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2004-08-03 The children whose Christmas party is a glass of Miwadi and a slice of bread

Imagine your home is 8ft square, accessible only via a wooden pallet covering an open sewer. The warm air inside your home is rank with the stench of excrement.

 

You are a single mother with nine hungry children, who often resort to begging in the streets. At night you impose a curfew on these children in order to protect them from attack and rape. You constantly hear stories of local 13 year-old girls having sex for as little as 40 cent, or even in return for a bag of chips, and risking an 80% chance of contracting HIV. This is the sad reality for one third of Nairobis population.

 

The terrorist attacks on the US Embassy in Nairobi were well-documented in the news, but when do we ever hear about the forgotten million inhabiting such hellish slums as Makuru and Kibera on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital?

Last winter, as part of Refugee Trust International, ex-Model School and Sligo Grammar School classmate Basil Love was one of 21 volunteers who travelled to Kenya to take part in a fundraising climb of Kilimanjaro, and to witness first-hand the wide gap between the countrys rich and poor.

Setting off from base-camp with a guide, seven assistant guides, a cook and fifty porters, the group started at a steady pace in order to acclimatise to ever-decreasing oxygen and reduced atmospheric pressure. Passing through rain forest they reached Mandara huts  the first base-camp. Next day, as the sun beat down relentlessly, the group made their way through Alpine vegetation to Horumbo, the second stop, where several of the climbers had been stricken by migraine and sunstroke. After a day-off, the party set off for Kibo huts at 4,703m, passing through a barren, almost lunar landscape. By now, two of the party had hung up their hiking boots before they had reached the famous Saddle. The final stage of the climb commenced at midnight. Three more gave up at 5,895m at Uhuru (dont - I am maturely resisting the obvious!). Most people were suffering by now, and four more gave up before the final steep and snowy summit. For the first time ever, an Irishman played the pipes on top of Kilimanjaro, quite a feat at -15º!

Six of the original party made it all the way. Basils certificate from his trip of a lifetime now adorns the wall in his beautiful family home on the foothills of the Ox Mountains, which seemed somewhat diminutive by comparison.

In 1983, an ex-Miss Nairobi  Mama Mary  established St.Pauls Childrens Care Centre in the Nairobi suburb of Karen. Half of the centres 170 children are orphans. Sometimes babies are dumped at the gates. Visiting a school in Makuru, the group witnessed the extremely basic wooden classrooms with galvanised sheet roofing. The well-behaved children sat on the floor, which when it rained, became muddy. There were dormitories for the orphans, but needless to say, with no electricity or running water, and minimal food. Basil and the group were guests at the Christmas Party, at which each student was treated to a glass of Miwadi and a slice of bread. As is often the case, one particular child latched on to a member of the group for the duration. Everywhere Basil went, little Kiri was his shadow.

Thanks to funds raised by Sligo General Hospital, another Makuru school  Kwa Nyenga School  is now a sturdy concrete construction. On August 13th, Basil and four others return to St.Pauls in Karen for 10 days. Initially, they will spend 3 days bringing a group of orphans from the home to a Mombassa beach for what will be for them a trip of a lifetime. The main reason for the forthcoming trip is to begin groundwork for the construction of classroom and accomodation blocks at Mama Marys centre in 2005. As an Instructor in carpentry and joinery at Fás in Ballytivnan, Basil is more than qualified to lead this team.

Basil is deeply grateful to all those who took part in the fundraising concert at the Hawks Well last October, as well as the companies who also helped to sponsor these worthwhile trips. This is not a plea for more money, but if you are interested in Basils work, or might like to volunteer to help, or if you are interested in Refugee Trust International and their sponsored climbs, call Basil Love on 071  9159518.