There have been countless people who have made it their life's passion to change the world. Some of them are famous and well known like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. While not all heroes are well known, those who are famous can be an example for communities everywhere. However, much of what is accomplished in changing the world is done so by very ordinary people. Instead of wishing for change and a better world, they envision it and then commit themselves to working diligently to make their dreams reality. One such person is Isabella Robi. We affectionately call her Mama Robi.
As her son translated for her, Mrs. Robi spoke to her unsuspecting audience with warmth and introduced herself, “My name is Isabella Robi and I love God.” What a simple statement, yet so powerful in its meaning. She continued on, “God saved me and He called me to this ministry. God has given me a love for children.” In her native land of Kenya, Mrs. Robi was heartbroken that the children in her small village just outside of Nakuru, Kenya, were not attending school. Visiting their homes, she told their parents that they would go to school. The burden of the responsibility weighed heavy upon her heart and she knew she would die if she walked away from it.
In 1998, when “Mama Robi” saw the children wandering without supervision in her village, she could not bear the thought that they would never go to school. She, herself, had been denied continuing her education past the third grade. “I did not have a happy heart to see all of the other children in school,” says Mrs. Robi. “I was the fourth born, second girl from a family of 11 girls and 10 boys. My father had 3 wives and they were not able to educate all of us.” During the Freedom Wars, Isabella’s family was divided and sent to three different villages. She grew up near Nyeri close to Mt. Kenya.
As a young woman, Isabella met Jeremiah Robi from the town of Nakuru. Settling in the town of Nakuru, the Robi’s began their family.
So there she was, years later, her husband retired, her own eight children grown, watching the village children wander aimlessly in the streets. She gathered the children and told them, “You will go to school.” She visited their parents, those who had them, and began teaching the children in wooden buildings that had been used as saw mills at the bottom of her property. That was in 1998, and only the beginning of the dream. Like many great dreams, sometimes there are set-backs before the dream is fully realized. Such was the case with Mrs. Robi and “her” children. After the first term, many of the children did not return and neither did the teachers. “I told the Lord that if he wanted me to do something, He would have to change things because I was done with it,” says Mrs. Robi. And change things, He did. God performed miracles.
After the school failed, ladies in the village began to pray in secret for Mrs. Robi. When she tried to get authorization for the school from the Ministry of Education, she was told she was too old and that her land was not big enough. They told her that she did not have enough education to start a school. “In Africa, women do not have any voice like men. They would send for me every day to tell me ‘no’ and to laugh.” Fortunately, Mrs. Robi knew that God specializes in the impossible.
Gideon, the Robi’s fourth child, was in Bible College in the United States. Upon a visit home to Kenya, he learned about his mother’s dream for the school. Her heart was full for these children, who she felt had no hope. Gideon asked her to gather the children and one teacher. He took a video of his mother, the teacher and the children and returned to America. When the Robi’s visited America in 1999, Dr. Ferrell Drummond, who was then pastoring Mountain Park United Methodist Church in Lilburn, Georgia, gave Mrs. Robi $1000. She went home with the money determined to start the school. Her dream blossomed with 13 children and 2 teachers; Mountain Park Academy was born.
Many of the children had lost their parents and were fully dependent on the love of Mrs. Robi, her husband, Jeremiah, and American sponsors for the opportunity to go to school. Dr. Drummond and Gideon continued to spark interest in the school through a sponsorship program for the children and the first mission team visited the school in May, 2000.
Mission teams continue to visit the school providing medical care, conducting vacation Bible school, feeding distributions, providing knowledge and manpower for the many planned construction projects, educational opportunities for teachers and implementing many other mission goals.
In January 2005, a new school building with eight classrooms, a library and administrative area was opened. Named for the primary church supporter, Mountain Park United Methodist Church, Mountain Park Academy had a new home. Since the beginning, Mrs. Robi has gone to the school everyday and should she miss, the children run up the hill to her house and look for “Grandma Robi.”
In the summer of 2005, the new school building was dedicated and more and more children came desiring to be a part of the beautiful school on the hill.
However, Mrs. Robi was not satisfied. These children needed more. They needed clean water and better nourishment to improve their health and ability to learn. With financial backing from student sponsors and donors through The Kenya Project in America, and the hands-on supervision of Mr. Robi, they begin pursuing a plan to drill a well. The well was finished and the children and villagers no longer have to drink from the same water as their livestock.
Mrs. Robi knew the children needed physical nourishment along with nurturing of their minds and spiritual lives. So many children came to school hungry. Even before there was a commitment for on-going funding, she started a feeding program at the school. The children now eat porridge in the morning and lunch in the afternoon while at school. They come to school just to eat! Just as Jesus modeled, He knew his followers could not learn from Him when they were hungry. From the feeding of the five thousand to the Last Supper, Jesus fed His followers before He taught them. “Before we began the feeding program,” says Mrs. Robi, “I would tell the children to bring their lunch to school and I would check on them. Some were begging from others and others had nothing. Many did not have enough to eat or only corn and tea without milk or sugar. We first gave them porridge at 10 a.m., but last year after the medical team told us that so many of the children were still malnourished, we began to feed the students beans and vegetables for lunch. They are much healthier and in 2006 the medical team was pleased with their progress. They do not grow if they are hungry and they cannot learn. It makes my heart so happy to see them satisfied.” Through a continued improved feeding program, the children continue to thrive.
When asked about the future, Mrs. Robi saw the need for a kitchen and dining hall to prepare and serve food, a program for parents of children attending the school to grow crops for the school and a new lower school building for the baby classes, who still gathered in the original sawmill sheds. Mrs. Robi says, “God can do everything. I have a lot of grandchildren in Kenya and some in America. I believe that your children and my Kenyan grandchildren will meet. The work that is not finished by us will be left for our descendents and the next generation.”
Again, Mrs. Robi’s dream was realized when the dining hall and kitchen were built in 2007 and 2009 and the Lower School was dedicated and opened in 2012. The old saw mills were torn down and replaced with play ground equipment for the children. In June of 2012 there were over 800 children served at Mountain Park Academy and its partner secondary schools. Mrs. Robi’s prayers continue to be answered through student sponsorships and the many other projects and programs that are now part of the mission of The Kenya Project.
Mrs. Robi planted the seed, financial supporters from the U.S. watered it, and God provided the increase!
It’s a simple philosophy to which Mrs. Robi subscribes: “Love the children. Feed the children. Teach the children.” When asked about the comparison of her mission with the work of Jesus, she humbly replied, “I’ve never thought about it that way, but I have remembered Matthew 5:7: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.’” Isabella Robi clearly understands the example of Christ as she rises with the African sun each day with her God-given purpose to love the children, feed the children and teach the children.