Derry people Martrice & Colleen Hasson, Ciaran & Sharon Harte, Bridgeen Harkin & Marian Doherty have just returned from Nairobi after completing two weeks charity work with Africa Direct. The group travelled out this year after raising almost €25,000 for the charity. Here, Bridgeen recalls her life changing experience.
This year we split into two groups. Colleen, Ciaran and Sharon went to St. Catherine’s Primary School to work with groups of children aged 5-8 years.
These children have been ‘left behind’ in class due to some learning difficulties. In Nairobi a child has to pass a Government exam in order to move on to the next class at the end of the year.
If they fail to pass this test they have to stay in the class until they pass.
The volunteers have given these children two weeks of individual learning in English and Maths. We brought over educational supplies for the children i.e. writing materials, exercise books and photocopied worksheets in order to enhance their learning.
The other three girls worked closely with Sr. Agnes who deals with home visits to the poor and destitute families in the slums. We walked for miles through the slums visiting the poorest of people.
These people have absolutely nothing. One family we went to see had a mother and seven children. We only met the smallest child, who was about about eight months old. Mum was just sitting staring into space, so distant looking with a look of a troubled mind.
Looking around her home, which was a tin shack that had three walls of rusted tin and one wall of cardboard and almost a full roof she was asked how much the rent was for the month.
She told us 1,000 shillings (10 Euro). She informed us that she was behind on the rent and the landlord wanted to put her and the children to the streets.
At this point Bridgeen decided to pay the 1,000 shillings. We bought her food and charcoal to cook with and we got the baby nappies. Sr. Agnes asked her where everyone slept in the tiny space. She showed us the dirty rickety old bed were she sleeps with some of the younger children and the other children slept in rags on the cold cement ground.
During our time in her home we heard and saw rats.
She told us there are many of these about especially at night.
That day we went around many houses and every house had a poverty story to tell. Stories include daily rape of women, hunger, starvation and children in total hardship. Children learn to adapt to the family that they are born into and that may mean only eating once a day being so hungry they had to beg on the streets.
We also met Mary, a mother of triplets, 10 months, twins three and a half years, a ten year old son and two grand children agedfour and five abandoned by their mother.
This woman was so poor she had nothing.
We bought her a stove, cooking utensils, charcoal, towels, food, clothes & shoes for the children.
Mary’s children have lots of medical problems and need medical attention.
She brought one of the twins to the clinic walking for miles with the baby on her back. Being away for many hours she had to leave the children locked in the house alone without any food or water.
When we went back to the house with her after the clinic the young babies were laying on the sofa and were so malnourished their wee legs were very thin. Marion and Martrice made weetabix and warm milk for the children. When asked when the children had last eaten we were told teatime yesterday, it was now 5pm the following day.
These are only two families but there are many more and I wish I could sit down and tell you all the stories of the people I met over the last three years.
During our time in Nairobi we got the opportunity to visit Nuu. Nuu is a famine-affected area in Northern Kenya in total drought. While there we met a local family of nine children.
The mother had gone looking for food and some of the younger children were in school about an hour’s walk away.
We met the first born; a girl 36 years old who was raped and has a little boy almost one year old, the second born also a girl who is 26 years old and who has mental disabilities, unable to walk or talk was also raped and has a little boy two years old.
Rape is rife in this area and rape can lead to HIV.
This family sat outside in the burning sun with a few chickens and a thin sickly cow beside them. The little boy of two years old was wrapped in a piece of cloth from the waist down and you could see he had wet himself.
The rivers in this area had turned to dust, the crops have died and the ground is so dried up it’s unusable.
With the money we had raised we had decided to support another project in Katali.
We donated €3,000 to these houses. Here they live in small houses (igloo shaped) made from plastic and other materials found in the dump.
These houses are contaminated with disease and infection. Africa Direct have been funding mud houses being built for these families for a while now.
There are many advantages to these houses i.e. disease and infection have been alimented, the people can stand up straight in the mud houses, they create employment because the locals built the houses themselves and community spirit is improved. We gave basic supplies to the people
We also got the opportunity to sponsor some of the children in the local schools.
We bought then school bags, uniforms and shoes.
These are just some of the ways that we can help improve the lives of these children and bring happiness into their lives even for a brief moment.
We would like to thank the people and businesses in Derry and Buncrana for their support during our fundraising. Without their help we would not be able to help the people of Nairobi.
For more information contact Bridgeen Harkin 07849770036