AFRICA TRIP - Part Four: Heartspring Orphanage, Kenya

When we did finally arrive at Kager where the Heartspring Orphanage is located (about 30 minutes from Homa Bay), we were exhausted from the trip so the first day was not the most productive. We stayed in the shared guesthouse at our lovely host Rose and Tom's property next door to Heartspring (Tom is the director of Heartspring).

It was a beautiful remote location surrounded by rocky dirt roads, farms, trees, green grass, crops, cows and sheep. When we visited the Heartspring school (which includes the Orphfund dorms) I was impressed at the facilities and how organised everything seemed to be. There was a neat library, a dining area, gazebo, dorms and classrooms scattered around, a netball and volleyball field and a clinic on the property. The kids were shyer than the Kasese kids but welcomed us warmly.

Some of the funds we raised were being used to employ local tradesmen to build more classrooms which was well underway. Our major work here besides profiling the current Orphfund children included registering new children. This involved two full days of heart wrenching interviews. It was determined that we could take on 10 new kids into the Orphfund program, and 100 kids showed up over the two days to be interviewed. Some walked 20km to get there with the hope of being accepted into Heartspring through Orphfund.

Registering New Children

This is a difficult and time consuming process whereby Steve (the founder of Orphfund) needs to drill down into the lives of these children to determine who are the MOST vulnerable and needy, with the help of Tom (or Tom's daughter Diana) as translator. The children are all in desperate situations which is why they turned up but unfortunately they cannot all be accepted. I sat in on the interviews for the first day and it was just tough, draining and heartbreaking hearing their stories. It was even tougher looking into their faces as they cried while being asked about such personal and painful things. The only way I could stop myself from crying was to avoid looking at them and instead had my head down doodling on a piece of paper while listening.

Some cases were families in poverty who could not feed all of their children and hoped to get some of them into the program because they will get food, shelter and education. However Orphfund has limited places and they are for orphaned or partially orphaned children in dire situations. It took some detective work and probing to figure out if the child is indeed orphaned. Some of these children were very young and were asked many questions about how their parents died, who they are living with, if they are in school, how many meals they eat in a day, what they sleep on, who provides them with clothing, where their siblings are etc. There were many whose parents died from sickness and a grandparent was caring for them - until the grandparent becomes too old and needs caring for themselves. That's when the child needs to find food and has to work to support their elderly grandparent so are not able to go to school. Many of these children are incredibly young to have such responsibility and lack of care. If the sickly grandparent dies they would have no one. There were children whose father died and soon after their mother disappeared leaving the children behind to be cared for by neighbour after neighbour.

Many poorer families succumb to common and preventable illnesses and Rose explained to me how the public hospitals in Kenya generally work; The doctor will only see to whoever can slip the most cash into his pocket first. Even if it's an emergency, if you have no money you could be left to die. You also need to pay for all medicine and equipment the doctor uses on you (including gloves, masks, bandages etc). Like many other African countries, there is a lot of underlying corruption in Kenya and a lot of families living in poverty, struggling to feed their kids let alone being able to go to the hospital for care when they get sick. One child told us that her mother died from witchcraft; a lot of local people still believe in such things. Another child was put into the care of his aunt after the death of his parents and it was found that the aunt neglects, beats him and puts him to work as she already has too many of her own children that she struggles to care for. He was 7 years old. Another girl came because her mother ran away from an abusive alcoholic husband but left the children with him and he beats them when they don't bring home food or money for him. They run to their neighbours and hide when he is drunk. There were particular concerns of abuse for the teenage daughter in that household.

These are just some of the stories I heard in the first day. It was certainly an eye opener and highlights how important Orphfund's role is in giving little lives hope and ensuring these kids have the brightest future possible as the next generation.

In the end, 20 kids were identified as desperately needing help immediately or their lives could be endangered. Although the plan was to accept around 10, this had to be stretched to 20, which is why we have been calling for new sponsors on social media. These kids rely on sponsors and Orphfund can't do what they do without those monthly donations.

My experience and final thoughts

I enjoyed staying at the property in Kager. It was quite different to where we were in Uganda (in Uganda I had my own room with ensuite which had a toilet and hot shower!) but the rural surrounding felt calming (and I was assured there were no Jiggers here). I began to enjoy refreshing cold bucket showers outside and got used to the drop toilet which was just a little narrow hole in the concrete floor in the garden. There was no tap in the house so water is fetched from the tank, and to get supplies we had to take a boda boda to Homa Bay 30 minutes away. We got to cook with Rose and I learnt to make chapati. The meals were delicious traditional African food (lentil stew, beans, rice, potatoes, sukumawiki) and lots of local fresh fruit. Electricity was not reliable especially during the evening storms and everything took time and conscious effort (such as preparing meals, washing dishes in buckets, washing clothes outside in buckets etc) There were sheep and chickens on the property and cows surrounding it. For their Friday night meat meal, Rose would need to kill one of their chickens and prepare it. The experience really felt like getting back to roots and it's something that I think everyone should experience. We have so many luxuries in the western world that we take for granted (like plumbing, constant reliable electricity, garbage collection, dishwasher, shower etc). It was a nice change to live in a way that everything you do is done with mindfulness, intention and planning, close to nature - how things were done in the old days before the obsession of making everything quick and convenient took over.

In addition to the mindfulness and appreciation, my Orphfund experience has helped shape me in other ways. My thoughts are framed a bit differently now; there is a change in how I perceive different things in the world and think more globally and critically about how I see things through such a western lens. Things that I think are right or things that I think are the best ways of doing something - Just trying to constantly question that and ask myself “why do you think that?", “is that really true?”, to basically consider multiple perspectives and be aware of the realities of different people living different lives all over the world. Travelling to other countries whose cultures are different to yours makes you look at yourself differently and can quickly make you realise your flaws. I’m a product of my western culture and world view, so inherently have this idea of how things “should be”, but we don’t need to always be right just because that's what we've come to know. These experiences forces you to look outside of that and try to be flexible and open minded, to understand other cultures and why we all are the way we are - that our diversity is a beautiful thing. This is one of the reasons I love to travel!

At the end of my 10 days in Kager it was time to finish my volunteering and make my way to Narok for my Masai Mara safari! Keep an eye out for my next blog post on my safari experience :)

Captains log notes:

  • 24/05/17 - Mosquitos here are on steroids - I've never had bites this crazy itchy before!

  • 25/05/17 - Played soccer for the first time in about 12 years. Kinda liked it.

  • 26/05/17 - I suck at netball… not a fan, too many rules.

  • 26/05/17 - Woke up at 3am to go outside to pee. Saw the stunning milky way glowing above the guesthouse so got my camera and tripod set up for some impromptu astrophotography.

  • 27/05/17 - Mosquitos continue to bite me even though I spray myself and cover up. Soo itchy!

  • 28/05/17 - So they aren't mosquito bites, found a bed bug on my mattress! Swapped beds to the boys room.

  • 29/05/17 - Part of the Homa Bay markets burnt down.

  • 30/05/17 - My boda boda got a flat tire on the rocky roads to Rose and Tom's house.

  • 30/05/17— Steve, Ken, Mark and Glenn left for Sierra Leone - wish I was continuing on to there with them!

  • 31/05/17 - Moved into kens room in the guesthouse and had a much better sleep!

  • 01/06/17 - A cow ate my orphfund paperwork as I put it on the ground while taking photos.

  • 02/06/17 - Boda drivers continue to propose that I take them back to Australia with me.

#Kenya #Heartspring #Kager #HomaBay #Orphanage #Children #Volunteer #Travel #Africa

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