Evelyn Kessler is the founder of ICA – International Child Advancement that has for mission to empower orphans and disadvantaged children through education, vocational training, livelihood provision and mentoring.
Afrimpact Magazine interviewed her.
Tell us about your organization and the motivation behind it?
ICA was birthed out of me recognizing that I had the opportunity to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo before the war broke out, to come to the U.S., get an education, start a family and have a career while many others were not as lucky as I was. Many that stayed behind were killed or lost everything with no promise of a future – including many of my family members. With that constantly in the back of my mind, I realized I had to do something to help orphaned and disadvantaged children who have no resources or loved ones to support them. I wanted to bring them some glimmer of hope so they can advance to a better future; not just children in the DRC but disadvantaged children around the world.
How do you impact the world through your organization?
Currently, we support an orphanage in the city of Goma situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo called GUAOA Orphanage (Groupe Uni pour Aider les Orphelins Abandonnés). There are 165 children that are cared for by this orphanage. Thanks to the support of Educational Sponsors, we have sent 54 of those children to school during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. We have provided over 22 meals for the children, we have purchased school supplies and have assisted with some of the medical expenses for children that needed to be hospitalized due to malaria, cholera, yellow fever and an operation.
Last year we helped GUAOA launch a sewing program in which 15 children are enrolled. They are learning to sew so they can either get a job at a tailor shop or start their own business. The children’s sewing skills and progress was showcased at our Empowered Fashion Show fundraiser held on April 28th 2018 where their couture was a special feature at the event. We are working toward expanding the sewing program and launching a computer training program.
Tell us about the ups and downs of being humanitarian and how do you handle that?
The challenges we face revolve not only around the fact that the children’s needs are so great but also that given our International reach and mission, we get a lot of pushback here in the U.S. since we do not yet have much of a local/national impact thus making it difficult to raise the funds we need. People prefer donating to organizations that help people in their own communities. On the bright side, there are many people who we have educated about the Congo War, it’s impact on the population and especially the young children and through that, many have become very involved in seeing that we succeed through their donations and time they spend volunteering for ICA. It is also a great blessing and a source of joy to see how our work is positively impacting the children we support by seeing them advance to the next grade, each year a child at the orphanage whom we have supported has graduated high school, many have improved reading, writing and math skills and now 15 of the children in the sewing program are learning a new trade.
What is your memorable and aha moment in humanitarian field that makes you continue doing what you’re doing?
My aha moment came when I realized that it didn’t matter that we don’t have a million-dollar budget like many large organizations out there. What sets us apart is that the children can look at me and other ICA team members and see themselves; their kin. They have the comfort in knowing that we have an understanding of their culture, what their true needs are and understand how things work in their communities thus are well equipped to address many of their challenges.
What’s the big achievement you are working on for the next coming years?
Launch a computer training program at GUAOA Orphanage.
We would like to double the amount of GUAOA children attending school for the 2018-2019 school year.
We are working on a partnership with a non-profit organization in Kenya that supports disadvantaged children being treated for cancer. We will support them from a tutoring standpoint and provide fun educational materials to keep the children occupied while they are out of school because of their treatment.
Build a home, school and training center for the children of GUAOA. This will allow every child at the orphanage to receive a free education and for them to receive training in a vocational trade they select.