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Happy, harrowing, heart-wrenching, hopeful, hot, hard work, hospitable – just a few of the words which stand out as descriptive of the wonderful experience of the 2017 work party.

We were in fact two parties, one at Njoro, northwest of Nairobi, and one in Nairobi itself, at Embakasi. Our mission was to assist local people in refurbishing the nursery schools supported by Karibuni Children in those places, and it seems we did this successfully, judging by the delighted reactions of those involved!

Nursery schooling is especially important in Kenya, as the children learn English without which they are unable to proceed to primary school; the hard choice for Karibuni Children must be in selecting those children whom they will sponsor – in Njoro this year we were told there were applications from 17 very poor families to have their children sponsored, of whom only eight could be selected, with the selection procedure being very rigorous and involving home visits, interviews and the like. I was extremely impressed by all the Karibuni Children social workers, who do a lot of this work, as well as keeping ongoing contact with the families.

What a difference good simple food and hand hygiene makes! Here, the children at Njoro are lining up before lunch to wash their hands, getting their food, and having a sleep after lunch.

Some standout moments for me:

– Meeting the chief executive of a hospital in Maua who told us they have five paediatric wards, which twenty years ago were full of children with diarrhoea; now, with education and clean water, they are thinking of closing four of them.

– Playing and interacting with the children, lively and enthusiastic, wanting to practice their English, “high five” and shake hands with the visitors, some finding white visitors a curiosity!

– Inspirational messages being conveyed in poems or songs, such as “I am learning English, I am learning Maths, I am learning Science, and I am proud of myself”, or “and I can achieve my dreams”. Even three year olds alongside their usual songs sang one to the effect of “Give me education, education, education” as they welcomed us.

– The calmness and sense of order for example at Njoro, where the head teacher Caroline emphasised the need to be clear about what you want from families; and in general, the order and discipline amongst pupils at all the schools without any crushing of spirit, and seemingly high standards despite lack of materials and facilities.

– The harrowing home visits to families of some of the children being sponsored by Karibuni, and the desperate situations they find themselves in, perhaps living in a rented mud-brick hut no more than 4×4 metres with no water or facilities and no real means of support, with a number of children in the family. One lady described how she may be lucky enough to get casual labour for two days enabling her to save money towards the rent and feed her children for three days – but they would go hungry the other four days, apart from the youngest being sponsored. Or Grace and Glory, eight year old twins whose mother became ill some years ago, and father died of TB the week we came back, who were then looking after themselves – fortunately in the feeding programme at Meru and hopefully with arrangements to be made for them by Mercy, the Karibuni social worker.

– The hospitality of the hosts who had us to stay in their homes and made us very welcome.

– The number of times people, even small children, asked spontaneously for Joy.

It was a wonderful experience – hard work at first but rewarding, and a fascinating insight into the country of Kenya and the lives of its people. Yet happiness and hope shine through.

By Kate Winterbottom who took part in the 2017 Work Party to Kenya