Saving the ‘street boys’

Brian Ash, left, stands with Madam Terevinah “Terry” Nyamwange and Pastor Robert Nyamwange outside of an orphanage in Keumbu, Kenya. In between them stand three boys — Melikzadeck, Astarico and Daniel, who they helped rescue from the streets of Kisii as part of ARRIVE in Kenya, a private organization that aims to bring volunteers from all over the world to help orphaned boys and girls Kenya. On the right, in the background, is part of the temporary structure where the 16 boys sleep. On the left is part of a kitchen Mr. Ash helped build.

Brian Ash, left, stands with Madam Terevinah “Terry” Nyamwange and Pastor Robert Nyamwange outside of an orphanage in Keumbu, Kenya. In between them stand three boys — Melikzadeck, Astarico and Daniel, who they helped rescue from the streets of Kisii as part of ARRIVE in Kenya, a private organization that aims to bring volunteers from all over the world to help orphaned boys and girls Kenya. On the right, in the background, is part of the temporary structure where the 16 boys sleep. On the left is part of a kitchen Mr. Ash helped build.

In Kenya, extreme poverty forces hundreds of thousands of orphan boys and girls into the streets — without food, clothing or shelter, as young as five years old.

Brian Ash, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield High School, has adopted 25 of these orphans to help bring hope to a region devastated by mass violence and disease.

“They come from homes where they were either abused by their parents or their parents died of disease, or their parents just moved away without them because they couldn’t afford to provide for them,” he said. “Most kids can’t even find a place to sleep, or find clothing to wear — they become beggars on the streets and live to beg; anything to get food.”

Mr. Ash has been living in west Kenya since June and has no plans on coming home anytime soon.

He is the co-founder of ARRIVE in Kenya, a non-profit organization that adopts orphans and educates them.

“Most of these orphans have to go to work immediately and school isn’t even an afterthought — they accept early on that they will never be educated,” he said.

ARRIVE is also promoting health, community development and long-term economic growth by building a permanent orphanage and a school in the village of Nyaturubo,  outside the city of Kisii, in the Nyanza District — the district with the highest rate of disease in Kenya.

Brian Ash, RHS 2009, plays with a fourth-grade student named Wisdom, whom he adopted as part of ARRIVE in Kenya.

Brian Ash, RHS 2009, plays with a fourth-grade student named Wisdom, whom he adopted as part of ARRIVE in Kenya.

Mr. Ash, who graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder in May with a degree in economics, has seen his organization make giant steps since he co-founded it with Pastor Robert Nyamwange in 2012. But he needs help.

“We are trying to help kids who come from the roughest of backgrounds, who don’t even have clothes on their backs when we find them,” Mr. Ash said. “We want to prevent them growing up on the streets and provide them with a safe environment to just be a kid.  Most, if not all, of these kids don’t have that opportunity.”

An orphan boy recently tried to hide in Mr. Ash’s taxi in Kisii. The boy was trying to be brought to the Emmanuel Lights Academy, the school Mr. Ash volunteers at with Mr. Nyamwange and his wife, Terrivinah.

“Every time in Kisi, there are 15 or more street boys beg me to take them with me,” he added. “There are so many more in desperate need of help and that’s why we want to expand. We want to adopt more kids and we want to help everyone, but we won’t be able to until we get the money to expand.”

While all the orphans need food and clothing to survive, Mr. Ash says “we try to give these kids as much love as we can because that’s what they need as much as anything else.”

Mr. Ash was inspired by his grandmother to go to Africa last summer, where he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and biked with friends in South Africa, in addition to volunteering in Kenya.

When he finally arrived back in the states on the last day in July, he had found his purpose in life.

“I knew from the moment I started over there that this is what I wanted to do — I thought, I have to help these people,” said Mr. Ash, who has been learning Swahili for the past year.

His parents, Vivian Epstein and Jeff Ash, recall their son’s fundraising ventures in high school including a  cross-country bike trip from Georgia to California and an international bike ride from Amsterdam to Barcelona. But nothing impacted him quite like Kenya.

“Brian always had that streak in him, an adventurous side that was always calling him,” Jeff Ash said. “I remember how excited he was to go over to Africa — he had all these plans. In Kenya something really clicked for him and his passion for helping others took over.”

Ms. Epstein adds, “the experience last summer gave him a real appreciation for life; it gave him a purpose.”

Socio-economic problems that have ravaged Kenya for decades, including domestic and ethnic violence, disease,  drug abuse, and a weak economy, have led to extreme poverty.

“Most people don’t get to see that and when Brian came back, he was already thinking of the future and what he could do over there,” Mr. Ash recalls.

While some children are abandoned, others flee to the street to find work and escape from disease or violence at home. The “street boys’” lives aren’t any better.

“It’s tough to know about what they’ve done to survive but most have them have started to sniff glue,” Brian Ash said. “There are no jobs to be had here, so there’s no way to make an honest living here.”

This is where drug addiction develops.

“Glue kills thousands of kids a year — not grown adults, kids,” Mr. Ash said. “It’s extremely dangerous and a growing problem here. They take it because it numbs the body to everything and allows them to not feel tired or hungry or cold, even if only for a few hours.”

Mr. Ash said “We knew we wanted to construct an orphanage last year, but I didn’t know about the street boys until I came back this year,” Mr. Ash said. “It changed my perspective on the situation here even more.

“They live on the streets anywhere from two to six years, if not longer.”

ARRIVE has adopted 14 street boys. The rehabilitation process takes weeks, Mr. Ash said.

Once acclimated to the orphanage, the children go to school from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday mornings. They learn English and math.

“The difficulty for a lot of them is that they’re going back to school for the first time in five years,” Mr. Ash said. “Education is the only way out of the extreme poverty here and they know that so they’re more than happy to go to school.”

Pastor Robert believes his organization is striving for more than just providing a classroom education.

“The moral growth of the children is just as important as the educational growth — we want them to have good character and to feel good spiritually,” he said in a phone interview from Nyaturubo. “That way they can go out and impact the world in a positive way.”

Mr. Ash’s long-term aspirations include having an orphan from each of the 42 domestic tribes in Kenya.

“Ethnic violence and disease are the most prominent causes of death in Kenya so if we can have a kid from every tribe living side by side, peacefully together with each other, then that would be our greatest achievement,” he said.

Mr. Ash would also like to establish a scholarship program for his students to attend trade school.

“It’s unrealistic to send them to a four-year university but sending them to a one-year trade school after they’re done with high school is very much a possibility,” he said. “This will give them a way to earn a fair living and have a leg up on everyone else in the country.”

The Emmanuel Lights Academy ranks first out of 13 local school in test scores — a measure of ARRIVE’s  progress in the region.

Mr. Ash’s ultimate vision is having ARRIVE become sustainable.

“These kids won’t forget where they’ve come from,” he said. “Our hope is that they pay it forward and take in other orphans when they’re older. We don’t need to push that or emphasize it. I know that it will happen naturally — they will know to do it.”

The grassroots organization has a four-person board of directors including Mr. Ash and his mother, who are the president and secretary, respectively.

James Hale is the director of architecture design and David Ippolito is the director of fundraising. Both graduated with Mr. Ash from the University of Colorado in May.

In April, the three graduates raised over $2,000 in one evening at a school fundraising event called Karaoke for Kenya.

“It was the first fundraising event and it went really well,” Ms. Epstein said. “Huge credit to all of them, they did an amazing job and they are all so enthusiastic.”

The company was incorporated in Texas in May.

ARRIVE must now get approved as an American tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Mr. Ash and his mother have filed the application with the IRS and hope to hear back soon.

“When we become an official, tax-deductible non-profit, it will be like becoming a major league baseball player after a year or two in the minors,” Mr. Ash said.

Mr. Ash’s parents encourage people to read the stories on www.arriveinkenya.com and look at the photos that have been posted.

“People can still donate through we’re not exempt yet,” Jeff Ash said. “Every day something is getting accomplished over there and our goal is to continue to improve the lives of these young people in whatever way we can.”

To get involved, “you can sign up to volunteer or you can sponsor an individual child attending the school,” Ms. Epstein added. “Sponsoring is an on-going commitment but we encourage those, who have the financial resources, to get involved in something really spectacular and life changing.”

“When you see the photos and hear the stories, it makes everything worth it,” she said. “Seeing all the poverty and the life on the streets, it really puts things into perspective about we have here.”


To donate, visit arriveinkenya.com or make a check out to ARRIVE in Kenya and send it to 102 Stonecrest Road, Ridgefield, CT, 06877.  For more information, call Vivian Epstein at 203-438-7634 or email her at [email protected]

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