office buidling spring 2015

History

The Funyula Division of the Samia District in western Kenya is bisected by a major truck route leading from Uganda into Kenya. When AIDS came over the border, it decimated an entire generation of parents in the area, leaving thousands of AIDS orphans in its wake.

Quite suddenly, a number of grandparents found themselves taking into their homes anywhere from one to fourteen grandchildren, who they now needed to feed, clothe, raise, and educate. These elderly people were already struggling to support themselves, and now they suddenly had to care for a generation of grandchildren on their own. Furthermore, the stigma of AIDS was (and unfortunately, continues to be) so strong that other relatives refused to help.

Robert Barasa, a native Kenyan and an Anglican priest, first imagined Ember in 2004 during his doctoral studies. While studying in the US, Barasa travelled to Funyula to conduct basic research and interviews for his dissertation. He was overwhelmed by the interest that he found. While he expected to interview around 200 grandparents, more than 1000 came to tell him about their struggles.

Barasa came to understand that he was being called by God to do something to help these grandparents. The poverty of these people, many of whom had spent all their resources trying to help their dying children, pierced his heart. Many of these grandparents, who were still grieving the deaths of their own children, fell into despair at the prospect of having to start all over raising a new generation of children. These grandparents had assumed that their children would care for them in their old age and now who could they turn to for support? Just finding food every day was a challenge, leaving families hungry, afraid, and ill.

Barasa realized that he could best help AIDS orphans by first working with their grandparent caregivers to upgrade their standard of living. 

Back in the US, Barasa reached out to others who wanted to help, forming what ultimately became the Ember Kenya Advisory Board. In 2006, believing that the Ember Kenya Grandparents Project was not only needed, but that it could succeed, Northminster Presbyterian Church located in Evanston, Illinois, took a leap of faith and contributed $35,000 to launch the project. It also agreed to fund the project for 3 years.

The major goal of the Ember Project was to show grandparents that by working together instead of living in isolation, they could create economic opportunities for themselves and their grandchildren. Barasa wanted the grandparents to feel empowered.

In 2009, a mission team from Tokyo Union Church came to visit Ember and was thoroughly impressed by how hard the staff worked, often for very little pay, to encourage, empower, and support the elderly men and women who were part of the project. Tokyo Union Church soon became a major sponsor of Ember’s work.

In 2010, the US Advisory Board dissolved, and Ember was then on its own to raise its own money and manage its own affairs. Although the US Board dissolved, many of the former Board members personally continued to support Ember financially, as did Northminster Presbyterian Church.

Today, Ember continues to do amazing work in rural Kenya to support approximately 700 elderly men and women raising their grandchildren. To learn more, please peruse our page. Ember continues to need financial support. To donate today, visit our page titled Donate Now.