IN just three years Sue Hayward’s Kenyan family has grown to 64 and is now proving a class act. Former Gazette journalist ELIZABETH GOMM reports.
SHINY as a new pin, these children posing with their proud Mama and Papa are just like any others starting their first day at school.
But they are kids who, without the love and foresight of a Blackpool woman, would have had no chance of going to school – and in some cases would not have survived at all.
They are Sue Hayward’s Happy House kids. Each has come from a background of tragedy or neglect to find a home, love and education at the children’s home opened by Children of Watamu, a small but increasingly significant charity, in March 2010.
Before embarking on the Happy House Sue had been working to improve the lives of impoverished kids in the fishing village of Watamu for eight years and had played a major role in developing three schools, creating 700 places from kindergarten to top year secondary.
She didn’t intend to build another school, but having moved to Kenya to open the Happy House she found she wasn’t happy with the standard of education on offer, even in the schools where she had had such a big input.
“I had been working with the schools’ governing boards so they were not my schools and I could not influence the way children were taught only ensure that the schools had resources – from desks and books to computers.
“Pupils were expected to be in school by seven and were not going home until five or six. They were learning by repetition or copying down what the teacher wrote on the board. The children were tired and they were bored.”
Sue and her trustees, of whom I am one, agreed that we should open a nursery school at the Happy House, introducing British-style teaching methods to Kenyan teachers, and a shorter school day.
To make it viable, it would also take fee-paying day pupils.
Little Chicks Nursery School, which started life as chicken housing, hence its name, opened in 2011. Thanks to a donation from Italy, the chicken house was transformed and extended to provide a lovely self-contained pre-school and kindergarten.
Well-equipped and resourced, classes are limited to 25 pupils (in Government schools they are 90+) and teachers have embraced British teaching methods while teaching the Kenyan curriculum, adding French, computer studies and art.
“Teachers had no idea that a child could learn through play,” says Sue. “Our classes are buzzing with activity and both the children and teachers are benefiting. I have always believed that if a child can read, a child can learn.
“We have a library, with a computerised management system donated by specialists MLS, which we are stocking with as many books, DVDs and learning aids as we can.”
The nursery school is producing outstanding academic results. They are so good that the District Education Officer, who has 44 schools in his jurisdiction, told Sue the youngsters were so advanced that they could not go on to any of his primary schools. She would have to build a primary school.
The space was there, but the money wasn’t. A London-based trust donated a proportion of the cost and the build got underway.
But with costs of materials escalating , the money ran out in May last year and work halted.
Sue made the painful decision to come to the UK to work with me (I am a charity trustee and voluntary coordinator) on a major fundraising drive supported by the Gazette which resulted in a lot more sponsors for the Happy House kids.
An anonymous donor stepped in to put up the money needed to finish the primary school.
“By then we had so many commitments to fulfil, right into this year, that I have stayed on here in Blackpool to work with Elizabeth, it is an opportunity to consolidate our funds to give the Happy House a solid financial foundation.
“But we‘ll be back home at the Happy House for good by summer,” says Sue.
“Everything we have at the Happy House and in school has been donated, but, unlike so many other children’s homes which are run as businesses, we ensure that everything right down to the last shilling, the last grain of rice, we receive is accounted for and that it goes exactly where it is intended, to our children.”
Every stick of school equipment, and much of the furniture elsewhere in the Happy House, has come from Lancashire where it would have gone into landfill.