I have been in my role as UK Director at Vision Africa for six months now – and it has gone so fast! In those months I have learned so much about our work as an organisation, the story of how we started out and how over the last 17 years, our work has impacted the lives of hundreds of children, young people and families in vulnerable communities in Kenya. Nothing truly beats being able to witness this work with your own eyes, and last week I was delighted to take my first trip to see our projects for myself, accompanied by our wonderful volunteer photographer Dora. I have been visiting Kenya since I was eleven years old, so the country is very close to my heart, a home away from home. This trip saw me visit parts of the country I’d never been to before which was really exciting and helped me to understand the complexities of the different communities we’re working with.
Day 1: Meeting Mary, Sherry and Winfred – our Kenyan team
Dora and I landed in Nairobi at 8am, we checked in at the apartment, freshened up and headed over to meet Mary, Sherry, Winfred for lunch at a local shopping mall. Mary, Sherry, Winfred and I have been working together for six months, but all through a computer or phone screen. We’d already built a great ‘virtual’ relationship but it was lovely to finally meet in person and give everyone a big hug! We had lunch together and shared a little about ourselves, we then went on to see the Vision Africa offices, in a shipping container on our new plot of land in the Dagoretti area of Nairobi. We spent the afternoon chatting and looking around the community surrounding our new plot of land.
Day 2: Seed of Hope Nairobi
Our first project visit was to Seed of Hope Nairobi in the Dagoretti area, not far from Kibera. The plot is currently quite empty, with three containers and one temporary building where our Seed of Hope staff and students teach and learn, plus a small office space for our Kenya team, Mary, Sherry and Winfred. This is only a temporary set up as we’re currently in the early stages of building a brand new vocational training centre and offices on this plot! We’ll be breaking ground early next year so stay tuned for updates on this, if you would be interested in supporting this build we’d be delighted to hear from you. I met our Seed of Hope Nairobi staff, Florence, Jack and Phillip and was thrilled to be able to have some quality time with them learning about their roles. I then visited Thomas’ house, a young man who has been a part of the Vision Africa family for a long time, starting out as a student at Kandara children’s home. Thomas took Dora and I to see his house a short walk away from the new site, he lives there with a friend of his. Thomas is about to graduate from our Motor Mechanics course and wants to work on large construction vehicles when he graduates.
Day 3: Seed of Hope Kariti
Day three saw us travel to Thika, around one hour northeast of Nairobi then further north to Seed of Hope Kariti. This is a more rural centre, many of the families in the community surrounding the centre are subsistence farmers with no formal employment so paying for school fees is a challenge. The Seed of Hope centre here is such a valuable resource that is well respected within the community. They teach Fashion and Dressmaking, Homecare Management (hospitality), Hair and Beauty and Computing. There is a very active group of staff and a Board of Management led by Headteacher Mararget, a warm and charismatic woman and Stanley, the Chair of the Board and parent of a Seed of Hope Graduate. The students were a little shy to begin with, but soon opened up and enjoyed posing for Dora’s camera! The water tank at Kariti is leaking at the moment and the staff would like to invest more in their plot of land so they can grow more food to feed the students. We’ll be looking into this in the coming weeks and months – if you’re interested in helping us with this, please email me on email@example.com.
Day 4: Seed of Hope Kitui
From Thika, we travelled East for almost three hours before reaching Seed of Hope Kitui. The scenery was stunning, the greenery slowly started to disappear and the temperature rose as we drove further.
The tarmac road ran out and the last hour of the journey was on dust tracks, I imagine they must be very difficult to use during the rainy season. Kitui is semi-arid, there isn’t a lot of rain, it’s hard to grow things in this area. We received the most amazing welcome of singing and dancing by the staff, students and parents, led by Charity, the centre’s caring Headteacher. It was really quite overwhelming. This centre offers Carpentry and Joinery, Hair and Beauty, Fashion and Dressmaking and Business Administration and IT. There are a lot of girls in this centre, other than the Carpentry and Joinery class, the rest of the classes aremade up entirely of girls. The centre is in a rural area, girls walk a long way to get to school and face some very challenging circumstances. I asked Charity if there were some challenges that the girls in particular faced, she said ‘the girls can be raped on their way to and from school’ – it was so sobering to hear this, having just spent the last 30 minutes laughing with the Hair and Beauty students as they did my hair and make up. These girls are incredibly resilient. One of the other big challenges at this centre is water – there is a hand dug bore hole and a plastic water tank that catches rain water, at the end of the dry season (now), both are almost empty. We’ll be looking into a better solution as a matter of urgency, if you’d like to help, please contact me.
Day 5: Percy Davis and Kirunguru specialist schools.
We started off at Percy Davis special school, a school for children with disabilities. It is a very impressive school and the children were all so engaged with their learning . The headteacher Samwel has done amazing things since he has been in post, most notably doing an incredible job of engaging the local community in supporting the school. Vision Africa make a small contribution to Percy Davis each month to supplement a feeding programme, educational resources and therapy room. The majority of their support comes from the Government (although they have experienced cuts of a staggering 50% in recent years), and local supporters. They have bread donated by a Board member, water piped to the school from a neighbouring business and resources donated by local parents and churches – they are well on their way to being fully sustainable, which is what Vision Africa always intended to set out to do. It was really amazing to see. We went on to Kirunguru special school where it was break time, we were greeted by dozens of smiling, interested students who wanted a handshake, hug or a look at Dora’s camera. We got a tour of the school which sits on a heavily sloped site which makes access a challenge for some of the students. We checked out the brand new therapy room which is now being used by an occupational therapist and physiotherapist from the local hospital. We finished our visit with a delicious lunch with the teachers and some Board members and parents.
Day 6: Seed of Hope Nairobi fundraiser and off home
We finished our week at a special fundraiser organised by Mary, Sherry, Winfred and Kirsty from Tin Roof Foundation. You’ll all know Kirsty as our former team member who has worked with Vision Africa for 10 years before transitioning to her new role at Tin Roof Foundation – it was a great success and saw students, staff, parents and even a local celebrity digging deep to support the build of our new Seed of Hope centre in Nairobi – over Ksh 100,000 was raised (around £750!). When the fundraiser was over, we said our goodbyes and Dora and I headed to the airport.
The whole week was a bit of a whirlwind, we packed so much into our itinerary, we met so many staff members, students, parents and Board members. I’ve come home to the UK with a renewed energy and determination and a clearer vision for our future as an organisation and I can’t wait to share with you all the very exciting plans we have for our future.
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