CUMMING — Parsons Gifts may be the perfect place to find holiday presents and collectibles, but many customers may not know just how far some of their money reaches.
Made from leftover material from banana trees, certain items in the store help fund Partners for Care, an organization that works to prevent children in Kenya from dying of preventable diseases and, at the same time, teach adults.
Cris Willis and husband Gary, the owners of Parsons, are U.S. board members. She has traveled to Kenya several times to support the organization.
When she decided to make her first trip, Willis said she was scared she would hear the “missionary’s calling” to stay in Africa to help the cause.
Although she felt a deep connection to the place and people, she realized her resources and contacts were in the U.S., where she likely can make the biggest impact.
“I had a calling to stay here because I can make as much money as I want here and send it to Africa,” Willis said. “My money goes so much further in Kenya than it does here.”
One way she spends that money in Kenya is through the organization’s recently developed Lifesaver Kit. Each $50 kit contains a PackH2O, or a water backpack with a plastic lining and shoulder straps used for safe and more accessible drinking water.
Instead of carrying heavy, dirty cans in search of clean water, women and children can use the water pack. Lifesaver kits also have a mosquito net so families can sleep protected from malaria-carrying insects.
A solar lamp comes in every pack to protect against toxic fumes and fire and burn hazards that come with kerosene lamps.
Partners for Care also provides job skill and computer training and literacy programs, said Connie Cheren, co-founder.
All of the U.S.-based board members and staff work on a volunteer basis, but the Kenyan staff are paid. Cheren said this furthers the organization’s basic mission — to help the people who live there.
“The best people to do the work are those who are on the ground,” Cheren said. “The value of work is so much better if they’re the indigenous” because then they won’t have to rely on Partners to continue to receive services.
Sammy Wanjau, executive director of the Kenyan staff, visited the U.S. for the first time recently. He joined the organization in 2008 and echoed Willis and Cheren in their mission to provide equipment that prevents child mortality and helps prepare adults to create their purpose.
“At the end of the day, (everyone) wants to bring food to the table,” Wanjau said. “If you’re not educated, you can’t progress in life.”
Also on the trip was Linus Ndegwa, an epidemiologist and program manager for Infection Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has served as chair for the PFC Kenya board for two years and assisted in researching the impact of the PackH2O backpacks on relieving waterborne illnesses.
Like Cheren, he has a full-time job. His employment at the CDC does not prevent him from committing a significant amount of time to the cause.
“(PFC) is doing the right job,” Ndegwa said. “We don’t want to have them wait for handouts if we give them a way to fish and continue it themselves.”
He said the hospital where PFC provide services and training used to be able to accommodate 10 mothers. Now between 100 and 150 can stay. If mortality rates are reduced in infants and young children, they can be immunized and educated. And have a “second chance.”