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The Power of Hope: Annie Fortino Leads With Love

Annie Fortino Leads with Love

When faced with the magnitude of the world’s problems, it’s easy to think, “what can one person possibly do to help?” This is the question Annie Fortino asked herself when faced with the massive problems of Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. As it turns out, when you lead with love and hope, one person can do wonders.

Ever since Fortino was a child, she has loved Africa, both for its people and its wildlife. “I don’t know what spurred that, other than I think God just planted it in my heart,” she said. This love would point her toward her calling much later in life.

In 2017, Fortino and her son, Niko, went to Kenya on a mission trip for the non-profit Empower A Child, where they helped school children from the Gifted Hands Educational Center in Kibera’s slums. While they were there, they met Martin Mwaniki, the director of Gifted Hands, and Martin Omach, a kid trying to get through college at the time. Fortino and her son felt a strong connection to both of the Martins and they were extremely moved by their experiences there. Fortino came home from her mission trip determined to help in some way. At the time, the organization needed a van and a new wall around the school to protect it from theft. With the help of her pastor from the New Hope Community Church, Fortino flew Mwaniki to Gilroy in 2018 and they spoke to the congregation about the children and their needs. They raised $35,000 that day, which was enough not only for the van and the wall, but to rebuild the entire school and staff offices. Several Gilroy members also sponsored children to ensure that they could continue to attend the school, and Fortino personally helped Omach finish college to become a CPA.

Once the school was rebuilt, Fortino and Niko returned to Kibera and visited all of the sponsored children and their families throughout the slums. They worked with the teachers and children at the school every day. Seeing how much of an impact they’d made inspired Fortino to start her own non-profit, Wonders of Hope, Inc., so that she could make sure all of the funds they’d raised would go directly to the
school and to the children. “It’s never been a dream of mine to run a non-profit. That was not anything I ever planned to do or would have chosen to do on my own. But I just felt like it was something I was supposed to do,” she said.

In September 2019, Wonders of Hope was officially registered as a non-profit.

With the help of Mwaniki and Omach, Fortino has created programs that provide food for the children and their families, as well as school uniforms and supplies. Since many of the families can’t afford the school fees—which are about fifteen dollars a month—Fortino made sure those were paid for too. Wonders of Hope also sends the kids on adventure outings and educational trips, such as to museums, leadership camps, and animal orphanages, so that they can get a sense of what life is like outside the slums.

Seeing the positive changes in the children and the community continues to be a rewarding experience for Fortino. One boy, sponsored by Fortino’s son, came from an abusive home environment. When they first met him in 2017, he was depressed and withdrawn. Now he’s outspoken and involved as a leader in programs for Wonders of Hope. “You can see that he has hope for his future. That he’s not stuck in the circumstances he was born into,” Fortino said. This drastic change is common with all of the children, who all work hard and excel in their classes.

Wonders of Hope has inspired many adults in the community as well. When some learned what the non-profit was doing, they volunteered to help shop for food and distribute it to the children and their families. They also get the children’s measurements and shop for their clothes.

Despite this amazing start, Fortino felt that more could be done. “There’s only so much a school can do to help the kids, and they have needs outside that the school can’t address,” she explained. She wanted to build a community center that could not only provide weekend programs and activities for the children, so they didn’t have to play in the dump, but also help everyone within the community. With the help of Aldo’s Restaurant in Los Gatos, Fortino held another fundraiser—the first in-person one since the pandemic—and again raised well above her intended goal.

Since the community center was for the people of Kibera, Wonders of Hope sought to employ both men and women of the community to help build it. “It’s been a lot of fun to see the joy and excitement the community center has created,” Fortino said of the building process.

The community center celebrated its grand opening in July and held a ceremony reading off the names of all the donors who helped make the building possible, many of whom are from Gilroy and Morgan Hill. Fortino has felt blessed to have so many people within her own community support her in uplifting the lives of others.

Right now Fortino is taking Wonders of Hope’s successes one day at a time, but in the future she would like to raise funds to provide programs for single mothers, where they can get free daycare and vocational training so they can support themselves and their children. She would also like to create men’s groups that provide counseling and support for men, since domestic violence is a prevalent issue in the slums. Fortino’s larger goal is to raise the funds to put all of her wonderful volunteers, who currently rely on donations, on a salary.

Some may ask Fortino why she devotes all of her efforts towards the slums of Kibera, instead of the problems at home. For her, it’s more important that the good gets done at all, rather than where it gets done. “The problems are worldwide and so we are all called to different places. This is what called to me,” she explained.

If anything, Fortino’s efforts show us that as long as we follow what calls to us, we can do amazing things.


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