What can I say – and where do I start with this trip. I have laughed so much and I have cried a river of tears, sometimes in the same moment! I’m not sure I can do it justice in a blog but I’ll give it a go.
I arrived in Kenya straight after Christmas, knowing that big changes had happened since my last visit just a few weeks previously. The biggest being the resignation of our therapist, Vanessa. We would always have felt the loss of someone who was trained and qualified to work therapeutically with some of the most damaged and mistrustful children on the planet, but to have her leave in such a sudden and unplanned manner, for reasons I am still unsure of, has had such a negative impact on some of our children. Some who were deep into their own stories and journeys of self-hatred and loathing are broken, maybe beyond repair at the abruptness of this ending. To all my children at the Rafiki family I apologise from my heart and will spend my life helping you to understand that you were in no way responsible for her sudden departure. Our Kenyan staff have been amazing and are trying so hard to hold the hands of children who are crumbling. They say every cloud has a silver lining, and you guys are shinny lovely silver in the darkness of the hearts of children who have been abandoned again in their short lives. I love your renewed energy and note the love that springs from you towards our children. You keep the heartbeat of our children, until they are ready to claim it back. Thank you from my heart.
There are many areas that we are rebuilding, and training is one of them. Natasha, a UK therapist, friend and laughing partner, worked with me for 4 days bringing trauma and attachment to life for our 40+ staff. We were so honoured to have one of our older boys join us as he is helping supporting our younger boys – more on them later.
To say he was a gift to our training is the biggest understatement. He was an emotional lottery win to us and helped our staff change how they see some of our children. I think it’s fair to say that in Kenya, and so sadly in small pockets of Play Kenya, the ‘reputation’ of our boys from the streets in inbuilt. People think that once a street boy you will always rob, abuse and frighten people. James changed that view with his intelligence, humour, humbleness and ability to reach to the core of his own terrifying sadness and share it with our staff. He has always been a warrior and a protector of all – there is no word that can describe how much he has now grown within and beyond now. In his own words when asked what he should be called now he is both a child of our project and a supporter of the small boys, he relied “I am just James!” I think must must be Swahili for saint!
The training brought out some super talent for on-going training now I am back in the UK. We asked some of our key staff to present areas of the training to their colleagues. They were awesome and I am excited for them to take on some of the on-going work.
Finding time to spend with 61 children is hard and I worry that some feel that they are not as important as others, so Natasha (renamed by the kids as Naivasha!) spent our time sleeping between the two projects, which meant we got to sleep at the new Queens Castle. Wow, that place is something else! It is so beautiful and comfortable and so luxurious! I am worried that visitors will think we are wealthy when they see it – but of course this was fundraised by you, alongside the amazing Queen Constance Hall. The result is mind-blowing and beautiful. Our older girls simply love their new Castle and it has space to hold meetings and worship for ALL our girls, while the volunteer accommodation can also double as a training room. We are so so lucky!
We had a great day where we invited all the boys and girls to be together at Doyle Farm and had a day of dancing, acrobats and laughing. It’s so interesting, there is always anxieties about bringing the boys and girls together and people ask me what I say to our boys and how do we protect the girls when they are there. Well – have you ever been a teenager? Who does the chasing – boys or girls? We protect our boys from the raging hormones of teenage girls! They are SO flirtatious!!! Seriously, we take safety very seriously and have some of our girls and boys monitored 1:1 when we are out or at the farm. We risk-manage everything so the children can be together safely.
To give you an insight into the importance of the girls to most of our boys, they get to the farm, jump on bikes and race around with the dogs – hooting and laughing like the kids they are! Do they see the girls fluttering their eyes at them – nope! They see a puddle of water and ride their bikes through it a million times until they look like a mud puddle themselves. Boys a danger to girls – not so much in this family!
I have also spent a lot of my time this trip with the outreach team and managers pulling together a robust step-down programme that allows there to be a clear criterion for our girls to return home. As part of this review we are changed the roll of one of our team, Jackie. She is now working directly with the parents to help them understand trauma and how that impacts their daughter and their family. They will be supported to understand the essence of therapeutically parenting, while knowing this may be difficult for some of our families. Jackie will be their key support and will work alongside the rest of the outreach still, but in a different role. We are bringing Emanuel from the boys house into our outreach team to fill the gap left by Jackie. He is a kind, funny and very likeable man who has the right heart to go to the communities with our boys and girls. There is also the bonus of him being a very good driver – so on my 2017 is another vehicle for the outreach to have exclusive use of. My wish list is a list that keeps on growing!
And now our biggest news. This trip I have never seen so many young children on the streets of Nakuru. In areas where maybe 5 or 6 boys were living there are now maybe 20+ plus and they are getting younger and younger. The number of boys surviving with no parents must be in the 300+ in town alone. I so wanted to help but I know we are not making ends meet each month. I know that January is THE most expensive month and this year more than ever as our boys and girls achieve heights we couldn’t have imagined, and start at schools and become apprentice’s in so many area of industries. All wonderful but all costs money!
So Natasha I have been doing what we could. We took them food, we stopped and chatted to them; we were shouted at by other for caring, but it wasn’t enough. One of houses had 8 boys in a house that used to have 16 so we knew we had space. We knew we didn’t need to up the staffing numbers but to take new boys would increase the monthly bills. January is a killer month for us financially.
I did nothing and felt sick to my stomach. Everyday I felt so bad that baby boys were being beaten, abused and were risking their little lives by sniffing glue and being as high as is possible to survive each and every minute of living in town, as I sat in the coffee house drinking coffee and discussing our project. It couldn’t work for me.
They have nothing. No change of clothes. No food. No fresh water. No person on the planet to wonder how they were doing. No-one apart from the police who beat them on a daily basis. The ‘tourists’ who either can’t see them as they beg for survival or don’t know how to help them. The vermin of the streets. The boys that no-one wants. The boys who if they survive will become the very men that abuse them as boys now. We know in our boys houses just what loving and nurturing can do. We have 24 boys who are testimony to the way we parent. They aren’t survivors – they are young boys being given the gift of the life that is rightfully theirs.
The smell of the boys was seeping into my blood and pumping in my heart. Their eyes, those haunted lost eyes as they reached for my hand as I gave them pathetic food was imprinted in my brain. That window to their personal suffering and survival was a picture I couldn’t leave. The dirt that was a part of their skin was held in my hands and I couldn’t sit and do nothing. And yet I knew that we shouldn’t push our stretched resources anymore. What should I do? Nothing and walk away?
I spoke to our managers. They said we must help. I spoke to our staff. They insisted we help. I spoke to our boys. They held my hand and said ‘Help them. They are us’. I had no choice so we agreed that I would bring 4 boys to our project. Four young boys who would not be looking to study away from the boys projects for years. Our manager Bariso said I would bring more than four. I assured him I would not. I brought six – he knows me too well.
I went to the streets with our team and took two of our older boys James and Peter. We needed them to help these frightened boys know we are as safe as we are. To them we are a threat to their survival. These boys cannot trust. The soul of being a child has been ripped from them and their shell of childhood has been crushed and broken. The part of them that has survived is hardened and sharp. We needed Peter and James to share their own story with them; to help them take the step from the street into our van.
I will share the story of those 2 hours separately when I can pluck words that do justice to the situation. To be in a place amongst the small boys, while being verbally abused by the toughest of men who accused me of stealing their children, who at the same time put a hand on a young 9-year-old boy who reacts with visible terror helped me to know we MUST do more for these boys. The cycle of rape and physical abuse of these babies must stop. They all need us
But for now, 6 little boys, aged 5 to 11 years old are sleeping at our house. Safe. Maybe for the first time in years they are sleeping with both eyes closed. They are sleeping the sleep that only true terror and exhaustion can bring. They are sleeping the sleep that knows no-one will rape or beat them tonight. They are sleeping the sleep of a child – the sleep your babies experience every night. It’s their dreams and nightmares we will address in time.
We need your help as always to keep our project safe and viable. I stood on the streets and brought our boys home knowing that our Rafiki family were by my side. Knowing you will help us going forwards. Please do what you can to change the lives of these boys.
They are just babies.
Anne Marie xx