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A man who changed philantropic game


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A man who changed philantropic game

John Green founder of Testimony Faith Homes in Eldoret, with his wife Esther Green, display a wedding phototaken in 1971. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Today, out of the 800 students in his Eldoret-based school, 130 are studying for free and others are in various colleges and universities. The children get a stipend.
  • Mr Green was brought up in hardship.
  • He was first adopted by a childless couple, then taken to an orphanage and later became a missionary in a Bible College.

The story of Eldoret town can never be complete without John Green. At 81, he sits outside his school, Testimony, not just as the founder, but a man who has given dignity and hope to hundreds of homeless children. Hundreds call him dad, having known no other father since they were one year old.

“I had no intention of starting a children’s home when I came to Kenya in 1968,” he says.

It was while he was working with a small mission under the Anglican Church that two boys caught his attention; a 12-year-old and 6-year-old.

Both living on the streets and intoxicated, one started hitting his leg on a rock until it broke.

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“In the hospital, he shared his story on how his parents had been killed by relatives because of a land dispute and they were left homeless. I asked them if they would like to stay with me and attend school and they agreed,” says Mr Green.

Two children turned into 28, that he decided to build them a school. He built Testimony School next to the children’s home in 1981. He first started with nursery school which also opened its doors to the public. Two years later, he expanded it and set up a primary section and in 1994 built a secondary school.

Today, out of the 800 students in his Eldoret-based school, 130 are studying for free and others are in various colleges and universities. The children get a stipend.

Mr Green was brought up in hardship. He was first adopted by a childless couple, then taken to an orphanage and later became a missionary in a Bible College.

“I never knew my father. But I can remember my mother made me conscious about God even though she did not teach me about Christ. At 15, I was adopted and later joined missionary work,” he says. It is only seven years ago that he met his elder sister, now 82, for the first time. His daughter traced her aunt in Scotland, reconnecting them.

What gives him joy is seeing the over 400 street children prosper and start families.

“Many have come and gone, and they still keep in touch. That is proof of a family spirit. It shows that this is working even if it is a small way,” says Mr Green.

When he started, he struggled to buy the Sh590,000 seven-bedroom home to house the children. “I remember someone gave me a Sh5 coin which I paid,” Mr Green remembers.

Fifty two years later, they own four cottages where they house the children. A biological father to three, he says he strongly felt it would be ideal to live with the adopted and orphaned children as a family under one roof.

“What a child who has lost a home needed most was to have a home and a family to relate to, to be loved as if they were family. I asked my wife, ‘will we treat them separately or as our own in the same house?’ We agreed to bring them to our own home and become part of our family and love them as we love our own,” he says.

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They adopted a model where they lived together as an extended family, which was not easy at first. Esther Irungu-Green, his wife, says it is not easy to parent children hardened by street life. At some point, it almost cost their marriage.

The couple met while she was teaching in Machakos High School in 1970 and married the following year.

“I used to treat the children like a strict teacher and that was how we clashed. I remember, one day I threatened to leave. Later, I gradually understood that I was their mother. Since then, we have lived happily,” says the 77-year-old. But it is never easy to manage a children’s home. In most cases, they rely on “God’s grace and the goodwill of well-wishers.”

“The government has never given us a single coin for any child. We have not asked any church, individual, government, or organisation for assistance. We have always gone down to our knees and asked God to help give us our daily bread and if you truly believe it always happens,” says Mr Green, who together with his wife has adopted seven children.

He recalls a day when it was almost lunchtime and there was no food.

“The children were hungry. In the morning, we had prayed for money to buy food. Five minutes to 1 pm, one of our boys came home with six Mercedes Benz in tow, filled with food. They had big sufurias full of steaming vegetables and other foods. I asked them why they came. One of them said some women were praying in a church the previous night and God told them to prepare a meal and take it to Mr Green,” he says.

He may have hang up his boots, leaving one of his sons to run the school, but he worries of talks of shutting down children’s homes in the wake of scandals affecting some orphanages.

“I want this place to be remembered long after we have gone as a place that touched many hearts,” says Mr Green, adding that “homeless children need a lot of things. First, they need love whether they are good or bad. They need discipline that is not slavery. They also need to find hope for the future. If they don’t they will go back to the streets.”

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