Family ties inspire action to aid orphans in Kenya

Sunday, December 23, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By William Cone Editor

The work of Bud and Sue Ozar has been an inspiration to their family members, said their niece, Betsy Rathz of St. Alexis Parish in Wexford.

While most people who reach retirement age turn their attention to rest and relaxation after a long career, the Ozars founded a nonprofit organization that strives to help orphaned and abandoned children in East Africa.

“They really chose to follow God’s calling in this case,” Rathz said. “We as a family just sort of rallied around them, and we’re a very close family. They truly have had a very big impact, certainly on me personally, but on many of my siblings and our entire family.”

While the Ozars were working as missionaries in Kenya, they met Father Francis Limo Riwa, who founded a Children’s Village in N’chiru that rescues kids living on the streets and languishing in villages, mostly due to the AIDS epidemic, but also as a result of crushing poverty and disease.

When the couple from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, was preparing to return to the United States, Father Riwa asked them to remember the kids who were in great need of a stable home.

In 2009, the Ozars created Friends of Kenyan Orphans, an organization that has contributed nearly $1.5 million and helped nearly 5,000 children.

When her children were enrolled at St. Alexis School (now part of Blessed Francis Seelos Academy), Rathz said she tried to raise money or collect clothing and school supplies to support the Ozars’ work. She joined FOKO’s board of directors in 2011.

“You look out on the world and see all the problems and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed,” Rathz said, quoted in a FOKO news release. “Giving to FOKO is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to combat that helpless feeling. This effort is really making a difference.”

She said Father Riwa visited St. Alexis in 2012 and again earlier this year, when Rathz and her family hosted a reception at their home so their friends could meet the East African priest and hear his story.

Father Paul Zywan, administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Alexis and St. Alphonsus, met Father Riwa at the Rathz home and invited him to concelebrate Mass at St. Alexis. An item about FOKO was published in a recent bulletin at the parish.

It’s estimated that there are more than 3 million orphans in Kenya, mostly due to parents dying from AIDS and HIV. The children lack basic needs, such as proper health care, education, shelter and nutrition, as well as a community to provide social support.

FOKO raises and distributes money and resources to grass-roots centers in Kenya, including the one operated by Father Riwa, to ensure the funds directly support needy children.

The aid program also supports the St. Clare Girls’ Centre in N’chiru, which provides daily meals, shelter, schooling, medical attention and personal direction to young girls who would otherwise be married off at a young age and remain uneducated.

Rathz said her father, John “Jack” Horrigan Jr. of Reading, Pennsylvania, who turned 90 years old this year, visited FOKO’s work in Kenya in 2012.

“His life was changed. He described a situation where the people there and the children have so little, but they take whatever they have and make the best of it,” she said. “They’re happy, and just obviously very happy to have been rescued.”

Horrigan was touched to see the orphans live and thrive with the help of FOKO, Rathz said, and he has continued to be a supporter and promoter of the organization.

To contribute to FOKO’s “Save Another Child” campaign, go to the website at https://www.friendsofkenyanorphans.org.

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