Beyond Vassar

The Hydes Found School for African Orphans

By Rebecca Hyde ’92

I was born in Africa, but Africa is not in my blood, as they say. Two years ago I traveled to Zambia, where I lived for the first year of my life and where my brother Sean Hyde ’89 also was born. It was fun to see where my parents’ Africa stories and photos originated, but mostly I felt like a tourist.

Cisylia Mukaburu - student at Crossroads Springs Institute
Cisylia Mukaburu - student at Crossroads Springs Institute

Cisylia Mukaburu, a young Kenyan girl,
at Crossroads Springs Institute in Hamisi, 2004

I felt no spiritual connection to the place. My parents, however, who spent seven years teaching in Zambia, were forever changed by their 1960s Africa experiences. The church they now attend, the values they taught their children, the circles of friends they’ve cultivated — all of these and more were influenced by their time in Africa. And, now, Africa is again taking a central role in their lives as they’ve donned a new title for themselves: cofounders. In 2004, my parents — Alison Church Hyde ’59 and Arthur Hyde — teamed with a longtime friend to start Crossroads Springs Institute, a school/residence for Kenyan children orphaned by AIDS.

My parents met in 1960 shortly after my mother, a scholarship student from Nyack, New York, graduated from Vassar. My father was teaching middle school in Williamstown, Massachusetts, when acquaintances set him up on a date with my mom. A bowling date, to be exact. Courting ensued, and in 1962 they were married. For their honeymoon they went to Africa.

Their trip to Hamisi, Kenya, was my dad’s second with an organization called Operation Crossroads Africa. Founded by a charismatic preacher named Dr. James Robinson, Operation Crossroads Africa aimed to “build bridges of understanding” through work projects. In Kenya, my newlywed parents were the older, married couple who led a group of American and Canadian college students. Working beside the local people, they built a classroom and athletic field for the small town.

Arthur and Alison Hyde
Arthur and Alison Hyde
My parents spent only a short time in Kenya, compared to the seven years they would later spend in Zambia; but it was still significant for them, and they kept in touch with people from that summer. Several years ago, after reading a newspaper article about the thousands of African children orphaned by AIDS, my mom wrote to a Kenyan friend, Dr. Meshack Isiaho, an elder in Hamisi. What was his experience? she wanted to know. Were there many children orphaned by AIDS in the Hamisi area? “I have names of 200 orphans on my desk right now,” he replied. “I plan to devote the rest of my life to helping these children.”

Photo at right: Newlyweds Arthur and Alison and Chief Hezron Buyoywa Mushenye in Hamisi, Kenya, 1962

The story could easily end right there. Kenyan elder says the crisis of orphans in Africa is real, Americans get out their checkbooks and send money, end of story. But my parents are lucky to have the time and resources to travel, and to have friends who encourage them. “Why just write a check?” one said. “Why not go to Kenya and help them build?”

So, in September 2004, 12 people, including three Vassar alumnae (my mom, my aunt Eleanor Church Anderson ’71, and I) spent three weeks in Hamisi, Kenya, helping to build a school and care center for children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS. When we arrived, 35 children were already enrolled and attending classes; we were greeted each day by 4 and 5 year olds standing by their small plastic chairs, singing a welcome song to their “visitors.” While the scourge of AIDS brought us to Africa, we were met not by images of sickness and death but by shy, smiling children. We were greeted by the generosity and kindness of men and women who invited us into their homes and fed us hot meals of chicken stew and traditional ugali, a sticky, cornmeal porridge. Our Kenyan driver bought us hunks of sugar cane to chew on.

If it weren’t central to our trip to Kenya, the AIDS epidemic could easily have become a sidebar, like airport security or Kenyan politics. There are billboards educating people about AIDS and signs in health clinics. But you don’t really get it, that this is a crisis, until you start talking to people and realize that many are living in households of 8, 10, or 15 people; adults are caring not only for their own children, but also for the children of their brothers, sisters, and cousins who have died of AIDS. While a May 2006 BBC News report showed the proportion of Kenya’s population infected by HIV/AIDS has fallen, from 14 percent in 1997 to 4 percent today, it also reports 1.1 million children are orphans. According to the BBC, in some of the poorest parts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, every fifth house you come to is run entirely by children — all the adults have died.

Crossroads Springs Staff
Crossroads Springs Staff

Members of the Crossroads Springs staff pose with their North American visitors, Hamisi, 2004. From left, Head Teacher Rachael Majani, Alison Church Hyde '59, Rebecca Hyde '92, School Nurse Ruth Isiaho, Arthur Hyde, Helen S. Anderson wWife of Tobias Anderson '98), Crossroads Springs Director Hellen Isiaho,
and Megumi Williams

Mother Theresa once said, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.” And I would add that when you reach out to one, you never know what will follow. What started with a letter between friends living on opposite ends of the earth is now something much bigger. Elementary-school children living in my parents hometown in Upstate New York have raised money and donated shoes to the children of Hamisi, a Poughkeepsie dentist donated toothbrushes, and a corporation donated the shipping costs to transport the supplies to Hamisi. And the Vassar connections abound: last year Vassar’s Community Works Campaign, which raises money for mostly Hudson Valley organizations, donated $4,000 to Crossroads Springs; my mom’s classmates from 1959 donated blankets, and now the people of Hamisi have over 150 donated blankets, including a number of 1959 reunion blankets; my cousin, Tobias Anderson ’98, and his band have raised money for Crossroads Springs; and my sister, Heather Hyde Hamashima ’85, has been writing articles to her local newspaper in Federal Way, Washington, about Crossroads Springs.

Generosity abounds. And you don’t need to have been born in Africa to “get it” — that the AIDS crisis in Africa is real, but there’s hope, and you never know how far one act of kindness will go.

For more information about Crossroads Springs, visit