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  • Writer's pictureAraminta Sheridan

Lorna visits Saidia for the first time

“The anticipation and excitement prior to my visit to Sadia is best described as “that Christmas Eve” feeling… But with a rather healthy dose of anxiety. Healthy because I think that is normal when one travels into the unknown. And unknown it was.

Firstly, volunteering with sixty children is scary. But interestingly when I shared my concerns with friends and family, they seemed far more concerned about the children and staff with my impending arrival than for me. Advice ranging from “you do know you have to behave yourself” to “it’s not like when you look after our children you can’t bribe them with presents and fill them up with marshmallows and them send them home bouncing off the walls” (of course I knew that, I wasn’t even sure I could get marshmallows in Kenya!) I decided not to dwell. If I overthought this I would not get on the plane and be left with the regret that comes with not throwing yourself wholeheartedly in to that life changing opportunity that comes your way but once in a blue moon.

So I moved on to the second anxiety inducing element to this trip.. volunteering with complete strangers. If we are honest even the most gregarious, sociable person will have some reservations, particularly, when said volunteers boast rather impressive CVs. The group fondly named Mumma Gigis, numbered a Head Teacher, a Nurse and an ex partner at KMPG. So strong impressive women who were very obviously qualified, with useful baked right into them. Hmm Intimidating. (I bet none of them were told they needed to behave themselves)

I decided to focus on the practicality of the trip. (I say that in the loosest possible terms because in truth all was actually covered by Briony) which left me visa and injections. My chemist after meeting me for all of five minutes decided to inoculate me against all known diseases, and I think had he would have sent me off with a full bio hazard suit if he could…

So I was not exactly brimming with confidence. But I still wanted to go, I wanted to meet the courageous children and staff I have heard so much about, I wanted to know where my donations were going, but mostly I wanted to do something. I didn’t know what I could offer, but I got on the plane determined that I would find a way to help. I also got on the plane determined to have an absolute blast. My friends and family were right, I can’t teach or nurse but I am willing, high energy and am good at having fun on arriving in Nairobi, I met my fellow volunteers, and I was right to be in awe. Four cracking ladies, and I didn’t stop laughing the entire trip (except for when I cried).

On first approaching Saidia, you are greeted by barred windows, and a locked gate, which frankly did nothing to dispel my worst imagining’s, the building is certainly tired inside and out, but that is the only thing withing Saidia that is.

On entering Saidia we were greeted by friendly energetic staff, who by rights should all be showing signs of exhaustion instead, passion, enthusiasm and compassion simply oozed from them. While I was shaking hands, I suddenly heard singing, Hilary (head teacher volunteer) had the children lined up and was teaching them a new song… this was withing 5 minutes of entering Saidia.

This set the tone for the entire trip - its ok to just get stuck in. And get stuck in we did. Janine (The Nurse) changed nappies, and not the pampers kind, got medicine from the chemist, and accompanied the staff to the hospital to deal with a sick baby.

She washed or more accurately scrubbed clothes, served meals, and carried Jill (who is wheelchair bound) on her back so she could see the farmers markets for the first time ever in her 13 Years.

Meanwhile, Libby, set about the task of getting the numbers in order. Lucky Libby, who doesn’t enjoy spending days at a time studying spreadsheets!

So, with all the best jobs taken, that left me with the serious task of play! And play we did, we introduced the children to rounders, juggling, hoop throwing, and with the provision of new footballs were treated to a demonstrating of some quite extraordinary footballing and rugby talent.

When the sun got too hot, we decamped inside to make Christmas cards, father Christmases out of paper plates and cotton wool, bracelets from beads and elastic, and blew up balloons for the purpose of decorating the rooms in preparation for the impending graduate celebrations and Christmas.

Our final day was the picnic - a rare day out for the children full of joy, watching the children laugh, helping each other to learn to ride bikes, was for me one of my personal highlights but also the first time I allowed myself time to reflect on the resilience of these children, and how truly extraordinary each and every one of them are. These are children who want new shoes for Christmas, are grateful for the fact they have food on the table, and get to go to school. These are of course the basics that we must expect for all children, but without Saidia many of these children would simply not be alive today. It is sobering, and something I chose not to dwell on during my time in Kenya, after all the children themselves do not dwell on the past they are very firmly focused on the future, a future that is theirs because of Saidia.

Speaking of the children’s futures, there were many highlights of the trip, but for me the standout was the graduate lunch.

The graduate lunch provided tangible context to what former Saidia children had achieved over the years. It was a huge privilege and very humbling to meet those graduates who were starting out in further and higher education, those that had successfully completed education and were going on to start careers.

To those that have continued the work the founders started and have sacrificed so much for others, I can think of no better reward than seeing these children – The graduates of Saidia go out into the world and succeed, healthy happy, and filled with compassion and a level of kindness that is a credit to those that dedicate their lives to bringing them up as a family – albeit a very large family, a family it certainly is. And a family that we were welcomed into with open arms.

Thank you Saidia, I have no doubt I took more from the experience than I left behind, but know that 5000 miles away you have a new family member, who is not only good at the playing, is pretty good at fundraising too! We will meet again soon.”

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