A small act of kindness led to a significant change, though Ben Hardwick never expected the end result.
Hardwick, a Penn State student, took to the social networking website, reddit.com, after hearing the story of a Kenyan orphanage worker named Omari who had been attacked by burglars with a machete.
Hardwick (senior-recreation parks and tourism management), who was studying abroad in Kenya at the time, posted a photo of Omari on Jan. 27 asking the online community to help raise $2,000 to finish building a wall around the orphanage.
In less than 17 hours, Hardwick said $65,000 was donated — and within a few days, that grew to $83,000 and, eventually, its current total of $85,000.
“The entire experience still feels surreal,” Hardwick wrote in an email, due to limited phone access in Africa. “My experiences in Kenya have made me appreciate the things in life that I once took for granted.”
Hardwick said he first heard of the attack from two volunteers at the orphanage. They explained that because the fence surrounding the orphanage was in disrepair, intruders easily entered the compound at night. It was then that Hardwick felt he had to contribute in some way — so he took the Internet.
Within a few hours of posting the story, donations “started to pour in,” Hardwick wrote.
Since the money was raised, Hardwick wrote construction of the orphanage’s wall would be completed this week. They have also changed the locks on the doors of the orphanage, hired security guards to watch the orphanage at night and provided food and medicine for the children.
In addition, Hardwick writes they hope to purchase 18 new bunk beds for the children so they no longer have to sleep on mattresses on the floor.
But this is not the first time that Hardwick has worked to better the lives of Kenyans.
Hardwick wrote he wanted to study somewhere that would “challenge” him, so he first studied abroad in Kenya during the spring of 2010. Hardwick and a few friends came across a “wooden-shack of a school” as they were preparing to climb Mt. Longonot, and after seeing it, the idea to begin the Longonot Education Initiative was born.
The Longonot Education Initiative is an organization that focuses on supporting and developing educational opportunities for children in Kenya. Within the NGO, there are several projects available to help children, such as a daily lunch program, a de-worming program and a clean water initiative.
Hardwick wrote that eight years ago, a woman named Mama Mora began the Faraja Children’s Home in Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum. Since that time, they have been evicted and displaced five times because they could not afford to pay the rent.
Because of the hardship faced by the children of Kibera, Hardwick wrote the main initiative of the NGO is to purchase the land for the Faraja Children’s Home.
“We never want Mama Mora to worry about or see another eviction notice,” Hardwick wrote.
Ashley Meeder, who met Hardwick on campus, said though she’s not directly involved in his fundraising efforts, she keeps up-to-date with Hardwick’s latest accomplishments.
Hardwick often shares stories with her about the people of Kenya, Meeder (senior-international politics and Asian studies) said.
Meeder said everything Hardwick has accomplished is simply “inspirational.”
“I think it’s pretty great,” Meeder said. “It’s really inspirational to see that one person or a few can make such a big difference.”
Hardwick, who is currently studying abroad in Kenya again for the spring semester, wrote that although life in Kenya is different from life in the United States, it is still an experience to be cherished.
“I returned simply because I missed the daily pleasures and frustrations of the country,” Hardwick wrote. “I have discovered that someone like me, a relatively broke college student, can dramatically impact the lives of the less fortunate with a little bit of effort; especially with the help of Internet and social media.”
But Hardwick’s reach isn’t just international — Isaiah Martin met Hardwick through working at the Waring Dining Commons on campus.
Martin (senior-biological engineering) said he’s seen firsthand Hardwick’s dedication to the people of Kenya, through NGO as well as numerous fundraisers held while Hardwick was on campus.
Martin added that although Hardwick met Omari by chance, it led to a series of events that truly changed people’s lives.
“I think it’s absolutely remarkable,” Martin said. “He didn’t go over there with any purpose; he just happened to see these people in need and decided to do something about it.”