by Jacqui Morley
They say you can’t pick your family. But you can, actually.
That’s what Sue Hayward, founder of the Happy House in Watamu, Kenya, has done. Seventy three kids in her care there now call her Momma Sue.
I just call her inspirational. I’m not alone. One colleague fell so completely under her spell she packed in journalism and took off for Kenya to help the Children of Watamu.
Being a far more selfish person this made me deeply wary of meeting Sue in person.
I feared some Svengali like transformation would turn me into the sort of person who cares enough to help kids cope with horrors beyond our experience here. Sue’s still working on me. “When are you coming to Watamu?” she asks. “I’m not,” I say. “Not yet.”
But I should. For if we really want to save the world the only way is - ethics.
What I like about Sue is she’s a “belt and braces” sort of person, as she puts it.
When she sees something’s wrong she gets on with putting it right. It’s probably as well she’s never visited Syria.
In fact, she’s precisely the sort of person who should be working for the United Nations right now, saying how much more evidence do you need? Get in there and do something about it. I don’t see Sue taking kindly to being stage managed by President Assad’s henchmen - shepherded off in a totally different direction to whitewash what’s just happened.
She’d be dodging minders and up the road into the chemical gassing area faster than you can say crimes against humanity.
Sue gets a bit sick of platitudes. She’s heard them all in the last 18 months. “Stay positive,” most triggered her ire. “What do they think I’m doing? More to the point what are they doing?”
She wasn’t going to tell me about her breast cancer, just her hip operation, until a mutual friend’s name was mentioned. Another woman who gets thing done. Hairdresser Shirley Dawson battled bureaucracy for the right to supply wigs on the NHS. Blackpool was the only town - according to then MP Joan Humble (another woman who gets things done) - which only had one authorised supplier of NHS wigs. Now Shirley’s clinched it, joined the list, and women swarm there. I know because I go there myself - just for a hairdo and a natter or rather a natter and a hairdo. And I see women emerging transformed from the private salon where the wigs are kept. The wigs are only the most visible sign of the change. For it’s the words that matter most. It was Shirley who got Sue’s “head together, inside and out” as Sue told me. And that means, in turn, that hundreds more children will benefit from Sue’s charitable works. She will be back out there next month. Will I be with her? Not if I can help it. Women like Sue are one in a million. Had I seen kids drawing with sticks in the sand in a ramshackle school I’d have given them pencils and paper, as Sue did. But new desks the year after, a classroom the year after that, a community lending library - then a charity and the Happy House refuge? No. Sue has.And above all she teaches us that any one of us can make a difference to the lives of others - and at any age. She was 50 when her mission started. She’s now 63. I’m 57. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do...