Woman helping Kenyan orphans from afar

March 6, 2008 7:27:08 PM PST
An East Bay woman is turning her connections with Kenya into a unique charity for orphans there. AIDS has wiped out a whole generation of parents and the children are left alone.

From a small work area downstairs in her Piedmont home, Briony Bax sends out a lifeline for orphans in Kenya.

One estimate puts the number of AIDS orphans in Kenya at 1.1 million.

The non-profit she founded last summer raised $12,000 dollars between July and December and $20,000 dollars in the first two months of this year alone.

"It's myself and my laptop and that's about it," says Bax.

Her Orphan Support League is unique, funneling donations to an orphanage in Kenya through Bax's aunt in England.

"I send the money to my aunt who sends it to her friends who run an orphanage directly so we have a secure pipeline for the money, because in Kenya that can sometimes be a problem with the corruption and sending money over," says Bax.

Bax's aunt, Anne Mitchell, was born in Kenya where her father was building roads. Mitchell's mother died when she was four, her father when she was 16. She ended up in Scotland but remained passionate about Kenya and knew something about being an orphan. She stayed in touch with childhood friends who founded two orphanages and did lots of fundraising to support them.

"But then she got very sick and we thought she was going to die and I thought, 'oh my gosh, if she dies who's going to help those children in Kenya?' So I thought well I better start an organization here," says Bax.

Bax decided to set up a non-profit.

"So I went to talk to a lawyer and he said,' well you know it's going to cost you some money to set it up, $10,000 dollars.' And I said 'Oh I'm not going to pay that. That's ridiculous.' So I got a book for $69 dollars, worked my way through it, set up a 501(c)(3)," says Bax.

The Orphan Support League has no overhead, never sends out mailings or brochures. Bax relies entirely on word of mouth and e-mail. Her husband covers any incidental expenses.

The money supports 35 orphans at the Saidia Children's Home in Gilgil, about 80 miles northwest of Nairobi.

It also provides one warm meal and a multivitamin per day for homeless children in Gilgil's red light district.

And Bax is expanding her reach.

"People really want to give when they know their money goes directly to a cause," says Bax.

Alameda resident Diane Davis was a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Kenya from 2001 to 2003 when her neighbor died. Davis started helping with the four children that mother left behind.

"They weren't just any kids. They very much became my family when I was there," sas Davis.

School is not free in Kenya. She raised $8,000 dollars by e-mailing friends and family to send them all through high school.

Bax was inspired by Davis' story and the league is now matching whatever Davis raises to send them to college and vocational schools.

"People do like the tax deduction and if they write a check to me they don't get the same tax deduction," says Bax.

"What do you think are the lessons?" asks ABC7's Heather Ishimaru.

"The lessons are, if you see an opportunity, grab it. If you have an idea, go with it. And don't be afraid, don't be shy, just grab it because they don't come along very often," says Bax.

Bax is looking forward to her first visit to Kenya, and the Saidia orphans, this summer.

To learn more about the Orphan Support League or to make a donation, visit www.orphansupportleague.org.