Christine Pothier
2015
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

2014
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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2014
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.

2014
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.

2014
Jul 2

Introducing Christine Pothier, TCP’s Program Executive

Introducing our recently appointed Program Executive, Christine Pothier. Raised in small town Northern Ontario, Christine has been living in Ottawa for 15 + years. Her interest in international development led her to spend the better part of a year in Southeast Asia, where she traveled, worked, and conducted archival research. She now splits her time between her career as a public service, her young family and her volunteer work.

I am a person inclined to be introspective. Every so often, as I enjoy simple, beautiful moments in life, I’ll recognize how fortunate I am. While I sit at a coffee shop reading a book, chatting with a friend, or updating my blog, another woman is hunched over a sewing machine, working in horrid conditions for a sweatshop owner. While I share views and opinions over a glass of wine with my husband, another woman suffers the physical and emotional blows of her own husband or boyfriend. While I travel freely from country to country, another woman’s travels are limited to a route between her hut and a dirty well.

Since becoming a mom, I sometimes look at my girls and think what ridiculous lives they lead. While they run carelessly through the playground, another child attempts to do the same only to step on a landmine. While my daughters have yet to understand the concept of monetary exchange, someone else’s daughter is forced to sell her services, whether physical or sexual. While they sleep soundly and safely at night, other children are awakened by the sounds of artillery. And while I watch them play, eat and sleep, another mother watches her child die of starvation.
Biology is the only reason why I’m here and not there. Recognition in this simple fact is why I hold myself responsible for my good fortune by working to make a small difference, as small as it may be. It’s why I accepted to play a greater role in TCP. Helping a group of kids gain access to education, thereby enabling their climb out of a cycle of poverty is the least I can do.

It’s easy not to think about what happens in other parts of the world. The media doesn’t report on it, few people discuss it, and our government doesn’t play a heavy role. And what difference does it make anyway? Does it really matter that a few children have access to school? Does it change anything in the grand scheme of things for a few children to get new books, new uniforms, or new shoes?

I can’t speak to the grand scheme of things but I can speak to my own scheme. I don’t have to fight for my girls to access education. They will never have to hustle tourists as a way to put food in their mouth. They will never lie scared and helpless in the street at night, fearing for their safety. The debt of gratitude I owe for this translates itself into leading TCP’s efforts in Kisumu Kenya. It also translates itself into raising my girls to be well aware of these efforts so they’ll in turn do the same. After all, biology is the only reason why we’re here and not there.