Reddit users donate $80K after Kenya orphanage attack
NGONG, Kenya — Anthony Omari earned the still-fresh 11-stitch scar that runs from his forehead to his upper lip in one of the noblest ways imaginable: By taking a machete to the face while defending an under-resourced Kenyan orphanage from attacking thieves.
Young, traumatized orphans witnessed the assault, which split open Omari's face and soaked his clothes in blood.
But thanks to a posting on an increasingly influential U.S.-based social networking website, this story has a fairy tale ending that brings smiles of amazement and tears of gratitude to Omari, his mother — who runs the orphanage — and 21-year-old tech-savvy Penn State student Ben Hardwick.
After Hardwick posted a picture of Omari and his zipper-like scar two days after the Jan. 23 attack, users of the website Reddit donated more than $80,000 to help upgrade the orphanage's defenses. More than 3,600 people donated from all 50 U.S. states and 46 countries — Slovenia, Brunei and Estonia included. One donation came in from the USS Mount Whitney.
Less than a week after the attack, new locks were bought, two night guards were hired, and more than a dozen construction workers were building a new fortified 8-foot fence around the orphanage, which houses 37 kids in two small houses. Since Christmas, the orphanage has suffered four attacks by thieves likely from a tin-shack slum a half mile away.
The donations have made a cash-strapped orphanage mother eternally grateful. Because of a lack of funds, she has had to move her children's home five times since 2006. In her current location, in the most crowded bedroom eight boys sleep on foam mattresses laid out across the floor.
“Wow. We didn't expect this. This is amazing,” said Martha Bosire, the 47-year-old who runs the orphanage and answers to “Momma.”
The latest assault seemed to be a revenge attack, Omari said. The attackers, who easily climbed over the orphanage's rickety, wooden fence, apparently were looking for him. The 24-year-old had fended off a previous robbery attack by throwing a hammer at one of the thieves.
A hammer kept under his bed also helped fend of the first of the attackers who broke into his room last week. A thrown machete missed Omari and hit the wall. He fought his way outside but the kids by then were awake and screaming. Omari said he tried to usher them back into their room.
“I'm trying to tell them go back, but they were not listening, so I turned and was rushing to close the door, close them in,” Omari said. “That's when I think one of them got me with that double edged sword, he got me in the face. So it was painful for a few seconds. But I swung my rod again, I hit him, he lost the sense of direction. I managed to close the boys in and I passed out.”
Hardwick, who is from Ithaca, New York and is in Kenya on an internship, heard about the attack on Omari and stopped by to introduce himself.
“I asked to meet him. I said, this is just an incredible story — a machete to the face,” Hardwick recounted.
That same night he posted Omari's picture on Reddit, a site he says he has long used to procrastinate. He originally asked for $2,000 to help build a new fence. His post rose in popularity and donations started pouring in.
“I had no sleep, no sleep at all. I called my mom at 6 in the morning, I called her crying telling her we've raised $13,000 and I'm about to go deliver the best news of my life,” Hardwick told The Associated Press this week. “I was sitting on the floor just watching the donations come in. I just couldn't believe it — $83,000 is what it's at now. I still get chills just thinking about it, and it's only been five or six days.”
Wagner James Au, a San Francisco-based writer and media consultant on social media, wrote an essay about Reddit this week posted on the website Internet Evolution that said Reddit is now nearly as influential as Facebook and Twitter.
“The Kenya fundraiser perfectly demonstrates how Reddit can rally around a single cause and greatly magnify the intended results,” Au said by email. He noted that the photo, heart-touching appeal and longtime Reddit user helped win donations.
“The request wasn't for millions of dollars for an abstract, seemingly unobtainable goal, but thousands of dollars for a very specific, easily understandable end. When the factors like that are aligned, the results, as we see, can be hugely powerful,” Au said.
Erik Martin, Reddit's general manager, noted that the Reddit community often comes together to raise money, including more than $200,000 raised for Doctors Without Borders last year. A Haiti earthquake fundraiser raised more than $100,000. Reddit had 2 billion page views in December, he said, making it a top 50 U.S. website.
“The key is that this sort of story starts to develop and that is something people want to be a part of,” he said, adding later: “It took on a life of its own.”
The Faraja Children's home sprang out of a one-room shack in Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera, in 2006. That's when Bosire's youngest son brought home two playmates who never seemed to leave. Bosire's newest arrival to her orphanage's current location in Ngong, just outside Nairobi, is a cooing 13-month-old named Christine who was abandoned by her prostitute mother.
Bosire relies on donations to pay rent, school fees, medical bills and to buy food. The new influx of donations has allowed Bosire to think about things like buying beds for her kids, who currently sleep on the floor, and to even contemplate buying the house she's currently in, so she never has to move again, though she needs more donations for that.
Hardwick said he is seeking advice from financial advisers on how to best spend the money. He shows off receipts for recent purchases like new padlocks. He says he wants his donors to know he's not wasting their money.
Another reason Bosire hopes to stay in her current location is that it's adjacent to a cinder block elementary school that many of her kids attend. When Hardwick walked over during recess this week, he was swarmed by little girls in gray dresses. Bosire calls Hardwick an angel, the type of comment that shades the Penn State student's face in red.
“If they want to say God sent me, that's fine. I think Reddit did it,” Hardwick said.