You met Fred Maina, 18, several months ago in our magazine in an article profiling local foreign exchange students. Fred was the ambitious, spirited teen who earned straight-As at HSHS and also managed to do quite well on the wrestling and track teams. He traveled around to places like Washington, DC and Disneyworld; he celebrated his 18th birthday here by having his very first birthday party, complete with presents and a photo booth. After making enough memories—and friends—to last a lifetime during his 10 months here, Fred returned to his native Kenya at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. It was a tough transition, but thanks to the generosity of his American host family and our community, upon his return, his family back home received an incredible gift.
It all started when Fred’s host mom, Kathy DeSarno, posted a simple message on social media. She had an idea. Local friends who had met Fred, and even those afar who had seen pictures and read stories of his amazing experience in the US had been telling Kathy they wanted to help him somehow. So Kathy did some research and conceived a project that would impact him and his family in a very real, tangible way.
Fred and his four younger siblings live in a small house with no stovetop, no electricity, no running water. They cook on a “jiko,” which is a portable clay stove of sorts. In fact, they share a basin for baths and have to fetch water in 22-liter jugs, which costs them money each and every time they get it. Fred’s schooling is expensive—about $800 per year. Kathy started fundraising for enough money that would pay for Fred’s remaining schooling, thus allowing Fred’s family to install a water tap in their home. In addition, the DeSarnos were able to purchase brand new tablets for each of the children in the family, equipped with age-appropriate apps, screen protectors, headphones, and extra storage. Thanks to a grant, there is now Wi-Fi at their school and the kids will be able to access the internet. Their world just got a lot bigger.
But it doesn’t end there.
As donations poured in, and 300 “shares” later, it became apparent that Kathy’s original goal did not quite match the amount of heart people here had for Fred. To date, enough money has been raised to allow Fred’s family something truly incredible: they will now be able to own their very own piece of land. Instead of renting from a wealthy landlord, they will become homeowners. The beautiful, full-circle nature of this story is that Fred had been awarded the opportunity to live and study here in the US in the first place because of his strong application for a Department of State scholarship. Before he even arrived in the US Kathy spoke to friends about this young man’s vision. Nearly half of Kenyans live below the poverty line. The gap between the haves and the have nots is a large one. Fred had big ideas for his home country and changing the living conditions of his fellow citizens. Fred knew that his experience as a foreign exchange student in the United States would further inspire him and help him hone his vision. Now, for the first time ever, his family will be able to call a piece of Kenya their own.
“Fred is a good kid that has a heart of gold and an uplifting and positive vision for the future of Kenya,” Kathy says. Of course the DeSarnos are ecstatic about all the support their friends, friends-of-friends, and beyond have extended to Fred. The real honor will be all of ours, however, as we see what becomes of Fred…of Holly Springs.
Update: A water line has been established to the Maina household and indoor plumbing has been installed. They have picked out a piece of land where their house is to be built, which should take eight months to one year. To follow Fred’s story, you can read regular updates on Kathy’s fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/28fcx784
Special Note from Fred
I just wanna give my host family a special thanks for a wonderful year with them. They were more than just parents to me and I treasure every single moment I had with them… they will always have a special place in my heart and I miss them. Thanks to Mum & Dad for such irreplaceable love. ~Fred