Kindness bridges distances. Just ask the Rev. Joseph Oloimooja.
The nonprofit Kindness Mission he founded in 2009 has helped breathe new life and hope into a remote Kenyan village more than 8,000 miles from the Southland.
The village of 2,000 people, Eluanata, sits near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Tanzanian border in the Maasai region of Kenya, about 100 miles south of the capital city, Nairobi. It was Oloimooja’s birthplace and, like much of the country, has experienced significant challenges, including limited access to education, clean water, and medical care.
All of which inspired Oloimooja, 43, rector for the past six years of Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Los Angeles, to do something about it very early in life.
At just nine years old he left home, determined to get the education unavailable to him there as “a shepherd boy, watching over cows and bulls. I left the village and went to live in a little town about 30 miles away, which at that time had the only school.
“I registered myself and had to find people to stay with,” he recalled. “So I found some boys and walked around with them and would go to their homes.”
It was the beginning of a dream he has since nurtured and describes in a 2011 self-published book titled Angels Walk Among Us: From Every Tribe, Kindred and Nation.
The book traces his path from Eluanata to Los Angeles and to Christ the Good Shepherd where, until recently, he served as rector.
Now he is “co-rector,” recently switching roles with the Rev. Edith Oloimooja, to whom he is married, so he may devote more time to fundraising for the Kindness Mission and helping the people of Eluanata. The couple has five children, ages three years to 19, he said.
First a school, then a well, now a clinic
Eventually Oloimooja completed his education at the Bible College of East Africa and returned to Eluanata. At 19, he started the village’s only church; he also aimed to assist village children with their dreams of schooling.
“With the donations of kind people” he said, he helped build an eight-room schoolhouse in 1991 that opened with a handful of children. Now, it has 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and is “the first and only primary school run exclusively by the Maasai people in Kenya” with an integrated Western-Maasai curriculum sensitive to the village way of life, according to Olooimoja.
Managed by a 12-member committee of men and women appointed by members of the village, the school seeks to empower the community while engaging them on a global level. Tuition costs about $300 a year and teachers are provided living space on campus.
Students ages 4 to 13 are taught in the Maasai, Swahili and English languages, and the well-rounded curriculum includes mathematics, geography, history as well as participation in soccer, volleyball and other sports. Since 1999, more than 300 students have graduated from the school; most have been able to continue their education in various parts of Kenya with assistance, he said.
A lunch program provides a nutritious meal to students five days a week. “Sometimes we don’t have any food to feed the students. Without this food program most students would not be able to attend afternoon classes, as many of them live in villages five miles away from the school.”
In 2000, Oloimooja moved to Los Angeles and earned a master of divinity degree at the Claremont School of Theology. Since 2004 he has served as a spiritual care manager at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in the South Bay. A year later, he became canonically resident in the Los Angeles diocese, transferring from the Anglican Church in Kenya.
With the completion of a 720-foot solar-powered well in the extremely dry region, yearly deaths from cholera, hepatitis and other diseases caused by lack of clean water and sanitation have been eradicated, Oloimooja said.
“About 25 kids per year used to die and we never knew why, until a study showed it was because of water-related disease,” he said.
“As of July 2015, not one death due to drinking contaminated water has been reported,” he said. “Additionally, more than 4,800 people were positively affected, including those from neighboring villages. The local water is now the main source for irrigating vegetable crops. The well also provides a source of revenue that is being used to increase the quality of life in the village, including education, medical care and healthy eating.”
He said: “I learned a lot from Kaiser Permanente about the importance of giving back to my community, I took it to the street, wrote a book and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to build a well of clean water for my village, and it has saved a lot of lives.”
‘Angels Walk Among Us’
Oloimooja wrote about the kindness of strangers who helped him throughout his life.
He self-published his book and sold it out of his car, eventually raising funds to build the well.
“I came here to go to school, I never knew anybody, but there was a stream of people who reached out and came alongside me and supported me every step of the way.”
He says that some names familiar in the diocesan community are among those “angels” mentioned in the book, including Bishop Jon and Mary Bruno, Secretary of Convention Janet Wylie, and Meghan Tumilty, director of the diocese’s Interfaith Refugee Immigration and Resettlement Service (IRIS), who helped Oloimooja become a U.S. citizen.
That, he said, inspired the book and the Kindness Mission, a nonprofit he created in 2009 as an umbrella agency for his work in Kenya. One hundred percent of funds raised through the mission go directly toward its work, he said.
And his dreams keep growing.
Recently, Kaiser awarded him a $10,000 grant to help drill a second well in a nearby village; he hopes to find other donors to assist his efforts to raise the $35,000 needed to build a second well. The award recognizes Kaiser Permanente employees who champion outstanding activities and initiatives to positively impact health, locally or abroad.
Additionally, Oloimooja hopes to add a boarding program as well as secondary education to the school’s offerings. And there are other needs: for textbooks, which are currently shared between students, as well as computers and toilets. He hopes to find sponsors for students, at a cost of about $25 a month, as well as visitors to travel to Kenya with him.
“Latrines are being shared by boys and girls due to lack of funds to build toilets for both genders. The cost of a toilet is just $3,000,” according to the mission’s website.
Oloimooja also dreams of staffing a newly-constructed medical clinic. “We just finished building the clinic, and we are looking for funding to hire people to work there,” he said. “We are looking for nurses and trying to work with the government of Kenya to get some nurses because the nearest doctor is 70 miles away.”
During a planned Sept. 2-14, 2016 trip to Kenya, he hopes to purchase donkeys to help with water transport, to alleviate the challenges faced by women from the village.
“The focus of this trip is to teach community health and to drill another water well for a neighboring village,” Oloimooja said, extending an invitation to the entire diocesan community to consider joining him on the journey.
“All are welcome. There is an opportunity to go on a safari and enjoy the African savannah while making a difference in people’s lives.”
For more information about Kindness Mission, contact Oloimooja at 323.687.2167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.