Making shoes and education a growing priority
William and Diamond Muganzo have 300 children, and they all need shoes.
The children are orphans or fatherless children from William Muganzo’s extended family living on Mfangano Island, a large island on the Kenya side of Lake Victoria. By village standards, the children and the widowed mothers are all his.
“Biblically, it just didn’t really work,” said William Muganzo, remembering how he first learned of his responsibility (it was only 150 children then) and smiling at his real wife, Diamond, a student at Brandman’s Menifee campus.
“But we wanted to come up with a way to help those children,” said Diamond.
Don’t underestimate Diamond
When Diamond was 7 years old, she told her mother she was going to go to Kenya some day. She has no idea what made her think that but in 1999 – 35 years later – she did indeed go to Kenya in order to meet William’s family.
“When I say I’m going to do something, it happens. It might not happen right away, but it happens. I’m full of dreams,” said Diamond.
One of those dreams is shoes. In Africa, jiggers (sometimes confused with chiggers because of their size and name) are tiny parasites that enter humans through cuts in their feet. They cause swelling and itching and in the worst cases can lead to amputation or even death. Shoes are an important line of defense.
But shoes are expensive and quickly outgrown. And then the Muganzos learned about The Show That Grows.
No ordinary shoe
In 2007, Kenton Lee was living and working in Nairobi, Kenya, when he noticed a little girl wearing shoes that were way too small for her feet. According to theshoethatgrows.org website, Lee asked himself “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand so that kids always had a pair that fit?”
It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually Lee found Gary Pitman, a former executive with Nike who shared an interest in philanthropy and shoe design. The sandal-like shoe they created is made of durable rubber and expands both in length and width. They estimate the shoe will last a growing child five years.
They make the shoes available through a fundraising website called Because International. And thanks to all of that, the Muganzos are hoping to raise enough money to buy shoes for the children of William’s ancestral village. Their fundraising page can be found here.
Diamond brings the same dedication and determination to funding the shoe program as she does to her studies at Brandman in Menifee. Although she said she always wanted to be a teacher, getting a college education, like Kenya, was a dream deferred.
It wasn’t until her son started attending Brandman thanks to his military benefits, that she began to think of it as a possibility for herself. Her son eventually took a different route, but she plans to graduate in May 2017 with a B.A. in liberal studies. If she can find a way to make it happen, she’ll continue on for a master’s. Her husband relaunches working on a bachelor’s in organizational leadership this summer.
Menifee site director Miguel Aranda said Diamond is the kind of student every teacher should want in their class – always organized, always on time and always wanting to know more.
Dr. Jalin Johnson, assistant professor of business and organizational leadership, said, “Diamond Muganzo has continued to be a shining example and representative of what so many of our Menifee campus, and Brandman students in general, embody. The desire and drive to do more, be more and move up is always at the forefront.” She said Diamond has talked about her efforts with faculty and students and that she is glad their efforts will be shared with others beyond the Menifee campus.
Eventually, the Muganzos want to be able to divide their time between Menifee and Mfangano Island, where Diamond hopes that she’ll be able to fulfill another lifelong dream: teaching children.
William, who grew up primarily in Nairobi but with frequent visits to his ancestral village Mauta on Mfangano Island, left Kenya in a hurry. “My uncle told me he knew somebody who could get me to America,” said William. Six hours later he had the paperwork and was on his way. “A miraculous way to leave the country (in 1982).”
He started attending Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Alabama, while trying to adjust to a new world. “I didn’t know what snow was. I had never seen a color TV. You know those little cereal boxes (sold in cafeterias)? They looked like witchdoctor’s charms. I threw them away,” he said. He confesses to eating everything else – sometimes filling his cafeteria tray to overflowing.
Life eventually led him to Florida and meeting Diamond but without completing his education.
He now works for Sodexo, Inc. at the Inland Valley Hospital where he is the lead housekeeper. Diamond said Sodexo wants him to apply for a managerial position so he’s heading back to school to finish is bachelor’s.
Diamond got a better understanding of just how big an adjustment coming to America had been for her husband when she visited Kenya, first in 1999 and again in 2007. “I know why he doesn’t understand how to fix a doorknob. They don’t have them,” she said.
She also had to make a few adjustments of her own, particularly in the way wives behave around husbands. “A woman is not to speak to her husband if he’s speaking to men. You stand and wait until he notices. You do not show your anger or frustration. I have to be so subservient. I can do it there. I have to,” she said, while also admitting she sometimes just plays “dumb” and sits with the men and talks.
But she’s also built a hut of saplings and sisal rope and mud and guided one young orphan in creating a garden he dubbed the Diamond Project.
They are spurred on by their religious conviction (a ministry called Kenya My People Ministries) and their desire to help the people of the village be self-sustaining and educated. That goal also keeps Diamond focused on her own studies.
“We let them know they can be what their dream is.”
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