Jehovah Nissi Mercy Childrens Centre aka Mercy Home Report by Rhiannon Archard June 2009 Introduction My experience at Mercy Home was completely unforgettable. In the 4 weeks I spent with the Mercy Home family I learnt so much about the issues and challenges the community face and so much about myself. Edward and Deborah run Mercy Home, with help and support of other members of the community. The home houses 26 girls aged 9-18 and supports a further 40 girls with their education. The help and support infiltrates into the community helping the families of the girls and by keeping close connections with the local schools and organizations. With Edward’s knowledge and experience working with vulnerable children and his strong Christian values gives the girls a secure, strong system of support and comfortable environment to grow and achieve their ambitions. I hope for this report to give a rough idea of my personal experience and to arm future volunteers with some knowledge, so they know what to expect from Mercy Hme, the community and the area. I would also like to outline some of the challenges and problems Mercy Hme and the community face. The Area -Ebusakami Mercy Home is in a village called Ebusakami. One hour walk from the university town of Maseno. The area is beautifully lush and green and the climate is tropical. The tribe that resides in that area is Luya, speaking Banyore as their mother tongue. It’s nice to learn greetings in Banyore, as the elders really appreciate it. Kiswahili is more widely spoken, knowledge of the language is an advantage but not really necessary as most people have some level of English. Edward and the girls are fluent and fully competent in English. The Market town of Luanda is also an hour’s walk from the home. Here you can buy most things, food, school books, materials, clothes, phone credit and most importantly chocolate. There’s an internet café in Maseno but volunteers can now use the newly donated internet and laptop at the home. People of the community were all very welcoming the children were especially excited to have a Mzungu in their village and loved to greet me every time I saw them. However, I didn’t feel too confident walking through Luanda or Maseno alone as the stares can be intimidating, and where as most people are lovely and just curious there was always the odd negative reaction to a white face. Edward and the girls escorted me most places. I did go on one adventure alone to
Kakamega and made it back ok, but felt quite relieved to be in the safety of the community and Mercy Home. There are a lot of schools in the area that Edward has connections with, volunteers can get involved with the schools at any level; to help out, to teach or even just to observe. They treat visitors as a blessing and will go out of their way to accommodate. Edward also has connections with the local hospital and Churches. Transport …getting around Volunteers can get to Mercy Home on a coach (easycoach) from Nairobi direct to Maseno. This costs 1300 ksh. The journey takes around 6 hours, the road is fairly good and the coach is comfortable and has seat belts. Edward and the girls can meet volunteers in Maseno, which is easier for Edward. Meeting volunteers in Kisumu involves getting a Matatu from Maseno to Kisumu, which costs about 80ksh each way per person, which doesn’t seem like much but is the current price for one bag of maize. The main mode of transport in the area is pici pici or boda boda. A push bike or motor bike with a seat on the back. From Luanda/Maseno to the home should cost no more than 80ksh. Another form of transport is the matatu (a minivan, shared taxi). This is a cheap way of traveling but the most dangerous mode of transport. They always over pack them, you can expect to see 25 people in a 14 seat bus, the drivers are also very careless. The experience can be frightening but an experience none the less and it’s often the only way to travel. As a Mzungu you should expect to be charged a lot more, the best thing to do is to find out how much it should cost and stick to that price. The home and the girls The home itself is quite large and comfortable. Some of the girls share one room between two, but there is one large dorm for approx 10, all have a bed with mosquito net. Another dorm was built by previous volunteers; I painted two of the new rooms making a small contribution to the new building. They are waiting for more funding to buy furniture and to paint the rest of the walls. I was given my own room with a bed, chair and mosquito net, it was very comfortable, safe and secure. There is a bathroom that occasionally has running water through the shower head, but washing generally requires boiling water over a fire and washing in a bucket or bowl. The lavatories are fairly clean and private; the hole in the ground may take some getting used to. The preparation of dinner in quite an event at the home all the girls help in some way entertaining themselves with songs as they chop and clean the mboga (vegetables). Ugali is the staple food and is eaten everyday apart from Saturdays….chapatti day! I had no problems with the food and actually felt quite healthy after cutting out the usual rubbish in my very non-organic British diet. Around the home they have a small maize and bean plantation. They also have a number of banana trees, avocado and mango trees which will come into
season around August…I think. This provides a nice supplement to their food supplies, allowing their money to go a bit further. They also keep chickens, a goat and a cow and grow trees for fire wood. The girls each collect 40 litres of water almost everyday from the local spring. I very much enjoyed accompanying them at the river, it provides an opportunity to meet more of the local community and join in with the singing and banter between the girls. I enjoyed trying to carry water like the girls, I managed 10 litres on my head…quite an achievement I felt, but the subject of many jokes from on lookers as very small children walked alongside me with 20 litres on their heads. The general feeling at the home is lovely. The girls take good care of each other and took very good care of me. They’re so friendly, share everything and are always willing to give a helping hand. Each of them have such strong personalities, it’s hard to believe they have had any suffering in their lives. It was a real honor and pleasure to get to know such wonderful people. Edward is very passionate about what he’s doing for his community. It took me a while to really see exactly how much he’s doing, the huge impact he has had on the families and such ambition to do more. His system of complete transparency is very admirable. He has the head girl looking after the accounts, taking note of incomings and outgoings to ensure nothing is being hidden from them. The head girl attends meetings that involve future decisions about the home. Each girl is given a certain responsibility, for example head of gaming, head of counseling, head of cooking, which gives them all a sense of importance within the home. They hold meetings at the end of each day to pray together and to hear any news or advice Edward may have. After becoming quite close to one of the older girls, she spoke of Edward and Deborah with such fond words and explained how easy it was for her to approach either of them with a problem. This confirmed my feelings that Edward and Deborah were very genuine and Mercy Home is really a special place for children to be.
Money I managed to spend £200 all together at the home in the month I stayed. I gave Edward 3000 ksh each week for food and board. Even though I know that’s not how much my food and board costs them, I know that money is still going to a good place and was more than happy to hand over that money. I then gave Edward 6000ksh as a donation. I wanted him to tell me where the money is best placed, he decided to give Leonida (one of the girls who left for university) 3000ksh to help with living costs, and to buy paint and brushes for the new dorms. I also bought some school books for the girls, some paints for one of the girls who was interested in art, and put 2500 credit on the internet to get them started. The rest of the money I spent on travel, some treats for the girls and bits and bobs for me. Edward made it very clear at the beginning that he only wanted to take what I was able and happy to give. The more I got to know Edward and the girls the more I wanted to give.
Something to be aware of as a Mzungu is the preconception that you have a lot of money. ‘Mzungu are you British…then give me something’, and various comments of that nature, were not rare to hear. A lot of people may seem very friendly at first but the conversation often turns to money in the end. I handled the situation often with a joke if the comment seemed rude. If the person is just asking out of desperation, I thought it best to explain that I was here to help the home. There’s so much poverty you can’t help everyone. The cost of living with the girls was very cheap. A bag of 10 small mangos cost me 25ksh (approx 20p). A bottle of coke 30ksh, a bunch of bananas 10ksh. Imported items are more expensive eg Cadburys chocolate 75ksh. A small bottle of water 25ksh. The prices for a mzungu will rise to 100ksh for water, 10ksh per mango, 50ksh for bananas. It’s best to go shopping with Edward and the girls. Malaria The area is a high risk zone. Anti malarial drugs are a must! I took anti malarial’s and forgot to take one, two days in a row. I subsequently came down with malaria. My symptoms began like the beginnings of food poisoning. Then through the night I developed a dizzying fever and aches and pains in my bones. I waited till the next afternoon to go to the hospital after reading how serious and sudden the second phase of malaria is. Edward took me to Maseno hospital on a boda boda as I felt too weak to walk the hour and a half to the hospital. The hospital was horrible; the staff looked bored and were quite unhelpful. I was seen by a doctor who asked questions and sent me for tests. I had a blood test, ensuring the needle was taken out of a packet and a stool test (an incredibly unpleasant experience). The tests came back negative and the doctor told me I was probably just tired. I was sure my symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, fever, aches, pains, dizziness and hallucinations was not due to being tired, so I insisted on being prescribed the malaria treatment. The treatment consisted of 4 yellow pills 3 times a day for three days. After the 2nd day most of my symptoms were relieved, I just had a slight dizzy head and felt very tired. A week later I was back to normal. Malaria is such a common occurrence there, no one seemed too concerned. Especially since the doctors diagnosis was tiredness. I would strongly advise all possible precautions to be taken seriously and at any sign of flu or fever, to get medical assistance straight away. That is the last place you want to be seriously sick in. Ebukuya Primary School My experience at the primary school has had the greatest effect on me. I spent my time with the ECD (Early Childhood Development). The children were split into two classes the baby class; ages ranging from 3-5 and the nursery ages 4-7. The first thing that shocked me was the fact the ECD teachers are not paid by the government like the rest of the teachers. Parents are expected to pay, but often can’t afford it. All together there were approx 75 children each day in the ECD. The class starts at 9 and ends at 12, but the class rarely do anything
before 10 and had a 30 min break, 30 mins or so to eat porridge and maybe 20 mins to go to the toilet. So there is little actual teaching time. The teachers didn’t seem very interested in the children or care very much for their welfare. The class moves at a fast pace with a possible 5 or 6 children who actually understood the work set, the rest just float along or get very lost behind. The teachers have separated the class into levels of ability and generally ignore the children of low ability. I spent some time with these children and identified some who have definite dyslexic characteristics. I offered to spend more time with these children and made a booklet of worksheets to help them with their literacy skills. While some greatly benefited, some were very confused by my different method of teaching. They are so used to the repeat and copy technique, even though that isn’t working for them either. I tried to introduce some educational games but the children seemed quite frightened of standing in front of the class and took a long time to understand that this was supposed to be fun. The teachers were very rough with the children and it wasn’t until my final day at the school that I witnessed the cane being used in full force. I was so shocked by what I saw I screamed, cried hysterically and said some ungodly things to the teacher with the cane. I felt that they should understand that we do not tolerate children being harmed in anyway. I wanted them to see my distress. Once I had calmed down the head teacher assured me he would talk to the teacher involved and corporal punishment is being phased out of the school. This information is completely opposite to what the girls had told me. They were telling me of some children who pass out with pain, bleed and bruise badly. If I was to stay longer I would hope to enforce a system where teachers encourage the children to talk about why they are misbehaving, not performing or are late for school. The area is so poor, there could be so many reasons for their behavior. I think it is unlikely my distress and my suggestions were taken on board. I would hope for future volunteers to follow on by stressing the seriousness of the issue and perhaps introduce a counseling system for a trial period to see how the teachers and children react. My experience at the school made me feel very grateful for my British education. I would hope for volunteers to give the children a break from the boring way their lessons are taught, to introduce some variety and some fun. The resources and materials are very low so anything donated would be gratefully received. They also have a very empty library. Reading books would be nice for the older children to practice English and craft materials for the younger children. Issue and concerns The home: Edward has many ambitions, to build another home specifically to house boys, to start a mobile first aid clinic for the community, to house more of the girls on the program and to sponsor more children in their education. Whilst I was there, I was lucky enough to see Leonida go to university, the eldest and one of the first to join Edwards program,. The fees, the living costs, admin costs, materials I think all add up to over £2000. Edward managed to raise enough money to cover Leo’s first term but they are praying that the rest of the money
will find its way to Leo. My concern is that even if Leo manages to find the money, the rest of the girls will quite rightfully expect to follow in her footsteps. With 60 girls currently on the program and ambitions to help more, it’s hard to stay optimistic. But as Edward quite rightfully pointed out to me, Mercy Home has already exceeded all expectations, and they have to keep trying to move forward. The Community : Aids is the biggest killer in the community. I don’t think its due to the lack of knowledge, it seemed people were very aware of the dangers, but certain traditions have a hand in the spread of the disease and people just cant afford contraception. As a result you get very very large families, with one very sick parent having to provide for all. Over population and such large families is the main contributor to the poverty in the area. Very ill people have a problem when it comes to getting to the hospital, if they can’t afford transport; the walk is an hour and a half. Some can’t afford the required treatment. There were 3-4 funerals every week whilst I was there, I think that’s a strong indication of the poverty in the area. There are many orphaned children. The tradition of giving away a proportion of land to each boy born in the family meant that many boys are often abandoned when they’re young. If the family can’t afford to keep a girl at school, they are married off to another family. So parents are often uneducated and cannot provide their children with the support and guidance they need. The lack of education means there are a lot of unemployed people in the area. The people are such devout Christians there didn’t seem to be any problems with drinking and drugs, although I was told that there was. Their religion should also stop any unwanted teenage pregnancies, but I was told that this was a problem within the community too. The Education: The children at school are very enthusiastic and eager to learn. Having worked in schools in the UK, the difference in the attitude and behavior of the children is incredible and very refreshing. Some teachers lack experience and training with just secondary school certificates to qualify for the job, and some I got the feeling just don’t take their jobs seriously. This maybe due to the very low wage they earn or perhaps the added pressures they have to their job that teachers in the UK don’t have. Class sizes are very large, can be up to 120. This makes giving individual attention to any pupil very difficult and also presents a problem when deciding the pace of the lessons. As a result slow learners often get left behind. The lack of resources makes it difficult to make the lessons stimulating and sometimes very challenging, with some children sharing text books, exercise books and pencils. The pupil teacher relationship is non existent. The children seemed quite rightfully afraid of the teachers. The corporal punishment is an issue that I feel very strongly about. It definitely has a huge psychological effect on children and the way they feel about school. This is an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s acceptable to hurt a child for any reason and for it to just be a part of their life and the way they do things is not a good enough excuse.
Primary education is now free in Kenya, with the government now paying teacher’s wages and giving schools money for books and materials etc. They also have a feeding program, where every child receives one cup of ugi (porridge) per day. This is vital for some as this maybe their only meal in a day. Secondary education is not free. Parents pay school fees, money for books and materials, and uniform. This is a struggle for most in the community especially when they have 8 or 9 children to send to school. AVIF I think AVIF was a perfect choice or me. It provided me with enough support but also enough space to be able to be flexible and to make my own choices and decisions. The main thing that set it apart from any other organization s that every penny of mine I gave went directly to the hands of the home. I saw and experienced first hand where my money was going to make a difference. The money wasn’t all that I gave; I felt that the time I spent at the home and at the school was valued and appreciated too. The main thing that I learned from my experience was the true value of food, water, money, education, love and friendship and to be able to find happiness and hope in the simplest of things. I found the girls to be inspirational and I found Edwards mission to be worthy of gold. I hope to continue to have contact with the home and to go back to see how its progressed one day. I want to thank Alison, Sharon, Marie, Edward and Deborah for all their help and support and for making it happen.