Kenyan orphans get mountain help
SUMMIT COUNTY – Every day hungry, love-starved orphans live and die on the streets of Misiri, Kenya – a name that means “Egypt” in Swahili.”It has this name because they are as slaves, people of no hope. …. I just pray that the slum will one day be a hill of hope and healing,” said Deanna Bjork, of Silverthorne, who is working to get little ones off the streets and into a safe, learning environment.Bjork recently opened Miracle House, an orphanage in Misiri that teaches and feeds 22 children. The two newest additions are 6- and 7-year-old siblings found struggling to survive on their own.”They are just precious little people. Those two in particular kind of steal my heart,” Bjork said. “They’re guarded, but after spending time with them, they’re just hungry for hugs and love.”The idea for Miracle House came in June 2005 when Bjork led a mission trip to Kenya. She had been on mission trips all over the world before, but the intensity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic there and the orphans left behind struck her. According to UNAIDS, a world program on HIV/AIDS, 1,100,000 children are orphans in Kenya because of AIDS.About six months after returning from the trip, Bjork contacted pastors she met there and asked them what they thought about an orphanage.”They said, ‘It’s a miracle. We’ve been praying for something like this. We just started a feeding program because we can’t stand to see the children die,’ ” Bjork said.A month later, while waiting for her nonprofit organization to be certified, she rented and renovated a building in the slum. By September, 2006, Miracle House opened with five staff members from Misiri, including three teachers, a cook and a guard.
In January, Bjork visited Miracle House for the first time since it opened. “Here we are renting a building in the middle of a slum with no electricity, no running water and a pit potty – and yet it’s making such a difference in these kids’ lives,” she said.
One of the children, Diana, a 10-year-old girl who comes to Miracle House for lunch and dinner, told Bjork that she now has hope for the future. Before, food was not always an option for the little girl.The children who go to school at the orphanage are preschool age. The older ones who attend the national school come by for lunch and dinner. A few of the preschool children who are already 7 and 8 years old couldn’t get into the national school because they didn’t pass a certain test. Now, after learning at the orphanage, they’ve been able pass and petition the school to be let in, Bjork said.Bjork’s overall goal is to buy property, build an orphanage where the children can live. Currently, many of the Miracle House orphans live with neighbors, aunts and grandparents in one-room houses with many people, Bjork said. She doesn’t know if they get food on Sundays when they are not at Miracle House or what happens when they go home at the end of each day.
About 10 years ago, Bjork, her husband Dan, and their sons, Garrett and Landon, went on their first mission trip. They went to Jamaica and it changed their lives, Bjork said. Afterward, they spent four years working to adopt Jenessa and Jarelle, twins from Haiti who are now 7. Bjork has also led missions to Mexico, Haiti, Turkey, China, Thailand and many other places.Bjork said she has been amazed at how Summit County has supported Miracle House. Friends, Realtors, churches, Girl Scout troops and Summit High School students have all played a role in getting the orphanage up and running, she said. Bjork’s whole family is involved. Arienne Abt, nursing student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, sits on the board for Miracle House. She has spent the past two summers in Kenya and plans to return this summer for a few weeks to help at the orphanage.”You hear about the AIDS epidemic, but until you go over there it doesn’t really hit you,” Abt said. “The first summer stole my heart.” Then last year, a little boy found her the first day she was there and held her hand the rest of the trip. “If I was going to tell everyone what it’s like, I’d convey the desperate need for things we take for granted – housing, clothing, food – and yet they are happier than many people I know,” Abt said. “They have a better grasp on what’s really important.”