My apologies for the break in my “Charity” blog series, caused by the passing of my long-suffering husband. He was ready to go, he told me on the day of our Golden Wedding anniversary…
Life goes on, and I am beginning to pick up the threads again.
It is always good to hear from David Baldwin, and I’m delighted to give you the second in his series about his work in Kenya. Over to you, David!
In my introductory blog I recounted how myself and daughter Susie started in 2009 our small, grass roots charity supporting an impoverished, marginalised community in NE Kenya – St Peter’s Life-Line, and the amazing circumstances in which we, and they, now find ourselves. My next blogs will fill the gaps between then and now, sharing with you the joys and sorrows of this tumultuous and wonderful journey.
With all the preliminaries of setting up our charity completed, our thoughts – and rising excitement – turned to our first visit in February 2010 to St Peter’s Primary School, Kajuki, and meeting up with Fr Joe – parish priest and founder of the school. For me it was the prospect of returning to the country of my birth and upbringing – of which I had the most loving memories.
The big wide smile of Fr Joe greeted us at Nairobi airport, and we set off for Kajuki, some four hours away. Having left the congestion, scruff and sprawl of Nairobi, we were soon driving through the Kenya of my childhood – the scatterings of smallholdings and huts set in vibrant greenery, contrasting vividly with the rich, red soil. Small herds of livestock by the roadside, being tended by children, makeshift wayside stalls, and the patient plod of many people by the roadside.
The final approach to St Peter’s was along the rutted, dusty roads of the rural Kenya that I remembered so well, and there before us, as we swung into the parish and school compound – was gathered the whole school of about 180 children – excitedly greeting us with songs, hands eagerly outstretched, flashing smiles and crowding round.
After the excitement had died down (it took a while!) we toured the school. It sits in a large, dusty compound with St Peter’s parish church, presbytery and sisters’ house. It was very basic, built of stone and tin roofs – four classrooms with only gaps for doors and windows, the blackboard painted on a wall; the ‘kitchen’ was an open tin shack, in which the school’s meals were cooked over an open wooden fire in vast saucepans; the two dormitories, very crowded, wooden bunk beds, each sleeping four children; toilets were tin sheds covering the ‘squat’ long-drops – and very smelly; the ‘showers’ a small tin shack in which children washed themselves out of a bucket – which they filled from the river half a mile away. But… as we discovered and experienced, a high performing school academically, with healthy, cheerful, well fed children, being given a quality education.
The days of our visit were packed – getting to know the school, teachers, children – listening in on classes and participating. Getting out and about, visiting and getting to know the community and individual families.
We were very impressed with the way the school was run – the day was well structured, with qualified teachers and strict discipline. But what struck us most was the ambition of these kids. Their appetite for learning was insatiable, their effort to do so, unstoppable.
Our visits to various families was eye-opening, thought provoking, humbling and sometimes, downright heartbreaking! All living in the absolute depths of poverty in their humble, cramped, mud and wattle huts. This was the Kenya that I remembered 50 years ago!
There was Callista, a young mum of four, with severely crippled feet, who although was able to walk, was unable to carry loads, and she had to rely on her kids to carry the daily water from the river some mile away. Then, Jane – a St Peter’s pupil. She was born out of wedlock, and when her mum subsequently married another man, he refused to take on Jane, and she is being brought up by her elderly grandparents. It is not uncommon for grandparents to be struggling to bring up their young grandchildren – either through abandonment, or parents dying from Aids.
On that sad theme we visited Arabilla – 14 years old – both her parents had died, and she was singlehandedly bringing up her three younger siblings, having taken herself out of primary school. When they were old enough to fend for themselves on a daily basis, she took herself back to primary school, aged 19, to complete her education.
Coming to the end of our visit, and just when we thought we had our mission of supporting this one small primary school forming comfortably in our minds, Fr Joe broached the subject of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the so called circumcision of women – of which I knew very little – but as I learned, has a profoundly damaging effect on the women of this deeply conservative tribal community, about which, and how we reacted, I will discuss in the next blog.
But we left Kajuki deeply satisfied, inspired, humbled, and fired-up to do whatever we possibly could to try and play our small part in bettering this struggling community’s prospects.
Thank you David, and I look forward to more instalments!