Football Players Making a Difference Both On and Off the Field

June 17, 2008

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Three Wake Forest University football players are among a group of WFU students and faculty spending the next two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, assisting with the Nyanya Project.

Founded by Mary Martin Niepold, the Nyanya Project helps grandmothers in Africa who are raising their grandchildren who have been orphaned by AIDS. The non-profit group helps these grandmothers learn skills and develop economic self-reliance through a program created by Niepold.

The Nyanya Project (pronounced ya-ya) trains the grandmothers, who are called "nyanya" in Swahili, to organize cooperatives and earn income through the sale of handmade crafts and agricultural products. Where necessary, the project also helps secure clean water and shelter for the women.

Niepold, a journalism instructor at Wake Forest, founded the nonprofit organization in 2006 after spending several weeks that summer volunteering in orphanages in Kenya and learning that no government programs existed to help the grandmothers.

Niepold is leading a 20-person team of volunteers on a two-week trip to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where they will help local workers build a house for several grandmothers and their orphaned grandchildren. The entourage consists of seven students Niepold has taught at Wake Forest; four students from the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, who are producing a documentary about the project; and other supporters and relatives, including two grandchildren.

Three Wake Forest football student-athletes are participating in the project including defensive backs Alphonso Smith and Kevin Patterson and linebacker Chantz McClinic.

The three have spent the spring semester of 2008 preparing for their trip. They were required to attend meetings and read several recommended books that would help them know what to expect while on the trip. In addition, they were also asked to begin writing journals that they are to continue while abroad. While in Tanzania, they will be briefed daily on the situation at hand and will be writing about their experiences accordingly. The group will visit several of the Nyanya project sites and participate in building shelters for one of the sites. Upon their return to Wake Forest, they will be asked to give a presentation based on their experiences.



Their efforts will also be illustrated in a documentary film by NCSA's Jordan Kerner. The film illustrates the tremendous undertaking these three men have signed on for in Africa, as well as recognizing the Wake Forest athletic program and its Pro Humanitate mandate.

Estimates place the number of children who have become orphans by losing both parents to HIV/AIDS and being raised by their grandmothers at more than one million in Kenya and more than a half-million in Tanzania.

Niepold was offered help by Samuel G. Gichere, chief economist of Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, who joined The Nyanya Project's board of directors. Partnering with several Africa-based nongovernmental organizations, The Nyanya Project soon established four grandmother cooperatives in Kenya. The program expanded to Tanzania in 2007 after Niepold met that country's former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye, and he also joined her board of directors. Sumaye will meet with the visiting volunteers during their stay in Dar Es Salaam to discuss current conditions in the country.

Most of the group traveling to Tanzania will return to Winston-Salem June 30. Niepold will travel to Kenya to check on the cooperatives in operation there.

Other Nyanya Project board members include Sylvain Boko, Zachary T. Smith Associate Professor of Economics at Wake Forest; Edwin G. Wilson, Provost Emeritus at Wake Forest; Margaret Jesang Hutchinson, executive director of the Education Centre for Women in Democracy in Nairobi, Kenya, and a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi; and Mil Niepold, a senior program consultant to Verité, an international nonprofit labor-rights advocacy organization.

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