Puyallup: Sumner

Sumner native to launch health care project in Kenya with help from Sumner Rotary

Sumner native Sarah Rolfing, assisted by a child, cuts the ribbon to the Team Agape bathroom project in Kenya.
Sumner native Sarah Rolfing, assisted by a child, cuts the ribbon to the Team Agape bathroom project in Kenya. Courtesy

Although she grew up in Sumner, 25-year-old Sarah Rolfing is making a difference halfway across the world.

Some villages in Kenya will soon receive health care in the form of a mobile health clinic. The project was started by Team Agape – New Life Mission, a nonprofit organization created in part by Rolfing in 2009.

“An off-roading Jeep (would) be on a rotating schedule and visit different villages to provide basic health care,” Rolfing said about the project.

Stocked with medications and medical supplies, the vehicle would travel from village to village in the town of Magadi, targeting children, women and families with the goal of “promoting community health” and “access to quality primary health care.”

Team Agape members began the idea for the mobile health clinic after hearing about a similar project in nearby areas, but that project wasn’t reaching certain villages. Rolfing and her husband, Jaime, conducted a survey in Magadi to find at-risk areas.

“The Kenyans know their community,” Rolfing said. “They know what’s going on and what their needs are.”

In previous years, Rolfing participated in bringing other projects to the area. In the spring of 2016, Rolfing visited Kenya to build bathrooms for a low-income school.

“When we think about bathrooms, we think of toilets with running water and soap,” Rolfing said. “Bathrooms are one of those basic things that a lot of low-income schools (in Kenya) don’t have. Bathrooms are hard and they’re not a glamorous project to fund, but they’re necessary.”

When we think about bathrooms we think of toilets with running water and soap. Bathrooms are one of those basic things that a lot of low-income schools (in Kenya) don’t have. Bathrooms are hard and they’re not a glamorous project to fund, but they’re necessary.

Sarah Rolfing

Projects such as the bathrooms and the mobile health clinic wouldn’t be possible without the funds and help of Sumner Rotary. Rotary has donated more than $15,000 to Team Agape – New Life Mission projects since the creation of the partnership.

The partnership began in 2009, when the director of New Life Mission was touring the United States in search for partners to support projects in Kenya. Sumner was one of the stops.

At the time, Rolfing was a senior at Sumner High School and the ASB president.

“I’d have to go every week to give them updates on the school and I fell in love with Rotary,” Rolfing said. “I thought it was the best thing ever.”

Rolfing also had a desire to travel.

“I wanted to go abroad and do some sort of service trip,” Rolfing said. “I’ve never left the country before… I had my sights set on Africa. I wasn’t thinking Kenya, but it just happened that way.”

I wanted to go abroad and do some sort of service trip. I’ve never left the country before… I had my sights set on Africa. I wasn’t thinking Kenya, but it just happened that way.

Sarah Rolfing

Rolfing met the director of New Life Mission and that summer, after she graduated, she went with a group of eight teachers and students to Kenya.

Meeting people on the trip made a lasting impact on Rolfing and the rest of the group. When they returned, they formed New Life Mission’s Team Agape with the support of Sumner Rotary.

“When I came back from that first trip, (it) got me excited about the international scene and development work,” Rolfing said.

Sumner resident Kelly Fitzpatrick was another founding member of Team Agape, and still works diligently on projects in Kenya with help from her family.

“Sarah and I were one of the original ones,” she said. “Since then I’ve gone back every year since 2010. We do a lot of painting, a lot of repair work.”

Rolfing started attending Pierce College while planning her next trip to Kenya the following summer, in 2010. Rolfing continued her education to the University of Washington Tacoma, graduating with a degree in international studies and nonprofit management.

In the beginning of 2016, Rolfing visited Croatia with her husband, and for two months worked at a refugee camp on the Croatia-Serbia border. In the dead of winter, Rolfing said she saw many refugees coming through with ailments ranging from respiratory infections to frostbite. There were also many pregnant women that gave birth at the camp. Their babies belonged to no nation.

“They brought with them all these ailments they had through their journey,” Rolfing said. “It’s one of those things if you can offer a little guidance or do first aid, it would have made a lot of difference.”

They brought with them all these ailments they had through their journey. It’s one of those things if you can offer a little guidance or do first aid, it would have made a lot of difference.

Sarah Rolfing

The trip inspired both Rolfing and her husband to pursue degrees in the medical field, and the couple recently moved to Philadelphia to go to school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rolfing returns to Sumner once or twice a year to visit family and update Rotary on projects. In the spring of 2016, she returned for the third time from Kenya with stories of the new bathrooms and with a mission of the new mobile medical clinic to share.

The new project is currently in its beginning phases, but Team Agape hopes to have it up and running within several years. Rolfing plans to return to Kenya in the summer of 2018.

Allison Needles: 253-256-7043, @herald_allison

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