Kenya is home to over 34 million people, almost half of whom are aged under 15 years. Tragically, due to the high rates of HIV infection among the nation, many of these children are left orphaned and try to survive by living on the streets with little access to basic human rights such as education.
The Kenyan project began in 2005 when the HoH committee visited an orphanage in Nairobi whose living conditions were amongst the most deplorable witnessed in Africa. 280 children were jammed into a five-bedroom house under the management of a Kenyan woman named Mary, whose initial goodwill to help some street children had amassed to something beyond her control and resources.
In 2006, HoH sent a team of 15 fantastic volunteers who worked exceptionally hard to try and improve the living conditions of these children. Over two months, all children underwent health checks (and were treated at appropriate facilities where needed), a library was created, donated goods were ordered into a storeroom, nutritious menus were devised with the cooks and simple items such as cooking utensils, bowls, spoons and water filtering systems were put in place. Skills such as basket weaving were taught through a partnership with the local Red Cross organisation. And most importantly, the children – and Hands of Help volunteers – formed some fantastic friendships; for once the children had people who showed them love, care and affection.
However, despite our best efforts, more and more street children continued to arrive in Mary’s home. Sadly, in May 2007 the Kenyan government ordered her to cease her operations due to the over-crowded living conditions.
Hands of Help has continued working with the children of St Francis Orphanage via a partnership with an American donor, Paul Miller, and his organisation African Kids in Need (AKIN). HoH has partnered with AKIN to run a Child Sponsorship Program which allows all children who were at the orphanage the opportunity to have a sponsored secondary education via the support of Western donors. For, while Primary Education in Kenya is provided freely by the government, Secondary Education is not – and is often an unachievable dream for vulnerable kids, despite the impact education has on diminishing poverty.
A Kenyan manager (Walter On’gala), accountant and social worker are employed full-time to work with the children and monitor their well-being as they have returned to live with (often distant) relatives, and then orchestrate their entrance exams for secondary school. Once in the program, the children also take part in yearly ‘retreats’ to have a Summer Camp style break. While HoH had organised a group of five returnee volunteers to orchestrate this Camp in January 2008, the program unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the violence following the governmental elections.
Not all the kids in the program will attend a secondary boarding school – due to the high standard of the entrance exams for Kenyan Boarding Schools, those children whose marks are not eligible for entry and given the fantastic opportunity of undertaking Vocational Training for two years at Thika Variety Village, providing them with the education and skills to earn an income once they graduate and escape the perpetual cycle of poverty.
In 2009, through the support of many generous Australian donors, HoH will sponsor thirteen children originally from St Francis Orphanage to attend secondary school or vocational training college.
Furthermore, through the support of the Professional Photographer and volunteer Hamish Gregory (www.hamishgregory.com) who yearly holds exhibitions based on his work in Africa, Albert Karisa is attending Vocational Training College thanks to a proportion of the profits generated from Hamish’s exhibitions which he so generously donates back to the kids of Africa.
For more information on sponsoring children in such a grassroots way, contact Kenya Project Manager Ben Mathews or Hands of Help President Sarah Lally