In the year 2000, Bob and Lynette Gay took their family to Kenya on a journey that would forever change their lives. Designed as a humanitarian trip to help others in need, they discovered it was a trip that blessed their own children. They found young and old—burdened with poverty, disease, deprivation and almost insurmountable challenges. Bob and Lynette knew they had a responsibility to help those that had been forgotten—and they went to work.
After careful analysis and planning, they organized a medical expedition in 2002 to the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Teaching stations were established and Lynette with her sister Diana Bingham, both nurses, along with about 30 other volunteers went to work. They teamed up with Ethiopian doctors to train 21 local healthcare workers on best medical practices to greatly improve the health of the rural population; i.e. boiling water, hygiene and sanitation, oral rehydration following diarrhea and de-worming. Gratefully, the team was also able to treat thousands of Ethiopians during their week in country. The trip was an exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, and beautiful experience. It set the stage for many more trips.
Over the next five years, similar volunteer teams went to Ethiopia twice a year to work in rural villages. The original medical expeditions and clinics quickly expanded to include family planning, HIV and CPR training. Programs were created for literacy and micro-credit training. Simple technology projects including drip irrigation systems and smokeless stoves were included. Water systems, wells, schools and latrines were added to the construction projects. Each of these programs were implemented at the invitation of the communities we served. They helped determine available resources and manpower to assist. A great partnership developed.
Year-by-year, step-by-step, this effort, which today is now known as Engage Now Africa, grew in capacity and scope. We learned to address local challenges with long-term sustainable initiatives—developed, implemented and maintained by local communities. We are very grateful to the amazing people that helped create the foundation upon which ENA now stands. From the early days, we honor Abebe Yoseph, “The Pharaoh,” whose translation expertise, raw passion, endless kindness, patience and commitment kept progress moving forward making ENA a reality, in spite of all the obstacles. We honor those that truly contributed and participated to be part of this miracle—volunteers that endured heat, sickness, and sleepless nights, our corporate partners that donated equipment and medicines, our generous donors that sustain our programs, and our remarkable staff on the ground.
In 2008, ENA opened an office in Ghana facilitating student education loans, organizing micro credit groups and teaching principles of self- reliance. Having been invited to Sierra Leone we partnered with the Lynn Maternal Clinic and opened an office serving many of the villages of Bo, Sierra Leone. Several years later, we were invited to Namibia to work with groups of HIV positive women who were desperate to find ways to generate income in order to buy food to take with their retro viral medications to treat their disease. There were many ways to support the women and villagers of the Kavango region in Namibia. In each country where we work, our goal is to lift others out of poverty with our programs of education and healing.
Today, the medical excursions of our early years have been replaced with the construction of rural health posts, modern medical clinics, and pharmacies making health care accessible to those truly in need. We have established 35 schools with a capacity to teach over 20,000 young students every day. We have over 7,000 adults learning to read and write English in our nationally recognized adult literacy program in Ghana and Ethiopia. We provide opportunities for scholarships and vocational training. Engage Now Africa also provides business training, mentoring and financial resources to entrepreneurs to help start and grow small to medium-sized businesses. We could never have envisioned what would come from that first trip to Kenya.
Our most recent initiative, launched in 2014, is to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery—a plague that still haunts the globe and especially Sub-Saharan Africa. We have discovered that to truly end poverty, we must also work to end slavery, and to end slavery we must work to end poverty. No one should be a slave! The genesis of this program began several years ago in Ghana where ENA was working with a family to help them become more self-reliant. This family had faced many trials and hardships, forcing them to flee their homelands to escape civil war and political and religious persecution. The parents and their young daughter became very close to the ENA staff. The father worked part time at ENA assisting with our micro-credit programs and providing translation services for our team working in a refugee camp. They were family.
One day, the father came home to discover his wife and daughter were missing—they had simply vanished. Efforts were made to work with the police to quickly find them and the suspected kidnappers, but nothing happened. We launched our own investigation, and ultimately, this directed us to leads in a refugee camp, where a truly awful puzzle emerged. Much to our horror we uncovered the truth, that both mother and daughter had been trafficked. In fact, the mother had been lured and tricked with the promise of a very good paying job abroad. She believed it was an opportunity of a lifetime, one that caused her to sell all of the family’s belongings in order to pay traffickers for fees they demanded. Eventually, we were finally able to locate their exact location in Mauritania, West Africa. The traffickers had taken them on a very long journey starting in Ghana, then to Togo, Senegal and finally to Mauritania. ENA organized a special recovery mission and successfully rescued the nine-year old girl. Unfortunately, it was too dangerous to rescue the mother at that time.
This rescue operation uncovered a heinous reality we did not know existed until seeing it with our own eyes. Hundreds of additional women and children from various parts of Africa were being held captive in two compounds and forced to work as sex slaves and servants by human traffickers. It was a horrific and very disturbing discovery. This event is the exact moment when our hearts and minds would forever be changed at Engage Now Africa. As an organization we could no longer remain silent about modern slavery. In 2015, we were finally able to locate and safely help rescue the mother from traffickers in Morocco. Today they both are safe. These brave survivors were the catalyst for our determination to end human trafficking and modern slavery.
Since then, we have had the opportunity of rescuing and rehabilitating a hundred other victims, and in arresting over a hundred traffickers and slave masters. We have also been able to prevent thousands from being trafficked. We have developed strong partnerships with local and international anti-trafficking NGO’s, law enforcement units, abolitionists, key government agencies, human rights lawyers, prosecutors, and some of the world’s leading experts on slavery.
Our successes to date have been notable. Bob and Lynette’s vision and values have been firmly entrenched in the mission of this organization. Engage Now Africa is a testament to the results that can be achieved when people and organizations unite with a shared purpose and goal. The voices of the poor and disenfranchised are not silent to us. We listen, act, and bring hope into the lives of the most vulnerable that have been forgotten. Through principles of self-reliance we provide the building blocks of education, health, and the eradication of modern slavery, solutions to ending poverty. We invite you to join with us on this journey to Heal, Rescue and Lift our African brothers and sisters.