A Kenya native living in Oklahoma City said the shootings at a Kenyan mall this summer were chilling for more reasons than one.
Bea Williamson, founder of Maisha International Orphanage, said she first worried about her friends and family in her homeland. Williamson said she learned most of them were safe, although the son of a family friend was killed at the Westgate Mall shootings in September.
Williamson said she then wondered if the mall tragedy would threaten the Oklahoma faith community's outreach to the Kenyan orphanage.
“I was afraid of how Westgate was going to affect future trips to Maisha International,” Williamson said recently.
The Associated Press reported that several attackers from the Somali militant group al-Shabab stormed the mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21, killing at least 67 people during a four-day siege.
Williamson said she quickly discovered that Oklahomans were just as concerned about the orphanage as she was. She said many of the Oklahomans who have traveled with her to Kenya called after hearing about the mall shootings in Nairobi.
She said these volunteers from churches throughout the metro area told her they wanted to continue their efforts to supply the Maisha International orphans and a nearby community of impoverished women and children.
Currently, an Oklahoma mission team is planning a trip to the orphanage in December, she said.
Williamson said she expects that support to be discussed at the orphanage's annual fundraiser, the “Light the Future Gala” on Nov. 16 in Oklahoma City. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, will be keynote speaker for the event which will include dinner and an auction, she said.
“It's a way of bringing our coalition together,” Williamson said of the event.
Link is strong
Williamson came to Oklahoma 10 years ago to attend college. She and her mother, “Mama Grace,” founded Maisha International Orphanage in 2007 to respond to the AIDS epidemic in Kenya.
Since 2008, more than 300 Oklahomans have visited the orphanage in Kisuma, Kenya, to bring food, clothing and spiritual comfort to the orphans and people in need, Williamson said.
She said churches of many denominations have been involved in mission trip efforts to the orphanage.
Over the years, Oklahomans have helped Maisha feed more than 500 children each day for a total of more than 10,000 meals a month. Their efforts have helped provide 165 school scholarships for youths in third grade and beyond. Williamson said Maisha has its own educational academy for children in kindergarten through second grade, with plans to add a grade each year. She said a medical clinic also has been established at Maisha.
“It's exciting because Oklahomans make that happen,” she said.
So much generosity
Williamson said Maisha has inspired Oklahomans' generosity in a variety of ways.
She said one recent example is Josie Webb, of Yukon, who just celebrated her seventh birthday. Williamson said Webb, a member of LifeChurch.tv Yukon, asked friends and family to give donations to Maisha instead of purchasing birthday presents. Williamson said the money raised through the child's birthday effort was enough to buy 200 pairs of shoes for children at Maisha.
To show their gratitude for their Oklahoma counterpart, the orphans sent Webb more than 100 letters and handmade drawings.
“I thought that was the sweetest thing ever,” Williamson said. “I don't know how she's going to find time to read all those letters.”
Williamson, who visited Kenya as recently as October, said she is looking forward to the December mission effort.
“I love to take Oklahomans on a journey with me,” she said.