Co-Founder Miriam Westendarp on how a community is learning to look with fresh eyes – a report on her trip to Kenya
Autumn 2016 News from the New Life Nyambene Street Children’s Project
My trip was a delight and a success. The main joy of the visit was my opportunity to visit every place of education (primary, secondary and tertiary) where the children and young people we rescued from the streets are now studying, thanks to your generous support. It was wonderful to see them in situ, I was able to enjoy them all and get to know them better – and of course, they all got to know me. I loved them! They are a fantastic bunch of loving, happy children, who are deeply committed to one another and to our staff team. A bonus was being able to spend quality time with individuals who had past traumas to tell me about, and present hopes and fears to share. I took sweets and small gifts with me, and am arranging for cases of clothes, donated by my church, to be carried out there by a charity we have partnered with recently called SeeKenya, who travel regularly to the area.
Speaking of SeeKenya, it was thrilling to see Joy Waithera with one eye already seeing clearly after her first operation for the dangerous eye condition that this charity helped us diagnose. She has since had the operation on her second eye, and now sees perfectly. What a huge difference it will make to her education and life that the threat of blindness has lifted. We are enormously grateful to the donors who paid for that gift of sight to be restored to her - and so is she!
Another purpose of my trip was to spend several days preparing for the legal case against Ambrose Gichunge with our lawyer Joe Mutuma; and then to have three days in court as the complainant and chief witness for the prosecution. Some of you will remember Ambrose's corruption and abuse of power, uncovered and dealt with well over a year ago. From the charity's perspective, those days are long gone, with new systems in place and new partnerships working well to bring about the best outcomes for our children. It won't be long before the strengths of our new position powerfully outweigh the trouble it has taken us to reach it. But meanwhile the court case itself continues slowly.
Our attention to detail in preparation for the trial meant that our evidence was watertight; and the time spent in the witness box (six hours altogether, spread across three days) powerful and convincing. The outcome still awaits further days of trial, however, with other witnesses called for further court proceedings over the Autumn. We are very hopeful of a conviction. However, corruption and inefficiency in Kenya even reaches the justice system, so it will not be a matter of surprise if there are further delays and setbacks.
I also spent a good deal of time with the Staff Team, with whom I am deeply impressed. They selflessly give themselves as parents to all of the children, and are loved and looked up to by all. I was travelling with a local driver one day, and we had just been to the desperate areas of Maua where it is still all too easy to meet street children. I had been taking pictures of two filthy young boys, and longing to be able to do more for them than just photograph them, and we were talking in the car as we drove away. The driver was very casual about their plight, and seemed to perceive them as hopeless, and somehow less than human. I pointed out to him that Frederick Mithika, staff team leader, intelligent and smartly dressed, sitting right behind him in the car, had once been one of them looking just like that – and he nearly fell out of the car in shock! It took repeated insistence – particularly from Frederick himself - to convince him; and I think that it was only at that moment that he realised not only what we do, but what is possible – and that human beings are human beings, wherever you find them.
So be encouraged, change makers who read this message: what you are giving is transforming an entire community, not just the recipients of your generosity alone, but also those others whose minds are learning to look with fresh eyes at the inhabitants of their own town – thank you!
at the Victorian Academy