Since 1989, the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church has been in partnership with the Shikokho Women’s Group and the people of the village of Shikokho in Kakamega County of Kenya. Shikokho is located in the rolling hills occupied by the Luhya people, just north of Lake Victoria on the Yala River.
The village faces several challenges, including poverty; land shortage/overpopulation (for subsistence farming); poor agricultural methods; clan rivalry; isolation/inaccessibility to road and municipal services; unemployment (the only jobs available are far away); reliance on patronage from unreliable patrons; no clear organized economic product/activity or functional cooperative venture; high mortality rates and low health status with a sometimes unreliable water supply; despair and alcoholism.
Since the country gained its independence, Kenyan development has been based on local initiatives. The government does not do much central planning in terms of where to place clinics, hospitals, schools, roads, etc. Rather, in the system of Harambee (“let us pull together” in Kiswahili), each community must initiate such projects by demonstrating commitment. Through collaboration with CPCC, the government, and the village, initiatives like the medical clinic and small female businesses through WMI, Women’s Microfinance Initiative based on Bethesda Maryland, have moved forward.
The church cooperated with the people of Shikokho to build a medical clinic (opened in 1995), housing for visiting doctors and full-time nursing staff (completed in 1998), and support for the addition of a maternity wing (completed in 2003). The clinic serves approximately 3,000 residents of the village, along with a population of nearly 30,000 people within walking distance of it.
The clinic provides care for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Health insurance is unknown and unaffordable, but small payments for medical services are received when a family has the means to do so. Two government-paid nurses are supposed to be provided, but other staff often work for little or no salary. CCPC has often tried to provide some compensation to non-government-paid staff.
The church has also provided annual scholarship assistance to the primary and secondary schools, assisted in purchasing school uniforms, provided books for the library, and replaced textbooks at the secondary school. A few scholarships have been awarded for post-high school community nursing school. Other contributions have included bicycles and trailers to the clinic and to the schools, manual sewing machines and typewriters, and homemade blankets for the maternity wing. Through an orphan feeding and daycare program, CCPC feeds over 150 orphans daily. The total of contributions made by the church and by members individually over the 25 years of the mission partnership have been substantial.
n 1995, a mission team of 13 CCPC members visited the village to assist in the final completion of the medical clinic and to join with the Shikokho Women’s Group and the people of the village to celebrate the official opening “harambee” ceremony for the medical clinic with the Minister of Health.
n 2004, a mission team of nine church members went to Shikokho. Those participants were David Aluvale, Gretchen Donaldson, Linda and Phil English, Duke McCall, Jim Shelhamer, Louise White, the Rev. Steve Robertson, and A.T. Miller (from Cornell University and adviser to the partnership). The purpose of the trip was to bring greetings from the people of CCPC and Washington, D.C., to the people of Shikokho, to celebrate the opening of the Shikokho Medical Clinic’s maternity wing, and to support the members of the community in several self-development initiatives.
To date, ten CCPC work teams have visited Shikokho. Each visit, church members bring gifts and supplies from the CCPC congregation to the people of Shikokho, including prescription and non-prescription medicines and other medical supplies for the medical clinic, school supplies for the primary and secondary schools, mosquito nets, medical training books, eyeglasses, Crocs shoes, and much more. In recent years, the church supported the electricity and water projects, enabling Shikokho to connect to the electrical grid and bring pure water from springs, water towers, and pipes to the surrounding communities as well.
In July 2011, the Rev. Molly Blythe Teichert and CCPC members Cameron Donaldson, Gretchen Donaldson, and Jim Shelhamer returned to Shikokho to visit the facility and donate two new classrooms in honor of Ginny Spevak.
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the CCPC Shikokho partnership, two mission teams visited Shikokho in 2015. Gretchen Donaldson, Ellen Jacknain, and Jim Shelhamer went in January to coordinate clinic work with the Ministry of Health. In July 2015, a team of Jim Shelhamer, Emma Fudge, and Greg Fudge followed up and officially celebrateed the anniversary with the village. After their return, the church celebrated current news from the village and launched the 25th Anniversary History.