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  • Mango Mama

    Social work alumni bring relief to orphans

    Homepage photo: Julie is a single woman who cares for her four grandchildren.

    Lindsay Onufrock (’03, social work) and Timothy (TJ) Erhardt (’03, social work) met in MSUM’s social work program. “TJ was the cute guy who was always late to class,” Lindsay said.

    Lindsay learned about Kenyan culture in an anthropology class and traveled to Kenya in the summer of 2002. “It changed my life,” she said. Upon graduation, she invited TJ to accompany her on her second visit to Kenya. He reluctantly said yes.  

    “We fell in love there and knew Kenya would always be a part of our lives,” TJ said.

    Last July, the Erhardts (now married eight years) moved to Africa to help build a baby house for orphaned infants, which eventually fell through. Many people might have quickly returned to the comforts of America, but the Erhardts, undeterred, remained in Kitale, Kenya, to change a small piece of the world.  

    Below is an interview with Lindsay about her experiences.

    How did you get involved in orphan care?

    Orphan care has been a ‘calling’ since I was young. During my first trip to Kenya, I volunteered in the Homeless Children’s International (HCI) program, which provides basic necessities and education to street kids living in Nairobi. I’m thankful for that experience as I appreciate what we have now.

    What instilled your desire to help the children of Kenya?

    I met 13-year-old Priscillah in Kenya in 2002. I sponsored her by paying her school fees and living expenses and began what is now a 10-year relationship. TJ and I supported her through high school and she is living with us in Kitale. It’s been the most inspirational journey of my life.

    What project you are working on?

    I went to Kipsongo slum outside of Kitale the first week we arrived. It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. I had never been exposed to such poverty. We found a girl, about the size of an 18-month-old, who was almost five and on the brink of starvation. We brought her to the hospital. The bill was $53. I blogged about her and encouraged others who may want to help pay her bill. I’ve received $3,000 since that post. As a result, we formed a nonprofit called “The Jua Project.” Jua is the Swahili word for “hope” and “sunshine.” Our goal is to be “Jua” in the slums to help pay for emergency medical care for orphans.

    How are you engaging with the widows and single moms in Kipsongo?  

    Kenyan women are very vulnerable. A widow’s husband’s family has the right to take all of her personal belongings, her land, and sometimes her children. People who live in extreme poverty carry a self-centered attitude—to survive. We are dreaming of a safe village for these women to live communally, to work to sustain themselves, to share their resources, and to raise their children safely.

    How do you keep pressing on amid the challenges of extreme poverty?

    Daily life here is a humbling experience. The slums, poverty and starvation are rampant. But, there is much hope and much joy. These hard-working men and women love their families and make great sacrifices for their children. They want to build a better community.

    What is daily life like?

    We live in Kitale, Kenya, pop. 75,000. We have running water, electricity, wireless Internet, a stove/oven, refrigerator and microwave! Twenty-four hour security guards patrol our gated community. We get most things here but at triple or more the price. Transitioning our children to a Third World country has lots of challenges—eating my cooking, learning Swahili, and adjusting to new boundaries to protect them. We are so thankful for their resilience.   

    What are your long-term plans?

    TJ and I will return regularly to Kenya to ensure that The Jua Project is running smoothly. Our goal is to empower Kenyans to help themselves.

    Lindsay writes a blog at

    “Not everyone is called to do mission work or live in another country, but I believe we all have a role to play,” she said. “I hold firmly to James 1:27—“…look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I hope mangomama inspires others to “be the change” in different ways, large and small.”