My love for Kenya was sparked during a volunteer trip I went on at the age of 15, with an organization called Free the Children. I had always been fascinated by the people, the politics, the animals, and the different cultures that exist on the African continent. As a child my parents would treat my brother and I to a new book from our local book store every couple of months. At 12 years old I selected a huge book documenting the history of Africa. My father told me that this book was too thick for a child and that reading about politics in Africa was too heavy for a child my age, but I insisted on having that book. I wanted to learn, I read hungrily, four weeks later I was finished that huge book, but my learning continued. I was drawn to working with children in Africa. At 14 years old a passion for assisting children affected by the conflict in Northern Uganda, rose up within me, it burned like a wild fire. Sadly, I learned that volunteering with any organizations assisting these children at that stage, would require me to be at least 18 years old. So I entered high school, got a part time job, and continued searching for an organization that would take me to Africa as a volunteer. Growing up in a small town in Northern Ontario, Canada, many of my peers, and even family members, did not understand my dream. Many people could not understand why I worked for an entire year as a barista, only to save thousands of dollars, just to volunteer for a couple of weeks, assisting a community in a country I had never been to before. It seemed a strange pursuit but I continued to pursue my dream. A co-worker of mine turned out to be a blessing by telling me about Free the Children and their overseas trips. The age restriction was 15 with parental consent. I just made it and I was set. Eight months later I was on a plane with 22 other young people, all of us eager to change the world, and bring change to Africa even though we had no idea what to expect. On arrival in Kenya, I fell in love with the warmth of the people, the landscape, and the children's willingness to learn. It was inspiring. I felt as though I was meant to be there. We spent 3 weeks in the country, building a school house and volunteering with the children in the community. It was an eye opening experience and one that I still hold close to my heart because it fuelled a love for the country I now call my second home. I returned to Canada knowing I would someday return to the arms of Kenya. The following summer, at 16 years old, I visited an orphanage in a rural community roughly 2.5 hours drive from Nairobi, Kenya. It was there where my ultimate journey assisting orphaned and vulnerable children, began.
Now, 6 years later, I am the proud Founder and Director of Operations of Zawadi la Tumaini Children's Home. The road to Zawadi was not easy. Starting an organization at 17 years old had many hurdles to face and to overcome. Many people doubted I would be able to run an organization by myself. I experienced the corruption that exists in the orphan care world. I experienced the struggles of working with officials, and witnessing homes that are highly funded while violating children's rights and breaking many rules and regulations set out for children's homes. It has been quite an adventure. But that adventure led me to become an aunt to 27 incredible children. My kids have experienced so many hardships at such a young age, some are orphans because of AIDS, others have been abandoned because of addictions. All of my children have come from the slums of Nairobi without anywhere else to turn or to go. Abused, neglected, orphaned.... each child has a different story. Many homes take in children whose parents are simply impoverished and can't care for them.
We do selective profiling to find the worst cases, to find the children with the highest needs and require a home to call their own, that is our selection process. We hope to change their lives but in truth, these kids have changed my life. They have taught me the definition of determination; they motivate me through all the challenging moments that come with fundraising a $100,000 + budget alone. Every hard moment has been worth it. Seeing their transformations make those difficult moments worth it.
In 2014 I was blessed to welcome a baby girl into the world. I am a single mother. The kids have become her big cousins, guiding her and teaching her all about life. I feel grateful to have found my calling so early in life and I am fiercely committed to continue the fight to bring orphaned children quality care as long, as I am alive. It's something worth fighting for. In addition to my work with Zawadi la Tumaini, I am in the beginning stages of starting a new social enterprise called Olive & Annie. The inspiration for this secondary project came during a research study I was conducting for a university class (I'm also a part time student online via Pennsylvania State University). So many young mothers in the slums are not educated about sexual health which leads to unplanned pregnancies and thousands of single mothers taking on parenting alone while struggling in poverty. I wanted to do something to make a difference. I created the plans for a baby / mama product line. I never expected to be able to pursue this dream of starting a business so soon but with the support of my best friend, who is now my partner, we joined together to bring my vision of Olive & Annie to life. Our focus for the charity side shifted slightly after Zawadi la Tumaini welcomed a 16 year old rape victim and her daughter Marta (4 months old) into our home. Jacqueline was raped in Kibera. Her innocence was stolen from her and she was left with no help to guide her. Her mother tried but had 9 children and therefore had no time to help her. She was out of school for quite some time and was forced to walk past the public restroom where she was gang raped every single day. It was traumatizing for her and no one seemed to care about what she had gone through. One in 4 women in Nairobi will experience sexually based violence. Her story is not uncommon. People have accepted it. I was tired of hearing stories like hers. It IS NOT okay. It prompted a new vision for our charity side of Olive & Annie. We are in the planning stages now of developing community centers for youth in slums across Nairobi. We will begin in one community and branch into others eventually. Carefully creating a model that works for youth in these areas. Our team of innovators in public health, business, and social work are collectively working together to develop programs for schools to educate young people about sexual health and answer questions they may have. I've learned over the last 6 years of working in Kenya that forming relationships with young people is the best way to guide them in the right direction. Teaching both young men and women about sexual health and empowering them to say no to sexually based violence, creates change. Creating centers for victims to receive counselling provides healing. Employing women who became mothers through rape, as well as young single mothers who were uninformed about sexual health, creates change. Ultimately we hope our programs will eventually minimize the number of young women having unplanned pregnancies and decrease the number of women being raped in the slums, and provide hope and healing to victims.
I was just a 17 year old with a dream. Now I am a mother, aunt, advocate for orphan rights, and a business woman hoping to create change in the slums. Anything is possible if you believe.
There are many needs at the ZLT Home, and I would so love you to visit their
site where you can help.... ZLT Hope
site where you can help.... ZLT Hope
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