Im sure by now you know kids and I cant be separated ,so earlier in June one of my good friends and a student from USIU Lyn invited me to this place called FIRST LOVE KENYA
…. A foundation founded for the purpose of bringing the life giving message of hope to children a home where Tom and Linda Clinton have set up a school, for kids from the slum. The school and the lunch room are completely staffed by Kenyans. so I was so overwhelmed by how progressive the home has been and the level of excellence, so I asked my friend Lyn ( http://www.facebook.com/lynsherigitahi) what her first expression was, and this what she had to say….
First Love Kenya had its humble beginnings in the heart of Kibera slums. In 2003, the founder and director of First Love International, Tom Clinton, visited Kilifi, a work-related trip. Once it was over, he came to Nairobi in order to catch a flight back to his home in the United States of America (hereafter USA), but the flight was delayed. He then asked his Kenyan escort to take him to a slum area, so he could see what it was like in Kenya, and he was taken to Kibera. There, he saw so many children living in really bad conditions, and it disturbed him. Clinton caught his flight home later that day, but even while in the USA he could not stop thinking of the children. He kept hearing God ask him “Tom, what are you going to do about those children?” So he knew he had to do something. He came back to Kenya and began researching to establish the areas of need for the kids.
Clinton found that the children often went hungry and did not go to school. He was directed to Chris Okuna, who at the time worked as an accountant with him in the same organization, Overseas Crusades (church-planters). In 2003, Clinton spoke with Chris about starting a foundation, so Chris registered First Love Kenya (FLK hereafter) in September 2004, which then consisted of him and his wife Irene Okuna. They took up the area of Raila Education Centre in Kibera, commonly referred to as simply ‘Raila,’ which was occupied by a few classes built years ago by Asians for deformed adult education. The first project they began with was that of putting up a perimeter around Raila, for security, then building an iron kitchen to cook from. After these, they built a dining area for the kids. The very first meal served at Raila was in 2005, to about two hundred and fifty children. This program was called the First Love Feeding Program, and up to date, they serve breakfast (porridge) and lunch. The purpose of feeding the children was so as to also encourage the children to come to school. Last year, they served up to one thousand children.
FLK however realized quickly that they could not expand the home at Raila, even as more children were added to the home. This was because of the growing number of children, but more so because of the “politics” surrounding the land, which is actually community land originally given to the Nubians a little after Kenya’s independence. So Chris and Irene began praying for a half acre of land on which to settle the home. Chris then felt led to approach one of the great donors of FLK, Ron Russell, who he boldly went to for financial assistance. Russell asked Chris to scout for the land. Chris did so and found some five acres in Karen area, Nairobi. He bargained for a good price then finally settled on eighteen million Kenyan shillings per acre, from an initial twenty-five million per acre. Russell lent them the money, inclusive of seven hundred thousand shillings tax money, which they were to pay back. Chris and his wife however did not know how they would be able to repay the money, so they prayed for financial provision. In 2007, their prayers were answered in an unexpected manner when Russell decided to simply give them the land, free of charge.
During the initial stages of FLK only running the food program, not only did children from around Kibera go to Raila to ask for food, but so did women. FLK then invited these women for a weekly bible study in order to influence them for their betterment. This led to FLK recognizing a need to give the women a means of generating income for themselves, so that they would not simply rely on them for food. FLK began the Baraka women’s centre, where the women were taught how to sew. A friend to FLK from the USA taught them how to do so, and since then, they make quilt duvets, aprons, dresses, bags and African ornaments. This centre will be in future used to train some of the girls to sew too, particularly those who cannot or do not finish school, or after completing school.
At the time of purchase, only a shack sat on the land, so FLK began with renovating this shack into a lovely home for the international founder Clinton and his wife, Linda, that it is now. They also made the trade workshop/center, which is a carpentry station where all the furniture needed by the home is made, and will be used in future to train boys into the skill; the office in which the founders Chris and Irene would work in full-time; and they also dug a well for water security, from which they also give out water to the community members for free every Monday and Friday. Other structures, such as the home itself, the kitchen, basketball court and the Baraka women’s centre, came up thereafter.
In 2007, FLK had a married couple, Ann and George, who looked after the children in the home at Raila as they awaited the completion of the home in Karen. However, the post-election violence struck, and both Ann and George were driven out of Kibera because they were of the Kikuyu ethnic group. The children could not stay there either, so they all moved into the office building already built at Karen; the couple and twenty-three girls, no boys. Boys later came, and they stayed in what is the current kitchen store room. The children moved into the finished dorms only two years ago; eleven boys and thirty-five girls. Mum Irene, as she is fondly referred to by the children, mentioned that girls will always be more at the home because they are more vulnerable than their male counterparts.
The women who currently work at the Baraka centre actually began learning to sew in the rooms (home) left by the children in Raila. These rooms are now being refurbished into a children’s clinic, where health care will be provided to the children in the school, Raila Education Centre, and those in the FLK Children’s Home, for free. In addition, FLK give away free food to the member women of the bible study every three months in what they call a ‘Love Pack.’ The pack usually consists of flour, rice, sugar, oil and other dry foods that would benefit them and keep them going for a while.
Mum Irene, during an interview with Victoria Macharia (my colleague at the site) and I, shared of the positive impact that the home is having on the children and the women; the transformation in them is quite visible. They are now more hopeful, mature, aware of their talents and growing in leadership. The aim that FLK has, as communicated by Mum Irene, is to ensure that the children and women never return to the slum-life, but become better and more productive individuals. The future prospects for FLK in general are to start a salon to take up more women and train more girls on income-generating skills, as well as grow the home to other towns around the country.
FLK has a simple and brief profile of fourteen staff members, one missionary couple (a family from the USA who will live and work in the home for a year), and theirs is a family ministry where married couples work together. FLK often refers to it as a “couples’ ministry.” The children in the home are of ages between two years seven months (two young female twins) and eighteen years (a number of female teens). Majority of them range from ages six to twelve. Mum Irene spoke of a cut-off age they feel is best to take in a child, and that is age eight. This is because children older than this tend to be difficult to reform. Ninety percent of the kids are orphaned, while the other ten percent are considered vulnerable, that is, they are prone to lack, difficulties and exploitation.
On the very first day of my time at FLK, Mum Irene took me to the Kibera site in order to get an overview of where they had started from. During this visit, I was given a brief tour of Kibera slum by a volunteer social worker, Philip, who was raised through the Raila Education Centre and had lived in Kibera all his life. While “touring” Kibera, I remember feeling very ignorant about not having been there before, especially since I live right across the road from it; on the opposite side of Ngong road. I also felt spurred to do something to change the condition of the area, and the situation in which the residents continued to endure. Philip shared shocking stories of how he had found fetuses in plastic bags thrown just at the perimeter of Raila only two years or so ago, as well as a fresh dead body, and this simply broke my heart. I desire to go back and know more about Kibera.
As mentioned earlier, through the feeding program at Raila, FLK provide the children with breakfast and lunch, but most of the children do not get supper because they or their guardians cannot afford it. So the kids sometimes hide half their lunch from FLK, and this saddened me. On the positive end though, Philip did speak favorably and confidently of the healthcare facilities available to the residents of Kibera. I was pleasantly surprised as he narrated how his wife, Veronica, was given great ante-natal and post-natal care when they were having their first born daughter. These services are offered by clinics within Kibera at affordable costs for the residents, and in some cases free of charge.
Finally, while still at Kibera, I learned of the existence of social workers in Kenya. How shocked was I? Especially since I am a Criminal Justice major student in USIU, but had never heard of this. Their offices are in town near Machakos Bus Station. I have not visited the office but I am almost certain it is poorly run, yet there is an obvious need for a good one in a city having very many vulnerable children. I met some of these workers at Raila, and one can tell their job does not sufficiently sustain them. I wish to visit the office immediately after my short time at FLK.
From the second day of reporting to FLK, I have been at the Karen home. This home, in the best words I can think of, is a home just like my own. I was quite surprised by the place because, unlike the children’s homes we are used to, this one is actually a home one can see children being brought up, as opposed to one where the children are just “housed.” At first sight, one may think that FLK is well-to-do, but as I have come to learn, they are just a very blessed people who have wisely put in place systems to ensure the maintenance of a home environment. This maintenance mainly includes having a manageable number of children and keeping the home spic-and-span. This I learned particularly while cleaning in the dorms with its care-taker, Mama Mercy, as we fondly call her. Other children’s homes should borrow a leaf from FLK.
I also visited the Baraka women’s centre where, together with the women, we made a quilt duvet – from scratch. While there, my colleague Victoria noticed one who was HIV-positive. On one afternoon, after a day of working hard, one woman mentioned she needed to relax because she had quickly gotten tired, and had began sweating yet it was cold and raining at the site. I had completely forgotten that majority of the women there shared this HIV-status, especially because you would not easily be able to tell as they look and lead healthy lives, and are very industrious. It was lovely working with the women.
S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS (STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS)
FLK does have many strengths. First and foremost, they own their own land, five acres large. Thus, they have been able to expand themselves to take up more children quite comfortably. Secondly, on this same land, they have dug a well and therefore, they have their own steady supply of water. This project was done by former USIU students to assist them in becoming self-reliant. These enable them to focus on other issues pertaining to the welfare of the individual children themselves, with no worries concerning their sheltering.
An admirable strength within FLK is their effective running systems. For one, they make their own furniture as opposed to buying them, which is a cheaper option, and they are able to make furniture specific to the needs of the home. They particularly have very well made beds whose quality cannot be found in a shop in Kenya. Also, they have a guesthouse which missionaries from the USA stay at for a price. This generates income for the home. In addition, the products from the Baraka centre also help generate income for the women and for the home as well.
Having solved the more pressing matters concerning the children, FLK has established their weak areas. One often mentioned by Mum Irene was the lack of mentors and role models to guide, motivate and encourage the children in their education as well as their various gifts and talents. This is a real need because I have seen the difference mentorship makes in the lives of mentees. This would serve to change the children’s attitude towards life, work and their situations for the positive, and once you change a person’s attitude, you have basically won the war.
Moreover, being students in the current Kenyan 8-4-4 system, tutoring the children is often necessary. FLK does not have these as is the need. They currently have two tutors who pass by on the weekends when they can, but only tutor the kindergarten-level children. Those in primary and secondary level are also in dire need of extra, student-centered tuition. It will also be a difficult task to find able teachers for this, since many in existence are not well-trained in the skill, or if they are, FLK would not be able to afford their services. More donors would also be required for this.
A final, less pressing weaknesses, is that of lacking a website. Being internationally recognized, FLK is in need of a website that keeps its donors and any interested potential partners abreast with the developments of their endeavors. This, though, only requires a web-designer and coder who is willing to render the service to them free, or at an affordable fee. This website could get FLK more financial and service assistance.
Outside of FLK lie opportunities that they can take. One they are particularly interested in is buying or building houses that they can rent, as an alternative and steady means of generating income. This would serve to finance the projects, programs, scholarships and general up-keep of the home as well as the sustenance of the feeding program. Another opportunity similar to this is to be involved in farming also. This way, food supply to the home would be ensured, and at a cheaper cost too. Expanding the Baraka women’s center and the trade workshop would also serve the same purpose of income generation.
An opportunity mentioned earlier is that of expanding the home to other towns. Mum Irene mentioned that children living in the rural areas are easily deterred from the education path, with guardians not encouraging them to stay in school and instead do the chores around the home, such as tending cattle. For this reason, homes like FLK are needed there as well. Mum Irene talked of Eldoret as her first town of interest.
The children are in need of tutoring to bring them up to speed to the level of the fellow age-mates or class-mates. Since they tend to come from troubled backgrounds, their education background is often poor. An opportunity FLK could take up in relation to this is engaging the teaching ministries in churches that could assist the children with more effective learning skills. This would go a long way in bridging the children’s education handicap.
FLK has had different threats over its entire duration of their existence, and this is not surprising as it is a charity-type organization. For this reason, the very first threat is that of dependence on donors, which is an unstable income. At any time, the donors could pull out and this would leave FLK stranded. However, this can be fixed by taking on the available opportunities of generating income as mentioned earlier.
A second immediate threat is that of parents/guardians/families of the children taking advantage of FLK’s sponsorship, where they neglect their children once they are taken into the home. The families are expected to visit their children for the purpose of continued contact and maintaining healthy relationships, but many do not oblige to this, thereby compromising the relationship. It is also difficult to follow up on the families, as some do not live in the city.
Third, the recruitment process of hiring helpers to the children’s ministry is a long, tedious one. This is simply because interacting with children is a sensitive task, and FLK must ensure that the adult is able to do so adequately. The children are delicate people – there is no room for making mistakes. The tasks of interacting, mentoring and caring for the children with specific needs are not such that can be undertaken by just anyone. Thus, to choose or find someone who understands this is often difficult, and threatens the stability of the home should FLK not find one.
The fourth threat to FLK’s ability to realize their goal is the negative external influence on the children by unavoidable parties such as school teachers. Mum Irene narrated to us my colleague and I of a recurring incidence where a certain female kindergarten teacher insults the children as she pleases, such that damage-control measures have to be taken every day to ensure the wellness of the kids, which is being threatened. She shared that it seems she is protected by higher authorities since she has been as such for years, and everyone (including fellow teachers) seem unwilling to be involved in the situation. Alternative schools are being sought for, but they is no guarantee that the teachers in the alternative schools will be better, considering what FLK can afford in terms of tuition sponsorship.
Other threats include FLK having to dig up the wrong foundations built in the children’s lives, minds and attitudes due to their destructive foundational years (where children were abused or exposed to obscenities at early ages) and also fighting the wrong assumptions and perceptions held by Kenyans that FLK are well-off (because of the home in Karen), thereby withholding any form of support from them.
MY SERVICE TO THE SITE
During my very first visit to FLK, Mum Irene shared with me that she had been trying to encourage the children to hang pictures in their rooms, to make their dorms more homely for themselves. I immediately took this up by inviting a professional photographer by the name of Joe Makeni, who is also a good friend of mine, to do a free photo shoot for everyone at the home. Joe is a civil engineer by training but a full-time professional photographer by choice, and has started his own photography business; Frontlight (http://joe.frontlight.co.ke/). He has already been to the site and taken the first few, but will be back to take some more. My idea is to leave them with beautiful photos that they will want to hang up, to encourage them to desire to have good memories of their time at the home as well.
In addition, I wish to market the products made by the women at the Baraka center to fellow Kenyans who probably do not know of their existence. My second idea is to put up their products on a Kenyan e-market called Chochote (http://chochote.co.ke/), which is a business run started by another good friend of mine, Asha Mweru, and her classmates. Through this e-market, Asha takes up products made in or sold to Kenyans by Kenyans, and advertises them for sale at a price that includes the tag price and the e-market’s commission. This way, the beautiful products from the Baraka women will receive advertising and marketing, and hopefully attract demand.
An initiative I am particularly excited about is one of bringing leadership mentors to the home. Being a part of a program (Lead to Serve) by a faith-based organization called Transform Kenya (TK hereafter), I mentor teen girls on leadership using a curriculum created by the staff. Since mentorship is one of the needs of FLK’s children, I wish to conduct the program for the teen girls there. Mum Irene and the girls are very open to the idea and so are the mentors (ladies). This initiative has been projected for August since planning needs to be done and the next time all the girls will be gathered together at the home will be during the August school holiday.
A final desire I have for FLK is to put up a website for them. This can be done on requesting a good web-designer to do so either free or at a low cost, any of which is possible for me. I have been in touch with one, yet another good friend of mine, who is yet to inform of the viable options for us.
So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed being at First Love Kenya, and look forward to the remaining time I have to serve them, and the future interactions we shall have even after the duration of this community service.