In October 2013, 10 people from South West London volunteered in the Nairobi slums. It was a life changing experience.
The team arrived in Nairobi in the early hours of the morning. It was dark and brief glimpses of the sleeping city could be seen on the drive from the airport to the hotel.
Just over a day later, the team found themselves in an HIV clinic in Ngando, a part of the Nairobi slums, learning about how this disease is devasting Africa.
The poverty in Africa looks dreadful from the UK but it is easy to change the TV channel or turn over a newspaper page, and thus easy to put out of mind quickly.
By contrast, sitting in a tin shanty shared by two adults and eight children with room for a single bed, two cheap plastic chairs, a small parafin stove and pot in the corner, no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, and a small window that is no more than a hole cut in a sheet of corrugated tin, makes poverty an unavoidable reality.
Each night after a long day of volunteering, the team would talk about the people, visits and tasks of the day. The discussions ranged from life in the slums to the exhiliration of seeing African animals on safari. It was during these discussions that the idea of forming a charity was born.
Volunteering is a wonderful experience. It is an opportunity to meet new people, see new places, and do some good at the same time. It is both fun and enriching. However, the team wanted to do more, they wanted to make a lasting difference.
Back in the UK, the team met to discuss ideas on how to proceed aware that Africa has suffered from poverty for a long time and many people and organisations have intervened to help over the years with varying levels of success.
The overriding desire was to do something that would result in long term change. Something that would enable people eventually to become independent of any assistance
provided. Something to enable Kenyans to change their own lives.
After much deliberation, the clear answer was education.
Education provides children with skills that they can use for the rest of their lives. Studies by the WHO show that there is a direct relationship between standard of living in adulthood and levels of education for people born into poverty.
While in Nairobi, the team visited many schools, and they were struggling. Most of the classrooms were no more than tin shacks and too small for the number of children crammed into each one. Facilities were rudimentary at best with one school having to teach by candlelight in the early morning because they could not afford the cost of cables and the installation of electricity. None of the schools had running water, and toilets were very basic when they existed. Classroom furniture was both extremely simple and often in very poor condition. In spite of the conditions, the children were delightfully friendly greeting the team enthusiastically and sincerely.
Very few of the teachers have had any formal training on how to teach, in fact, most have no more than form 4, a high school diploma. Those that did have qualifications either had a diploma in teaching the youngest children or a government qualification called a P1. None had any formal qualifications that would enable them to teach in state schools, like a degree in education.
Many of the teachers demonstrated both talent and commitment in the clasroom but simply did not have the money to pay the necessary university tuition fees of around £200 per semester.
The need in the Nairobi slums was patently obvious but where to start was not so easy and took careful thought. From talking to schools and discussing the barriers to education, it was decided that the most pressing problem was hunger.
The school children were incredibly keen to learn. Several had a long walk to school each day, up to two hours, and yet they arrived on time without complaint then sat four to a desk designed for two in a dimly lit classroom. However, each day many of the children arrived at school having had little or no breakfast and with no prospect of lunch because of poverty and neglect. Complaints about stomach aches abounded. Hunger and its consequences, made it very difficult for children to concentrate let alone perform well academically.
At Excel Emmanuel, a community school in Ngando, the team was extremely impressed by the Head, Titus Kinongo, and Deputy Head, Mary Kinyanjui, of the school. Both of them were very professional and totally committed to the students making personal sacrifices for the school.
They made it an easy decision that Excel Emmanuel would be the first school to be supported by Porridge and Rice.
Then began a concerted program of fundraising events including a sponsored cycle ride in Richmond Park in March, bagging customer groceries at Tesco in April, a petting day in May, a 5-a-side football tournament in June, cycling from London to Paris in August, and a carboot sale in October. In addition, the team handed out free balloons in the borough throughout summer to raise awareness of the work done by the charity.
With the money raised, Porridge and Rice launched a feeding programme for Excel Emmanuel in March 2014. Porridge and Rice bought pots and a Jiko (cooker), mugs, and bowls for the school. In addition, Porridge and Rice agreed to pay the salary of a cook and for weekly deliveries of food. The 350 pupils of the school have received breakfast, lunch, and a piece of fruit each school day since.
Porridge and Rice also funded improvements to the facilities of Excel Emmanuel. A kitchen has been built, electricity has been installed, a concrete walkway connecting classrooms, and 10 new desks for the younger classes. There is still a lot of work to be done.
In July 2014, Porridge and Rice extended support to a second community school, Glad Kids. Pots and a Jiko were bought, and food deliveries arranged to feed the 120 pupils of Glad Kids.
By December 2014, Porridge and Rice had the funds to support a third school, and Lizpal Community School was selected. In January 2015, volunteers arrive in Nairobi to launch a feeding program for the 350 pupils at Lizpal, and a health program for the three Porridge and Rice schools.
Porridge and Rice have made real progress but with over 2.5 million people living in the Nairobi slums, there is still much more to do. By removing barriers to and providing resources for education, Porridge and Rice seeks to provide children in poverty with the skills to break the cycle. No child asks to be born into poverty. They deserve help to break free from it.
18 December 2014