Quilts for Kenya: An Intergenerational Service Project to help Sunrise School for Learners with Autism

Quilts for Kenya: An Intergenerational Service Project to help Sunrise School for Learners with Autism

Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai, once told a story about a little hummingbird who, although she was very small, could bring one drop at a time to help put out a forest fire. “I will be a hummingbird,” Professor Maathai said. “I will do the best I can, no matter how overwhelming the challenge.” The story of the little hummingbird became the inspiration for the creation of Sunrise School for Learners with Autism in Mumias, Kenya.

In Kenya, there is a traditional belief that giving birth to a child with disability is a “curse,” possibly a punishment for something a parent may have done wrong. As a result, many parents are ashamed of their children with special needs, and these children have frequently been neglected or sometimes even suffered abuse. They may be hidden away, marginalized in Kenyan society, and are often unwelcome in schools. Appropriate educational opportunities for these children are scarce in Kenya, and these are the very children served at Sunrise School.

Edwards Church (Framingham, MA) Associate Pastor, Karen Nell Smith, said, “I was introduced to this project by my cousin, Wanda Salter, who first learned of the plight of children with special needs in Kenya when her family traveled there on a church mission trip in 2016. A speech pathologist in the Vermont school system, she brought her concerns back to her home congregation, Christ’s Church, UCC, in Saxtons River, VT, and with their support and that of a number of other churches in Vermont, she and her Kenyan colleagues have created one of the country’s only schools specifically for children with autism. It’s truly been a Spirit led endeavor."

The members of Edwards Church joined in an intergenerational service project last winter to make ten warm quilts and blankets for the school’s new dormitory. The quilts are the work of many hands, each contributing their bit to the project. The children traced their hands on squares, other folks cut squares; some color- coordinated the material and designed the quilt tops. Others lovingly stitched the squares together and added the binding. Another member crocheted a baby blanket, and the children tied fleece baby blankets. The quilts were hand-delivered in June, each with a message attached, “To Sunrise School, Mumias, Kenya, with love from Edwards Church, UCC, Framingham, MA, USA.”

At the Congregational Church of Christ in North Leominster, members have also worked together to make quilts with children’s handprints and sew cases for their donation of reading glasses for Sunrise School. These were blessed and presented to the School’s Director when she visited the United States in 2018.

dwards Church continues to develop its relationship with the school. The congregation has “visited” by zoom, meeting its director and learning more about how the school teaches its students in the classroom, gardens and chicken coop. Edwards is also supporting the school’s recently created Hummingbird Scholarship Fund to help children from the neediest families to receive an education there. Edwards children’s penny jar offering will go to the fund this month, as we share pictures and stories of some of the students.

Like the story of the little hummingbird, Sunrise School is small and facing overwhelming challenges. Its teachers and leaders believe that each child has the potential to grow and learn when given individualized instruction with dignity and care, They are deeply committed to seeing each one succeed to the best of their ability. Like hummingbirds, we, too, can be part of making a difference in the lives of these children.

For more information about Sunrise School contact Wanda Salter or Karen Nell Smith.


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Karen Smith

The Rev. Dr. Karen Nell Smith is currently serving as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach at Edwards Church, UCC, in Framingham, MA.

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