A small taste of life sleeping on a mud floor.
By Myles Edwards. 19/11/15
A series of events over a number of years led to myself and GEF Operations Co-ordinator, David Sagida spending Monday night on a mud floor in a house with no electricity or furniture. Here’s how it all came about.
We first met 19 year old Zeddy Chirchir from Kibendo in April 2015. Two years earlier, she had fallen pregnant during Form 2 (her second year of secondary school) and dropped out of Kibendo Secondary School. A friend of the family, Rose, had encouraged her to return to school and complete her education. It took some time and effort but eventually Zeddy returned to Form 2 in 2014 with Rose scraping together enough of her own money to pay her fees. Early in 2015, Rose was really struggling to afford the tuition, food, boarding and uniform fees and approached me to see if the foundation could help in any way. Inspired by both Zeddy and Rose’s efforts, David and I visited the family to find out more about their situation.
We were both struck by how determined her mother, Margaret was to ensure Zeddy got her education. Not only was she looking after Zeddy’s baby boy, Mallon, but she had also collected a large amount of heavy stone as a form of payment to the school for fees (this is often accepted in Kenya as the schools can use them for building or improving classrooms). Unfortunately, despite her efforts, she couldn’t afford the transport to get them to the school. Following the visit we shared Zeddy’s story on the Gathimba Edwards Foundation Facebook page, asking if anyone could be in a position to sponsor Zeddy each month for £35. Almost immediately, Shona Duthie kindly agreed to support her and so the next day we were able to clear the £225 fees due for Form 3, which Zeddy is now about to complete. Zeddy loves volleyball, reading books and is also the school netball captain but she dislikes running due to the fact she feels she is not good at it. Thanks to Shona, she now looks forward to her final year of secondary school and her dreams of becoming a lawyer.
This year, we started to make formal follow up visits to each of the 230 children we are supporting across Kenya to monitor their academic progress and also identify any needs which they may have at home such as beds, bedding, food and clothing and to check on their health. During our follow up visit to Zeddy we realised that her home situation was far more desperate than we could have imagined. Her mum has 7 other children and they all sleep in a single room mud house with no furniture and only a couple of blankets. They use old empty maize sacks instead of a mattress and the light from the charcoal fire to do their homework. The father of all 8 children ran away earlier this year, fearing the responsibility of looking after so many children. This also highlighted for us just how important sex education is for families here and it is something which we will cover in our seminar on 24th November in Iten and also push to have included more in the school curriculum in Kenya.
During the past 18 months since we started the Gathimba Edwards Foundation this was definitely one of the most shocking living conditions we had seen. I knew immediately that we had to do something to change this.
I came up with the the idea of staying there for a night to raise awareness for their struggles and hopefully transform their lives. Without taking much time to consider it, I decided to run the idea by my good friends and GEF volunteers Dan Mulhare, Sarah Campbell and Nicola Henderson. With their typical enthusiasm they all said “GO FOR IT”, and so go for it I did. David being David, he wouldn’t let me go alone and insisted that he accompanied me for the adventure. David is one of the most loyal, honest and hard-working people I have come across since my first visit to Kenya in 2011 and it is a huge pleasure to now have him as a full-time member of our team. He faces his own struggles each day with his 9 year old son Daniel paralysed from the neck down due to contracting meningitis at 2 months old, but despite this he never stops smiling and helps others whenever possible – even giving up 3 days of his work as a motorbike taxi last month, before he was employed by us full-time, to help with our building work 8 hours away from Iten in Karatina.
We contacted Margaret and explained why we wanted to come and stay for a night and she was absolutely delighted to welcome us. Prior to our departure, we set up a Total Giving fundraising page – http://www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/kibendokids – with the hope that we could raise enough money to buy and deliver several items to them the next day.
We arrived in the dark at around 7pm after a 40 minute motorbike journey in the rain along slippery, bumpy, mud roads. It wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys due to us also carrying two bags full of donated goods. We were able to pack the bags full of lovely clothes and games which our 51 building volunteers had brought with them last month. On arrival we were given a warm welcome by Margaret and all of the children who had come out of the house and walked down the wet, muddy hill with no shoes to greet us and help with our bags.
Walking up the steep hill to their house, I followed some of the children who were all bare foot. As they sped along the narrow path in the pitch darkness, I slipped and tripped in their wake, unable to see a thing. The house was also in darkness, the only light coming from the kitchen charcoal fire. As we entered the house, David and I immediately struggled to keep our eyes open due to the burning smoke from the cooking fire. The room was split into four sections – kitchen and 3 sleeping areas. The children sleep on the old maize sacks and use their hands as pillows, huddling next to the cooking section to gain warmth.
With the children staring at us and our bags, wondering what was inside, I decided to open a couple of donated board games – Connect 4, Snakes & Ladders and also some jigsaw puzzles. Excitement levels went through the roof. They pushed and shoved to be the first to play each game but eventually some order was restored and we explained each game to them. They had never seen a jigsaw before so I also explained how they could construct them.
We also brought a couple of solar lights for them to have in their house. Excitement levels rose again as they all looked and grabbed at them with intrigue. One of the young boys, Evans constantly stroked the back of my hands confused at why they were hairy. He then rolled up my sleeve and burst into laughter at my hairy arms….the others followed suit, filing the dark, smokey room with a warm, infectious laughter.
To get a break from the smokey fumes, David and I ventured outside. Collins, a 12 year old cousin to the family was standing outside smiling and chuckling to himself. I asked him why he was smiling. His smile beamed even bigger and he said: “I am just so happy.” It was a special moment. I think until that point I had been caught up in the excitement and let why we were there slip my mind. That comment from Collins brought it all back to reality and filled me with a huge feeling of inspiration that we were in touching distance of achieving something special for this lovely family.
As Margaret and her sister Baziliza prepared dinner, David and I sat outside chatting with eldest son Boniface. After a few minutes I sensed that he felt quite awkward so I asked if he knew why we were staying the night. He responded with a concerned and sheepish: “no I am not aware.” I then explained to him what we wanted to help them with and how I felt that by us staying the night it would give readers a better understanding and appreciation of how tough life is for him and his sisters. He immediately relaxed, would not stop thanking us and began opening up about school and home life. He told us how each night he studies with a small bottle of burning paraffin and then goes to sleep early because there is nothing else to do. Having scored 747/1100 he stands a good chance of realising his dream of becoming a teacher if his fees can be paid.
We returned inside to pray before dinner and were then served chicken, ugali and sukuma wiki. The family usually eat ugali and sukuma each night but had slaughtered a chicken for our visit. One chicken was to feed 14 of us – the 7 children (Zeddy was at boarding school and Mallone with the grandmother), Margaret, Baziliza and her three children, myself and David – all of us squeezed into the small house. The children eventually took their dinner after refusing several times in favour of playing with their new board games and puzzles.
Chatting to Margaret at dinner I asked how many of her children of school age were in full time education. To my amazement, she told me they were all in school as she saw giving her kids an education as a priority over furniture. This really struck me hard as my parents were never faced with a choice like that for me growing up in Scotland. David told me that in remote areas like Kibendo they have a real sense of community and there is a pressure from village elders to make sure your kids are in school even if their shorts are torn to the degree that buttocks are showing – something you see quite frequently in Kenya.
After some more time spent chatting and playing games, at 10pm it was time to go to sleep. I took a walk to the toilet which is 50 metres away.
Margaret offered David and myself the blankets which the children were to use. We refused and explained again to her that we were there to gain a real life experience of the tough conditions which some of them face each night and so we settled down onto our maize sack, using our arms as pillows. The room was still filled with a burning smoke and I could feel it seeping into my lungs and eyes.
I remembered about a new blanket which we had brought for the family and so I gave it to Margaret. She placed it over four of the boys and removed the old blanket. Twenty minutes or so later one of the boys jumped up in excitement when he realised he had a new blanket – another memorable moment.
One of the boys was clearly suffering from a chest infection as he coughed and sneezed all night, only sleeping a maximum of 1 or 2 hours. One of the girls was snoring with the volume of a rhino, much to the amusement of the others.
I was unable to sleep for the first 6 hours due to the discomfort of my hips lying on the cold, hard ground. Our sleeping area was also only approximately five feet in length so I was unable to stretch my legs out fully. Eventually I took my jacket off, folded it up and used it to cushion my side – buying me an on/off 2 hours of sleep. Waking up, I had pain on both hips and also my arms but this was outweighed by a real sense of gratitude and determination to change this family’s life. Margaret said to us in the morning that she didn’t think I would stay the whole night and the she was very happy to see me wake up smiling.
We had brought two pillows with us for the kids but realised they hadn’t used them. When I enquired as to why they had not slept with them, they said they didn’t know what they were for.
After taking a cup of tea for breakfast we opened up the suitcases and called each child individually to hand them some new clothes and toys. It was an amazing feeling to see the smiles on their faces as they received more gifts than they ever had in their lives. This photo of little Valentine, fascinated by bubbles, really stood out for me as one which shows how important it is to give kids in Kenya the things so many of us take for granted at home. It may only be bubbles but the principal is the same whether it is clothing, education, food or shelter.
Faith, one of their cousins, washed her legs and feet on a stone in the morning and told us that she was scared to wash too much because she would just get dirty again that night when she put the old blanket over her and her siblings.
As we walked down to the road with Margaret, around 50 neighbours had to come out to see the ‘mzungu’ (a term used to describe white foreigners) who had chosen to visit and sleep on a mud floor. Smiling with pride, she said to me:
“This is a great day, these people will talk about this sight for days to come. Nobody believed me when I said you were coming but now they believe. You are the news of this area today and it is good news. Neighbours wanted to sing songs to us because they had witnessed something special which they had never seen before. It is good to show others in this world how others live. Thank you to all those who made this happen, donated clothes and changed our lives. May God bless you all.”
David and I then departed for a busy day of shopping in Iten. Thanks to the incredible kindness and generosity from several people, we managed to raise £366 which enabled us to purchase bunk beds, mattresses, cups, pots, blankets, chairs, solar lights, plates, bedding, pillows, a kettle and a flask. We then travelled back to Kibendo by car – I don’t think Kiprotich, a friend of David’s and our driver for the day knew what he had signed up for until we started filling his car with all the items. We got stuck in the mud twice on route to the home – local villagers helping us out on both occasions. We also drove past Zeddy’s school and she spotted us from the playground and waved excitedly as she knew where all the items were headed. Due to the muddy conditions we couldn’t get the car as close to the home as we would have liked so ended up having to pay around £3 for five local men to help us carry the beds and other items up the steep, slippery hill face.
The beaming smiles on the children’s faces, particularly little Noah’s (below, middle), when we arrived with the new items were priceless. They had come sprinting down the hill to greet and help us. As we got into the house we quickly realised that the bed parts were not quite the right size, so we had to chop them down ourselves with a panga (machete type knife). This took a couple of hours but it was well worth it to see their smiling faces again when the beds were complete.
Some of the younger ones had never seen beds before as their friends in the neighbourhood all sleep in similar conditions. It was fascinating and humbling to see them touching the mattresses and wondering if it was all real. Margaret said:
“In life we never thought we would own our own beds. Before, the children used to rarely study but now with the solar day lights and our new table they will be motivated to study regularly.”
The following morning, we called Margaret to find out how their first night sleeping on a bed had been. She said:
“They used to jump up in the morning to go to school but this morning they wanted bed time to last forever. I said to them ‘you must go to school in order to improve your lives and sleeping can come later’.”
That next night I slept for 12 hours – the first time I have done so since my school days. David and I both also experienced nose bleeds – I guess from breathing in the smoke of the kitchen.
A few people have said to us over the past few months that they feel we should focus on only one area out of food, clothing, education or shelter but this experience cements even more the importance that all these factors must be improved for a child to prosper. How can you thrive at school if you are sleeping on a mud floor, doing your homework under a dangerous candle, wearing torn uniform and not eating regular meals?
I will never forget how inspired and shocked I was by seeing how the kids of the Pavilion Village children’s home lived back in 2013. With our regular visits to Kenyan families these days, we see so many poor living conditions. I think to a certain extent you become a bit hardened to it, but only a bit. However, as I lay on that mud floor in the darkness, I totally appreciated how lucky I am to have a big, warm bed with comfortable duvets and pillows at home. The experience will keep my fire burning to continue helping as many disadvantaged kids as possible in the coming years. The sad thing is that we will never be able to reach all the children living like this in Kenya, let along the world but I believe if everyone does something small to make a difference to a child’s life then we will start to see real change in this uneven world.
It amazes me how one night of discomfort for us can mean transforming a family’s life. Margaret called us the next day to say: “Enjoying life has just begun for us.”
Justin, Noah, Zeddy, Valentine, Meshak, Mallon, Boniface, Joanne and Evans will never sleep on the floor again. They may have been on the floor for years but now, the sky is the limit.
Thank you for reading and thank you to everyone who made this possible.