Volunteer diary

My time at AfCiC – Chantal Hughes

“Me you, aeroplane England” is what James Mwangi would say to me most days as he walked with me to the gates of the Interim Care Centre.  He is one of the many children who endure incredible hardship and the impact he and his beautiful family made on me during my time at AfCiC stays with me long after I left Thika.   I went to work for AfCiC with absolutely no expectations whatsoever and the reason is this.  I am a white British woman brought up in the western world.  Like many of my counterparts I sit and cry annually at the Comic/Sports Relief clips and pledge money to inoculate a child or buy a mosquito net.  It all felt a bit too comfortable so I decided to go and see for myself.

AfCiC strives to improve the lives of street children in and around Thika and with a team of some of the most committed staff I have ever worked with they really do make a huge difference.  I split my time at AfCiC between different areas, largely because I wanted to get to know as many of the team as possible and also to see the work they do.  At the Interim Care Centre I would hang out with the boys as they washed their clothes in metal buckets.  When I told them that we have machines that do it they explained to me that it wouldn’t get the clothes clean enough and the concept of a machine to wash plates and cups was a step too far.  They told me I was making up stories…….and for me this was the joy of spending time with such resilient young boys who could teach me so much.  It’s refreshing to see broad smiles on children who have endured untold hardship in their short lives.  I loved just spending time with them, reading and watching them talking effortlessly in three languages, (Kiswahili, their mother tongue and English).  I would grapple daily with them trying to teach me Kiswahili words.

I think one of my favourite days of the week was working on Tuesdays at the OPVC with John and James, the former of which I nicknamed the ‘Child Catcher’.  Here children living on the street access the drop in service where they can wash their clothes and sit and read and write.  The courage of these children was an inspiration to me and even now I am back in the UK I still wish I was there every Tuesday.  So why did I call John the Child Catcher?  Often boys at the ICC struggle and return to the streets.  John would be tasked to go out to the find them and I would walk around Thika town or Makongeni (getting called mzungu) in search of the children with him.  John was so persistent and he wouldn’t give up until he found them.   I remember we were about to board the matutu and return to Thika one day when he spontaneously said he was going back.  He returned an hour later with the two boys and hence to me the Child Catcher he became.

Other days would be spent with the Family Social Worker, Elizabeth where I would have the privilege of visiting families with her.  In the UK I have worked with families in hardship for 15 years but we are talking on another level here.  My ‘Britishness’ does not allow my imagination to picture Kiandutu slum and I think this would be true of many westerners.  Visits with Elizabeth allowed me that insight.  One of the many great things about AfCiC is that they have the holistic approach of working with the whole family, taking the stance that engaging the boys at the ICC to build a better life has no longevity without looking at how the whole family can be helped.  If I was one of those families I would want Elizabeth at my side.  She has such a gentle approach and does everything in her power to assist.  Her humility overflowed.

There were so many unexpected moments during my time at Thika including a last minute Christmas trip to Zanzibar where I met a fellow Brit and sold the concept of AfCiC to him.  I didn’t anticipate him turning up in Thika to do the collection day at the local supermarket with me but that’s a whole other story.  Thanks Owen, you will always be my dear friend if not for challenging my preconceptions!

To watch the boys complete their rehabilitation and attend a ‘Graduation Ceremony’ is something extremely special. To swim in the ocean with them in Mombasa for their Christmas trip yet another memory etched in my mind for always.   Sitting in Thika Women’s Prison watching Margaret engage the mothers who have children, going to Thika hospital with Daniel  to visit a sick mother, watching Teacher Margaret trying to round the boys up for class with her bell, House Mother and Florence with the boys, finally seeing Hannah off the street and taking her to the Orphanage with John, Njenga and James being such amazing House Fathers, Georgina’s smile, Dina’s honesty – brilliant,  Peter’s commitment to the older boys apprenticeship scheme, Patricia (with an h as I call her) and Seth getting my British humour.  These are just some of the many things that made my time in AfCiC the rich and rewarding experience that it was.  And that’s without the ever changing hair of my colleagues.  Admittedly I wasn’t great with the odd frog in the volunteer house during heavy rains because I’m used to them in ponds but it’s a small price to pay.

This is a snapshot into my short time at AfCiC.  I struggled to leave, however AfCiC will remain part of my life for always and I would defy anyone that visits to think otherwise.

To AfCiC – keep doing what you do so well x


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