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From Kenya, John Ondeche inspires at UNC

Five hundred abandoned infants have arrived at John Ondeche’s doorstep since 2002.

They come from passersby, hospitals or police stations to find safety at Ondeche’s New Life Home in his community in Kisumu, Africa.

But Ondeche, who is from Kenya, spent this week away from the children he said he views as his family, visiting UNC to share his story of service with students.

He said he has found the University community very welcoming.

“My wife will be upset when I get on the scale,” Ondeche said.

“Chapel Hill adds five kilograms to my weight.”

But he said students were even more welcoming to the story he had to share — one of a life unexpectedly dedicated to service.

Ondeche said creating a children’s home wasn’t part of his life plan, but after he had worked for 20 years in the banking business, his wife asked him to join her in serving their community.

He agreed, and together the couple created New Life Home, which takes in abandoned children and tries to place them in new families.

Ondeche, one of 21 children, said he sees a very narrow distance between his four biological children and those he takes in.

“We take care of them as parents,” Ondeche said. “But then we have to release them in our hearts because they’ve found a family.”

UNC junior Morgan Abbott has spent the past four summers working with Ondeche in Kisumu.

“New Life Homes rocked my notion of what international aid was supposed to look like,” Abbott said.

She said she had expected a summer in the slums of Africa, but instead worked at an orphanage that provided a comfortable home for children awaiting adoption.

After realizing her passion for helping those children, Abbott founded Carolina for Amani to support The Amani Children’s Foundation and New Life Home.

The organization allows University interns to spend their summer in Kenya digitizing adoption files to make the adoption process more efficient.

And Wednesday afternoon, it hosted an Amani bead jewelry sale in the Campus Y to raise money for the home.

Junior Kaci Hollingsworth, who met Ondeche at the event, said she finds it inspiring that he gave up so much to serve his community.

“He’s been like my second father,” Abbott said. “Just the way I saw him interacting with the kids, and the love, really made it feel like a family.”

This summer, 12 UNC students will join Abbott as credit-earning interns at New Life Home for either three weeks or two months.

“I could be an investment banker or save a kid’s life,” Abbott said. “What’s more important?”

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Ondeche’s final event this week will take place in Gardner Hall Friday afternoon. He will discuss development, entrepreneurship, policy and other pressing issues in Kenya.

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