If Matthew 25 is translated to mean the importance of having the right attitude leading to the right action, then the calling for Margie Stead is exemplified in this bible verse.
Stead, who has had multiple sclerosis for more than 35 years, has the right attitude. It’s aimed towards the right action and uses all of those skills and her inner-strength to front a group called Matthew 25 Outreach Inc. from her wheelchair.
Matthew 25 was formed in 2009 to raise funds to build and operate an orphanage and school in Ramba, Kenya, a village located about 90 minutes outside of the city of Kisuma.
“My niece Jeanette (Howat) went to Kenya in 2009 with her husband and when she came back, we were talking, and she said to me, ‘we have to do something to help these people,’ ” Stead said.
“She told me about this person — Newton Atela — who had started Gideon’s Orphanage in literally a mud hut. When she described it to me, it was terrible. I knew then we had to do something,” she said.
Atela was catering to underprivileged children who were sick, dirty and hungry. The surroundings he and his wife Caroline were trying to work in were truly Third World conditions. They were operating in mud and animal feces within a hut with walls made of the same materials with some grass and sticks mixed in.
But each day they would show up, work with the 35 children they had at the time and try to give them an opportunity they otherwise would not have received.
“The conditions could only be described as abject squalor at best. It was inconceivable. The only support they got was a small amount from the Government of Kenya,” Stead said.
“So when Jeanette brought the idea to me, I am sure people thought, what is Margie going to do? Here she is in a wheelchair with MS. Well there is nothing wrong with my mouth, so I got on the phone and started asking people for help,” she added.
She raised $1,800. They forwarded the money to Atela and he, in turn, got a host of supplies and food to help the children survive.
“They thought they died and gone to heaven. An example of why is that it was the first time any of them had eaten chicken,” she said.
So with a deep faith and a small group of people ready to do what they could to make a difference Matthew 25 Outreach Inc. was born.
The mission statement was derived by the Bible verse Matthew 25 and the group operates as a non-profit organization based in Newfoundland and Labrador that supports orphans and widows in Western Kenya.
After that first success, more needed to be done, so the group Stead had assembled in Newfoundland and Labrador and a second group located where her niece and husband lived in British Columbia, worked together to lay out a plan for fundraising endeavours to help build a real school for the children and along with other necessities required to help them get ahead in life.
Those fundraisers included a Christmas project which raised $7,000 in 2018. From that money Atela was able to secure mattresses, mosquito nets and seeds for maize (corn) and beans to help feed them year-round.
In addition, the group has held St. Patrick’s Day fundraisers at Corpus Christi Parish Centre, an afternoon tea featuring local entertainment that raises money through sales and donations.
In May, the group hosts a Ladies Night, also at Corpus Christi that features a dinner, local entertainment and a silent auction. It usually garners around $10,000 that goes into an account to help send Matthew 25’s monthly installment to Kenya.
Each fall, in October, the group hosts a walk around Mundy Pond which raises several thousand dollars towards the project.
It also gets help and donations from community groups such as the Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus, churches and various councils throughout the region who all ante up.
“An example of what can be done with the will to do so was proven by Shamrock City in Goulds, who set up a donation box at the front door at Christmas and raised more than $800 for us,” Stead said.
“It makes a person feel good, knowing that $25 could make a huge difference in the lives of someone half a world away. When we show those who donate what a difference that money makes, they feel good … and we can see it in their faces, too,” she said.
Proving how much of a difference those funds can make came to the ultimate fruition three years ago.
Matthew 25 raised enough money to dig an artesian well on the site, not only for the residents of the orphanage and students of the school, but it allowed all the residents of the village of Ramba to have access to fresh water.
“Newton (Atela) called me and told me how special this was. We were both in tears on the phone talking about it,” she said.
“He told me that if our group had done nothing at all for them, the well would have been more than enough as it truly was life-changing for them.”
The villagers had to walk six kilometres, one way each day to a stream for water, water that was brown and likely carried a host of bacteria and disease … and then carry it six kilometres back to the village.
But the well now allowed all access to safe, clean water without the exhausting trek.
Prior to the well, a six-room school was constructed, a brick structure with concrete floors, windows and desks and all the fixings that make it a real school.
It houses nearly 250 students from the orphanage. An additional 200 children from the village make their way to school each day. Not a bad increase from the humble beginnings with 35-students just 10 years ago.
“Newton is big on education. He knew the children weren’t getting any education, so he set out to make sure as many as he could (enable) would go to school,” Stead said.
“Not only do they now get an education, they also get fed every day, something they didn’t get in the past. They get topics like math, literature and learn everything in English,” she added noting their native tongue is Swahili.
She said Atela has secured local teachers to work in the school and through his work and guidance, the students are excelling in the classroom in addition to sports (soccer). In fact some students have already graduated from the school and gone on to university, showing the depth and success of what is being accomplished in a short period of time.
For Stead, she has to watch these successes from afar as her MS and its complications won’t allow her to travel to see it first-hand. So she relies on the power of technology and good old-fashioned photos to see the work that is being done.
And there are smiles on the faces of the children as they pose for each and every photo that makes its way back to her front room in Goulds.
Those who want to know more about the group, lend a hand or donate to the charity, can do so here or email to email@example.com.