A Derry charity worker received a prestigious award from the Northern Ireland Assembly this week for his endeavours in Kenya.
Creggan man Declan Clarke, who was recently appointed Chairman of the Changaro Trust, received the award for Oustanding Achievement in International Development.
The Changaro Trust are “dedicated to combating poverty and improving the lives of people living in poorer areas of the world.”
The award was made by the All Party Group on International Development. That Mr. Clarke had, in some respect to be tricked into attending the meeting is proof, if any where needed, of his unassuming nature.
Changaro Trust Director Eddie Kerr submitted the application to the international Development group unbeknown to Declan. Mr. Kerr then badgered him “into a suit and up the road to Belfast.”
Declan told The Journal: “I thought I was going to a meeting about funding for the charity, so when they started reading out what I had done in Kenya, I was a little surprised. In fact it was like I was having an outer body experience when they called my name out. I became that nervous I think I missed half of what they said.”
Mr. Clarke had joined Changaro in 2006, initially he helped raise funds but in August 2007 he travelled to work on projects in the slums of Kenya.
Charity work, he says, was “something I always wanted to do. I knew that when I was in a position to do so I would go off and work on a project somewhere so when in 2006 I felt the time was right I put in the time and effort I could.”
Travelling to Kenya shortly after the 2007 Presidential Elections in Kenya, political murder occurred at the rate of 100 per week.
President Mwai Kibaki has been accused of manipulating the results in order to stay in power.
Declan recalls: “When I arrived at the airport I was met with a sea of white faces all leaving the country. I didn’t see another white face for two and a half months. Everyone just left. Even the non-government organisations such as The Red Cross and the UN’s World Food Programme left.”
Declan stayed on his own. Due to reporting restrictions in Africa, the charity worker was totally reliant on Derry people to keep him informed of political developments in Kenya.
One night he was forced to evacute the school children he was working with under armed guard such was the danger they faced.
Declan believes: “Growing up in conflict gave me a good grounding and awareness for being there. Violence was a way of life in the slums. Where you have poverty you have brutality. The slums are divided along tribal lines, there were lots of no go areas but you got on with it.”
Declan got on with building a school, the Mogoso School in the middle of Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa.
“It is with enormous pride that I can say that school we built at a cost of £80, 000 was paid for by the kind will of the Irish. I am also proud that since opening it now has 110 pupils. We also run a number of outreach projects and adult education programmes. The head teacher at our school, Justice, was a former street kid himself.”
Mr. Clarke admits to feeling frustrated at the time it took to get things done in Kenya. “You would identify something which needed to be and could be done, however it was often a waiting game for the money to be raised here and forwarded to the workers on the ground.”
To that end Declan has dedicated himself to fundraising since his return to Ireland last year.
“I speak to a lot of the schools. I am very grateful to those who have already held fundraisers for us. The great thing about Changaro is that all the money raised is spent on the ground. We might invest between 1 and 2% on t-shirts or mailing lists but everything else goes toward running our projects in Kenya.”
It costs £22,000 to run Changaro projects in their current guise but the hope is to increase the work they are doing.
To that end Declan has organised a fundraiser at The City Hotel on April 8. The Stars in Their Eyes event will see several tribute acts take to the stage in order to meet those costs.
Tickets are available from The City Hotel or The Nerve Centre.