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Rinda Hayes plans big celebration for Kenya Keys in Lake Oswego



SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Rinda Hayes gets a massive group hug from the school girls from her Kenya Keys program. To say that the kids appreciate what Hayes has done is putting it mildly.

IF YOU GO: Kenya Keys will celebrate its tenth anniversary with an outdoor event from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the home of Greg and Pam Vislocky,17860 Crestline Drive in Lake Oswego.

The festivities include African food, entertainment, children's activities and more.

The village of Bahakwenu is the poorest village in Kenya, one of the poorest and driest countries in Africa.

But Bahakwenu happens to have one of the most amazing school districts in the country, thanks to Rinda Hayes and the many people who support her Kenya Keys program in Lake Oswego.

Sept. 12 is a great day for Kenya Keys, because Hayes and her friends will be celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary in Lake Oswego. It can safely be described as a real wingding (wild, lavish, exciting), with everyone gathering to celebrate a decade of great accomplishment and wonderful memories, with Kenyan food, stories, videos, music, and especially two special visitors — Stephen Kabani and Samson Charo, who epitomize what Kenya Keys is all about. They went from being raised in a mud hut, with zero hope of education, to qualifying for top universities.

“It is a very big deal for us,” said board secretary Deborah Shimkus, who was one of many Lake Oswego people inspired by Hayes’s vision. “There are hundreds of people involved with Kenya Keys. It is amazing what one person has started.”

Hayes seems to have no notion that she is amazing. But she is filled with joy about this occasion, the visits from the students, and the fact that the seed she planted in a little Kenyan village has produced 330 students, including 141 college students. Kenya Keys happened because Hayes’s eyes were wide open to what was happening in the world around her. This is an emotional subject for her.

“We need to give more of ourselves,” Hayes said. “We need to find a way we can serve. We need to get out of our Lake Oswego bubble and reach out to others who are not so blessed.”

It was June 2005 when Hayes found what she was looking for. She had already been an international humanitarian volunteer for many years when she and her daughter Aliska went to work in a village 9,000 miles away from Lake Oswego. She met a man named Joseph Mwengea. He was hoping she could help him find sponsors for 14 deserving students.

Rinda and Brent Hayes are shown at their wedding ceremony in Kenya nine years ago. The couple has worked incredibly hard to make Kenya Keys a success.

“Joseph had such amazing dedication to these scraggly little kids,” Hayes said. “They would run to sit under a tree and learn from him. They were like little sponges. I thought I could be a bridge from my world to theirs. I thought I could find a sponsor in Lake Oswego for one student. It cost $1 a day to go to high school.”

Hayes returned home to Lake Oswego and started talking. And talking and talking. She talked to anyone who would listen to her, Rotary Club, book clubs, schools, churches, the Oswego Heritage Council.

From hoping to sponsor one student, Hayes became the founder and executive director of a program she called Kenya Keys — “Because we believe that education is the key to all change, growth and development.”

Hayes found that people here were incredibly open to what she had to say, especially young people.

“It really empowered young people to do something in this world,” she said. “Young people here can turn awareness into action. I found that young people wanted to make a difference. They wanted their hearts woken up.

“Too often we all just complain. I don’t want to be part of that. How can we do something beautiful?”

The answer to that question was very affirmative. When Hayes asked local young people to help build a library in Bahakwenu, they stood at a table by the Lake Oswego Library for a month and raised $15,000. Now, Kenya Keys is planning its biggest project ever, a center in the village of Taru that will house a new library, resource center for girls, career counseling, sewing school, offices, and spaces for entrepreneurship.

Not only has Kenya Keys been a labor of love for Hayes, it has been a romance. Her future husband Brent Hayes turned out to have all of the business skills necessary to make Kenya Keys succeed. One year after Kenya Keys began, Rinda and Brent were married. Two weeks later they traveled to the village in Kenya, where the people honored them with another wedding ceremony. As all of the people gathered around, Rinda and Brent knelt down, faced each other and held hands in the middle of the village. This was about as romantic as it gets.

Back in Lake Oswego, Kenya Keys was booming. Not only did hundreds of Oswegans get involved, but people in California and Utah signed up, plus people in Canada, England and Australia.

People like Deborah Shimkus. She has brought her tremendous expertise from 35 years’ experience working for nonprofit organizations and used it to give a huge lift to the program. And like everyone involved in Kenya Keys, she does not take a dollar for her efforts.

“The more I looked into Kenya Keys the more amazing it looked,” Shimkus said. “Now interns, teachers and doctors have gone to this tiny village. You can’t go there and not be changed. Rinda and Brent work harder than anyone I’ve ever known.”

While this is a time of joy for Kenya Keys, there is also much stress and apprehension. Terrorist groups are on the rise in Kenya, and they are getting closer and closer to the schools of Kenya Keys. These militarist groups have become so threatening that the Hayes family decided not to travel to Kenya this year. The young people of the village are in the crossfire between two messages that are drastically different.

“They want to stop what we want — education,” Rinda Hayes said.

“They want people who are hopeless,” Brent Hayes said.

“We tell them, ‘You’ve got a chance for a much better life,’” Rinda said. “We don’t hand anything to them. We give them an opportunity. When you see a person reach their potential, there’s nothing better. If you educate one person, they educate the other members of their family.”

Terrorists are not the only danger to the boys and girls of Kenya. There are also wild animals ready to attack them when they leave their darkened little homes at night. Also waiting in the night are the sex traffickers.

“Girls as young as 12 are sold into marriage,” Rinda said. “They are in high risk of sexual abuse or the sex trade. I have seen this first hand with my own eyes.”

Still, even though evil literally lurks right outside the front door of these children, Rinda Hayes is confident that the students will choose hope over hopelessness. She has seen that their desire for education and to make something of their lives is simply too strong.

“This is the most rewarding thing I’ve seen in my life,” Hayes said.

For more about Kenya Keys, go to kenyakeys.org.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Their smiles say it all for Brent and Rinda Hayes. She calls Kenya Keys the most rewarding thing I have ever seen.

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