BY NANCY R. HILLER
“Ever since high school I dreamed of living in Africa and working at an orphanage,” says Nikki Reising. At the age of 24, she is already well on her way to realizing that dream.
Reising visited Kenya in 2010 while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management through the IU School of Public & Environmental Affairs. At the trip’s end, students had an opportunity to see more of the country. “It was a touristy kind of thing,” she recalls. A 20-year-old sophomore at the time, and the only undergraduate in the group, she was more interested in finding a way to help those in need than in seeing the sites. When a fellow student told her that 80 children were living on the streets of Bungoma, a rural town in western Kenya, Reising got straight to work.
It was August when she arrived in Bungoma — in Kenya, the traditional month for circumcisions, usually performed on boys at the age of 13. “A lot of them were asking me to pay for their circumcisions,” she says. This would enable them to have the procedure done at a hospital instead of in circumstances where they would risk infection and disease. She told the boys she would need their parents’ permission. When several took her to their former homes, she found that parents were often divorced and that step-parents had moved in with their own children and pushed out the homeless boys. Other children had been orphaned due to AIDS or traffic accidents on the pothole-riddled, single-lane roads.
With nowhere else to go, the boys moved onto the streets.
Many sleep on shop porches or in charcoal storage huts. “When they wake up, they go straight to the street to beg for food,” says Reising. Some find day jobs such as loading rocks into vehicles, setting up fruit and vegetable stands, or cleaning shops. Pay is so low that they search for food scraps in the town dump. Some sniff glue, staying high all day.
Reising befriended many of the children, playing soccer with them and learning about their lives. They asked her to help them find homes and go to school.
Back in Bloomington the following month, Reising started Children of Bungoma. Over the next two years, while working as a direct care staff person for LIFEDesigns, she obtained nonprofit certification for Children of Bungoma in Indiana and in Kenya. She is currently seeking 501(c)(3) status from the IRS so that donations are tax deductible. With help from volunteers she has staged fundraisers in Bloomington and Gary, but much of the money has come from her own pocket.
In 2012, before graduating with her degree, Reising spent six months in Kenya. She rented a three-bedroom house for her start-up orphanage, which is now staffed by two adults. An education director works with local schools to ensure the boys, age 10 to 17, are receiving an education. To stay in the house, they must be drug free, an achievement that Reising says “took months and a lot of discipline.” The children also work in a backyard garden, growing fruits and vegetables that help feed the household. There is no plumbing and water for drinking and cleaning comes from a well on-site.
Today the house is home to 10 children who used to live on the street. Reising continues working toward her goal of providing a home and schooling to all of Bungoma’s children who hope for a better future.