Ryan Keith ′02
A few weeks before moving to Boston for his first semester of graduate school at Harvard University, Ryan Keith ′02 got a call from his church that changed his plans drastically. West Shore Evangelical Free Church (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) wanted to send Keith and 11 other people to Zimbabwe to explore ways the congregation could respond to the AIDS epidemic.
Surprisingly, he deferred his enrollment and traveled to Zimbabwe, which has the world’s highest proportion of orphans in its population and where nearly one in every seven adults suffers from AIDS. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about Zimbabwe or HIV/AIDS,” says Keith. “But I was-and remain-passionate about kids and mobilizing people to do things beyond our imaginations.” So instead of Harvard-where he planned to study how intra-faith non-profits address social challenges, Keith partnered with his church to face the issues first-hand.
Inspired by his experience in Zimbabwe, Keith returned to the United States and founded Forgotten Voices International—a nonprofit organization that equips 140 African churches to meet the physical and spiritual needs of 4,000 orphans, as well as 9,000 individuals caring for vulnerable children in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Together, the teams send orphans to school, provide HIV tests, offer grief counseling, supply vitamins, help families start farms, and help community members develop profitable skill sets. “We are a network of donors, volunteers, and partners committed to demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by helping vulnerable children whose voices are forgotten in some of the most forgotten places on earth,” says Keith.
Four years after his initial acceptance, Keith re-applied and was accepted into Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for a master’s degree in public policy, focusing on non-profit studies and international development. He continues to lead Forgotten Voices and sees the two endeavors as intricately connected.
“My time at Harvard and post-Harvard will be continuing to help make the dreams of vulnerable children in Southern Africa come true, hand in hand with local leaders in Zimbabwe and Zambia,” says Keith.
-Contributed by Mackenzie Martin
Posted on February 2nd, 2009