Photo: Felix Carroll
Nina Chung, with Br. Alex and their mother, Christina, during a visit in June to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
She Probably Will Not Save the World, But ...
During a trip to Kenya in 2005, Nina Chung met these two boys, James and Joseph. When she learned they were not being properly educated and cared for, Nina purchased school uniforms for them and enrolled them into a high quality school. They are shown above on their first day of school back in 2005. Caring for the two Kenyan boys served as the impetus for the founding of Elimu. Today, James is in eighth grade working towards graduation and moving to high school next year. "He's a good B+ to A- student, and we have high hopes for his ability to pass his national primary school exams in November," says Nina. "Good marks on that will assure him of a top quality high school and a real chance to make it to university! Something not one member of this family could have even hoped for before."
Nina, shown at Nyumbani Kwetu, the children's home that now supports 14 children.
Here's a graduate of the Heri Ministries Sewing Project, run by a local Kenyan, a Christian for whom this is her ministry. The Project takes girls 15-to 25-years old from rural areas, teaches them to sew whilst also imparting positive Christian life skills. Elimu got involved to sponsor some of them for the two-year program, then on graduation provides them with a sewing machine. They are taught how to start and run their own small sewing business. The woman above has built her own workshop and started her own sewing business outside of the town of Malindi.
The original mud hut school that Elimu set its sights on in 2010.
By Felix Carroll (Jul 11, 2013)
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., each year. This is the latest in a series in which we ask Shrine visitors what brings them here. Meet Nina Chung:
By her own estimation, Nina Chung will not save the world. She's realistic, an excellent quality for someone intent on bettering the lives of as many people as she can.
Also by her own estimation, if God wanted her to be a great evangelist, He would have fired her by now. Preaching isn't her calling. Nina's case is a classic example of how actions can speak louder than words.
Indeed, when it comes to following Christ's demand that we show mercy to our neighbors, Nina pretty much took it literally beginning back in 2004. While volunteering in Kenya for an international development group, she introduced herself to an elderly woman who lived a few doors down from where she was staying. That encounter proved a turning point for Nina who would eventually abandon her lucrative marketing career in Canada to form a non-profit organization called Elimu.
Nina is the sister of Br. Alex, a Marian seminarian preparing to profess second vows in August. She and their mother, Christina, visited Br. Alex last week at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., where we caught up with them and asked Nina to share about Elimu's works of mercy
How to Break the Cycle?
The elderly woman to whom Nina introduced herself back in 2004 was a grandmother. Though poor herself, the grandmother had been left to care for several of her grandchildren who, more or less, were abandoned by their parents. Sadly, the situation is common particularly in poor regions of Kenya (and around the world, for that matter). In the grandmother's case, several of her daughters have had children born under different fathers.
"Women look for a male head of the household to get them out of poverty," explains Nina, "and that often ends up being a temporary relationship that brings a child into the world. And the cycle of poverty continues as the mentalities and behaviors are passed down. My getting involved with this family was really my desire to break this chain of that ongoing type of behavior."
When Nina heard the grandmother's story and met her two grandchildren — a 4- and 6-year old at the time — she paid the children's nursery school fees, which were the equivalent of $15 per child, a small expense, but more than the grandmother could pay. Eventually, the grandmother ended up becoming the caregiver of 14 of her grandchildren, who are now 9- to 19-years old.
In the first four years of knowing the family, Nina assisted them on an informal basis, but it eventually became apparent that she couldn't do it alone. In 2010, she founded Elimu, which means "education" in Swahili. A not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization based in Canada, Elimu focuses its efforts in the town of Malindi, Kenya, and a small village in the outskirts.
Keeping Siblings Together
The first order of business was to establish a healthy, stable, nurturing home for those children and to have the grandmother and one of her single daughters move in to manage it. The house has since been established. Elimu sponsors the family.
As Nina explains, before Elimu got involved, life was uncertain for those children. There were days when there was no food on the table. "Today they get a good daily portion of healthy local fare," says Nina. "Schooling was irregular and poor quality. Today they are in a variety of good quality private and public schools with the additional support of two teachers who provide tutoring and mentoring."
Those strides have even greater consequence when considering the alternative. The once-stable political, social, and economic conditions in Malindi, a coastal town withering on the tail end of a tourism boom, are being wracked by violence, power struggles, drugs, alcohol, and the sex trade.
"The goal is to give this family options not to fall into that lifestyle," says Nina. The way to "break the chain ... is to provide them with education and the environment that will allow them to benefit from that education: feeding them, hygiene, medical care, and spiritual growth."
Elimu hopes the home they established — called Nyumbani Kwetu — can be replicated for other families.
"The goal is to keep siblings together and have a family member care for them," Nina says.
Elimu's Focus Widens
In addition, Elimu has taken on two other projects. One is called the Heri Ministries Sewing Project, which supports young women in Malindi. Elimu finds sponsors to support the young women as they attend a two-year sewing college. Upon graduation, Elimu arranges for the young women to receive their own sewing machine. In Kenya, anyone with a sewing machine and the skills to operate it can open a business, says Nina, "which allows them to do something very unusual: to stand on their own two feet."
Even something as seemingly simple as sewing skills has ripple effects, Nina says. "Once you can stand on your own two feet, you can help feed and clothe and educate your family."
The third project is a nursery school in a village on the outskirts of Malindi. Elimu built the school and set up its administration such that the school is now self-funding. About 120 children are now being educated there.
God, the 'Weaver'
Elimu is non-denominational. There's no denying, however, that its work is informed by faith. Nina, a practicing Catholic, says God continually gives her confirmation that she is doing the right thing. How else to explain the many people who lend their time, talents, and/or financial contributions to keep Elimu operational?
"People come. God provides," she says.
In her own spiritual life, Nina says she has increasingly and willingly given her life over to God. Brother Alex has provided a little spiritual nudging along the way. When her marriage was irrevocably falling apart several years ago, Alex invited her to take a spiritual retreat. On that retreat, Nina felt God doing two things:
"One, He was asking me to give up certain attachments, especially to romantic involvement," she says. "And two, He gave me a very clear vision of Himself as the weaver of my life. He showed me the various strands of my life that were scattered in the dust, and He gave me the trust that He was going to bring all those strands together."
For now, clearly those strands are being bound into a tether connecting a wounded world to the Merciful Lord.
To learn more about Elimu, visit elimu.ca.