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0000017c-83f8-d4f8-a77d-b3fd0d820000Just before the pandemic shut everything down, WNIN's Steve Burger traveled to East Africa to learn more about a deep and lasting connection between Evansville and the people of Kenya. This story has many layers, inlcuding an unlikely meeting in the dead of winter in Chicago, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Signature School and the village of Ekerenyo in Southwestern Kenya.Thanks to a partnership with the Youth Cafe in Nairobi, producer Angela Noi also contributed to this series.

The Amani Connection- A Health Scare and Final Thoughts

Karin Heinicke

Some disturbing news prompts discussion of the future of the Amani Center.

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

I interviewed retired Aldersgate pastor Lynn Renne in February, just before she was due to leave for another trip with a medical group to Kenya.  Something was wrong. Lynn was having trouble speaking her longer sentences.  We were talking about how students at Signature School first got involved in the project.

“So they started the process of raising money, they got some architectural drawings from locally here in Evansville. They started raising and raised enough to start breaking ground and building the library, which is now called the Amani Reading Center. I’m sorry, I can’t talk because of this thing in my throat.”

That thing in her throat was cancer. Lynn would not be making another trip to Kenya, at least not now.

Steve: “Nineteen trips to Kenya, but now, this year something is different, can you talk about that?”

Lynn: “So, yeah. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a lump in my neck, which is where the lymph nodes are. After Christmas I had some tests done. The last needle biopsy came back and the diagnosis was Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.”

Steve: “Have you contemplated not ever going back to Kenya because of this?”

Lynn: “Yeah, I knew that at some point, that would happen. I told them that I would keep coming  back as long as I could get my wheelchair up the hill, so they know that there’s going to be an end point to this. I’ve kinda’ been planning for this for a long time. Little by little, I’ve been trying to teach other people how this is done. The people in the village can handle a medical camp on their own. Many of them have been doing it for eight years, ten years. They can do it for themselves. They just need the resources and encouragement. That’s been the goal anyway, is that we’re not needed there.”

Steve: “So, operationally, you’ve prepared yourself and the organization for this, but what about personally?”

Lynn: “I guess I just don’t want to think- it makes me sad to think about it, that if I won’t be back. I just want to keep that hope that I will be. But, like I said, I’ve got tons of memories and tons of pictures and if it’s not to be, I’ll keep that in my memory.”

Credit Karin Heinicke
An eyeglass fitting during the February medical camp at the Amani Center.

We’re happy to report that after treatments and testing, Lynn’s cancer is in remission. There are no specific plans right now, but she may yet make trip number twenty in support of the Amani Center.

One set of voices we haven’t heard from yet, but who are deeply invested in the success of the center, are the McClary twins- Michelle who attended Signature School and was involved in the gala productions, and Sydney, who attended Castle High School. Because of their family’s connection with the Mageto’s, they’ve been involved for as long as they can remember.

“This is Sydney. For our fifth birthday party, we asked for books to be donated to the reading center. When we were five years old, we didn’t realize we would be part of it now.”

“ This is Michelle McClary. I gave a speech to the Rotary Club, so I’ll read a little bit of it. 'Another impact this project bestows is youth development. We allow young people like ourselves to be part of such an impactful journey. Students are able to work alongside professionals on our board to nurture communication and leadership skills, teamwork and to build a heart for helping other people. These people are the reason this organization has grown.'”

“I’m Sydney McClary. I just think there’s some form of strong connection with everything, like with Lynn, Peter and Clement. I mean, It’s been going on for years and I think that’s the root of it. You meet Lynn, you meet Peter, you meet Clement and you think, now I really have to be part of this. Also, from July of 2019, I also spoke at that Rotary event. 'As the professional aspect is a bonus, that is not the only reason I chose Amani Partners. I will put it simply. The opportunity to serve others and travel to Kenya changed my life. Putting it into words is difficult, because if you have not been to Kenya, you cannot comprehend the vastness of the land and beauty of the people.'”

Peter had a dream. Let me see what I can do. The takeaway from this ongoing story is that Evansville did what Evansville does. A family needed a home and we gave them one. And then we made their dream our own and supported it with a fierce and lasting loyalty. The story of Peter Mageto Maiko, Lynn Renne, Aldersgate Church and Signature School is not a new one for our community, but the global impact of this Evansville story continues to widen. The final chapter of The Amani Connection may never be written.

In order to peel back the many layers of this story, I interviewed Lynn Renne for nearly two hours. At the end, I asked her to sum up her experience in sixty seconds.

“You meet a young Kenyan, and somehow you and a group of people connect with him and you work toward a dream that he had and then some. A library is built, water is brought in, cataract surgery is begun. Health care is given, and then you’re planning on a system to make that sustainable.

I guess from the time I met Peter Mageto until now, my experience has been one of not being afraid, take chances, follow your ideas, just not be afraid to make a mistake. Step out and have fun trying to do something. In the process, meeting a bunch of amazing people, see a different part of the world and see it so powerfully by being in the trenches with them and feel a sense of accomplishment of partnering with smart people on the other side of the world, and then looking back on it saying, that’s a wrap.”

We want to note the passing of one of the people who was instrumental in getting the Amani project off the ground in 2004. Jim Coy of the Beacon Group, died in May at the age of 81 at his home in Evansville. With the press of COVID-19 coverage, we had put off interviewing Jim earlier in our reporting. It’s sad to think that now we can’t include the wisdom and insight of such a key figure in this story.

We want to thank the Youth Cafe in Nairobi for loaning us producer Angela Noi who created one of the segments for this series. We also want to thank Isaiah Ayonga, also known as Kelvin Music, for the original music in the audio version of this series.

We want to thank Karin Heinecke and Wes Milner for their contributions and overall knowledge of the Amani Center Project that helped make these stories so much richer and enjoyable.

The Amani Partners Kenya website is also a wealth of information on the past, present and future of the project.

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