Orcas woman to make Kenya trip

Next summer, Orcas Islander Mary Ann Slabaugh will bid the Pacific Northwest goodbye to spend a full year living and volunteering in the Kenyan village of Chwele with her friend, Chwele-born author Grace Kuto.

“No other country or continent has called me to live, work and be part of a culture as an African country has,” said Slabaugh, who visited Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal among 12 ports of call during a semester at sea with Chapman World Campus Afloat in 1975.  “While in high school growing up in a small university town in Oregon ... I knew it would be important for me to experience another culture, a different country far different than my own – a calling of “home” where I was the different one, to stretch my perception of the world.”

Long in the planning, Slabaugh’s heart-felt hope is nearly ready to take flight.  She plans to divide her time between volunteering in local Chwele schools and building a vegetable garden for the Chwele Community Development and Peace Center.

Slabaugh met Kuto 17 years ago at an International Women’s Day in Portland, Ore.  Kuto had just published her first editon of “Harambee! Stories and Recipes from the Family Circle”, available at  In Swahili, Kenya’s national language, “harambee” means "Let’s pull together for the good of global community."

Kuto accomplished just that, using her book proceeds and associated donations to fund the renovation of a 1948 Quaker medical station that had stood inoperable for 50 years.

Thanks to Kuto’s work and the Chwele community development project, “lives in this village in western Kenya have seen great and wonderful transformations,” says Slabaugh.

Every other year, Kuto and her husband Paul lead teams of volunteers to Chwele to help support ongoing projects – this year, Salbaugh’s got her ticket to fly.

“It is time, and I am grateful for the opportunity,” says Slabaugh.

While she’s saved up for her plane ticket, Slabaugh is still working to raise funds to cover her basic living expenses while in Chwele.  Slabaugh and Kuto are planning a fundraising dinner in March.  Slabaugh will depart for Chwele in July of 2013.

Kuto will visit Orcas on Oct. 21 to speak at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church for both services at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

To learn more visit the project website at or Slabaugh’s blog at

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