We wanted to share with you this update from one of our volunteers so you can see our organisation from an outsiders eyes. You can find Jemma over on her FB page About to give birth to a baby called Kenya
I have been writing this reflection for some time now. I don’t think it will ever really be finished. It has taken me 3 weeks to get it to a point where I am ready to share because each day I learn something new and want to add it here.
From the time I started here at Rafiki I have been reflecting on all of my experiences and I have already filled two journals with my inner most private thoughts but now I feel like it’s time to share some of them…
Sometimes I forget what each of these beautiful children have been through / endured in their very short lives because for most of the time that I am with them they are happy, they are playing, they are communicating, they are interacting, they are being cheeky, they are testing limits and they are pushing boundaries, they seem like ‘normal’ children enjoying their childhoods, doing the things that children do….and then it rears its ugly head…these children at Rafiki are far from usual, they have had their childhoods ripped away from them not so long ago when they were sexually and physically abused and left with emotional and sometimes physical scars for life. There is a big difference between the boys and the girls which at first it appears to be the usual differences such as boys are more physical, girls are more emotional kinda stuff but as I spend more time with both groups I can see how different their paths have been.
All the children have come from the children’s court. They have all been through the system one way or another. The tragic series of events that result in the children being in court are very different from the boys to the girls. You see the girls have mostly come from homes where there is a family and where they have grown up and received some love and some care and their basic needs have been met. The boys have come from the street. Some of the girls have been prostituted out for money or have been abused by a family member of someone in their village/ community. Some of the girl’s mum’s have played a part in the abuse and some of the Mum’s were oblivious to the abuse or where unable to protect their daughters. For the boys, they have usually run away from home because it was too hard to stay or they have got caught up in a bad crowd and gone off the rails. Most of the boys have alcohol or drug abuse issues. They drink or sniff to escape and to numb the cruel day-to-day life of existing on the streets.
The work that Play Kenya and Rafiki Mwema are doing is next to nothing. There is no other organisation that is doing what they are doing, well not with the therapy and the expertise of Anne Marie and her team. Every staff member is trained in play therapy and how to deal with the children’s varied moods and explosive behaviours. Every staff member is equipped with a tool box on how to approach each situation and every conflict and every issue is resolved with love, patience, understanding, compassion and support. You will not hear the staff screaming, or yelling at the children, there is no anger directed at the children at all…the staff believe the children have been shown way too much adult anger and aggression, it isn’t an effective form of discipline, these children need love, positive guidance and understanding.
When I was researching organisations to sign-up for there were two main things that drew me to Rafifki and Play Kenya that seemed to stand out from the rest and make them unique. The first was the work that the outreach team do to ensure that everything possible is done to retain the child’s bond to their family, to their home and to their village. The outreach team not only set up regular home visits for the children while they are staying at Rafiki but they also go into the villages and share information, raise awareness and break down the stereotype and misconceptions that surround sexual abuse here in Kenya. So not only are Play Kenya and Rafiki directly supporting the children they are shifting deep seeded attitudes and transforming entire villages and communities.
The other admirable part of Play Kenya and Rafiki Mwema that enticed me to participate was that after the children return home Play Kenya maintains regular contact and continues to support the child and family. They do this via the outreach team as well. The team organises regular visits to the child’s home and village and continues to make assessments regarding the child’s safety as well as gauging how much support the child/ family needs. Sadly enough there are children who do not have a home to visit or whose parents do not want to see them so the Play Kenya Uncles and Aunties take these children on a weekly outing, they usually go out for lunch so they can experience their own special time as well.
Another amazing thing about Play Kenya that I didn’t know before coming here was how they customise each child’s program depending on their individual level of stress and trauma; their therapy needs and what stage they are up to in their healing process. Each child is considered an individual with unique needs. For example, some children are schooled in-house, others go to the local schools, some children even go to boarding school. As they get older Play Kenya work hard to place the older children into vocational courses so they are gearing them up for their future. While I have been here, for the last 3 weeks I have seen two teenage boys learning on the job 6 days a week at a beauty salon, plus another teenage boy head off to catering college. I have also seen two teenage girls head off to boarding school and another boy do the same. I have also watched one teenage girl head off to high school for the first day and I’ve listened to one of the aunties agonise over finding an appropriate school for three more teenage girls that have yet to be placed. Education is expensive in Kenya and Play Kenya and Rafiki Mwema cover these costs with absolutely no help from the government, they rely entirely on donations.
Another thing I learned this week was the commitment to the children’s health. Play Kenya take it upon themselves to make sure that all the children are medically assessed and they ensure that all children receive the medical attention they need whether it is ongoing HIV/Aids treatments, hepatitis medication or general illness and accident treatment. I learned that some of the children are HIV/ aids infected and one has hepatitis. All of the affected children receive the required medication, and this cost is covered entirely by Play Kenya.
I’ve started to get to know the staff, the aunties and uncles really well. Every one of them has ‘that spark’ – I’m not sure if you know what I mean but with 100 staff I am constantly keeping my eye out for the people with ‘that spark’ who are the people that I would hire and trust to carry out the ever so important work of caring, supporting and educating young children and their families (for those of you that don’t know me I manage four early learning centres at a leading Australian university, I have 100 staff and I’ve been working with young children and young families for over 26 years. I have a knack for spotting people with the ‘spark’ and if I had the opportunity I would hire every single staff member that I have met at Play Kenya and Rafii Mwema in a heartbeat.
I have learned since being here that the staff have regular training and professional development provided my Anne Marie and her colleagues. This training often happens over skype due to Anne Marie being based in the UK. Each staff member that works directly with the children has a regular skype one on one session with Anne Marie and the various staff team’s meet weekly. This is a very well run organisation and Anne Marie and her team as well as Sarah Rosborg the CEO of Rafiki Mwema deserve the biggest acknowledgement ever. Where would these children be without you? I don’t want to think about that….
Yesterday I watched the youngest little King get a package from his sponsor family. It had 1 packet of felt tip pens, some used folded wrapping paper, a cardboard cut-out model airplane and some colouring stencils….and you should have seen his face and all of the other boys crowding around him to see what he got. What got me was how all the boys patted him on the back and celebrated his parcel with him. They were all genuinely happy for him. There was not a spot of jealousy or resentment, they were just happy to see their ‘brother’ get a parcel from his sponsor.
A few people said to me that Africa will get under my skin, that Kenya will change me, that Play Kenya will get into my blood and that I will never be the same once I meet the children of Rafiki Mwema and the people of Play Kenya. Well I am not shy to say that every one of you was right….I can already feel the transformation and I know I will never view the world in the same way again.
I can put my hand on my heart and say that I will be involved with Play Kenya and Rafiki for the rest of my life and I hope that some of you will join me in supporting this incredible cause. I’m sure you can imagine the amount of funding that this incredible game-changing organisation needs to not only exist but hopefully to grow and thrive. There are a number of ways you can support. To get started take a look at the Play Kenya website and the Rafiki Mwema website.
The most impactful way to support is to sponsor a child. It is $50 per month. If $50 per month is too much you can support the Outreach team to continue to do the incredible game-changing work they do by paying $5 a month. The other ways to support are to make a one-off donation via the Play Kenya and/ or Rafiki Mwema website, plus look at the on-line shop and purchase some of the clothes and gorgeous homewares, they make great gift ideas too. You can also write to the children, or have your children set up a pen pal exchange with the girls and boys, they love receiving mail. At the least please support the social media pages and help spread the word….
Thank you again for being a part of my journey, I love hearing from you all and if you have any questions or you want more specific information or you want me to report back on anything just give me a shout….do me a favour and share this post near and far – this organisation cannot exist on love alone.
xx Jemma xx
You can find Jemma over on her FB page About to give birth to a baby called Kenya