After traveling to Kenya in 2012 and visiting an orphanage, Amy and her husband Clay Churchill decided they would start an organization helping high capacity local leaders in Kenya who were working hard to improve their communities.
After returning home from their trip, Amy and Clay, partnered with another couple, Alastair and Geanna Wilde, to start Just One Africa. One of the biggest focuses of the organization is to provide clean water access to communities in Kenya. The idea formed during that initial Kenya trip when community leaders shared their ongoing struggle with water borne diseases.
While helping build a hut for a woman in Western Kenya, Churchill realized that a very sick baby was living there. The mother of the baby had HIV and was very also very sick and unable to nurse the child. The baby’s father had died of HIV and the grandfather of the baby was also deceased. The owner of the hut was the baby’s grandmother, and she was doing the best she could to care for her family. Since the baby could not nurse, they were giving him water from a nearby lake, but the lake was unclean and she did not have an effective way to filter the water.
“They were giving the baby water straight out of the lake, which is Lake Victoria,” Churchill said. “It’s a huge lake bordering, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Millions of people use it for everything. This little baby had a huge belly and was suffering with Typhoid and lots of different amoebas. Unfortunately, they had no way of getting him medical care or paying for it. Add the fact the mom was super sick at the time. It was just a very big aha moment.
We had known for a long, long time about the global water crisis and some of the challenges people face. Whether it was from the news or movies or books or things like that. But when you are face to face with someone, hearing their story and seeing the impact on their family and their child, it’s not something that you just easily walk away from. It wasn’t the kind of situation where you kind of just patted them on the back and said, you know, I’ll pray for you. It definitely needed some tangible help.”
The way the organization helps with the water crisis is through providing water filter kits to communities that do not have access to clean water. Each kit can filter water for up to 25 people and lasts for years. They also teach hygiene and sanitation training to recipients of the filters and to the community as a whole.
“When we were in western Kenya the leader we were partnered shared with us her challenges with waterborne disease for the kids she was caring for,” Churchill said. “She lives literally on a lake. The issue was not access to water; it was just the water she had access to was highly contaminated. Most of the communities we partner with already have access to a water source. That’s not so much the problem where people in a desert find themselves with no water around. That’s not really the situation for the communities we are serving. They just need a way to clean the water that they have. The water filters we are using are created after kidney dialysis and are very, very effective. The technology effectively removes waterborne disease, and the simplicity of how to use it is really key because the areas we partner with and serve need something that is going to be simple, without replaceable filters.”
Outside of helping with the water crisis, Just One Africa also provides support for other local Kenyan led organizations. They provide funding for daily operations until they are better equipped to sustain themselves. Just One Africa also invests in improving the infrastructure of schools and invests in sustainable projects like farming, small businesses and education.
When considering how to run Just One Africa, the founders decided that it would be better to partner with local leaders who were already doing work in the communities rather than come in to the communities and start something completely from scratch.
“The people we partner with understand and definitely are clear on their culture and all the challenges that it presents,” Churchill said. “And so as somebody coming in from the outside that doesn’t speak the language, hasn’t grown up there, and doesn’t understand the way things work. “It can be super arrogant, I think, to come in and to say ‘Oh, just because we’re from America, or we don’t have these problems, or we’ve you know, moved past this that we know how to solve for you.’
This is why partnering with local leaders was really important to us, because we knew the vision these leaders had for their community was way better and more important than anything we desired to see. They also knew the way forward. We knew that lasting change would happen when we partnered with people who already were living there, were on the ground, working and doing things that mattered. The challenge was finding themselves under resourced and stuck. That was where our partnership came in, versus kind of just starting something brand new on our own.”
One of the organizations that Just One Africa partners with is Valley Light Home, which was founded by John and Lean Njoroge. The couple grew up in Kenya and had a dream to open a home for children who had been orphaned or abandoned. Currently they house 31 children in Maai Mahiu, Kenya. The current location of the home is not ideal though, so Just One Africa and Third Lens Ministries came together to help Valley Light find a new location and are building a new home in a much safer location which has expanded area for sustainability projects.
“It is a building project that is going to move 30 plus kids out of the location that they currently live in, which is a very unsafe part of town,” Churchill said. “It’s like a postage stamp, it’s really small. They have walls all the way around them, they have very limited places to grow food and just expand. So we’re working with Third Lens on developing a piece of property that will, have the capacity for long term sustainability and also be a much safer place for these 31 children to grow up and to find healing and joy after all the challenges from the things that they’ve gone through in their life.”