BROWNSVILLE — Although the nearly $90,000 the Makindu Children’s Program received from an international philanthropic organization is greatly welcomed, Makindu founder Winnie Barron said the networking and training seminars she attended as part of the award festivities were equally valuable.

Barron was one of five leaders of international nonprofit organizations recognized by World of Children, an organization founded by Harry and Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz, both former executive CEOs.

Barron received the Humanitarian Award for her work over the last 19 years with thousands of underprivileged children in Kenya.

“It was a remarkable opportunity," Barron said. “I’m not very city-savvy, but I did get to see a little bit of it. What was truly valuable were the connections made and the people I got to meet.”

Barron flew to New York City on Monday, Oct. 30, and Tuesday through Thursday were packed with training sessions and interviews with World of Children representatives, including its founders.

Barron spent a half-day at a seminar led by the president of UNICEF, Caryl Stern.

“She is so very knowledgeable and connected,” Barron said. The meeting also opened the door to a potential meeting with UNICEF officials in Africa, Barron said.

Barron said other seminars provided detailed information about how to “manage things in a nonprofit world. I picked up a lot of good tips for presenters, plus many do’s and don’ts and the best utilization of public relations resources.”

“Once you win one of these awards, you become part of the World of Children family,” Barron said. “They wanted to hear stories about our children and our needs. They asked me to submit a list of our needs and they said the list is never too long."

She said she saw the needs of one of the other honorees met within 24 hours because the World of Children program is so well-respected and connected with business leaders around the world.

Barron said it was an honor to meet and learn from the other honorees. They are: Youth Award: Teagan Stedman, Shred Kids’ Cancer, United States; Protection Award: Jackie Branfield, Operation Bobbi Bear, South Africa; Health Award: Dr. Ustun Ezer, Turkey; Education Award: Maureen Rover, The Reading Team, United States. 

Barron said the awards banquet of more than 450 people was held in a large hall in Manhattan.

“Most of the award recipients received their medallion and plaque from a child,” Barron said. “But they truly surprised me. They had flown in Babu Juma from Kenya. He was one of our program’s first children. He was 12 years old when we started. Incredibly bright. He was always breaking into school, but didn’t have money to buy a uniform and they would kick him out.”

With help from the Makindu Children’s Program, Juma went on to complete high school, attend college and in June passed his law boards to become a lawyer.

“He always wanted to come to the United States,” Barron said. “I wish we could have spent more time together, but they kept him secreted away to surprise me. It was wonderful.”

A two-and-a-half minute video about each award recipient was shown and then each honoree was expected to give a 90-second acceptance speech.

“It’s tough enough to give the speech and to get in an inspirational story into 90 seconds, but after they surprised me with Babu, I was so emotional,” Barron said.

Barron, who plans to travel to Kenya in January, said the funding will be spread over three years.

It will be used to hire another counselor and to help provide services to some of the neediest children.

“We recently applied for a grant to serve 1,200 more children,” Barron said. “We will use some of the grant money to help a few children who are most at risk of dying right now. We will get them food, health care and access to education. We will help their families too.”

Barron said she is excited to see how the Makindu Children’s Center can bloom with help with the World of Children. She is already talking with another honoree whose program focuses on decreasing child abuse in Africa. They hope to develop a working relationship.

“The World of Children is unique,” Barron said. “They don’t just give you a grant and forget about you. They will closely monitor us and they consider us a part of their family.”

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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