We visited Kenya in April 2018 and returned with so many wonderful memories, especially of the people. We did not see a grumpy face or hear a winging child! We were made so welcome everywhere we went and treated with such generosity.
Seeing how WORK projects are transforming lives in this part of Kenya was an amazing experience. The stewardship of funds is a key feature of WORK with every penny being well spent. The aim is always to move people to a point where they are self-sufficient and not dependent on charity. Orphans who are educated can earn a living and help other members of their family. Widows given a small loan can run successful enterprises and support themselves and their grandchildren. The clinics transform the lives of whole communities and are now sustainable. Those with nothing need very little to set them on the road to self-sufficiency and it is this that WORK does so well. It is a model for how charities should be run.
We arrived at St Bakhita’s clinic in Misikhu to a great welcome from Mary-jane and the staff, along with a measure of curiosity from the patients who do not see many non-Kenyans.
Here are two former students, Kevin and Nellie, who were sponsored through their education . Kevin is now an electrician and Nellie is the receptionist at the clinic.
The clinic has a happy, busy atmosphere. The staff impressed us with their knowledge and dedication and their pride in the work they do. The Clinical Officer told us how funds from WORK enabled them to buy a haemogram which has transformed the care they can give to patients as they can quickly test blood for a multitude of conditions. He was proud of the fact that it is the only such piece of equipment in the area.
The well-equipped lab:
St Bakhita’s brings in enough funds from those who are able pay, to pay the staff and other running costs. Those who are very poor may contribute a few tomatoes or a chicken. This means the clinic is not dependent on constant injections of funds to keep going. This was always the aim – that the clinic should become sustainable.
The clinic is well-known and respected. It is a major employer in the area so makes a huge contribution to the local economy.
We dined on Kenyan chicken, lentils and chapatis from the clinic kitchen – delicious – and slept well under our mosquito nets in the guest house next to Mary-jane’s house. The guest house is simple but comfortable and well stocked with provisions and kitchen utensils, everything we could have asked for. Indeed, it is luxury compared to the living conditions for many Kenyans. We were delighted to find we could have a hot shower but were asked to stand in a large bowl as we showered to collect the water for use in flushing the toilet. Water is a precious resource so is used sparingly and never wasted. We had the water heater for the shower on for the minimum of time as electricity is very expensive in Kenya.
We met the Traditional Birth Assistants who have no formal qualifications but are an important link with local villages. They encourage women to give birth at the clinic to keep the mothers and their babies safe during delivery. During our visit they were given their own uniforms. This increases their confidence as they feel it gives them some status in the local communities. They all went off to get changed and came back singing and dancing – the noise was truly deafening, their delight very evident.
Some generous donations have enabled WORK to build new maternity and women’s wards.
The work was completed shortly before our visit so it was very good to see the improved facilities.
The new maternity and women’s wards
A mother being cared for after a difficult birth:
Thanks to to generous donations of sponsors and others, the clinic has expanded over the years with new wards being built and new equipment bought. A recent innovation is a small ‘canteen’ where visitors can buy basic items for their relatives and enjoy a cup of tea before they set off on what may be a long journey home.
It is not always easy for disabled people to find employment in Kenya but Steven, who is disabled, runs the canteen very efficiently.
We visited Rehoboth Primary School. Term had ended the day before, but the children were told that there would be visitors on the first day of the holidays and they must all go to school. We could not imagine children in this country turning up on the first day of the holidays but there they all were in their uniforms smiling and greeting us in their best English. This school is not a WORK project but has been linked by WORK to St. Joseph’s School in Newton Abbot, Devon. St. Joseph’s has raised funds for this very poor school and the children write to each other.
We had a tour of the school and met all the teachers and children. The teachers work for very little money but are committed to their community. We also met the local family who gave the land for the school and who provide a hot meal each day for the children; for some the only meal they get. All the children assembled outside and, to our surprise, we were asked to speak to them. The school has almost nothing in the way of resources but the teachers are dedicated and the children all smiles.
Sponsored Orphans: Student Association
Once a year, sponsored students, past and present, are invited to a lunch at a hotel along with some local people who give speeches encouraging them to work hard and aim high. About 40 young people were able to attend this year and they all stood up to explain what they were studying or where they were working. It was inspirational to hear their stories, how they are making a success of their lives – thanks to being sponsored through their education. I shall always remember Kennedy speaking with a strong, confident voice telling us all how, from the time he was sponsored, he no longer felt like an orphan, that he had been given a chance and how the Student Association is now his family. Nellie, who works at St. Bakhita’s, was sponsored through school. She is now married and has a child. She spoke very convincingly to the girls urging them to become qualified before they consider marriage and a family, that she found trying to study and look after a child really hard, they should not be in a hurry to marry, much better to wait.
We met Eunice who is the point of contact for all the orphans. She knows each orphan really well and helps them with their problems. Many orphans have nowhere to go during the school holidays so Eunice arranges for them to have somewhere to stay – often her own home.
We left thinking what an amazing group of young people we had met.
Sinoko Widows greeted us with singing and dancing and much handshaking. Their handshakes are strong! This is a result of the hard, physical work they have done all their lives. My reaction to my arm being wrenched was greeted with much merriment. This group of widows has received help from WORK and they are now self-sufficient. They are poor but they are coping and are able to help some of their many grandchildren. They had prepared food for us from the little they have – so generous.
Off to Nangina Special School and Namboboto driven by Barasa who does all kinds of jobs at St. Bakhita’s. It was a three hour journey with roads varying from dirt tracks to good tarmac highways. We were stopped by several police checks. They put down a piece of wood covered in nails to make you stop and they have a good look inside the car. They were some-what taken aback to see three white faces and didn’t quite know how to react to Mary-jane’s smiles and banter so off we were waved on without any questions.
Nangina Special School is a wonderful place. WORK built a classroom for deaf children which made a huge difference to their progress and sponsors were found for some of the children. A delegation from the EU visited the school and were so impressed that they built five more classrooms. Their school role includes children with a wide range of physical and mental problems as well as deaf children. The school has a lovely atmosphere. A very successful project has linked Nangina School to Pathfield School in Barnstaple, North Devon. Teacher exchanges have been funded by the British Council to the great benefit of both schools.
Youth Polytechnic: Sinoko Youth Polytechnic runs many courses such as carpentry and ICT.
Principal Julius and a local chief:
Learning a skill means that the students can go on to earn a living and help to support their families. Students who have been sponsored through WORK have done well. Orphans cannot afford to buy tools or equipment once their course finishes so WORK has a scheme which allows donors to buy the tools needed to make a start.
Joseph can now be employed as a carpenter.
A sewing machine is an expensive item but a donation to WORK means that Damarius can now support herself and her family.
Namboboto Clinic is a thriving, happy place. We met the local chief, Albert, who is dedicated to improving the lot of the people in his village. He said that WORK had transformed the lives of people there, that they now have a clinic that is sustainable. It does not need constant injections of money but can support itself.
What a feast was laid out for us, again, so generous. To our great surprise we were given gifts of a shirt, a large length of beautiful fabric and a shawl. That these lovely people who have so little should buy us gifts was quite overwhelming. Albert spoke very movingly and appreciatively about how much his people owe to WORK. The clinic is busy, saving lives and improving the quality of life for so many and, like St. Bakhita’s, can continue into the future without any further injection of funds other than for any capital projects to further improve facilities.
Signing the visitors’ book:
The Namboboto widows impressed us with their business acumen. They are very organised and, from the small loan (‘Table Bank’) given to them by WORK some years ago, they now have several businesses which enable them to support themselves and their orphan grandchildren. One project they run is to lend the money from their ‘bank’ to individual widows to enable them to buy a piglet. When the pigs are adult they are sold at a good profit. The loan is repaid with interest and a sum is paid into their ‘bank’ to boost the funds which are available to lend. The rest is for that widow to keep. A very small amount of initial help has enabled these amazing women to start successful enterprises, so they are not dependent on charity.
Back to Nairobi for our flight home where we met Catherine Musakali and her family. Catherine is a trustee of Widows and Orphans Trust (WOT), the Kenyan board of trustees for WORK. She and the other WOT trustees bring a wealth of experience and talent to the charity. We had a great evening eating a delicious meal and chatting with Catherine, Patrick and their children. As we left they gave us some beautiful gifts. My bag is admired wherever I go – nothing else like it in north Devon – and my husband can dress as a Masai warrior!
We owe a huge thanks to Mary-jane Butler who organised our stay and prepared the guest house for our visit and to everyone who made us so welcome and were so generous.
Mary-jane, who founded this amazing charity, has deservedly been awarded an MBE. WORK really is a model for how charities should be run.