During the spring of 2016 my son, Lewie asked if he could go to Kenya, in the school summer holidays, on a project to build toilets for a school in the Liiki slums Nanyuki, Kenya. Mid chemotherapy, I was of the seize the moment mindset and agreed. I could not have imagined the journey that ‘yes’ would send us on. So, off he went in July to meet up with 6 other children from various parts of the world and work together to build a toilet block for Vision Star school. He had a wonderful, if exhausting time and our family were relieved to have him back in one piece. Unfortunately the company managing the project had run out of money during the build and they were unable to finish the toilet block. So the school still had the pit latrine and no possible chance of it being built within the foreseeable future.
Lewie said that Lydiah the head teacher was disappointed but philosophical. I was outraged! I had read about small children drowning in Africa in pits just like this one. There were approximately 60 children under the age of 7 who were still in danger. My son told me that every day was an uphill struggle, that Lydiah’s husband had been murdered for his scooter taxi a few years previously leaving her with two small children and no money. She was building the school up after having trained as a teacher in her teens, and deciding that although it would take a long time it was a better option than her other one, prostitution. I knew I had to help. Contacting Lydiah took a few weeks. She later told me she had received my email on her phone but hadn’t opened it because she’d never had one before and didn’t know what to do. Eventually we worked something out and she received my money and the toilet block building recommenced. Lydiah was used to using Messenger and so we began to chat most evenings. The toilets were finished and I asked if there was anything else the school would like. A slide would be wonderful she said. There were no other slides in Liiki and the children would be delighted. And so began the fund raising for a slide. It needed to be a big strong slide she said and she was absolutely right. The summer of 2017 Lewie and I went out to Kenya together to help at the school and for me to meet Lydiah for the first time in person. She was very nervous when we met but I just gave her a hug and from then on we became good friends. She later told me she didn’t know what to expect of an English lady, she thought I might be like the Queen! It was dusty hot and very noisy in the school but the children were adorable. They all wanted to be picked up, to play with my hair, stroke my skin, and see themselves on photos I took on my phone. Mostly they were kind and loving. They were also obviously very poor. And one or two had the lost look of someone in deep trauma. Most of their clothes were ripped and didn’t fasten. Many walked to and from school alone. Things needed to be done. On the plus side Lydiah is the most amazing woman. She is so much more than a teacher to these children. She is funny, savvy, generous and highly intelligent. Lydiah could see that along with an education these children needed care. They needed to feel equal, so she introduced red tracksuits which the parents could pay for over many weeks, to ensure that the children didn’t have to wear tatty clothing to school. I could see that she monitored meal times and drink times making sure each child had adequate food and drink. She bought knickers and other essential items of clothing for children who turn up without them. And she was living hand to mouth herself, not knowing if she would be able to pay her teachers each month as she was helping so many parents who were in financial difficulty. So Lewie and I started a funding page and our amazing friends and family began to donate. We bought tracksuits and rice for the most needy. Settled the debts of parents so that they could then afford to send their children to Vision Star, knowing they were safe, which in turned freed the parents up to look for regular work. The day the slide arrived I will never forget. All the children climbed on at once, from every angle, it was hilarious chaos. We continued our fundraising once we returned home and have paid for Lydiah to return to college part time to train to teach children up to the age of 11. We continue to support individual children and the school as a whole. We are currently building three classrooms. One is completed, two to go. It has been the work of a small band of women in my Devon town who have happily assisted in all my fund raising, and we really have made a difference. So I am delighted that we can now continue this work with the help of Braver than I knew clothing.
We will donate £2 from every garment sold directly to Vision Star. If you’ve bought a piece of clothing thank you from me, Lydiah, a lot of very poor and stressed parents, and all the little smiling faces who will be very grateful to you. Should you ever be passing their way, please call in and say hi, I know they would love to see you.