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Synagogue hosts leader of a ‘modern-day exodus’
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Synagogue hosts leader of a ‘modern-day exodus’

Kenya activist helps eliminate poverty through education

Though they live a world apart, Mendham philanthropists John and Judy Craig have made common cause with Lilly Oyare, the founder and director of an education center in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

The Craigs, who established their nonprofit Eliminate Poverty Now in 2010, met Oyare two years before that, on their first visit to Kenya. “A mutual friend introduced us and described her as being cut from the same cloth as Mother Theresa,” John said. “After working with Lilly these past six years we wouldn’t quibble. She’s a truly remarkable woman.”

The Craigs are members of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, which, John said, has been extremely supportive of their organization. On Saturday, March 29, Oyare will speak about her work at Shabbat services at the synagogue. With an eye to Passover, the press release for the event describes her as “the leader of a modern-day exodus out of extreme poverty.”

Oyare is a schoolteacher, wife, and mother of four. She stepped out of her comfortable middle-class life to visit Kibera, an impoverished slum housing a million people in the grimmest conditions. Stunned by the despair she saw, Oyare volunteered to teach children there, but quickly realized they lacked the basic foundations for any kind of success.

In 2004, she started a preschool that grew into the Little Rock Early Childhood Development Centre, which has just moved into new, larger premises. It offers a feeding program, among other support systems, and it has teachers and therapists to work with deaf and autistic kids, and children with Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy. It also provides daycare services to enable teenage mothers to resume their own schooling.

The Craigs have focused their philanthropic efforts on projects, like Oyare’s, that aim to strengthen the recipients of aid so they can move beyond needing it. Coming from entrepreneurial backgrounds themselves — John in marketing for the food industry, and Judy’s having started and sold a business of her own — they “look to create the biggest bang for the buck and make efficient use of available talent and money,” said John. That has led them to numerous agricultural, commercial, and educational projects in Africa that promise measurable results for all involved. Oyare is just the kind of partner they seek.

John Craig said, “She’s devoted the last 10 years to the kids from Kibera and their families to give them the tools and strength to make a better life. In addition to her extraordinary energy and determination she must have a heart five times normal size. I’m not altogether sure what makes Lilly tick, but if just a little of it rubbed off on the rest of us, the world would be a better place.”

Agudath Israel, he said, “has been extremely supportive of Eliminate Poverty Now and many in the congregation have specifically supported Little Rock programs. Lilly’s trip to the U.S. presents a rare opportunity for them to meet her in person.”

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