Dr. Frank Andolino is an orthodontist in New York City, who also is one of the founders of Kageno, an organization that works to build sustainable villages in communities of extreme poverty around the world. You may have read our interview with Laura Nann, one of Kageno’s main supporters, in December, as she talked about her experience working with a village in Rwanda. We finally caught up with Dr. Anodlino as well, and learned more about how he came to start this incredible organization.
Love and Water- How did you form Kageno?
Frank Andolino- When I was in college I used to do volunteer work in the U.S., but while in dental school it was very hectic and I was too busy to do as much as I wanted. When I stated my practice in 1989 I was doing volunteer work for Covenant House here in New York City, working with run-away youth. I also volunteered with the New York Special Olympics. I also In the mid-90’s I was reading a dental magazine and saw an article about how a friend I had gone to dental school with had started a program through Health Volunteers Overseas bringing orthodontics to a dental school in Bangladesh. I thought that sounded amazing, and I looked into it and found a program in Vietnam, which I went to and reconnected with my friend. Together we headed a program in Cambodia together, and became more involved with programs related to dentistry overseas. I was also volunteering time as a teacher at Mount Sinai Hospital here in New York, and someone I met there told me there was a program in Africa, in Tanzania, that I might be interested in, so I looked into it. I spent three weeks pulling teeth there, and decided to climb Mount Kilamanjaro. I met some Peace Corps volunteers while climbing to the summit- and one of them, Rob, told me about a program he was putting together in Western Kenya working with youth in a migrant fishing community that had a really high AIDS rate. It was mostly a village full of youth and very old people, because most of the people who were in the middle age range who had been sexually active had contracted and died of AIDS. The program was focused on educating the youth how to stay clear of AIDS and how to lower the status of infection. From that introduction, I wanted to help him establish this program. He was working with a gentleman from that community, so the three of us worked via email to get the program up and running. From there we decided to start a 501c3 here in the U.S. and I let my patients know about it. Most wanted to become involved because the appeal was that they knew exactly where their donations were going. It just grew from there, and now we have two projects in Kenya and one in Rwanda.
L&W- I understand that Kageno is not limited to just Kenya and Rwanda.
FA- That’s right. The organization as a whole is called Kageno Worldwide, and was built as an umbrella organization so we could have different projects in different countries, all under the Worldwide umbrella. When we got our 501c3 status, we set it up so that our funds can only go from us to them, and used local lawyers to figure out the best way to set up each project financially in that country. In Kenya we are set up as a trust, because there is more corruption in the Kenyan government, so the trust gives us more of a grassroots presence that the government stays out of, and in Rwanda we are set up as an NGO.
L&W- Where does the name ‘Kageno’ come from?
FA- The first village we worked with was predominantly a Dholuo (pronounced ‘Luo’) culture. In that area of Kenya there are 40 indigenous tribes, and the Dholuo tribe is one of those. In Dholuo, ‘Kageno’ means ‘hope.’ We kept that name, and it’s always written as ‘Kageno: A Place of Hope.’
L&W- One of the most appealing and profound aspects of Kageno is the way in which you structure programs to build sustainable lives for the villagers you work with. Can you talk about that?
FA- The situation, if you travel to resource-poor countries and see the level of poverty, it is nothing like the kind of poverty we have here in the U.S. There is absolute poverty, where there is no intervention. So if you just provide medicine for HIV, for example, it doesn’t do the patient any good if the people can’t afford to buy food to eat. If they can’t eat, they can’t take the medicine, so the problem of poverty is multi-faceted. When Rob and I were talking in the beginning about how we wanted to formulate the organization, the Millennium Village and Millennium Promise hadn’t launched yet. The Kageno model is similar, which is a multi-faceted approach to ending poverty, and we tried to come up with a way to create some sustainable income first. We tried to figure out how we could do that, and decided that two ways to start were to establish a crafts program, where the people of the villages makes crafts that appeal to a Western taste, and ‘voluntourism’ or eco tourism, where people could go and volunteer their time in addition to seeing how the villages function. In Kenya there was already a high-end eco lodge adjacent to the community we were helping, so we have an arrangement with this lodge where we have a tour that generates income and allows people to see the villages, similar to what the Millennium Village has. We have four program areas for the villages: health, income generation, education and conservation of natural resources. There is a big problem of de-forestation on Rusinga Island- so we have all these different program areas that we walk people through so they can learn about what we’re doing. After reading works by great economists such as Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs, what they felt were ways to put together programs are the ways we’ve tried to model our programs. We feel that you can’t end poverty without partnering and you can’t end it one solution- there have to be multiple solutions put into place and working together.
L&W- What is the moving moment you’ve had so far?
FA- One of the first trips I made I met a woman named Phoebe, who was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. It was at a time when Kenya didn’t have AIDS, or at least they weren’t yet familiar with it as an epidemic. It was considered taboo, yet in her village, almost 50% of the people were positive and no one was acknowledging it. She and a group of women went around with a microphone announcing they were HIV positive and that it was important to get rid of the stigma about AIDS because it was slowly killing their culture and that everyone needed to know their status. They were ridiculed and shunned by their community, but ended up changing the perception of AIDS in their whole community. Meeting her was one of the most moving experiences for me. Her conviction and her passion and knowing what she had to go through to get her point across, because women weren’t supposed to speak out about such things. She encouraged so many people to get tested, and formed a post-test group of women as well.
L&W- Is there anything else you would like people to know about Kageno?
FA- A lot of times people assume that Kageno has something to do with what I do for a living, but at this point there is no dentistry aspect yet, and anyone can help. We have so many people who have gone who have business backgrounds who have taught classes on how to start a business, or Public Relations- anyone can go and help and make a huge impact. We work with a group called MBAs Without Borders, and with a group from Dartmouth called Engineers Without Borders. Anyone can go and share their knowledge on just about anything they know with the community. We have a yoga group going this summer to do service and practice yoga with the villagers. We work with children, women, health issues, conservation issues, all of which appeal to almost everyone. In addition to that, if you don’t want to go to Rwanda or Kenya for one of our programs, there are so many other programs doing similar work in other places around the world who would love the support just as much. So it’s important to realize that you can go just about anywhere to help, and make a huge difference.