Having left teaching two years ago to join dotdigital as a trainer, I jumped at the chance to go to Kenya when I was asked to support a Charity school out there. Mahali Pa Watoto – which translates to a place for the children – is part of The Seedsowing Network which my family and I have supported for many years. It was started by a family who moved out to Nairobi to start a school. The aim of the Seedsowing Network is to provide destitute children with comfort, protection, a foundation of Christian principles, and a basic education in reading, writing and arithmetic.
I not only visited the school, but I was also able to get involved in teaching lessons, organizing playground games, and helping to serve lunch. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience to get to know the teachers and children.
The children adored school and were so excited to learn, a stark contrast to some of the schools I taught at in England. It was interesting to hear how the charity works so closely with the community to find out the needs of the children and what would and wouldn’t work in their culture. For example, they have spare shoes for the children, but they will only give to a child if there is real, clear need, such as completely broken shoes, otherwise the shoes might go home and be sold and leaving the child to return the next day in their old, worn-down pair.
One afternoon we went on a home visit to see the slums where some of the school children live. Two parents and three children lived in a one room which was a 3’2” corrugated tin shack with no bathroom or kitchen.
I can safely say this broke my heart.
Seeing first-hand the poverty these children and their families live in is something that will haunt me forever. You can watch celebrities on Comic Relief visiting slums and bringing awareness to inhumane living conditions but, when you see it with your own eyes it’s so much worse than how it looks on TV.
After the home visit we all were asking what we could do. We had a feeling inside saying ‘I can’t un-see this. I can’t walk away from this. I can’t let this happen, there must be something I can do’. Our connection from Seedsowing gave us a brilliant chat after about how to cope with what we had seen, how to move forward and different ways we can support. It made me realize even more what a fantastic school and safe place for the children they have managed to create.
They take children from the poorest of the poor and give them an education, life skills, hope and a future. I have so much respect and admiration for what the team out there are doing, I’m already itching to return!
Some of the group we were with supported another project set up by AMREF at a child protection and development centre. They delivered singing and drama workshops to over 50 children. These children also live in slums where the ‘houses’ are one room corrugated tin squares or they live on the streets and have dropped out of school. They were pretty much all on drugs and a high percentage of the boys also were injecting heroin.
We observed some of their work and saw how they built the trust and relationships with these vulnerable children. AMREF uses a rights-based Child Protection approach that focuses on strengthening prevention, response and coordination to ensure protection for children from violence, abuse and exploitation. They work with street children for a year in their development center to try and reintegrate them back into society and the schooling system.
After a week of volunteering, we did have some time for some R&R at a safari park. It was an incredible way to end the trip, being totally at one with nature. Seeing animals in their natural habitats and learning from our guide about the park and how it has changed was fascinating.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to fit a monkey in my suitcase. Maybe next time…