Lance Orozco interviews CSUCI student Kyle Morford about his trip to Rwanda to help orphans.

Download MP3 of interview [5.4MB, running time 5:55]


LO: Some college students spend their summers working to save money for school, others who can afford it travel. But one Ventura County student passed on the traditional vacation and instead spent last summer helping orphans in a war-torn African country. Cal State Channel Islands student, Kyle Morford, headed a successful local effort to bring electricity to an orphan’s village in Rwanda.

KM: When I went down there this summer and we walked into like the first house and they turned the electricity on and this light bulb above their heads lit up the entire room and that was something they never had before. It was really amazing I almost cried.

LO: Morford’s story starts more than two years ago when he was part of  the Channel Islands chapter of ROTARACT, which is like a junior version of the ROTARY CLUB.  He got a chance to go to Guatemala and help with the project to provide dental care to people who would otherwise go without.

KM: We worked for a dental clinic that served children that lived in the local villages, most of them where Mayan children. Imagine going down a big winding Amazon River and there is like little offshoots that shoot into the forest and you take those little things miles back and then these people live back there and they have nothing. There’s farmers maybe they have one cow and one chicken. So once a year a dentist comes into town and that was us. It was a very big eye opener when you see that kind of poverty and that kind of separation from the rest of the world. It really opens your eyes as to what else is out there and how the majority of the world lives.

LO: Morford was so moved by the trip he decided to try to find his own project.

KM: I was really just looking for some way to make a difference in the world. I wanted some kind of international service project because I had been volunteering with the Red Cross. I went to Katrina and volunteered for three months. I wanted to look outward more because I knew that there was extreme poverty and I wanted to look some where in Africa for some type of service project to do and I started making phone calls and I sent out a global email through the ROTARACT club at school and I got invitations to go to about 20 different countries in a matter of 2 days. So I was overwhelmed with all these projects from people all over the world.

LO: That search led the college student to Rwanda a nation torn apart a part by an ethnic war in the 1990’s which left more than 800,000 people dead and the country in shambles.

KM: I just kind of sorted through them and there where some good projects. There were some projects that where too big , too small. One day I got an instant message from this guy named Christian Pakuani he lives in Kigali Rwanda he had kind of the similar position that I did in his club which is like international project specialist. We got to know each other over a couple of months with e-mail and text messages then we decided that with our connections and the poverty in Rwanda that we could actually impact a lot of people.

LO: Morford’s Rotary contact in Rwanda told them about a small community of orphans basically forced to survive on their own.

KM: It’s kind of like a big orphan village 22 houses fill up a few acres that are kind of scattered around the street, that are mud streets. There are 120 kids they live in what is called childhood households which means that there are no adults present no parents that is they’re all orphans from the genocide of ‘94 and they raise each other. So let’s say there is a 15 year old and they are the oldest in the house their main job is to raise every other kid. You’re talking five or six kids they have to raise as a full time parent and this is very sad but it’s empowering when you see these kids. I mean their way older than a 15 or 16 year old would be in our society.

LO: The orphans go to school but they also have to work to survive.

KM: They would go to work the younger kids anywhere from 6-12 years old goes to work because they have no other means. They have no parent they have to find a kind of income so they would go to work during the day. After school they would come home and they would try to study but sitting by fire light inside these little houses it’s not very good to study.

LO: So Morford went to work he and his Rwandan counterpart negotiated a deal with the nation’s power company to have electrical service installed in the orphan’s homes. The international relation student appealed to the Rotary clubs and other groups here in the south coast raising 16,000 dollars to get the lights up and running. The international team also got the Rwandan government to step up to help fix up the houses.

KM: The Kigali Rotaract club contacted the Kigali government, the Rwandan government, and got a huge grant to fix up the houses before used to be made up of mud bricks and sticks with sheet metal for roughs. The government came in and totally revamped them. They concreted the walls concreted the floors insulated the house now the wind can flow through and they won’t fall apart in the rains, it’s just very beneficial to the kids.

LO: Morford and his Rwandan counterpart now are in the process of setting up a business cooperative for the orphans to help them generate enough money to keep the lights on. The Cal State Channel Islands student says that the big goal is to give the orphans a chance to succeed in the world.

KM: The main goal of the electricity project was upward mobility to provide a basic resource like electricity so they can study at night. If they can study they can get an education they can get a better job. When they are older and they don’t have to rely on these subsistence jobs you know they can find a job in the technology industry or something like that. So the whole project was to provide upward mobility for these children.

LO: Morford says it’s been personally rewarding and very emotional as he saw how grateful the orphans where for something as basic as electricity which we tend to take for granted. The real pay off came when he visited Rwanda for two weeks.

KM: It took a lot of my time and a lot of effort but it was worth it. When I saw that first light bulb come on they kept coming to me one person by person child by child saying thank you thank you so much now I can read now I can study and it really raised my hopes what can really be done around the world as far as helping out. I just saw the need in the world as far as the poverty and how people live on a dollar a day or less and I don’t know ever since then its become like a personal goal of mine to try to work towards an end to that amend.

LO: The CSUCI student believes he’s actually found his calling in life. After graduating from Cal State Channel Islands Morford wants to go on and get his doctorate in international relations and then use his education to help children around the world. Lance Orozco KCLU news.