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A long trip to see good works in action

January 4, 2019

It may not be everyone’s dream itinerary for a generational bonding experience, but when your work brings you to Africa on a regular basis, a visit to Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia was just the ticket for Fairfield’s Kerner men.

And it was time to meet a boy who has been in their lives the last six years.

Brad Kerner, 42, has worked for Fairfield-based Save the Children, the world’s largest international nonprofit devoted solely to child welfare, for 13 years.

“I’m a lifer,” he said the other day as we sat in his dining room. His work has taken him around the world — more than once. Joining us at the table was his 11-year-old son, Sasha.

He is now senior director of Save the Children’s sponsorship program, which has some 200,000 sponsors worldwide, roughly 78,000 of whom are in the U.S., and 2,000 in Connecticut.

For the last six years, Kerner and his wife, Tara, have been sponsoring a child in Ethiopia, a boy named Chimdi, now 10 years old. Sasha and Chimdi have been pen pals for five years, exchanging brief accounts over that time of their very different lives.

Last November, circumstances worked out to let Sasha and Kerner’s father, Gordon, 70, to accompany him on a business trip to Africa for a three-day conference in Rwanda — where Sasha marked his 11th birthday — school inspections in Uganda and, finally, a visit to a remote village in the Ethiopian region of Oromia for a special meeting.

When the Kerners arrived in the village, Chimdi was in class in the village school, one of about 300 students at the school. For Chimdi, school is a 30-minute walk each way.

“They brought him out of his classroom and he recognized me from pictures I had sent him,” Sasha said.

Kerner, who spent years in the Peace Corps in Gabon, on the western coast of Africa, is fluent in a number of languages, and translated for the boys and for Chimdi’s parents.

The parents are subsistence farmers, growing what they live on and bartering their produce at the local market for other necessities.

As for Chimdi, “He takes care of the animals, and he collects firewood for his family,” Sasha reported.

Life in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Sasha has now seen firsthand, is light years from the lifestyle of Fairfield County.

“We’re upset if we don’t get the right pair of shoes we want and they can’t afford clothing and a lot of stuff. We should be grateful for what we have.” That’s exactly what he said.

Said Brad, a veteran of the African scene — this was his 11th trip to Ethiopia — and of impoverished children literally around the world, “For me, it was really nice seeing this through other people’s lenses, through their eyes. It was a reminder that what we do is really good. Sometimes I don’t think about it because it’s my job.

“But to hear my father say, ‘Wow, the work Save the Children does is really good’ ... It made me feel really good. And he got to see me in action.

And of Sasha, he said, “It’s a cool way for him to learn about what I do, and a more interesting way to learn about the world.”

In all, the three Kerners spent 11 days together. Since Brad was on business, Sasha and Gordon got to spend considerable time together.

“He was pretty awesome,” said Sasha of his grandfather. High praise from an 11-year-old.

And grandfather Gordon is also a proud father .

“We watched Brad give a speech. He speaks African French and regular French. Everybody knows Brad. I was very proud,” he said by telephone from Naples, Fla., where he was getting ready to celebrate his birthday.

They saw plenty of each other and plenty of the need.

A Save the Children sponsorship costs $38 a month. A variety of sponsorships is available in any of the 20 countries where the organization runs programs.

Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the Connecticut Post editorial page. Email: edit@ctpost.com

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