Kenya orphanage visit 2013
This was not your average half term holiday.
It's mine and daughter Kate's third visit to the sanchat restart centre in GIlgil, Kenya.
And it was personally the most gruelling and rewarding visit so far.
From the moment you arrive, and meet the children and the helpers down at the Restart, you are welcomed with huge warmness and excitement - there is singing and dancing (so much latent talent it's unbelievable).
Then just running around and playing madly in the scruffy yard with battered footballs and battered swings. In fact, you name it, everything is battered. There is no comfort in the surroundings and the kids themselves have often been battered... BUT, you wouldn't know it unless you dug deep. They are so lively and eager, always wanting you to play with them, tickle them, chase them and hug them - they are desperate for affection.
The young ones only speak their own tribal form of Swahili but the older ones learn English, speak it well and are eager to learn. You have kids from 3 to 20, all at different stages of schooling and different stages of recovering from their traumas. We have many teenagers just in Primary school because they have missed so much. Their determination is inspiring: aiming high - doctors, pilots, the President, you name it, they want to be it.
My days were mostly split between helping in the office and going down to the Restart mainly late afternoon to play with the kids. A favourite at the moment is volleyball; no court at all but they do have a net and play with any old ball. It gets very competitive of course and it's a chance for the staff to let their hair down and join in.
Kate spent more time with the kids - helping in the nursery in the morning, then lots of playing in the afternoon. She even stayed the night in the girls dormitory on her last evening. Dormitory is a grand word but this is far from a grand place and I'm impressed that she did it. She was well rewarded though, with so much friendship from the girls and little boys.
That night was Kate's highlight, her lowest point was when a little boy Alvin, who she got very close to, broke a window at the Restart and sobbed and sobbed. He was terrified of being beaten. Kate comforted him for ages until he fell asleep on her but was very distraught by it. This little boy had only just come into the Restart because of violence at home, he was safe now but didn't understand it yet.
When you are playing with the kids its easy to forget what they have had to endure but it's horrible and real and they all still need a lot of help - counselling, building trust and making them feel secure. And with the young boys new from the street you have to teach them every aspect of behaving properly, it takes a good while to 'tame them'.
The Restart is no ordinary place, their ethos is giving love and security to the children whilst setting them high standards of becoming very good people who achieve lots and give back to others. No child is kicked out at the end of school, they are supported until they can support themselves and others. We have one at the moment who has just started university, another who is a sports coach in a local school.
Often this week I was overwhelmed by the task in hand. As a trustee I feel responsible to help them all and every day there is a mini crisis either with a new child that has come in or with a child that they need to rescue. On top of this there is the worry of funding these kids especially as there needs get greater with secondary school fees and increasing numbers.
BUT then I talk to boys that I have now known for 5 years and who are so articulate, doing so well at school and so full of life that I think it will all be fine.
My energies are now going into the new Restart we are building and hope to move the kids into by next spring. This will change their lives even further and remove so much daily stress for the staff.
Lots of you help us when we do our fundraising and I'm sorry to say we'll be doing more but I can assure you that it's very worthwhile.
Now I just need a short holiday before I start work again !