UMO alumnus transforms lives around the globe

April 10, 2014

For most people, charity means dropping a few coins into a collection box, or donating food and clothing to a local shelter. The benefits of the intended good-will may never be known. But for a University of Mount Olive alumnus and his wife, a passive charitable effort wasn’t enough.

Needham and Jennifer Wiley of Goldsboro found an opportunity to become personally involved through Volunteer HQ, an international organization. The couple traveled to Gathiga, Kenya, just outside of Nairobi, where they were assigned a host family. Most of the Wileys time was split between two orphanages, where they helped teach and play with the children. Children in Kenya must pay for their education past elementary school, so the orphans depend on sponsorship from well-wishers and extended family. With support from friends and family back home, the Wileys donated book bags and pencil cases filled with crayons, pencils erasers and stationary to every child in the orphanages. They also donated 6000 pounds of food to the orphanages.

The Wileys also visited several IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. The communities built within these camps are made up of Kenyan residents who have been forced from their homes during times of civil unrest. According to the Wileys, the people of the IDP camp live in horrific conditions, often living in hot and leaking tents for many years. The Wileys experienced one of their most touching and inspirational encounters at the camp.

“The kids at the IDP have no way of getting a formal education,” Needham said. “We witnessed a woman who lived at the camp daily volunteer her time to provide instruction to the children. She meets them every day in a metal structure that previous volunteers built for her, and she engages them in different learning activities. She has no resources at all – no paper or pencils or anything. But she engages them in any activity she can put together so the children will get some sort of instruction. She is an amazing person and teacher.”

Touched by the woman’s dedication, the Wileys distributed the remainder of the pencil cases to the children in the camp. They also made a big difference by giving flip-flops to the children with no shoes.

Jennifer and Needham also participated in a street outreach in the middle of Nairobi. The goal was to help feed the homeless children living in the city and explain about the opportunities of moving to an orphanage. Since it is illegal to feed the children in the streets, the Wileys and their group had to remain hidden while they sought out the homeless children.

The Wileys left Kenya humbled by the strength of the people they had gone to support. “We will never forget the happy children,” Jennifer commented. “Despite their circumstances and conditions, they were happy people and the adults in these communities always gave visitors their very best no matter what. They are the kindest people we have ever met.”

In fact, the Kenyan people left such an impression on the Wileys that they are returning this month to continue their work with the IDP camp. The Wileys are currently raising money to begin building houses at the camp, starting with the teacher who volunteers for the children. They are also collecting dental hygiene products to take back with them to provide everyone in the camp with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. If you would like to help in either of these efforts, please contact the Wileys at or via phone at 919-645-7621.

Needham graduated from the University of Mount Olive in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice for professionals. He was transformed by his educational experience, and now he is taking the University’s motto of “Transforming Lives” around the globe to Kenya.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The university, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville. For more information, visit