The planning and fund-raising were over; the pain of inoculations was a past memory; bags had been checked ten times to make sure they were not overweight; project polo-shirts were being worn with pride – it must have been time to leave for Kenya! And, the team left in style from Sainsbury’s car park in Sydenham, waved off by friends and family.
I could now write pages telling you about our visit to Lord Baden Powell’s grave and former cottage in Nyeri; our close encounter with white rhinos and lions on a game drive, and the sight of millions of flamingos in Nakuru National Park; being just a few feet away from hippos on Lake Naivasha; watching orphaned elephants as young as a few weeks old at the David Sheldrake Elephant Sanctuary; or about feeding giraffes by hand in Nairobi! All brilliant. All amazing. All unique experiences. But, nothing compared to the work we did for eight days at the safe house for street kids in Kisii, and the relationship we formed with them – the main reasons for our trip to Kenya.
When we arrived in Kisii there were 34 boys in the safe house, by the time we left there were 48!
But, let’s start at the beginning. Working with the charity Harambee for Kenya, the whole aim of our project was to raise £5,000 to spend on the safe house (including the cost of cooking equipment, tools, tents, sleeping bags, etc.). In the event, we raised over £10,000 which enabled us to pay for an electricity supply to be laid on at the house with the necessary fittings, for a kitchen area to be built for the boys and for a second toilet block to be erected for visitors. We were also able to fund the building of a large chicken house and run (with the purchase of 20 hens) and fencing to go round the whole site (two things that we were able to complete ourselves during our stay). We also provided funding for a large fridge. And, lastly, we have passed on enough money to allow for the installation of a water pump over the well, with a filtration and water storage system – which has yet to be purchased.
A real bonus was that we were able to assist with the formation of a new Scout Group at the safe house. All 14 Scout Groups in Lewisham Manor District supported us in raising enough money (additional to the £10,000 raised for the project) to pay for the new Group’s registration, 42 uniforms and the costs for the opening of the Group while we were there. The Group is called the 1st Nyakoe. The boys all looked very proud in their new uniforms and were clearly delighted to be Scouts.
I am certain that seeing the plight of so many youngsters on the streets of Kisii at night will be something nobody will forget. The sight of their desperation, degradation and vulnerability will be etched on memories for life. But, in the short time we were there, Harambee for Kenya was able to take in an additional 14 boys (some as young as seven) into the safe house. And, what a difference a wash, a good meal, a change of clothes and being safe and secure for the first time in months makes.
When the boys were bought to the house they looked unkempt and dejected. The next morning we saw smiles and small boys doing what many their age do all over the world – playing football, running freely around the site, and mucking about with friends. What a change!
Today’s young people do not get a good press for all sorts of reasons. But, I have to say that I am so proud of every single one of the 15 teenagers (Explorers & Network members) that I had the privilege to be with for two weeks. They worked extremely hard, but also knew how to relax and have a good time; they were marvellous ambassadors for Scouting and for British youth generally; the friendships they struck up with the street kids, the support they gave them and the understanding of their needs was a delight to behold; and, at times, they were quite prepared to show their emotions and not be afraid of doing so openly. Their behaviour was exemplary. And, let’s not forget the 9 adult leaders who played an equally astonishing role to make the trip such an undoubted success.
Sarah Loughnane, one of our Network members said: “I had an absolutely amazing time in Kenya. It was brilliant and horrible all at the same time but it made me think so much about how much I have. I was so inspired by how positive all the boys were. They made songs and did role plays that reflected on their time on the streets and how they had been saved. ….. The people in Kisii had almost nothing and struggled for even just one meal a day but they were such lovely people. ….. It was a very emotional time but it made me realise that my life is so easy. It’s made me appreciate people so much more and I would definitely go back there because I had such a lovely time.”