Knitter shares joy of knitting with orphans in Kenya

Photo courtesy of Sharon Salmon
Sharon Salmon of Liberty helps students learn to knit at the Kakamega Care Centre in Kenya.

Judith Bradshaw Brown of Hulls Cove, a retired English teacher, took her knitting to Africa in March and April to share her skill, yarn and knitting needles with children who live at the Friends of Kakamega Care Centre, an orphanage that houses approximately 50 children in Kakamega, Kenya.

“I took tons of yarn,” she said. “I brought some of my knitted scarves to show them and they went wild creating scarves. This year we will send fabric the children can use for sewing scarves.”

The children who live at the center are cared for by two houseparents and a social worker. Only children with severe need live at the center. Many other children live with impoverished relatives. In addition to the children who live at the orphanage, about 50 more children go to the center’s dining hall for a midday meal. All the children have Friends of Kakamega sponsors.

The Orphan Project had its beginnings in 2002 when Dorothy Selebwa of Kakamega came to the United States to visit Quaker women. She was seeking assistance for a feeding program she and other women in her community had started for orphaned children. She spoke at the Durham Friends Meeting in Durham.

After Sukie Rice of Freeport, Molly Duplisea-Palmer of Stetson and Sharon Salmon of Liberty heard Selebwa talk about the orphaned children and their need, they began fundraising, which resulted in the establishment of the Friends of Kakamega organization to support the feeding program. By 2005 the effort had grown — from literally a single pot of beans — and buildings were in place and occupied by children who had no parents and needed food, clothing, education and care. The facility is run by Kenyan Quaker women of the United Society of Friends Women Kakamega.

“I immediately felt called. I realized these are our children. It doesn’t matter if there’s an ocean between,” Rice said of her decision to aid Selebwa in her cause. Rice will travel to Kakamega this summer, her tenth trip. Rice pointed out while policy in Kenya is for free education, resources are limited and parents often are asked to underwrite school-related fees, a burden many families cannot afford.

Rice said that the children she first met in 2002 are now in high school — 58 of them. Going to high school means living at a boarding school, and each student needs a uniform, shoes, books, stationery, a mattress, bedding and footlocker — and the funds to pay for those things.

“The children had no parents, having lost them to the scourge of AIDS. We had our heartstrings jangled,” Sharon Salmon said of her reaction to Selebwa’s talk. She, Rice and Duplisea-Palmer went to Kakamega in 2002 to see first-hand what the situation was. When they returned they put together a slide show lecture and “took it on the road.”

“I have never been attracted to Africa,” Salmon said of her decision to make the trip in 2002. “But Dorothy said, ‘Just come,’ and it stopped me in my tracks.”

When Salmon made a trip this spring with Brown, one of their tasks was to interview graduating students to assess what help is needed to make it possible for those young people to go to college or trade schools. “What could be sadder than to love them, care for them, educate them and then just let them go back to living on one meal a day,” she said. “So our new thrust is to find people interested in helping the high school graduates to get further education.” The trip this spring, she said, was the completion of a circle for her.

Salmon co-sponsors a high school student, Patrick. She also will sponsor, Evelyn, who will study to be a teacher.

“You can be a full sponsor or a partial sponsor. There are lots of opportunities to help a kid,” she said.

Each year the Friends of Kakamega sponsors service trips to the care center. Trip volunteers help the children with homework, practice English language with them, and engage them in activities such as sports, woodworking, dancing, singing, sewing and knitting.

Brown and her family sponsor 8-year-old Sylvia, who lives at the center, sending $300 yearly to cover the cost of the Sylvia’s education and her care. “At first, Sylvia was very sad, but when I saw her in March she was smiling, a happy girl,” Brown said. “She learned to knit. We also sponsor her brother as a home-based child.”

Twin sisters Sarah and Hannah Emigh-Doyle of Bar Harbor, after Sarah’s trip to Kakamega, wrote and illustrated “A Notebook For Nekesa.” Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Orphan Project. The cost is $10 plus $4 shipping. Copies may be obtained by sending a check to: Pennywheel Press, P.O. Box 144, Hulls Cove 04644. Information is available at

To contribute yarn for the children of Kakamega, send it to Judith Bradshaw Brown, P.O. Box 144, Hulls Cove 04644. Or drop it off at The Tool Barn in Liberty. For information or to make a monetary donation, call 288-5126 or email More information is available at
The Southern Maine Chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Inc. is sponsoring exhibits through Sept. 15 at Stitcher’s Corner, 7 Washington St. in Wiscasset. The first exhibit in the series “For the Love of Needle and Thread” features work by Suzanne Bruno of Raymond. Visit the exhibit 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The next exhibit, starting after Labor Day, will feature Jill Snyder Wallace of Minot. For information, call 882-4141.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153, or email Don’t forget to visit her blog at