Children in Kapchorwa, Uganda, are finding hope thanks to sponsors in Sisters Country. photo provided
Children in Kapchorwa, Uganda, are finding hope thanks to sponsors in Sisters Country. photo provided

On African soil, Katie Keranen witnessed hardship and hopelessness. And on African soil she experienced her greatest personal tragedy.

Now from her office in Sisters, as the new administrator for the Hope Africa child sponsorship program, Katie works to cultivate hope and alleviate tragedy for the African people she has grown to love. She invites the community to "meet" some of the locally sponsored children (through video) and learn more about the program, during their special Dessert Evening and Silent Auction at FivePine Lodge on Sunday, September 29.

"In Africa, you see tragedy every single day," says Katie. "So I'm very passionate about the oppressed and those who are suffering - especially the kids."

That passion took root in 1998, when she spent a summer in Nigeria with her husband assisting missionaries under International Childcare Ministries, a child sponsorship program. The experience fanned the young couple's dream to one day live and work in Africa. Eventually, in 2007, they moved their growing family to Malawi, Africa, to serve at a pastor training school and coordinate a child sponsorship program there.

"Our time in Malawi was challenging, yet beautiful, as our passion and love for the people of Africa grew," she said.

But less than two years later, tragedy struck. Katie's husband, Ryan Bartlett, was killed in a car accident while delivering maize.

"The moment I heard the news I felt broken," she said. "But I knew that God was with me."

Certain that her time in Africa was over, Katie returned to the states with her three young daughters.

"But it wasn't long before I sensed in my heart that I was to return to Malawi," she said.

So she and her girls moved back, partnering with Malawian leaders to bring hope to those who face tragedy on a daily basis.

After a year in Malawi, Katie returned to Sisters to begin a new chapter, marrying Rob Keranen. But a big piece of her heart, she says, is still firmly lodged in African soil.

"My passion for Africa and for speaking on behalf of those who suffer so greatly has not diminished."

That makes the Hope Africa administrator position an ideal fit, and she finds satisfaction in pairing the impoverished children of a rural Ugandan village with the Sisters residents who can offer them hope. "I'm thrilled to be part of this excellent program."

Over 450 children have been sponsored through Hope Africa. Under the sponsorship arrangement, $35 per month meets one child's practical needs-shoes and clothing, health care, and a hot meal each day-while providing a top-rate education they would not otherwise have access to. Children in grades preschool through primary 6 attend Testimony School, which was built in 2006 through the gifts of many Sisters residents and which ranks consistently as a top school in the district.

Many kids who have been in the program since its inception now attend secondary school, and they've nurtured a regular correspondence with their sponsor families in Sisters over the years. They share details of their hard life of farming on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda and the dreams they hope to pursue with their education. Disease, poverty, and political corruption set these children up for a vulnerable start, living with one remaining parent or a grandparent. Now they entertain plans of becoming doctors, artists, or teachers.

"Each of these children has their own story of tragedy and hope," said Katie. "They are so grateful for what has been done for them that many of them say they want to sponsor children themselves one day!"

Katie hopes to inspire guests with a few of those stories, through the video testimonies of some of the sponsored Kapchorwan children and their parents at the Dessert Evening at FivePine Lodge and Conference Center on Sunday, September 29, beginning at 7 p.m. A silent auction will feature items from local vendors including Aspen Lakes, Metolius River Lodges, Blue Alchemy, Sun Mountain Fun Center, Blue Burro, Level 5 (formerly OlyFit) and GreenRidge Physical Therapy. Purchase tickets online at www.hopeafricakids.com or email Katie for more information at sponsor@hopeafricakids.com.