You never know when you’re going to meet the people who will change your life. For Jen Kyna one of those meetings took place on a work trip, as a flight attendant, to South Africa where she and her friend met Silvia in the airport queue.
‘My colleague Heidi asked her if she knew of any charities or people that she could help while on our long four- night layovers,’ said Jen.
Silvia was helping a woman called Maria Gaba, who lives in the town of Boksburg, care for 40 orphans. Maria was keeping them safe and feeding them with leftover scraps from a funeral home where she worked.
‘Heidi went out that trip to see the creche,’ continued Jen.
‘I went out during our next trip and that was it. I fell in love with Maria, the kids, and knew we needed to help them. Meeting Maria and the kids for the first time changed the course of my life.’
Maria had changed her own life from one of abuse and domestic violence to caring for the children around her, her own and any others that needed help and safety.
Her meeting with Jen was the genesis of Windmill Park in the town of Boksburg. It has grown from one small building and 40 orphans into a place that provides care, employment and opportunities for both vulnerable children and the broader community.
‘I started a website, Facebook page, and started collecting donations,’ said Jen.
Jen then co-founded a charity, the Kindling Foundation, that has raised money and provided time and resources to improve the lives of the children in Boksburg.
In 2015 Jen extended the idea of assistance to include volunteers raising money and then travelling to Boksburg and contributing their time and skills to complete projects.
‘We had been sending money over each year, then about year three I thought we can’t keep giving them money, we have to provide a sustainable income and jobs for them. So we asked Maria what the community needed.
‘First, it was housing. We fundraised with the first group and built five houses. These houses are rented out and the money goes to Maria to help feed the kids.
‘I could not have had better feedback from the volunteers,’ said Jen.
‘It was a really special trip for the group; they were able to see where the money they raised had gone and how it changed lives.’
Since then they have raised funds to set up ‘a sewing centre, a counselling centre to help the community get through trauma and stop the spread of HIV, a bakery, sportsfield, classrooms and a playground were created.’
Many of the children are orphans owing to the death of parents from AIDS or they have been removed from abusive family environments.
Extending the idea of volunteers raising funds and travelling to the communities they are assisting Jen has set up the conscious traveller website. Annual trips to Windmill Park are organised where volunteers raise $2,000 each to put towards projects.
Volunteers then travel to the community as part of a trip that includes yoga, meditation, a safari to Kruger National Park, and animal conservation and voluntary work in the community.
The success of the project in Boksburg has inspired the Kindling Foundation and Maria to find ways they can help other vulnerable communities. This year Jen is working with a group of volunteers to raise money to build a creche and child refuge in the town of Dennilton.
‘Maria selected Dennilton as a place she would like to help as she sees so much potential in the community. There is a woman who lives in Dennilton who is just like Maria and cares for children.’
Many people in the community struggle to find work and this can mean they leave their children for days, weeks or months at a time.
‘These children are then left to run what we call “child-headed homes.” One is the age of seven, having to care for her three younger siblings. These kids have trouble finding food and have nowhere to go to play or get an education.’
The Kindling Foundation plans to re-open a creche that was closed down and is for sale. The creche will be open to all children as a place of safety, somewhere to go for a meal, learn and seek medical help.
‘The old creche is the property we are purchasing and then building more classrooms, a toilet block and small businesses. The cost of this project will be $28,000.
‘As the issue in the area is a lack of job opportunities, the grand plan is to mirror what was already achieved in Boksburg and build a sewing centre and bakery at the creche, then train and hire people in the community.’
The group of volunteers are currently raising money towards the project in Dennilton and will visit this October. The trip lasts 13 days and is designed to provide both a chance to volunteer in the community as well as ‘to meet other amazing like-minded souls, new friends, help others in need, make a difference’.
‘This trip has been designed to offer the best of everything that’s good for the soul,’ said Jen.
Twelve people can join the tour and there are currently two places available.For more information visit www.kindling.org.au or contact [email protected]
n The Kindling Foundation is looking at a similar program next year in Haiti. They have become an official registered charity with the ACNC and are looking at applying for funding this year for future programs.