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Cara Lawler

IVHQ Volunteer of the Year Finalist - Cara Lawler
IVHQ Volunteer of the Year Finalist - Cara Lawler
1870 votes
Cara Lawler
Occupation: President of SAWA and Waitress
Hometown: Denver, Colorado

Video - El Shadai Grace Children's Centre

Why should you be the IVHQ volunteer of the year?

“Don’t forget us, and we will not forget you.” That’s what most of the children say when they say goodbye to volunteers. So simple, but it brings me to tears every time I watch my goodbye video. I have not forgotten about my kids at El Shadai, and I never could. The kids took over my heart, and now my life is about them. Since I first arrived in Kenya in September 2013, I have spent my time and resources to try to help these kids, and I started a nonprofit organization (SAWA) to provide an official organization for all volunteers and well wishers to work together to help the children at El Shadai.

When I arrived at El Shadai, it was obvious that there was PLENTY of work to do. There was no roof over the kitchen. There were only 3 mattresses for 12 girls, 3 mattresses for 10 boys, no pillows, and only a few blankets for their beds. The kids all had partial school uniforms, and no school bags. These are just few examples of the conditions when I arrived.

Over the past year, several volunteers and I have been able to improve the conditions drastically. We have also found sponsors for the 4 children who attend secondary school. We have done some great work, but the best is yet to come! We have done all that we believe is necessary to improve a rental space, and now our money is better spent to move forward and build a better home rather than invest any more money into another man’s land.

I don’t deserve this award for my work alone. This PROJECT deserves this award and the funding to finish what we started…because I will not forget my kids.

How will you use the award money for your project?

Our long-term goal for El Shadai is to buy them their own plot of land and to build a new home. As a part of this endeavor, it is crucial that we provide the means for them to be more self-sustainable. In pursuit of this goal, I would use the award money to set up an aquaponics farming system.

The term “aquaponics” comes from the words “aquaculture” and “hydroponic”. Simply put, these two systems work together to create an extremely efficient farming system: the plants filter the water for the aquatic animals, and the waste from the aquatic animals feeds the plants. The water recirculates through the system, and therefore uses a minimal amount of water—a huge concern in a living situation where water is not always available. Aquaponics systems can be set up in various configurations and sizes, and can be used to farm all different types of crops (we can determine the size and type of system based on the amount of award money we might receive).

We can teach the staff (and children!) how to manage the system, and in the future we can bring the system with us and expand it in the new space with the confidence that it will be successful! The ability to farm efficiently in a small amount of space would be an invaluable resource for the orphanage. It would also help us provide better nutrition for the kids through a well balanced diet. The system will provide crops, but it will also produce a large amount of fish. This would be a great addition to their usual diet, which tends to be very low in protein and healthy fats. This project would be a major step towards the future of El Shadai!

How will the award money help to build skills and self-sufficiency the local community of the project?

Introducing an aquaponics system in to the orphanage will add a new level self-sufficiency to the orphanage. Right now, the orphanage is almost entirely sustained by donations from SAWA, volunteers, and local well-wishers. It is very important to me, as well as the orphanage staff, that a part of our future development includes creating methods of self-sustainability. This first project will help us begin that mission, by providing a means for them to supply some of their own food. In the future, perhaps we could even build a system large enough to produce enough crops to sell for a profit as well. Once they learn the skills necessary to run the system, the sky is the limit!

There will also be a great amount of skill building, for the staff and children. It would be a live science project, right in their own home! This project will require a great amount of physical construction and regular maintenance which will teach the entire orphanage community a new set of skills. Eventually, we could even reach out and teach the local community how to farm this way as well!

How will you measure the success of using the award money at your project?

If we receive funding for the project, I will travel back to Kenya to oversee the building of the aquaponics system. A couple of my friends here at home have extensive experience with aquaponics and have agreed to work with me during the entire process…and even come to Kenya, if necessary! There are also several aquaponics projects going on in Kenya, so we will have plenty of resources to ensure the success of our project. We will know we’ve been successful with our first healthy crop!

IVHQ volunteer of the Year finalist, Cara Lawler

How will you ensure the difference you make through investing the award money is sustainable in the long term?

The beauty of an aquaponics system is that it is sustained with minimal materials. Once we purchase all of the materials necessary to build the system initially, the only major component to maintain the system will be labor. The water loss is minimal, and the output of crops/fish greatly outweighs the initial investment. I plan to educate the entire staff, as well as the children, on the maintenance of the system so that it can be properly maintained at all times. I also plan to travel back to El Shadai a minimum of once a year, and I am always in contact with the current volunteers who can help as well! We will be able to take the system with us whenever we move, so the initial investment will continue to benefit the orphanage for years to come.

Most importantly, I have learned that it is absolutely crucial to work with the staff hand in hand, and make sure that I am serving THEIR needs best with my ideas. I will spend all of the time, money, and energy necessary to work with them to create a system that they feel comfortable maintaining.

What is your long-term vision for this project?

My long-term vision for this project is to create an appropriate permanent living situation for the current and future children at El Shadai Grace Children’s Centre–including a new home AND the means to sustain themselves, starting with this aquaponics system. I want the staff to be sure that they can pay their bills every month. I want the children to have space to study, with desks and electricity. I want them to have bedrooms with enough space for each child to have their own bed and closet so that they can keep their clothes and shoes in good condition. I want them to have a proper space to PLAY, without disturbing the other tenants on their plot or the work of the staff. I want them to have proper cleaning and bathing facilities. I want them to have a kitchen suitable for a family with 25 children and for them to always be fed with proper nutrition. I want them to walk to school with their heads held high with clean, smart school uniforms, shoes and backpacks.

I want the children to live a life where they don’t feel like ORPHANS.

One of my favorite quotes recently is from 12 Years A Slave, when Solomon said “Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live”. These kids have been surviving, but we can do better that. I grew up with my own bed, in my own room, my own toys, my own clothes, my own books, and most importantly…my own parents. There is no difference between the children of El Shadai and I, except we happened to be born into different worlds. If I can spend my time and my resources to give children the best life I possibly can, then I’d say that’s a life well spent.

IVHQ volunteer of the Year finalist, Cara Lawler

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