University alum working to meet the needs of orphans in Africa

4/17/2008 | By: Adrienne Goetz  |

Imagine: It’s almost five o’clock in the morning; the sun hasn’t risen over the horizon yet. You get up, crawl out of your potato sack and fetch water from the river. You bathe, dress and have a cup of chai tea for breakfast, then begin your one- to two-mile walk to school.

After class, you walk home and begin your evening chores. You bring in a load of firewood; your younger sibling lies in a sarong across your back while you help prepare dinner. After a meager meal, you catch up on homework, put your younger sister to bed, wash your uniform and then go to sleep.

This is a typical day for a six-year-old African child in Kenya. According to Avert, an international AIDS charity, more than a million Kenyan children became parentless in 2005 due to the AIDS virus. University graduate Daniel Lipparelli is seeking to change these solemn numbers.

The 28-year-old from Sparks, Nev., graduated from the University in 2002 with a degree in social work. In May 2006, he started a not-for-profit organization in Kitale, a small agricultural village in the country’s western region. Lipparelli first went to Kenya with his brother, who knew of a children’s refuge in need of help. The Nevada alum later returned to Kenya to make a difference, and Transformed International was born.

Lipparelli and his staff created a community-based model to help meet the needs of widows and orphans living in an East African republic with less than 45 years of independence. Most of the 118 children helped by Transformed International are living with relatives, but more than 20 have no family or have been turned away by relatives and live in an orphanage. His goal is that family or a caretaker is empowered to help raise that child in their own home. For the cost to the community of putting one child in an orphanage and caring for them, the organization can support three children.

“We seek to create a more cost-effective way to meet long-term needs,” Lipparelli said. “We are trying to create long-term, community-based models that can be taken to other third-world countries.”

Kenya’s per capita gross domestic product is $1,600 with an area slightly more than twice the size of Nevada.

Lipparelli established Transformed International to transform cultures. His strategy is twofold: first, to meet the needs of widows and orphans in third-world countries by providing a way for them to support themselves and their families; and second, to bring in young adults from more developed countries to challenge their sense of culture.

“I lived in a mud hut for a year-and-a-half,” Lipparelli said. “I got tired of seeing the money of other people misused and corrupted by the government, and the people who are taking it.”

He said he is asking people in Reno and throughout the world to help raise cultural awareness. “We are going into primary schools and speaking to student bodies about orphans,” Lipparelli said. “We lead them through a typical day in a child’s life. We put a backpack on their back to simulate caring for a younger sibling, let them carry a bucket of water and other activities to show them what it is like to live in Africa.”

Another Transformed International goal is to help the many women and children become self-sufficient. The organization has taught those it cares for to make handmade crafts like necklaces, sculptures, and oil paintings, which are packaged by Lipparelli and sent to the United States. The products are sold by a team of six in Reno. The teams host house parties where a video of their experiences is shown and the crafts are sold. Every penny earned goes back to the person who created the product.

“Transformed International does not hand money out,” he said. “If the children are sick we take them to the doctor, if they need food we give them food. We exist to meet the needs of the people. We give gifts to the widows so they can start a small business to care for their children. Because of this, I can report at the end of the year that every penny was accounted for and none of it was lost due to corruption.”

The effect Lipparelli and his team’s efforts will have on Kenya is still unknown, but he is energized to make a difference in his community and in the world.

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