It’s All about Self-Sufficiency

When Charlie Hartwell visited Kenya as the last stop on a trip around the world, he was saddened by the poor conditions he saw there but also encouraged by the warm-hearted people. “I couldn’t stand the poverty, but I love the people,” he says. That motivated him to want to help. He tried social work, and while he didn’t make the impact he wanted through his job, he did meet Jonah Kitheka, a Kenyan social worker. Hartwell, Kitheka and Hartwell’s friend Jimmy Jacobs started the organization Provide International in 1986.

For the first couple years they worked to partner US sponsors with Kenyan children living in the slums of Nairobi. They provided children ages five to ten with a nutritious lunch every day. In return the sponsors received information about the children whom their donations helped feed.

The efforts were helping, but they weren’t achieving their ultimate goal of self-sufficiency for the people of Kenya. Provide International was supporting Kenyans instead of allowing them to make their own success.Noticing the need for medical care, they added a healthcare program. Hartwell found progress on that project to be slow and at times frustrating. The locals often had different ideas about how to do business. But they succeeded at creating a clinic.

In 1995 Hartwell turned the program over to the Kenyans. He had intended from the beginning for Kitheka to take control of the Kenyan branch of the program, and in 1995 he decided to transfer all of Provide International into Kitheka’s hands. The goal had always been self-sufficiency, and the locals seemed to have an idea of how they wanted to proceed.

The US members of Provide stopped their (unpaid) work and Kitheka took over as the executive director. He now runs the organization with a staff of about 70 people. Kitheka says he has a “passion to assist the needy in the society so that they can live better lives.”

Hartwell now has limited involvement in the organization. His only role is to offer advice when asked. He is happy with where the organization is today. Hartwell went back to visit in 2006 and he said, “The biggest surprise for me was going back 20 years later and seeing what they had created.”

What they have created are five healthcare centers, one in each of the slums of Korogocho, Dandora, Kayole, Mathare and Umoja, which have served more than one million people with affordable health care. They operate one of only two ambulances in the slums. Prenatal care and testing for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and diabetes have improved overall health in the area. Provide International partners with other organizations such as Concern Worldwide and World Food Program to offer other community services. After 23 years, Provide International is going strong. Hartwell is quick to point out that his contribution was just the beginning, the spark that started it all. For him the most amazing part is that, “The success is [the Kenyans’] success within their framework.”

Provide International

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