Trumbull church aims to help Maasai children see

TRUMBULL - Elizabeth Kalu compares her efforts at raising money for needy children in her native Kenya to facing an enormous expanse together with her spouse.

“What I’m doing right now, me and my husband, is just putting a drop in the ocean,” Kalu said.

But those drops in the ocean will hopefully turn into a flood for at least three children of the Maasai people in Kenya. Kalu, a Maasai herself, is a chaplain at the Yale New Haven St. Raphael Campus in New Haven and she has teamed up with the Christ Church in Trumbull for a virtual fundraiser this Sept. 18 to raise money for the groups Vision of Education for Maasai Visually Impaired Children in Kenya and St. Paul's Child Development Center in Bridgeport.

Tickets for the event are $8 and Kalu said that the evening’s modest goal is to raise at least a few hundred dollars. Her fellow chaplain at Yale New Haven, Jane Jeuland, is the pastor for Christ Episcopal Church in Trumbull. Jeuland heard of Kalu’s story and was eager to help.

“She said, ‘I’m going to talk to a few of my church members, and I’ll see if you can come and share your story,’” Kalu said.

Jeuland got Kalu to speak at the congregation during the Sept. 12 service, where Kalu spoke about her wish to help Maasai children.

She later explained the unique difficulties in obtaining basic medical care for the Maasai. When she was a 21-year-old teacher at a local primary school, she encountered a Maasai father dropping off his son, named Kuntai, who was blind and therefore unable to care for their animals. Kalu tried to get him medical care at a nearby health care facility. They couldn’t care for him either.

So Kalu took matters into her own hands and paid out of her own pocket to get him help at a specialized medical facility.

“I took him there. They looked at him and they realized that Kuntai had cataracts, and they were able to operate on him and the boy was able to see,” she said.

The experience further reinforced her belief that education was the key to changing cultural attitudes towards physical disability, which she said is a taboo subject for the Maasai.

After coming to the U.S. for an education, she earned a graduate degree in adult education at the University of Pennsylvania, and later became a chaplain at Yale New Haven, where she met Jeuland.

She has helped more than 20 children in the years since, but her efforts have succeeded to a point where she needs to raise funds to properly care for them. She estimates it costs at least $100 to educate a child in Kenya for a year.

Jeuland said it was crucial that any fundraising for children outside of the country was rooted in local concerns and that the people getting aid would also have a say in it.

“I always find it’s better to work with someone who is from the place and has connections here. So when I was speaking with her about her organization and learning more about it, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is perfect,’ because it’s not only a worthy cause but we also really have such a good relational connection with the person who’s actually doing the work,” Jeuland said.

She explained that the money would go to education amd teaching children how to ward off communicable diseases, which in many cases can lead to vision damage or even blindness.

The church had originally planned on hosting a live event Sept. 18, but the rise in COVID delta variant cases forced the church to change the event to a virtual one. The decision was a hard one, but Jeuland said the current situation made an in-person event inadvisable.

“We’re gonna call it with the numbers,” she said.

As for Kalu, she remembers making a promise to Kenyan parents with needy children during the summer of 2013.

“I am coming back to help your children. This is a promise,” she said.