Case Study - Diarmuid White
CMFT Abroad – Diarmuid White I am 23 and from Bolton, James Killeen with whom I went, is 22 and from ManchesterDiarmuid White is in his final year of his Medicine Degree at the University of Manchester which is closely affiliated to our Trust. The 23-year-old from Bolton chose to spend three weeks of his Summer holiday at the Good Life Orphanage with James Kileen, 22. It provides a safe and secure home for orphaned and abandoned children in the Kikambala area of Kenya. Since it opened in April 2008 over 50 children have discovered the security of having a place where they call home. These children now receive three meals each day, are educated and most importantly are shown love and care.
Diarmuid found about about the GLO through a mutual friend and within a few months of sending an e-mail asking about volunteering, they had met the founder, Mary Maguire, in Manchester and were packed up with gifts donated by friends. Here is his story…
We have never made a better choice. From the first moments we entered, it was difficult not to smile; not to let the laughter of the children and mamas and aunties infect you. On the second day we felt comfortable enough to call this hot, sticky place four and a half thousand miles from Manchester, our ‘home’. We even had our own room at the top of the water tower to call our base. It was like being a child again, setting aside whole days to just play games.
The older boys were desperate to play football and for much of the time, we were only too happy to oblige. From midday to three, however, more than five minutes of full throttle running in unaccustomed humidity would send us to the solace of shade where we’d crack open the jigsaws or blow bubbles until the cows came home (which actually did happen during our second week with the arrival of Kendo, the orphanage’s newly donated cow).
I thought it unlikely that given just three weeks and all of 60 children, we would ever get to know even half of them. But sharing meals and talks and tasks allowed us to get to know their foibles and habits: Paolo is never happier than when he’s directing events with his stick. If Michael can be carried somewhere rather than face the chore of having to walk, he will hang around your neck and tell you where to go. Maguire house will end every meal with a dance and will somehow avoid a stitch.
With experiences like this, you are often worried that you’ll take more out of it than you’re able to give and to some extent, that will always be true. Looking back, the most important thing which we were able to give was simply time. Mamas and aunties in each house have 12 children to look after, 12 mouths to feed, 12 scholars to dress. After preparation and planning, they have little in the way of time to play which is really when we fitted it. We helped with washing clothes, making chapattis, shelling peas, milking the cow, picking vegetables, dispatching chickens, completing homework and- more than anything else- playing games.
In the evenings, there is nothing better than to sit under the canopy of stars and take Swahili lessons and exchange stories. We managed to fit in a three day safari and snorkelling trips but our finest day out was undoubtedly the day we upped sticks with a few minibuses full of children and aunties and headed to the white sands, blue water and cool ice cream of the Mombasa coast thanks to the generosity of another volunteer who’d recently stayed for a month or two.
Co-founder Kevin Maguire urged us to take a holiday from our holiday and to leave the grounds from time to time to see the situation for children not at the GLO. We were taken to the feeding station where thousands of children are fed every Sunday, often walking for miles for their one square meal of the week. It seems trite and colonial to reflect on how sad this is; on what twist of fate has allowed us to be born in a country where this isn’t allowed to happen. But these children are being fed. Thousands more are not. It’s hard to see the fairness in it all.
We also spent a few days in a local health clinic for infant vaccinations and ante-natal clinics. We’re used to Dopplers, ultrasound and people knowing their birthdays and being able to afford medicine. It’s surprising if not shocking to see how, in one small region of Kenya, the complex needs of a large number of people are met.
Returning to the GLO after a day out really was like returning home. No matter what you saw outside the gates, the rush of beaming smiles and outstretched hands towards you always melted away the concerns you’d had about the things you’d seen: At least these children are growing up in a place where they are cared for, loved and appreciated. Not a single shilling of your donations is wasted.
The GLO is a great place, doing great things. Every volunteer will give something different. Every volunteer will take something different away. As soon as we left for England, we felt a pull to come back. You must go, get stuck in and remember how to be a child again.