Read on to get answers about the Lewa projects from the woman who started them all and has helped change the lives of hundreds of Kenyan children.
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Learn about Phyllis’s Lewa Children’s Home in Eldoret, Kenya
INTERVIEW WITH PHYLLIS
What was your childhood like? Did this factor into your decision to help so many children today?
We were poor people, very poor, in Kenya. That actually helped me to be what I am, people helped us all the time. When we didn’t have food, other people would come and help us. I had three brothers, we were 6 all together. And my step mother had four children, two girls and two boys. My mother had four of us, but unfortunately we lost three. One died of AIDS, the other one commit suicide, and the third one died of an accident. But they all went to school and they did very well, but not like the UK, in that time you could not go very far in school. We had a stable home, even with all my stepsisters and stepbrothers. What actually made me want to help other people was because we were poor and I felt like I should help others that were poor too. When I became a nursing student is when I developed a love of children, and I enjoyed very much working with children and things like that. I worked in the hospital and when I started the children’s home is when I left it. Children used to come looking for food and employment and it was then that I knew… this is it.
Was there one exact moment when you first felt the need to help all these children?
The children I first took in were hungry, they had no family. So what I did was, these children were looking for food and jobs, and they were so small, they only looked maybe 10 to 12 years old, but actually they were much older. The children grew very slow because they had nothing to eat, but they grew fast once I took them in. So that’s when I decided I would like to stay with them. In 1970, I moved with them to my home. The official home didn’t start until 1980s. We didn’t have such a big home at first. Things were not like they are now.
When the children’s home first began, did you ever expect it to become this successful?
No I didn’t think it would. Sometimes I look at it and think it’s just normal, some other people don’t but it’s normal to me. Sometimes you don’t even plan but it just comes.
What do you consider the most beneficial thing you have given these children? Education, food, shelter, a family, or something else entirely?
Life. All of that comes into it. I cannot describe it. Life must be the number one thing. Mothers abandon their children, and also there is poverty, and when children are going to school and they get pregnant they do not want to keep that child, and their parents do not want them to keep that child either. And you find the young girls abandoning their children, even at the hospital. Even grown up mothers don’t know what to do about it. It’s hard when there’s even one more person to feed, there’s no food and then they need to eat well and it’s difficult. A common age for a woman to give birth is 14, very young mothers.
How would you describe Lewa Children’s Home/Baraka Farm/Kipkeino School in a few sentences to someone who had never seen them first-hand?
The only way to really know it is to visit, but if it’s not possible maybe our website will help them. The Farm and the School are all within each other, all walking distance. The School and the home are sitting on the Farm area. It’s one big project together.
Do you plan on keeping the children’s home growing? Some people may say you’ve already done enough, or do you believe it’s just the beginning?
What I’m doing now is I’m encouraging the government to give these children to foster homes. Or encourage them to try to find the children’s distant relatives. We encourage the extended families to stay with these children, and then we can sponsor them with money. If they have family near, I want them to stay with them, but I talk to the family first to make sure that the child will be cared for. Even when they live with their family, we will sponsor them and help them.
Children originally come from the hospital, the children’s department. Before we take the children, we meet at the court, with a judge present. The child goes from the hospital to the social worker, who reads the history of the child, and it’s up the judge to ask questions and then he declares whether the children will be handed over to Lewa Children’s Home. So we are all there, and when the child is committed to my Home, I take the child directly from there. Sometimes it takes 6 to 8 weeks, even some up to 10, depending on the health of the child and how long they need to stay in the hospital. Once they determine the child has no other problems (they try to determine if they are HIV positive or have heart problems or Sickle Cell Anemia) they want to get to know the child. Some children do not have other problems, and then they will inform the children’s department and inform me. Some homes do not want the small sickly children who have problems, so I take them. We have gotten very many new children lately, twelve in all.
What makes the Home, the School and the Farm different from the other projects they are similar to?
There are other homes, but the difference that I see is that we have a school and a farm together. It’s easier. Many homes are just a home, ours is a home a school and a farm. Even though we do not have that much money, we always have food. And children all help out on the farm, we all work. It’s also the support of people like you here, I give them energy at home, but you all make it all possible.