers helped Mr. Spillane and Mr. Friedman complete the project, which took nine days.
While they agreed that getting the help was easy, one challenge they encountered was figuring out how the orphanage would be able to maintain the new beds.
“Mostly, the younger children sleep together in the beds and they still wet the bed,” Mr. Spillane said. “One problem was when [mattresses] were soiled they had to dispose of them or let them dry in the sun. So we bought four-inch mattresses instead of the usual six-inch and had plastic covers made by a tailor so they could be cleaned easier instead of thrown out.”
Not only did Mr. Friedman and Mr. Spillane build the bed frames, but they also made sure to lend a helping hand to villagers in other ways, such as working with farmers or taking students to secondary school orientations, Mr. Spillane said.
One horrific memory that has stuck with Mr. Friedman is when he and Mr. Spillane were awakened in the middle of the night to news that a baby girl had been dropped in boiling water. Nearly half of her body suffered third-degree burns. Kenyan doctors were on strike and the mother couldn’t afford to pay for other care.
Since Mr. Spillane and Mr. Friedman were the only “mzungus” — Kenyan for “wanderers with white skin” — they took the baby to the hospital, where they waited for about four hours. Overall it, cost 3,000 Kenyan shillings, or $30.
Mr. Friedman said the children’s reactions to their help are always genuine and grateful, which is one reason the friends continue to visit the school regularly.
“They were so grateful,” he said, fondly referring to the students as “my kids.”
“They love going to school. It’s completely different than here,” he continued. “It was a blessing to them and they’re very appreciative.”
Mr. Spillane said they’re grateful for all of the donations they’ve received and agreed that the most rewarding part of their effort has been how much their help in Keyna has been appreciated.
“Not only for the beds, but just knowing there are strangers out here in America that care about their future,” he said. “The kids will never get to meet most of [the donors]. Avery and I are just the messengers that brought the donations to the children.”