“I’ve never been to a place that different from America, so that’s the first reason I wanted to go,” said now-13-year-old Robert, a 7th grade student at Golda Meir School, Milwaukee, about why he wanted to travel with his grandparents. “I also wanted to help people in another part of the world…. I was presented with the opportunity to do this, so I might as well go.”

Friends, family keep Kelvin in college

Today, Robert is helping people in another part of the world by putting Kelvin, now 19, through college by taking $400 from his college fund, adding the $600 donation from his parents, and by raising money through donations from family, friends and people at his parish, St. Martin de Porres, Milwaukee.

“If it wasn’t for them (his parish) and family … those are probably the main people who keep Kelvin in college,” Robert said of the approximately $1,000 that it took to pay for the first of three years required for Kelvin to major in business.

Robert was the fifth grandchild to travel with his grandparents, Robert and Lois Liners, a retired dentist and social worker, to what would be their 65th and last mission trip. They made previous trips to places like Honduras, Haiti and Jamaica, doing 12 assignments through Catholic Medical Missions out of New York and the remaining trips with Rotary Club, and setting up two dental clinics, one in Guatemala and one in Kenya.

Robert helped out at the clinic some days and attended a school in Kilimambogo that had dirt floors, no computers, cracked walls and no windows. “They were just metal bars with open air coming in and the walls were really run down,” he said, explaining that three children were cramped together at a table, using small notebooks with almost nothing to write with but dull pencils or pens with almost no ink. “… I mean when I brought in this big college-ruled, 150-sheet notebook, they were like blown away – they had never seen anything like that.”

Name: Robert Liners
Age: 13
Parish: St. Martin de Porres,
Occupation: Golda Meir School 7th grader
Favorite movie: “2012”
Book recently read: “Diary of Anne Frank”
Favorite quotation: “Holding onto anger is like grabbing a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha
(Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)

Generosity is no surprise

The first day Robert went to school, his grandmother said he was overwhelmed. “He said, ‘How can I ever explain to the kids at home that they have a dirt floor and that they do their math with a stick in the dirt on the floor and then rub it off with their foot, or how can I ever explain that this is a school with no electricity, no running water and no books?” Lois explained of her grandson’s disbelief in the differences existing between home and Africa. “… I mean he just felt for everything that he saw as far as poverty was concerned and the way these people live.”

Lois said she and her husband weren’t surprised when Robert came to them with Kelvin and the idea that he would pay for his college education, because of the empathy he showed after he first met Kelvin’s family. “There was a little boy (Kelvin’s brother) that came over to the playground and said, ‘My father speaks English and he’d like you to stop and visit him and he’s blind.…’” Lois said, explaining that Kelvin’s father was left blind from an accident that happened when he was a bus driver in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. One day, Robert said, “‘His cane is broken … could I take some of my money – my souvenir money – and buy him a new walking stick?’”

In delivering the walking stick, Robert met Kelvin, who thanked him for the gift. “‘You know, you’re helping me as much as you’re helping my father, because I’m the one who takes him walking and if he doesn’t have a cane, he leans on me all the time,’” Lois said, explaining that Robert asked Kelvin then why he wasn’t in school.

Grandparents’ support makes college a reality

Lois explained that her grandson didn’t know that money was the reason Kelvin wasn’t in school. “Then he came home and he said, ‘I’m going to have that boy Kelvin bring over some brochures for you to look at and help him pick out a college,’ and I said, ‘Robert, who’s going to pay for that?’ and he said, ‘I am.’”


Kelvin, whose college education is being funded by 13-year-old Robert Liners from Milwaukee, stands with his two brothers, John Mike, in front, and Denis, middle, and his father Daniel Wathari, in Kenya, Africa, in this photo taken about two years ago. (Submitted photo courtesy of Robert Liners)

With his grandparents’ support, Robert said he knew he was going to make college for Kelvin reality, and he and was willing to dip into his own college fund to help. “It’s important to me because Kelvin’s – he’s my friend, so I feel that I’m letting him down if I don’t do this,” Robert said, explaining how he got many donations from parishioners after a few talks at church. “…I really do think he has potential … but to bring that potential to life and actually support his family, he has to go to college. So, by me sending him to college, I’m actually supporting his family and possibly a lot more people.”

Julie Clark, his mother, said she wasn’t surprised by Robert’s generosity. “I mean he met Kelvin and he wanted to help him, so it wasn’t surprising at all, I don’t think,” she said.

“… and it’s in keeping kind of with his personality, too,” added David. “I think Robert’s a good-hearted kid and he gets very determined like when he decides he wants to do something he gets very set on it so he kind of came back and just wanted us to know he was for sure going to do this.”

Trip leaves lasting impact

David and Julie pitched in $600 for the first year for what they considered to be a good cause because Robert needed to raise the money quickly, and they didn’t want him to take too much from his own college fund. The whole experience has been worthwhile, even though his mom was nervous to let Robert go for a month.

“Robert has always been fascinated by geography and places in the world,” Julie said. “I just think that his knowledge of now not only where Africa is but what it’s like has just made him more aware of the whole world,” and David agreed. “… I think he developed a little bit more of a serious side, I mean I think he saw some really serious stuff – I mean people starving and that kind of thing.”

Robert said the trip has impacted him in several ways. “When I think about the future, I’m more grateful that I don’t really have to go through this much,” he said. “I have hope for the future and I know that I’m going to college and I don’t have to wait for something to happen (like Kelvin).”

Visiting other parts of the world has made him care more now because he’s seen what he’d only heard about. “I’ve actually seen firsthand how bad it is there and how much they need help. I think I really have been motivated to help them and I think that other people should be, too,” he said.

While Robert is still raising money for Kelvin, who has five terms left of the nine total, he thinks the family now has hope to improve their lives in the small home, cooking their food on a fire outside, unable to afford much more than rent and necessities. “I think they used to wake up saying, ‘What’s going to happen?’ I think now they wake up saying something good’s going to happen, we just have to wait another year and a couple months for it to happen.’”