01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Acacia House is now closed. 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Acacia House is now closed.

To give you a bit of background on the old aid debate I need to come clean.  Certainly a fair amount of my cynicism on aid, development and 'trying to help' was sparked by the fact that the Acacia House friends who started up a small orphanage here in Kenya, have now packed up and gone home. 

After a lot of soul searching and ground work, they eventually found a very nice, well run, larger home to place their girls.  They spent a long time settling in the children, have passed on the money they've raised and will continue to sponsor the children. Now they've left.

My friends spent their last night with us this week and walked away from the country thoroughly disillusioned by their two and a half year experience in Kenya.  I was exhausted by it too to be honest!  So sad.

They visited me often and over numerous cups of coffee I watched their initial, bubbling enthusiasm for Kenya and their noble (if a little naive) ideals be replaced by utter rejection of the place.

In the end I was stridently defending Kenya in the face of frequent sweeping statements like;
'Have you noticed, everybody lies?'
'Kenyans never help one another.  Have you ever seen anyone help anybody else in this place?'
'Nobody cares about the children.  It's all about the business.'
'Everybody here steals.'
It was horrendous.

The story all started when these two young people on a year off found themselves volunteering through an international organisation, at a horrid little orphanage in our area which was run by a corrupt pastor who was married, in his thirties. 

The pastor would keep donor money and the volunteers contributions for himself (volunteers paid 500 shillings per night to 'help' at the orphanage), instead investing in such things as a car to run as a taxi business, banks of computers to start a secretarial school.  The only problem is that he never saw the projects through - the car sat unused and the computers lay idle. 

Meanwhile the Pastor beat the kids, would not buy water for the orphanage when they frequently ran out or spend money on food (they got given scraps from the market), hoping that naive volunteers would fish into their own wallets to solve problems - which, in desperation, they often did.  Midnight prayer meetings were held at the orphange, where friends of the pastor came and sang, chanted and spoke in tongues in amongst the dormatories - terrifying the orphans.  The children themselves often got sent away (back home because they often had living family members) when they cried at night, wet the bed or turned out to be at all difficult, to be speedily, inexplicably replaced by others.

My friends got to the point where they wanted to 'save' the kids in this orphanage, and give them a different type of home.  A good experience for a change.

At the time I said, 'lovely that you want to help, but you really don't have to! Why abandon your travel plans?  It's not your responsibility.'

But they had been seduced by the kids and really wanted to help.

To cut a long story short, my friends did as they said and set up their kids home, making sure they spent a long time vetting the children to see that they really did need help and weren't just being pushed forward as orphans by existing parents. 

But there were so many problems that they didn't or couldn't forsee.  Although they worked hard to get the right documentation and permits, they got continually threatened by the local authorities who said they would shut them down (unless they paid bribes).  They suffered a terrifying armed break-in, their housestaff stole from them and they were horrified at the state of the local schools who beat the children and taught them basically nothing.  After moving house and moving schools a few times, they realised that their donor's money was increasingly being spent on rent and security, rather than the children.  The weekend before they left, good friends of theirs suffered a horrendous armed attack in their home and one is still in hospital.  It was the icing on the cake.

Eventually, the Acacia House pair realised that their help was in fact not much help at all here.  I visited the place where their four children are now housed, Hekima House, a christian organisation.  There are 60 orphans here and the place run by a retired American lady who is the grand dame.  It has a lovely garden atmosphere and the lady enthuses about the children and knows them all by name.  She has built up a good support team around her too.

'You see,' my friend said, 'here it's about the kids.  So many other people want to tell you all about the charity, or the home itself, but they never talk about the kids.  They're just not interested.'

My friends were shocked by the number of people they met along the way who had set up similar, well funded but poorly run charities in Kenya.  Foreigners who expected to come in, set something up then helicopter in and out, leaving it for the majority of the time running in local hands, often losing a lot of money to untrustworthy middle men along the way. 

I think that Acacia House was unsustainable but suffered most from lack of support by a major organisation or church (those with a mission purpose I think have the tools to cope better).  My friends, left to fend for themselves and without a personal agenda other than trying to make a small difference, got beaten by the system.  It's a sad story.

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