2018 HUMANITARIAN AWARD HONOREE
Founder, Lewa Children’s Home
A nurse. A teacher. A community leader. A businesswoman. A role model. A dreamer. But most importantly, Phyllis Keino is a mother.
The number of orphaned children in Kenya has always been high, with families at the mercy of economic hardships and diseases, like AIDS, eradicating communities. In 1964, Phyllis fostered her first five abandoned children from the Borana Community in Isiolo where she was working as a nurse. She welcomed them into her home, raising them alongside her own seven children. But she didn’t stop at five. One by one, her home grew and grew until she no longer had enough space.
Phyllis moved her entire family to Eldoret, Kenya in 1972, and six years later in 1978, the Children’s Home was officially recognized by the Kenyan government. Originally named the Kip Keino Children’s Home, the orphanage was situated on a modest parcel of land that was not-suitable for her goal of growth and self-sustainability. Phyllis was generously offered 500 acres of farmland on the Lewa Downs Conservancy, which was paid for in full by the late Father Paul Durra and his sister Rita, and her nearly 40-year dream began to take shape. A brand-new facility was constructed from the ground up, and in 2003, the renewed Lewa Children’s Home opened its doors.
For the last 50 years, Phyllis has been a mother to thousands of children who have been rescued from the streets and hospitals in Eldoret. Taken in lovingly by “mum,” she chooses the most unwanted children; the ones who are in the worst physical condition; the ones with trauma and medical conditions that require around-the-clock care; the ones who nobody wants and will surely be left behind. They become her children.
Lewa Children’s Home provides orphans and vulnerable children with food, shelter, medical care, a first-class education, and a caring family environment. But it’s so much more than an orphanage. Their facilities include Kipkeino Primary School, one of the best schools in the country. Here, children living in the Home are given the chance to study alongside children in the community, offering them the same educational opportunities and allowing orphans to integrate with children from traditional families. School fees and uniforms are free of charge for all of the children in the Home, and more than half of their students join prestigious national schools while others go on to secondary school, country schools and private schools.
In addition, Phyllis founded the Baraka Farm which provides nearly all of the food for the Home and Kipkeino Primary School including fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. The surplus of product, mainly cheese and yogurt, is sold at the local market to help pay for basic utilities and expenses that the children depend on. In recent years, Phyllis also started a social enterprise that includes a cheese factory, cheese shop and a home for visiting guests. Each of these initiatives are designed to provide training to the children and income to the Home, slowly making Lewa Children’s Home a fully independent and self-sustaining operation.
For as long as she’s able to take care of her children, she will. Phyllis is providing more than an education and a place to sleep—she is providing a family to children who need it the most. It’s no wonder all of Lewa’s “graduates” still call her mum.