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Schrader: Genoa native helps African orphans

Genoa native Kay Oursler with Noeli, a 14-year-old orphan she has helped to raise and educate in the Tanzanian village of Uhekule.
Genoa native Kay Oursler with Noeli, a 14-year-old orphan she has helped to raise and educate in the Tanzanian village of Uhekule.

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column is returning to the Daily Chronicle on a monthly basis.

Kay Oursler has spent the past seven years in a remote village in Tanzania in east Africa, working with villagers to improve their farming techniques and building an orphanage and school with the financial assistance of churches and friends back in the United States.

Kay made a recent visit to this country with one of her 35 foster children to see her own family scattered around the Midwest and former classmates from Genoa.

She is a 1958 graduate of Genoa-Kingston High School and had lunch with about 15 class members, me among them. At age 73, Kay is seeking a nonprofit organization, church or foundation to help relieve some of the burden she has carried since joining the Peace Corps in 2005 and then staying on another five years in Uhekule village, where she has raised money for and overseen construction of the orphanage and school.

There are more than 100 orphans there who lost both parents to HIV/AIDS, and she has been able to help almost 50 of them obtain a better education in larger cities nearby with financial aid from people in the U.S., as well as her own fundraising efforts.

“But I am getting tired and, at my age, need to slow down and reduce my workload,” she said at the class reunion.

Her wish is to find an American charitable foundation or church to continue funding the orphanage and boarding school, plus provide staffing to educate and care for the young students. It has a capacity of 50, but only 12 children are enrolled.

She brought with her a 14-year-old boy named Noeli, one of many orphans she has either raised or helped to educate. He had never been more than 100 miles from home and was amazed at what he has experienced since arriving in this country in December.

Noeli speaks fluent English, as well as Swahili and his tribal language, Bena.

The only livestock Noeli had ever seen were goats and chickens, so he was thrilled to get his first ride on a horse near Hot Springs, Ark., then ride on a big combine at the Jerry Bemis farm near DeKalb.

I asked Noeli what new American foods he liked and he replied, “pizza with sausage, then waffles.” His diet in Tanzania consists mainly of a corn flour porridge, called ugali, and potatoes. On special occasions villagers may get goat meat or chicken.

Kay is hoping to raise enough to buy three milking goats for the village this year. She has planted corn on a four-acre plot and was sent a tractor by an American friend in Little Rock, Ark., so she can prepare the ground.

The villagers form a team to dig small holes, then Kay and other women follow behind, planting the kernels and covering each hole using their feet.

She has also planted a vegetable garden each year using chicken fertilizer and taught others to do the same. There was no electricity in Uhekule until the Praecavemus Foundation in Los Gatos, Calif., came to her aid and funded solar panels, which now make it possible for lights, a computer and a refrigerator to be powered in the school.

Kay heads back to her adopted village this month, where she is known affectionately as “Bibi Kay.” Bibi is a Swahili term for grandmother.

Noeli will return to a nearby boarding school to start seventh grade, with grandiose tales to share with his schoolmates about a land called America with big cars, giant combines, horses and pizza. What a culture shock for this young man.

To find out more about Kay’s life mission, go online to

• Barry Schrader can be reached at, or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, 60115.

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