Hekima Place gives girls a place to grow
Hekima founder Kate Fletcher wondered what her life would hold after her the death of her husband. Living in Pittsburgh’s South Hills, she had no idea that she would find peace 7,000 miles away in Africa, a third world country.
Kate gave away her furniture and car and in 2003, Kate traveled to Kenya to volunteer at an AIDS orphanage. She soon became concerned about other AIDS orphans, those who were not HIV infected, but living in slums from the consequences the disease brought to their families. Female children became her main concern as girls weren’t offered opportunities to grow and be self-sustaining as boys.
Her efforts were rewarded with housing provided by a Kenyan couple. As Hekima Place, the first refuge for girls opened, Kate returned to Pittsburgh and initially raised $30,000 to help cover expenses to maintain her safe haven.
Support to provide a future for the girls now comes not only from donors in the U.S. and Kenya, but churches and organizations in Canada and Europe. HP has grown from educating 10 girls in its humble beginnings to caring for 70. Kfhas a bachelor science degree in education from Duquesne University and a master of public health in administration health care from the University of Pittsburgh.
Completed in Dec. 2010, Hekima’s Place has a permanent home located outside Nairobi. A security gate and guard now welcomes volunteers, Kate, her staff and the young girls to a complex of six cottages, dining hall and land for its shamba (garden) and orchard which grows vegetables and fruit, and raises chickens, cows, goats and a donkey. Recently, a water purification system to serve HP and other areas was completed.
HP is governed by a U.S. Board of Directors based in Pittsburgh and a Board of Trustees in Kenya. The Majority of Funding is provided by individual donations.
Children are our future. It doesn’t matter if they are our neighbors or living at the ends of the earth. By showing love and providing lifeskills and education, young people will continue to thrive.
In Africa, girls are not cared for as their male counterparts. Believed that their sole purpose is to bear children, girls are not given benefits and opportunities, including education, that boys receive.
Hekima Place in Kenya, Africa, was founded in 2005 by South Hills resident Kate Fletcher. Kate believed in the great need to introduce girls to opportunities and positive experiences and to show love to girls who live in a country torn by war, poverty and disease. Hekima Place (a place of wisdom) provides a family-like environment and education in local schools, empowering each girl to face her future with confidence. The orphanage has come a long way in such a short time.
The mission of Hekima Place is to serve the needs of Kenyan girls orphaned primarily of HIV/AIDS. By providing a safe, faith-based, loving home HP supports excellence in education and empowerment for their futures.
One young Hekima girl, Grace, had two younger sisters. Their mother died in 2005 and the sisters had no place to go. Fortunate for them, the girls were taken to HP to live and attend school. Grace completed primary and high school and will soon attend the university. She has been grateful for not going to bed hungry, for never worrying where she would sleep at night, for clean clothes and for the care her sisters are receiving.
Hekima girls live in cottages with a staff “mum.” They help with the cleaning and dishes, enjoy singing and dancing and attend church services offered by Jesuit Father Jim. They are bused to school and those with extended families often visit between school sessions.
Volunteers are always needed. Men and women offer their time and talents to do whatever is needed to benefit the girls and babies through schooling. Willing hands repair broken utilities, labor in the gardens, teach computer skills, assist with homework, join the girls in soccer, wipe away tears and ease mental and physical pain. Through this kindness the girls strive to reach their greatest potential and know that love bridges all cultures.
In a search of volunteer opportunities, Mt. Lebanon resident Lorraine Bridy contacted Kate after reading about Hekima Place in The Almanac. Months of planning had her finally on her way, not really traveling alone. Lorraine’s grandson provided her with “Flat Stanley,” a whimsical 1964 kid’s book companion which made the roundtrip journey.
As a surrogate mom, Lorraine did what she could, helping with homework, tending to the girls’ needs, the garden and orchard and any way needed.
“After six weeks in Africa I realized that Hekima Place bestows its gentle, disciplined wisdom on everyone who touches it: the gardeners, house mums, staff, volunteers and especially Kate and the girls,” said Lorraine with a smile.
Support with prayers and donations have changed many lives at HP, whose girls may have previously dealt with the death of parents, mental and physical abuse, extreme poverty or social stigma.
Kate recently met with 500 entrepreneurs during the recent Social Innovation Summit at the United Nations Building in New York City. She will visit the South Hills in August.
Learn more about Kate and Hekima Place at Bower Hill Presbyterian Church on Aug. 18, St. Valentine Church on Aug. 25 and at a fundraiser at Scenic Valley Golf Club in Finleyville on Sept. 10.
Donations for Hekima Place are accepted by Kathy English, Treasurer-Hekima Place, 407 Morrison Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15216.