By BETHANY DOHERTY
My African journey started at the age of 15 when I decided to volunteer with a small group of adults who were travelling with Goulburn woman Jacinta Ojwang, who with her Kenyan born husband Antipas, run a not for profit organisation in Kenya, called Suluhisho, which is Swahili for ‘the solution’. My three weeks in Kenya was such an eye opener for me coming from a loving family, living in a safe community with access to all the luxuries that Australia has to offer any teenager.
Slums everywhere, filled with families who most days cannot put even one meal a day on the table for their children, thousands of households headed by children barely young enough to attend school in Australia caring for their siblings after their parents have abandoned them due to poverty or have been taken from them by illness such as AIDS, typhoid and malaria. Children wandering the streets barely clothed with swollen starving bellies and older children brain damaged from sniffing glue to keep the hunger pains at bay made me realise how truly lucky I am and how much I need to make a difference here in some way.
I was so determined to get back to Kenya as soon as possible, so when I finished year 10 in 2012 I decided to leave high school to complete my year 11 and 12 equivalent at TAFE in one year, determined to spend 12 months back in the country that had stolen my heart.
On the 16th December last year at the ripe old age of 16 I left to begin my journey.
I was blown away by the changes for Suluhisho in the time that I had been gone. The Children’s Village had begun to be built in the village of Kapounja which housed 16 children aged from 4 months to 16 years. Many of these children were bought to Suluhisho on my first visit and I was amazed to see these once sad, sick and starving children laughing, playing, learning and growing with so much love.
A small pre-school has been started for the youngest children with Suluhisho and the local villagers children. Farming has commenced, growing crops, fish farming, chicken farming as well as small amounts of stock thanks to donations by supporters, creating food as well as employment for locals from the village. Suluhisho is solely dependent on donations but are working towards becoming self sufficient in the next 5 years.
Every day so many children and families have to be turned away, despite their desperation, as there is not enough money to meet their needs. Because of this a few weeks ago with my 17th birthday fast approaching on the 7th March I wanted to make my birthday mean something so I set up a crowdfunding site aiming to find 1000 people to donate $17 raising $17000 towards their work, The Magic Number 17, so far raising almost $2000.
I miss my family, my friends, a hot shower, regular electricity and a good old Aussie toilet with plumbing, but I am so grateful to share in the lives of these children and families, they have changed my life forever!
Click here to find out more about Bethany’s fundraising efforts.