Former Blackpool hoteliers Sue and Dave Hayward are have created a unique haven for needy children in Kenya, as former Gazette women’s writer Elizabeth Gomm reports.
Friendship makes the world go round … but for the forgotten children of Kenya who have found a home and hope at Sue Hayward’s Happy House, friends are also family.
The Happy House is a trailblazing children’s home, created by former Blackpool hotelier Sue, and the charity she founded, Children of Watamu.
Opened in 2010, it was finished and furnished with much support from the Fylde coast.
The Gazette’s Eve in Africa Appeal, in 2009, raised £13,000, and filled a 40ft container with clothes, equipment and vital supplies, which are now in daily use by the children.
Two years on, Sue and her husband, Dave, are mama and papa to 58 children, aged from a few months, to teens.
The Happy House has a unique child sponsor scheme, which aims to build sponsor families of five for each of its children. Eventually, the income it brings will become the financial underpinning of Sue’s remarkable family.
But times are tough, especially for small charities, and desperate for funds, Sue is back in the UK on a mission to raise money, and to launch a Find a Friend Appeal.
The appeal is aimed at attracting more sponsors – people who will donate £20 a month to help give a child a real chance in life.
A child like Harry, eight weeks premature and weighing less than 1.5kilos when he was cast away on a rubbish tip, in a plastic bag.
Found by a passer-by, who heard the tiniest whimper, Harry was clinging to life by the most fragile of threads. In hospital for eight weeks, the Happy House paid for all his medication and provided all the milk, nappies and clothes he needed.
Sue also promised him a home for life at her Happy House where now, under her legal guardianship, he also takes her name. “He’s Harry Hayward,” says Sue. Harry, two next week, is a thriving toddler – a lovable character who wins the hearts of all who visit.
Sue says: “We cannot imagine the circumstances which led him to being thrown away. The umbilical cord was still attached, and the placenta in the bag with him. Minutes after he was found, the dump was covered with wild dogs. He would not have survived.
“Desperation and fear drive people to do things which we find unimaginable. It is a very different world. We have children who have been starved, beaten or worse. Little girls, as young as eight, who have been raped.
“We can never completely erase these memories, but by giving them a childhood free from fear, a family where they are loved and busy, we hope to outweigh the bad memories with good, so that when they look back on their childhood in years to come, it will be with joy in their hearts. They are as proud to be my Happy House kids as I am to be their mama.
“Children have rights, and we talk about them. The right to speak out and be heard. The right not to be beaten. The right to education. One day we were talking to the children about their rights, and one little boy told me: “I know my rights. I have the right to be loved.”
“I told him: ‘You are’, and he smiled and said: ‘I know, Mama’, and sat down again.
“We are now facing the most difficult time, financially, that we have ever faced.
“Costs in Kenya have escalated, as they have across the world, which is why Dave and I made the very difficult and heart-wrenching decision to leave our family for a few months, so I could work with our voluntary co-ordinator, Elizabeth Gomm, on a major fund-raising campaign.
“By focusing on our sponsor a child scheme, we know those who join our family will get much pleasure from their giving.
“We look upon sponsors as members of our family. Each sponsor has the chance to form a very personal friendship with their child.
“We send them regular updates on their child, plus photos and school reports. Every letter, postcard or email they send becomes a treasure in their child’s memory box and, of course, gets a reply.
“Sponsors think of their Happy House child as a member of their own family.
“We have one family who gave their baby boy the same name as their sponsor child.
“Many of our sponsors save hard so that they can visit Watamu to meet their child, and they are so welcome, some have been back more than once in the two years since we opened.
“We have schools which sponsor. Devonshire Junior School sponsors Brian, now two, and the children and staff take such an interest in how he is growing up – right from getting his first tooth to following his progress now he’s in the baby class at our school. This sponsorship bridges the gap between two very different worlds.
“A group of pensioners who attend Grange Park Open Door Project each give a little money every week to sponsor Rose, and keep a scrapbook of all their news, and photos of her.
“Another plus is the friendships forged between those who sponsor the same child. Many have become very close friends, and enjoy sharing news of their child and taking part in fund-raising.
“The £20 a month may seem a lot, but when you think how easily it can be spent – a takeaway meal, a few beers, a blow-dry at the hairdressers , a few packs of cigarettes – it only takes small sacrifices to give a child a lifeline.
“Every penny goes directly where it is intended, to supporting our family. Unlike the large charities, we do not have any paid fund-raisers, and only those working with our family at the Happy House are paid.
“We are changing children’s lives. We give them what every child deserves – the best. A home, a family, the best of education and good food. They have clothes and toys of their own, which gives them a sense of pride and responsibility.
“We see them change from coming to us poorly, frightened, defeated little people into confident, happy and healthy youngsters. We call it the Happy House magic.
“We are putting hope into the hearts of children, and that’s a very important job to do. Please, please, can you help us.
“We are making a difference, please can you?”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The Happy House has launched a ‘Find a Friend Appeal’.
It costs £20 a month to sponsor a Happy House child through Blackpool based charity, Children of Watamu (UK reg: 1098731)
You can also help by fund-raising or making a donation.
Please call Elizabeth Gomm on 07905 130589 (10am-6pm).