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By: Kacie C. Houck
Paralegal & Co-Founder of KaNaomi International, Ltd.

Welcome back, TPS readers! Today, we’re honored to bring one of the Founder’s former co-workers onto the TPS stage to share a post. We love today’s post for many reasons. Not only is it personally inspiring, but it shows what a great paralegal (and person) with a powerful vision can accomplish. Never underestimate what you can start, do, change, and become. Here’s Kacie…

On my 27th birthday I had an existential crisis. After dropping out of college at the age of 20 due to extenuating family issues which I will not explore in detail here, I had somehow landed a job working for one of the more well-known law firms in town and was working full-time during the day and going to school full-time at night. My weeks were spent working, studying, or drinking in local bars with people whom I had known for many years. It was a normal enough existence, I suppose, but I began to feel as if I was simply floating along with no purpose, no real reason for my existence on earth. Whose life was better because I happened to be gracing the planet with my presence at this moment in time?

It was during this time that I began to take a more enthusiastic interest in my friend Melissa’s involvement with a local program that involved extensive international travel throughout the developing world, free trade, and understanding the difference between simply raising money for the ‘starving children’ and actually creating sustainable development opportunities, so they and their families could ultimately care for themselves.

In 2009, we ended up travelling with a few other people to Kenya. Among the various stops during the trip (including the Mathare slum,and an orphanage where all the children were HIV positive), we stopped at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp outside of Nairobi. The families had been the victims of the 2007 post-election violence that had broken out in Kenya. Many of the people (including the children) had visible burn marks and their faces and arms. We had raised money and purchased 200 fruit trees to plant at the camp in order for the families there to be able to grow their own food.

As we walked through the camp meeting people and planting trees, we each had an individual entourage of children who simply wanted to be near us and hold our hands. At one point I looked down and counted 10 hands on each arm, just going all the way up, as they all looked up at me beaming. One young girl caught my attention when she looked up smiling widely and said ‘hi.’ I looked twice and then realized that she had Down’s Syndrome. I was able to recognize the almond shaped eyes and low muscle tone in her hands that are characteristic of this chromosomal disorder because my youngest brother also has Down’s. The other children advised me that her name was Naomi, but to talk slowly because she would not be able to understand me otherwise.

I developed an instant connection with Naomi. She followed me around for the rest of the day, and as we were driving away from the camp, she ran after our car waving and beaming. That was my official breaking point during the trip; I was uncontrollably sobbing as we pulled away.

When I got back to the States, I contacted the woman who ran the camp, sent her the pictures I had taken of Naomi and asked her to find out how I could help her. I learned that Naomi’s father had lost his butcher shop when he was displaced to the camp, and Naomi was unable to attend school because he could not pay the fees. I asked how much it would take to get her father’s business off the ground and get Naomi back in school. She told me it would be roughly 50,000 Kenyan Shillings, or $500. I was completely blown away. Five hundred dollars was the only thing standing between the IDP camp and getting their lives back?

I immediately started asking people we knew to send $10 or whatever they could to make this possible for Naomi and her family. Within 3 days I had all of the money. I wire transferred it, and Naomi’s father was able to restart his butcher business and Naomi was put into a private school. He named his business KaNaomi, taking the first two letters of my name with Naomi’s, which roughly translated from Swahili means ‘Kacie for Naomi.’

After this little venture, Melissa and I began to explore what would be the best way to help other children like Naomi. There is not much of a focus in the developing world on special needs children like Naomi. We wanted to create a project that helped all underprivileged children in developing countries, but with a mindful focus on special needs children. The focus would not be on simply raising and sending money, but on creating sustainable projects so that the various families, caregivers, orphanages, etc. could eventually support themselves.

We decided to start our own not-for-profit organization in order to accomplish this, and named it KaNaomi International in honor of Naomi, who had begun this interest in the first place.

Check out Kacie’s website or follow her not-for-profit organization on FaceBook or Twitter to learn more about the amazing work this terrific organization is doing at: http://www.kanaomi-international.org/ 

facebook.com/KaNaomi
twitter.com/KaNaomi_Intl

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“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
– Robin Williams