Jan 20

What It Means To Be An Orphan In Kenya

Like most (possibly all) of our sponsors and donors, our volunteers and I have never travelled to Kenya. As Program Executive for TCP, my value to the organization is my ability to manage the program and funds, provide leadership to the team, and optimize our resources, as scarce as they may be. For that reason, I count on our board member, Wendy Muckle (pictured above, left), for her deep knowledge and understanding of the socio-economic and cultural contexts of Kenya.

Part of that knowledge sharing is explaining what it means to be an orphan in Kenya, and in the case of some of our TCP kids, a partial orphan.

A good number of the children have at least one parent, but were left in an orphanage due to a shortage of food at home. Recognized orphanages are in part funded by foreign donations; their operators market themselves to impoverished parents. While some may offer love and care to the children, the reality remains that an orphanage is not a natural way for children to be raised.

The majority of TCP kids have a first degree relative who should be caring for them but are not. Should a parent or relative re-enter the child’s life, the need for sponsorship is not removed. A partial orphan may be struggling with a mother or father who is sick from HIV, unemployed and without the means to feed or educate the child. The child becomes the caregiver for the sick parent and has to work to try to find food for the parent to eat. These situations place the child at an increase risk of abuse.

Any exposure, however little to their parents and relatives, is critical for them to become successful adults. They need to know where they belong and where they come from. This is a human need and a very important element in Kenyan culture. One of our major difficulties in working with orphans is that many of them lacked a consistent and loving caregiver when they were young. As a result, they have severe attachment disorders. They can survive anywhere, are charming and can make anyone like them. But, they fundamentally lack any sense of who they are, the difference between right and wrong, and cannot really trust anyone. As adults, they will face challenges for being good citizens, employees and parents.

Recognizing the fundamental need for family, TCP encourages parents and guardians to be part of their child’s life. We also work to have children feel strongly attached to the Tumaini group of children. Vision is a private school and the children who go there come from fairly well-to-do families. The parents of these children have expressed how wonderful it is to see orphans who are being treated like any other child and not like orphans. This is a psychological advantage for our kids since they are being exposed to children who are expected to do very well in life. This is why it is so important to make sure they have the same (not more) as other children.

If our job was just to pay for education, it would be quite simple. But, in fact, our job is much bigger as we try to set these kids up to be successful, contributing members of society. In doing so we will not only transform their lives, but their community as well.

Christine Pothier*
TCP Program Executive

*With notes from Wendy Muckle, TCP Field Manager

Dec 11

Happy Holidays!

The Holidays are fast approaching. A long awaited Festive Season for many individuals. It is often associated with happiness, celebrations, gift-giving, parties and, most importantly, the gathering of families and friends.

A week ago, we launched our 2014 Holiday Drive to give the gift of water to our young scholars. We aimed to raise $600 dollars, approximately 47,400 Kenya Shillings, to put towards the purchase of a second water tank at Vision School in Kisumu Kenya. These tanks allow for easier harvesting of rain water. They also reduce water borne diseases by serving as treatment units.

Our growing community and donors supported us yet again! We surpassed our goal in five days! To have included the gift of clean water speaks not only to our donors’ generosity, but also to their sense of social responsibility.

The importance of water cannot be overstated, nor can the impact we can have on these children’s lives. In having supported our Holiday Drive, our donors have extended their family’s reach internationally during this festive season. They’ve contributed to boosting our children’s health and confidence.

Please note, we will soon launch our New Year’s campaign to raise funds for school fees for three of our new high school students. Check in for details!

Oct 17

2014 TCP Fundraiser

On October 15th, The Tumaini Children’s Project held their annual joint fundraiser in support of the children in our program.

A few elements from that night left me feeling inspired. Some of our TCP volunteers took time off of work, away from their significant others and their children, and in the case of two of them, traveled from Toronto to spend a couple of days not only on the fundraiser but on TCP work. Despite long hours and a late night, their energy and enthusiasm was contagious.

At the event, as I watched the crowd savouring the food, clinking glasses with the Ottawa REDBLACKS quarterback, Henry Burris, and compete for bids at the silent auction, I pictured our TCP kids studying, playing, and whispering to each other from their beds before falling asleep. I imagined them doing what they can now do because we have sponsors and donors.

Speaking of our sponsors, the event’s highlight for me was meeting the sponsors of Anthony Ooyoo. This young, beautiful couple exude warmth and care, and are representative of our community of sponsors and donors.

Finally, once home, I crawled into bed where my two year old now insists on sleeping. She tossed around a bit until her hand found mine. Our TCP kids may not have a mother’s hand to find in the dark but they have several hands within their community, their school, and TCP’s donors and sponsors.

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Sep 3

First Day of School

On August 26th, my daughter had her very first day of school. She wore a new outfit, helped me fill her lunch bag with wholesome, nutritious food, and carried her new backpack. Getting her into school required nothing more than paperwork. Primary education will lead to secondary education, which will lead to post-secondary education and quite likely a fulfilling career in an area of her choice.

For our girls in Kenya, the path to education is much more complicated and the stakes are higher. With the requirement of school fees for both primary and secondary levels, those families unable to pay are faced with having to hire off their daughters as house help or to marry them off as a second or third wife, often times to an older man, and often to an abusive environment. These girls, at the age of 12 or 13 years old, don’t necessarily have the mature bodies required to bear children, leaving them and their babies at risk of health complications and maternal/infant death.

The comparisons between Western and developing countries, some would argue, are unjust as the context is so widely different. Perhaps so, but as I watched my own daughter enthusiastically step out of the house, as I watched her greet her teacher, and as I watched her interact with her new little friends, it struck me how uncomplicated her and our worlds are, as a female child and as her parents.

Our TCP girls have an opportunity to escape those complications. Their smiling faces in the photos we receive are an indication of the hope and potential they hold within. But they can’t do it alone. Where we recognize it takes a village to raise a child, in some contexts, such as this one, that village can extend to our homes.

I encourage you to view the profiles of our kids and consider joining our TCP community of sponsors and donors.

Jul 15

New Uniforms

I wore a rather unflattering uniform in high school. Each day for five years, I wore a long navy blue skirt, a shapeless navy blue vest and a white blouse. If memory serves me correctly, a single set cost approximately $200. My mother, a self-taught seamstress, bought material, copied the pattern and made me two sets that I made last for five years. Upon graduation, I burned one set, as per tradition, and kept the other. I figured as an adult, I’d surely hit hard times and would need a reminder that times were once worse.

Yet my hardships were nothing compared to those of our Tumaini kids. They face the stress of schools fees, the lack of parental guidance and support, tenuous relationships with relatives, and for some of them, disease, including HIV/AIDS.

In looking back at my high school years, wearing a school uniform gave us a sense of belonging – a sense we were all in it together. As students, we came from different socio-economic, cultural, and even geographic backgrounds, but we had one visible point of commonality. Every morning, we put on our school uniform. Most of us spent Sunday night ironing our shirts. Most of us spent far too much time attempting to individualize our outfits. As girls, we complained of the uncomfortableness of wearing pantyhose in the summer. The boys begged teachers to let them take off their blazers in the heat. Beyond the visibility of navy blue polyester, we all shared the experience of wearing those uniforms, of being students, and of navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Our TCP kids live an experience particular to their context. They may be a partial or full orphan. They may or may not have relatives visit on Parent Day. They may have a sponsor thereby completely removing the financial stress of school fees. Despite circumstantial differences, thanks to the generosity of donors and sponsors, they all have uniforms. They’re all in school. They all have a shot at ending their cycle of poverty. When they put on their uniforms in the morning, they touch their access to education. They touch hope. They touch their own potential.

Photo: TCP kids wearing their new uniforms and shoes, purchased with the funds of our donors and sponsors. July 2014.

Child Peeking
Jul 29

Asante sana sana!

I cannot believe that our time here in Kisumu and Asembo Bay is almost done; it has gone by so fast. Looking back, I realize that I have leant a lot and grown as a person. Amongst other things, I will take with me the pure joy seen in the children’s eyes, the sense of community, the kindness and the hospitality of the Kenyan people. I realize that what they have given me far surpasses what I can ever give in return; though this saddens me deeply, I am eternally grateful. Warm thanks to everyone who helped us with our projects,the list is endless. However, it would have been impossible without Steve and Emily in Kisumu and Bertha and family in Asembo Bay. I offer my sincere thanks and would love to see you again. I never imagined that I would dread the day when I would have to return home, I simply love the place! I guess what they say is true, once you come to Africa, you will surely return. Asante sana sana!


Kenya Kids Field
Jul 6

One Week In

Where to begin?! Its already been 1 week that we arrived in Kisumu. Last Sunday, we meet with St-Francis kids, we had an awesome day playing around the field football, freeze-be and skipping ropes! They also sang for us and still had energy after a full day! We were exhausted!! hehe Yesterday, it was feeding day in Asembo Bay. Marie-France and I arrived early in the morning to join the guys to help with the preparation. We meet around 200 orphans who were shy at first but quickly became comfortable. After we feed them, they all came to thanks us by holding our hands and dancing with us. It was one of the most beautiful moment of the trip so far. There big smiles were full of joy!!! Also to end the day, we met with the Widows of Asembo Bay who sang for us which got us all emotional.


St. Clair’s Orphanage

Our final rotation just happened and now Robin is now here in Kisumu spending time at St. Clair’s orphanage and will be visiting the kids at St. Francis for the first time this weekend. It was great reading storeybooks to the kids this morning and having them participate with the words and songs that they know, as well, reciting poems and demonstrating their “good manners”. We spent much of the morning with the babies at the orphanage who are under the age of 1 year old, Francisca (also known as piglet) who loves her head to be rubbed, Moses a very active vocal baby now that he is over his cold, Paul who is wide-eyed and at the same time a very old soul, and finally the oldest of the group Magdaline who has a very strong personality and preferences for someone so young. There are also many other kids at the orphanage that we have also gotten to know quite well and enjoy spending time with them, in particular are Imam, Marilyn, Helen, Jacob, Junior, Tracy, Paul, Victor among so many others. Our days in Kisumu have found a great rhythm where we are able to rest after spending time at the orphanage before venturing out into town to meet the many new Kenyan friends we have made or run errands. Overall the entire group so far has felt incredible warmth of Kenyan hospitality and are amazed that so many people not only take the time to say hi and notice us but to express care when we have been under the weather from the sun, food, or our days. Cheers to Kenya.


Week Two: Kisumu

I’m on week two of being here in Kenya and I find it difficult to sum up everything I have experienced thus far. Only two weeks in, I already have a lifetime of memories to take away with me. I have been rotating between Kisumu and Asembo Bay, having the privilidge of meeting the amazing children and witnessing the difference that The Tumaini Children’s Project is making in their lives. I am in Kisumu today, getting ready to visit St. Francis boarding school tomorrow to visit with the children and to bring them their brand new textbooks. Soon, I will be heading back to Asembo Bay to help get started with the computer classes for the children in the village as well. Seeing the smiles on these children’s faces makes every day here even more rewarding.


Nairobi is COLD

Nairobi is COLD!!!! Brrrr… well a lot colder than I expected (feels similar to early fall weather for us Canadians) especially after leaving the sweltering humidity of Toronto, but it is unbelievably full of colour with flowering trees, lush foliage and bright red dirt makes a spectacular background. The group has arrived in stages over the last two days and we have all been getting to know each other, and sharing our excitement about the upcoming projects over great hospitality that we are receiving at the guest house we are staying at. Everyone we met has been really friendly and helpful so much that you feel like you have arrived home!

We fly off to Kisumu today and began the work. That’s it from me,