When Kathryn Walker was close to being violently killed amid a civil war in her home country of Liberia in West Africa in the summer of 1990, she certainly didn’t know then that she would leave the country only to return years later to help the many women and children who are still suffering from the aftereffects of war.
On that fateful night Walker was almost shot in the head for having a Red Cross ID card. The night before, government soldiers had massacred hundreds of men, women, children and babies who had taken refuge in a church refugee camp. Miraculously she survived and was able to come to the United States in 1998 to go to school, eventually becoming a registered critical care nurse. Today she works as a nurse practitioner at the urgent care at Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa and as an emergency room nurse at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Santa Rosa. She is married to husband Richard and together they are raising their son, two adopted daughters from Liberia and currently her niece as well.
When Walker first returned to Liberia in 2008 to attend her father’s funeral, she was struck by the poverty, suffering and starvation of the children in her home country. Determined to help in some way, she had the idea for Stepping Stool International as a way to help less fortunate women and children achieve their fullest potential. By 2013 she started the organization as a non-profit based out of Rohnert Park.
“There are a lot of kids that really, really need a lot of help,” says Walker. “I know it’s not a lot but even if it’s just one child I can provide education for or help in any way, that will make a difference in their life.”
One of the several programs Stepping Stool International is involved in is called “Random Acts of Kindness.” This program raises money to fund different projects during the course of the year. Currently they are providing opportunities for orphans to go to school and meet their basic needs.
“We work now with an elementary school,” says Walker. “We have five orphans we take care of and provide education for. We provide lunches, school supplies, uniforms and other educational costs.”
A project manager in Liberia helps facilitate the projects and ensures that the funds go to where they are needed most. Most of the funding for the projects comes from Walker herself, when she can take on extra shifts at the hospital to help pay for these children. Sometimes friends and co-workers will donate to her cause as well.
“The suffering is really great – I can’t put it into words,” says Walker. “I always feel like you don’t ask to be born in a situation like that. As humans we should be able to help each other. During the war I was in Liberia and I know first hand how terrifying that can be, not having food to eat or not knowing if you are going to live for the next day. I feel blessed that God gave me the opportunity to go to school and get my education and have the ability to help other people. I feel if we can just educate these kids it could change a whole generation because I think education is the key for them to get out of those situations they are in. Even if it’s just five of them it could change their whole lives.”
Stepping Stool International also helps single mothers open businesses by counseling them through the process, purchasing merchandise they can then resell, setting up a business plan and helping them get organized.
“We don’t just give them money because if you want to help somebody you need to help them learn how to provide for themselves,” says Walker. “They will always come back for more if you just keep handing stuff to them. Teaching and training them and helping them be self-sufficient is our main goal.”
Hence, the name “Stepping Stool International,” whose mission is “not to enable but to be a stepping stool to help others reach their fullest potential.”
Walker has a vision of one day opening a much needed medical clinic in Liberia. Healthcare in Liberia is very poor and is one reason she was motivated to earn her nursing degree. In the meantime, she will continue to move forward with her current projects, often returning to Liberia herself to monitor progress of projects and help out as she is able.
“The most important thing to me is being able to lend a hand to somebody else who’s hurting,” says Walker. “I feel like sometimes we don’t realize how much we get from helping other people. People who give get more because of that feeling we get from giving. We have so much and just being able to give back to me is a blessing – especially to somebody who is so appreciative for the little things you do for them. They’re not asking for a big toy, they’re just asking for the basic needs – food, clean water, simple stuff we take for granted. Being able to provide that for somebody who has no other way out, I feel like I can at least make a difference in one.”
To make a tax-deductible donation to Stepping Stool International, visit http://www.steppingstoolint.org. Individuals can also sponsor an orphan by providing them with the opportunity to go to school. A hundred dollars can pay for a child’s yearly tuition, books, school supplies, uniforms, shoes and lunch.