In April 2007, I embarked on a journey around the world with a friend. Our simple aim was to see as much of the world as possible in four months. We planned some hiking in the Himalayas and to tour through Western Europe until we ran out of money. Having coordinated a homeless hostel in Kings Cross, Sydney, for three years I wanted to try something a little further out of my comfort zone with the same spirit in mind, so decided to do six weeks of volunteering at a few orphanages in Africa.
Contact was established through a friend from Melbourne who said he had volunteered at a small orphanage in Kenya and after taking down all the details, flights were booked to Nairobi.
We arrived at Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya at the start of May and made our way to an area called Kayole. The only reference to Kayole in our guidebook was ‘Do not go there’.
Kayole is a slum. Rubbish burning in piles on the side of the road, wild dogs wandering the streets, overcrowded, shocking levels of sanitation and little electricity. Kayole is notorious for being a stronghold of the Mungiki (Kenyan mob). St Otiep’s orphanage was right in the middle of this slum. A dirty, little seven room building.
I had the privilege of spending the next few weeks at St Otiep’s living with and educating twenty young orphans. There were three composite classrooms, only two teachers, a handful of old textbooks using the wrong syllabus, a hole in the ground for a toilet, a bucket for a shower, a closet for a kitchen and two bedrooms with one bed in each room. In the boys’ room, each night they would squeeze four onto the single mattress and eight would sleep on the concrete floor. It was the same in the girls’ room except that the caretaker would also squeeze onto the bed.
Outside of the terrible care they were receiving, there really was no better option. The only other choice was the streets. Coming from Australia, it was clear there wasn’t much we could do, but we had to try. We held a meeting with the matron and two teachers letting them know that we would work something out.
We very quickly realised that it was not possible to just consider this an “African experience” and move onto Europe never looking back. We spent our European drinking money along with some money from our parents to buy some extra beds, textbooks, cooking equipment and second hand school uniforms. This was necessary as the directors of the orphanage did not care about the welfare of the children at all. I could not believe that I had an argument with one of the directors as to whether or not one meal of rice and cabbage per day was acceptable nutrition for a growing child.
After returning to Australia, I received a series of emails from a local Kenyan friend saying that the director kicked the kids onto the streets of Kayole, changed the lock and walked away. “The teachers couldn’t even get their bags out. He just walked away. He’s sold everything, even the textbooks. The two teachers took ten orphans each to their homes. The director had not paid their wages since we had departed two months earlier. They can’t buy food. The director called the police and told them that the teachers stole the children.” St Otiep’s was finished.
I organised a bus to get most of the orphans out of the city once and for all, to a small village about an hour out of Nairobi called Mang’u. A small house was rented and the Familia Moja Children’s Centre was born. The name Familia Moja is Swahili for One Family.
Please go to our projects page for more information on Familia Moja Children’s Centre.
Kickstart Kids International