Valerie Long said her faith pulled her toward a group of children halfway around the world. Those who know Long credit her compassion and work ethic.
Whatever the reason, the Mesa resident has a special bond with children at the Children’s Home of Huruma in Kenya. She now hopes to use skills learned in Arizona and locally raised funds to establish a badly-needed medical clinic there.
"I’ve had a desire burning in my heart for Africa since I became a Christian when I was 16,’’ Long said.
She has traveled to Mexico, Honduras and Central America on mission trips, but it was Africa that held her interest. Last summer, at age 20, she researched African orphanages and homes. She saved her money to volunteer at the home in Ngong Hills, Kenya, after corresponding with its founder, Mama Zipporah — known as "Mama’’ or ‘‘Mum’’ to most.
"She’s like Mother Theresa,’’ Long said of Zipporah. "It’s not an orphanage at all; it’s a family. She gives them all her last name. There’s about 150 kids, but she’ll stay up with anyone who’s sick. She never turns anyone away. She just opens her doors to everyone and says ‘Come on in.’ ’’
Long stayed with the children, who sleep three or four to a twin bunk bed. During her four months of volunteer work, she formed a connection she expects to last a lifetime.
"I fell in love with the children. These kids come from some of the most remarkable backgrounds,’’ she said. Two she remembered vividly were a child mutilated by a local tribe, and a 13-year-old girl who arrived at the home with her 5-day-old baby, threatening to drown the baby if she could not find someone to care for him. Zipporah took in both children.
"They’ve been abandoned; they feel like outcasts — but when Mama takes them in, and when they know they’ve got people over here helping them, they feel like part of a bigger family,’’ Long added.
Long noticed the children’s lack of medical care. Nineteen children at the home are HIV positive. Medicine is available for only six. Children at the home also have tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria, scabies and worms. The home has very few medical supplies — Long noted there wasn’t even a medicine cabinet when she visited — and no one to provide care.
"I decided I am blessed enough to try and do something about that,’’ said Long, who recently received her certified nurse’s aide certificate. When she returned to Arizona, she established a nonprofit organization to raise money for a medical clinic for the home. The goal is $25,000. So far, with help from local churches and the community, Long’s group has raised $19,000.
Superstition Foothills Baptist Church in Gold Canyon has been instrumental in raising funds, Long said. After speaking about her efforts at the church, she received an ‘‘overwhelming’’ response, and several church members helped her establish the nonprofit group.
Church members have helped by selling Gold Canyon cookbooks and making quilts to be sent to Huruma, among other projects. Leading fundraisers are African dinners hosted at churches and other facilities. Long and a friend prepare African cuisine.
"There’s been a huge response from the community, and especially in Gold Canyon," Long said. "People really want to give. They just don’t always know how to go about it.’’
Supplies for the medical center will be purchased in Kenya, and building is slated to begin in July, Long said. She hopes to raise the needed $6,000 by then through dinners and other donations. She plans to return in September to help start the clinic, which she said will be staffed at all times by a Kenyan nurse.
"A lot of people say ‘Why don’t you serve here?’ ’’ Long said. "There’s need here, but we have so much help. In Kenya, they’re not going to get it anywhere else. Unless someone is willing to go help, they’re not going to have hope for the future.’’
To learn more, e-mail Valerie Long at email@example.com or call (480) 343-1905. Also check online at