What started as a one-off missions trip to Kenya in 2013 has turned into a continuing effort to meet physical and spiritual needs in one small town in the East African country.
Charles and Stephanie Pienaar, founders of Hope for Kenya, Inc., are planning their fifth trip to Mwatate, Kenya, from June 12-25.
They are hoping to take a group with them, as well as $4,179 in donations raised at a Valentine’s Day fundraiser held at his business, Omega Training Center in Unity.
“Every dollar raised goes directly to the church we work with over there,” said Charles “Charlie” Pienaar, 33, of Latrobe.
Hope for Kenya’s partner in Mwatate is a nondenominational church known as Jesus Palace of Praise. The church’s leadership identifies the needs in the community and relates them to Pienaar, who organizes trips to Kenya once a year.
Mwatate is about a two-hour drive inland from the coastal city of Mombasa and about a six-hour drive from the capital Nairobi, he said.
Since 2015, the Latrobe nonprofit has helped fund the construction of five two-room houses, provided support to a primary school and facilitated the sponsorship of 30 children, Pienaar said. Sponsorships of $150 a year help children with school fees, uniforms and books.
Hope for Kenya also is focusing its efforts on providing potable water to the church and two schools. Working with the church provides accountability and ensures that specific needs are being met, Pienaar said.
“The church is an inlet to help the community. In order for the community to receive help, they have to work with the church,” he said.
While in Kenya, Pienaar, a minister at FirstBorn Church in Latrobe, also holds evangelistic meetings and baptisms.
Pienaar’s interest in Africa dates back to when he was a child growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa. He and his family moved to the United States when he was 8, settling in Westmoreland County. He attended Penn-Trafford High School, while his wife attended Greater Latrobe Senior High School.
The two met at Slippery Rock University in Butler County and got married in 2005. They have two daughters. Pienaar owns Omega Training Center, where he also is a personal trainer.
When the couple traveled to Kenya with a church group in 2013, they had a feeling they would be back. They returned on their own in 2015, the same year they founded Hope for Kenya.
“We fell in love with Kenya — the people and the culture — and we saw such a huge need that we just wanted to go back,” he said.
Pienaar said he was struck by the beauty of the country and the people, but also by the poverty. One focus of Hope for Kenya’s outreach is women and orphans who have lost their husbands and fathers to disease, drugs and alcohol, and workplace accidents, he said.
This year, the group’s goals include sponsorship of two schools, construction of one or two more homes, continuing support for the church and additional child sponsorships. A medical clinic also is in the planning stages, Pienaar said.
“There are people thousands of miles away who love and care for them,” he said.