When you double up on charisma, on goodness, and on a willingness to make a change, you get something like Amy and Kristy Hawke – identical twins making a huge impact in two small villages in Kenya.
Their journey started in 2006, when the energetic sisters backpacked through 13 countries in Africa. Their unintended long stop was in the village of Maweni, where they fell in love with the people, the community, and especially the children.
“We literally walked into the village and fell in love with the kids,” said Kristy. “They even did a performance for us, about 300 children, and we were just in awe.”
The 300 or so orphaned children of Maweni were, at that time, learning in a makeshift school, named Tumaini, under trees and sitting on the ground. Resources are very limited, and with only 10 volunteer teachers the quality of education was not on par with other schools in the country.
Because of the AIDS issue that affects many poor villages in Kenya, most of the children are orphans or from single-parent families. Begging from tourists is a must for many kids to survive.
The twins were quick to get involved with Tumaini, and soon after arriving they were teaching a class and cooking meals for the children.
“They welcomed us with open arms and they quickly became our second family,” said Kristy. “They completely trusted us with their children.”
For three months the Hawkes taught, cleaned and cooked in the village alongside the locals. They learned Swahili in the process, and were soon teaching it to the children.
The sisters also helped the village build a mud school by using their own credit cards to purchase materials, desks and supplies.
“We sometimes had to carry sticks and logs on our heads for miles…it was so cool,” said Kristy.
The important thing, they realized, was to implement a longer-term solution to the needs of the children in Maweni. So the sisters began establishing relationships with locals that could raise awareness and also manage any fundraising money.
Their original trip continued after the three-month stop, and after travelling through seven more countries the sisters came back to Toronto with a completely different outlook on life – and a strong willingness to continue their work in Maweni. Hope4Help was born.
In the first year after returning, the organization raised over $17,000 through small events held with the support of family and friends. In 2007, they held their first big fundraising event, dubbed ‘Entertain the Possibilities’ which raised over $15,000.
Two schools, Chester Le Junior Public School and Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School, also helped raise funds for the organization. In 2010 Cardinal Newman donated their ‘Scar Trek’ annual fundraising walk money totaling over $6,000.
The fundraising efforts, now totalling over $100,000, allowed the organization to begin providing support to a second school, Baharini Primary, in the same village in 2009. Hope4Help now provides funds to over 1,000 children in the village.
“We wanted to bring all the kids from both schools together and have the village work together, so that’s what ended up happening,” said Kristy adding that a village meeting and vote was required to join the two schools.
It costs approximately $1,300 a month to educate and feed the 1,000 children in the two schools.
The funds have also been used to bring electricity to areas of the village, and Class 8 students can now study at night for their exams, which are the gateway to high school.
“We now have a small medical facility with a nurse as well,” said Kristy emphasizing the importance of health and nutrition in the community.
But all was not without challenges.
In the first year of sending funds to the schools, it was discovered that the headmaster was stealing most of the money. That triggered a trip by the sisters to resolve the problem. While there, they discovered that some of the kids were also being abused by the same individual. The fight to remove the man from the village even saw the Kenyan government getting involved. In the end, and with the help of the community, they prevailed and the man was removed from the village.
Hope4Help has also chosen not to fund what are referred to as a ‘donor schools’. These are schools supported by private donors that simply provide funds to keep them afloat. Although education needs are met, their structure doesn’t necessarily meet the government’s guidelines. By providing funds along with support programs such as nutrition and health and also building the physical facilities, Tumaini and Baharini continue to qualify as a government school.
It also means that the headmaster is government-appointed, and 10 of the school staff are government-supported. There are also watchmen on the grounds to keep the children safe.
Feeling confident that the children are now in a safer and healthier environment, the Hawkes continue to address other issues in the village.
The Greenhouse Garden Initiative is the latest project that Hope4Help is supporting.
“We want them to be self-sustainable when it comes to food as well, so we want them to grow their own food as part of the curriculum, and learn about growing their own food and how to sell it or simply incorporate it as part of the school’s nutrition plan,” said Kristy.
Last March, Hope4Help participated in the St. Patty’s Run with Achilles International to raise funds for this initiative.
Amy and Kristy both have a film and TV production background, and are kept busy in their careers in the event marketing and promotions industry.
In 2010, Kristy was in the CBC’s top 50 Champions of Change for her work with Hope4Help.
Amy is currently involved with the G(irls)20 Summit, which “convenes in advance of the G20 Leaders meeting and brings together one girl, aged 18-20 from each G20 country and one girl from the African Union. The objective of the Summit is to look at the Leaders’ agenda thru the lens of the economic empowerment and inclusion of girls and women,” according to the summit’s website.
The Hawkes were also quick to acknowledge the enormous support they receive from local martial arts instructor Sir Marvin Prashad of Dragonz Martial Arts on Danforth Avenue.
“Sir Marvin has been instrumental in our fundraising efforts, from his volunteer DJing to his ideas and support,” said Kristy.
Having grown up in Guyana in difficult times, Prashad can relate to the needs of the children in Maweni.
“I was in a similar position when I was a child and no one ever stepped up to help us. Now I have a great opportunity to not do the same and really help through Hope4Help, so why not? Whenever they need something, I’m there,” said Prashad.
Prashad, with 18 years of martial arts expertise, recently taught a women’s self-defence class at St. John Catholic School, with all the money raised going to Hope4Help.
“How can you turn your back on something that’s this good of a cause?” asked Prashad.
As for the Hawke twins, they plan on continuing their efforts in Maweni.
“It’s for life,” said Kristy, who the villagers call Kadzo, meaning “The Beautiful”. Amy is called Karembo, or “The Good”.
To help the children at Tumaini and Baharini, contact Kristy or Amy through the website hope4help.ca.