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ICA: A Mission to Empower

Stephanie Wetzel, Intern

International Child Advancement (ICA) was founded to help serve children in need and to empower them through education as well as equipping them with the skills that will help them succeed in the future. ICA works to raise global awareness of children who were orphaned through the violence occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and to encourage the sponsorship and support of these children. The organization dedicates its work to the GUAOA Orphanage, located in the Kivu region of the DRC in Goma, and holistically supports the needs of the orphans living there through educational, nutritional, medical, housing and vocational resources and support. Sponsors and financial support from the public can grant these children the opportunity to further their studies in school and/or develop valuable skills through vocational training. Through the creation and implementation of programs that ICA has to offer, such as the vocational training programs in sewing and computer training as well as Pen Pal and Mentor programs, the organization equips children with specialized skills and academic support to become self-sustaining individuals once they reach adulthood.

Vocational training, like the Sewing program, teaches skills that the children can specialize in and can later use to financially support themselves once they leave the orphanage.

Originating in New York State, ICA is able to make this mission a reality through the help of a team of volunteers and through the direction of its founder, Evelyn Kessler, who is of Congolese descent. In addition to their work with ICA, most of the volunteers and ICA Board Members work full-time jobs. This commitment and dedication proves just how much ICA’s volunteers truly care about the organization’s mission and making a difference in children’s lives. Sarah Nderitu is one of many highly active members of ICA who was also recently announced as a new member of the ICA Board. She describes the organization’s mission in her own words: “ICA is a non-profit which focuses on underprivileged children across the globe through educational programs like vocational training, computer training and mentorship, to mention just a few. Through these initiatives, the children are empowered and given the tools to help them become independent. They are elevated and their lives change for the better,” she said. “They find hope, which [for] most of them might have [been] lost through the hardships of losing their parents as anyone can imagine.” Nderitu was born and raised in Kenya, and faced many challenges while living there, some similar to those the children face in the GUAOA orphanage. Her hardships have not only led her to help with ICA, but have also inspired the organization’s partnership with Hope For Cancer Kids--Kenya. The Hope for Cancer Kids--Kenya organization supports affordable and quality healthcare for children suffering from pediatric cancer.

ICA Board Member, Serah Nderitu (left), and ICA Founder and Executive Director, Evelyn Kessler (right), attend the ICA-sponsored Empowered Fashion show. The Empowered Fashion Show is just one of a variety of fundraiser events ICA hosts and organizes to raise support and awareness for the organization's cause. The fashion show features designs from local boutiques as well as styles created by the children of the GUAOA Orphanage in which the organization serves.

Since its beginning in 2016, ICA has set many short and long-term goals, some of

which they have achieved and others they strive toward for the future. Some of these goals include giving underprivileged children the opportunity to succeed not only through financial support, but by being able to teach them a skill that will benefit them now and in the future. The organization is proud to share success stories of children who have not only completed school and graduated, but also hold skills and certification in sewing through the completion of the vocational program. Through the organization’s continued growth comes the additional goals to further expand and develop these vocational programs as well--such as connecting the children of the orphanage with up to date machines for sewing as well as materials and supplies.

While the organization remains proud of all of the accomplishments of the children in the orphanage, there are still many challenges. The organization holds a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to raise awareness and help support the children in the DRC. In order to attend school in the DRC, children must pay a trimester tuition and purchase a uniform. For those children who do not have a family to support them, school is not an option for them without financial assistance from outside help. Unfortunately, fundraisers alone are not enough to send every child in the GUAOA Orphanage to school. ICA offers programs that match an orphaned child with a sponsor who supports the child’s year of tuition for school. Sponsors are a huge reason why ICA has been this successful. The sponsors that are involved cover school fees for the children, including uniform, tuition, and other school supply costs, and are the reason they are able to receive an education. ICA is always looking for ways to spread awareness for the need for sponsors in order to send more children from the orphanage to school. “What I have realized is that sometimes it’s not that folks don’t want to help,” Nderitu said. “They are just not aware of challenges other folks are going through outside their community.” This rewarding experience is one of many ways donors can support ICA and these children. In most cases, sponsorship gives these children an opportunity that they otherwise would not have. The children of the orphanage view education as a privilege, and without the help and support of sponsors, a lot of these children would not have been given this privilege.

Corporate sponsorship and donations, such as the one made by WNY Dental Group in 2018, help support the children of the GUAOA Orphanage.

ICA will be hosting a variety of events and programs this summer and fall to continue support of the organization’s cause. Some upcoming fundraisers include: Alex and Ani Party (July 20), Back to School Drive (August 24), and Fashion at the Daily Planet (Setember 21). ICA will also continue to support the children of the GUAOA Orphanage through a series of projects taking place within the DRC. ICA’s Pen Pal program, in partnership with Buffalo Prep, allows students in Western New York to connect with the orphaned children of GUAOA and bring real-world issues to light for young minds. The program also exposes its participants on both ends of the world to other cultures while also allowing them to expand their knowledge on subjects such as social studies and language arts. It gives children a chance to improve their writing skills while also learning about another country’s lifestyle.

The children of the GUAOA Orphanage rely on educational sponsors to support them through their academic endeavors. From school supplies, uniforms, and tuition costs, every donation is appreciated--no matter how small.

ICA’s Founder Evelyn Kessler, who is from DRC, had a lot to say regarding the mission of ICA and all that the organization has accomplished so far. “Our end goal is to ensure that the orphans and underprivileged [children] we support become self-sufficient. We accomplish this by paying their tuition so they can attend school (K-12), providing them with vocational training opportunities so they can either start their own business or get employment [and] we pair older children with U.S. mentors and support their nutritional, medical and day-to-day needs,” she said. Since this organization was founded, she feels that ICA has been very successful with accomplishing their mission. In the three years that the orphanage has been open, two children have graduated from high school. One of them is currently employed and donates food to the orphanage as well as mentors some of the children, and the other is enrolled in her second year of college and volunteers at the orphanage on the weekends. These are just two success stories out of many more to come in the future.

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor to a child in need, please visit our "Support Us"page at: .

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