SALT LAKE CITY — In the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, 89 children sleep every night, mostly on the floor, crowded into a two-room house.
And for many, it may be the best thing that's ever happened to them. At least they're staying with someone who cares about them.
The man who cares has been visiting Utah in recent days. Steve Kyalo is making the rounds to church groups, asking for funds to support his makeshift orphanage.
"My goal is to help 1,000 children before I die," Kyalo said. "That's my plan."
He said there are 1.5 million orphaned children in Nairobi, 90 percent of whom lost their parents to the ravages of AIDS.
Kyalo is a familiar figure to many Utahns who have gone to Kenya on LDS missions. What they didn't realize for years, according to returned missionary David Jensen, is that Kyalo was quietly taking starving orphans off the streets and giving them hope. The missionaries believe Kyalo has supported the orphanage using his own meager income derived from wood carving.
"It's absolutely a marvelous fact," Jensen said, "that he has taken that much energy and his own resources to provide for children."
The woodcarver converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 20 years ago, but Jensen said Kyalo kept his orphanage quiet for years and never asked for money.
His wood carvings are popular with missionaries. He specializes in creating works with Christian scenes. The most popular are depictions of Noah's ark, complete with pairs of animals, and a nativity scene.
Kyalo said the orphanage had its start when he was touched by seeing orphaned kids in the slums of Nairobi.
"They are actually in the streets and they are begging for something to eat," Kyalo said. "They want something just to put in their mouth, something to cover their stomach. So I decided, 'Let me take these children to my house so that I would be able to stay with them and try to feed them.'"
As he took in more and more, he rented a two-room house and a tin shack in Nairobi to use as a school. He even pays the teachers.1 comment on this story
Kyalo's Nazarene Orphan Center has only a few beds. Most of the 89 children currently living there sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. Toilet facilities are primitive, according to Jensen.
"That is as humble as you'll find any place," Jensen said. "It's almost like the slums."
Jensen is helping Kyalo raise funds in Utah. He set up meetings with officials of Overstock.Com and the company agreed to help out. They plan to sell Kyalo's wood -carvings through Overstock's non-profit arm, Worldstock.Com.
Meanwhile, an account has been set up at Zions Bank for contributions to the Nazarene Orphan's Center.