November 2015 Giving Back 5

Karen Welch adpots an african village

When Karen Welch went to Africa the first time in 2007, it was a family vacation. In between safari expeditions with her sister and then 10-year-old nephew, they visited the village of Samburu to shop and sightsee. That was when Welch’s vacation turned into a vocation.

When Welch’s nephew Michael was two, her sister, Mikey told her she wanted to take him to Africa. “I had zero desire to go there. All I ever wanted to do was go to the beach,” laughs Welch. “But this was my nephew we were talking about!” Her love for her nephew and sister moved her to go along with the plan. After saving coins in hand-decorated jars for years, they made their African dream come true.

“We went on a Cincinnati Zoo-sponsored safari. It was amazing. I loved every second of it,” Welch shares of her first trip in 2007. “But our favorite part was visiting the schools and meeting the people. We just fell in love.”

While there, they saw the kids of the village playing with make-shift soccer balls, crafted from crumpled paper and cardboard, taped and tied with string. “When we left the village that day, Michael said, ‘I want to go back there and bring the kids real soccer balls,’” Welch recalls. Three years later, in 2010, they did just that. They also brought about 150 pounds of medical supplies and clothing to give away, and even built a chicken coop for a group of widowed women who wanted to start a business as income.

During the time Welch was in Samburu in 2010, a baby girl was born. Her mom named her baby Karen, after the kind and caring visitor from America.

These trips were so inspirational and important to them and the local African tribe, that when they went back a third time in 2011, they brought three additional teenaged boys and built a one-room classroom with a tin roof. “I feel like we’ve been called there,” she explains. “It just happened to be where we went on a safari vacation. I feel like this is part of our purpose, my sister and nephew and me.”

Welch and her husband, Mark, regularly use their business, SoZo Hair by Bajón Salon & Spa to raise funds for kids’ causes: cancer research, orphanages, kids in need, boys and girls clubs and more. Sitting at the corner of old and new West Chester, SoZo Hair is also now a link to another continent, halfway around the world.

“The word SoZo means to save, heal, protect, and make whole. It applies to everything: life, hair, this building, Africa,” Welch says with a smile. Welch’s current fundraising efforts are for her fourth trip to Africa. “My clients are very supportive of what we do. They are so generous with any fundraiser we do.”

On this most recent trip, they took 72 mosquito nets, one for each household in the village. “It’s another dream come true, after gathering donations and waiting to go back,” Welch says. This time, she and Mikey set up her nephew Michael for an extended stay as he takes a leave from Miami University to volunteer in the village. He will add gutters to the classroom they built to collect rainwater, and teach English and basic math to the women so they can make change and earn money when tourists come through the village to buy their goods.

This aunt to a driven nephew is now also an aunt to an African village.

Join in Welch’s adventures in giving back locally and abroad by looking up the Kids of Kenya Facebook page, or visiting SoZo Hair by Bajón Salon & Spa. “For every shampoo or conditioner we sell, we donate shampoo or body wash to a child in need,” she explains. She sums it all up with her favorite saying, “All things work together for good!”