The moment I step back on Kenyan soil I know that I was right to let the children of this incredible country change my life. My head and my heart have told me so every day since I left The Gazette eight months ago to work, for free, for Sue Hayward’s Happy House.
When the former Blackpool landlady and husband, Dave, gave up their lives here to devote all their time to running her Happy House Children’s Home in Watamu, they needed someone to take up the reins here – to raise awareness and funds for her charity, Children of Watamu.
Inspired by Sue’s determination, courage and commitment to change the lives of some of Kenya’s most vulnerable children, I was happy that person should be me.
I love what I do, the reward is knowing that I can, honestly and without doubt, say that I am helping the Happy House save children’s lives, turning the fear on their little faces into smiles and to putting hope in their hearts
A year after the Happy House opened its doors – thanks to so much fund-raising and generosity from so many people on the Fylde coast – I am back to spend a month helping Sue.
It’s no holiday. This is real hard work, temperatures soaring to 41C and above. Sue works tirelessly from early morning until early evening, and I do whatever I can to help, wherever I’m needed.
It’s six months since my last visit, and everything has come on: the grounds are maturing, the Happy House is ever more homely, upstairs a nursery school has opened and the building is filled with the sound of children singing.
And the first kids, there since the start, have changed from frightened and poorly little beings to confident, healthy youngsters.
All our children, who have endured more loss, fear and pain in their lives than anyone should in a lifetime, soon start to heal. Respected, loved and cared for, no one needs to be afraid. They are encouraged to speak out and at weekly Kidz Club one little girl, Rukia, stands up to announce her gripe of the week – “I don’t like cabbage!”
Karembo, four, such a sad child this time last year, is all smiles. When she arrived, her fingers and toes were being eaten away by jiggers, her tummy swollen with intestinal worms, and all she did was cling to the walls and whimper.
Her brothers, Sifa and John, once so withdrawn have emerged from their shells and are eager to take part in the Happy House first birthday show.
There are now 49 children in our family, many have child sponsors on the Fylde coast. The children may not be related but they all think of themselves as brothers and sisters.
You never know when the next will arrive. The need is great and it can be at any time of day or night.
I also see one go. Baby Joe, whose mum died in childbirth, goes home to his dad, Julius. With two older sons, and no state or family support, Julius was defeated by grief when his wife died and, unable to care for Joe, brought him to the Happy House.
He’s phoned most days and three months later, his situation has changed, a sister has moved so she can help him care for the children, and the family is reunited. It’s painful for everyone to see the Happy House lastborn leave, but the joy on his father’s face tells you it’s right. The Happy House had breached a gap in Julius’ life when most needed, and gave Joe the best start.
The interests of the children come first and foremost. There is no room for half measures or compromise. All the staff know it and respect founder Sue for it.
Even though raising the money to keep the Happy House going is a constant worry, Sue never accepts second best. The only people paid are those working directly with the children and the wages bill alone is £2,000 a month – a tall order for a small charity.
All the kids love Mama Sue and Papa Dave. They have no favourites – but some muscle in for a little special treatment.
Like baby Harry, one of our foundlings… rescued from a rubbish dump.
I am proud and privileged to reunite him with Warda, the woman who found him.
She heard a plastic bag rustle on a rubbish dump, felt compelled to look inside, and found Harry, eight weeks premature, weighing less than 2kg, with the umbilical cord and placenta attached. She rushed home nearby to alert her husband and minutes later they passed the tip again to see it covered with dogs.
“If he had still been there, I do not think he would be on this earth today,” she said.
Sue provided his nappies, milk and medication for the eight weeks he was in special care. Warda, his finder, did not know where he had gone, despite her best efforts to find out. Imagine her joy at seeing him happy, well-fed, loved and thriving.