“I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid”- does this jingle ring a bell? Sadly, for most children in Malawi, the opportunity to play with Barbie dolls, G.I. Joes and remote-control cars is not a widespread reality. Instead, due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has swept the country, many children have been left to deal with the loss of a parent, or worse, have been orphaned by the rampant disease.
It’s this harsh reality that prompted Scottish university student Caroline Dickson to take action. Her love for children and the ‘warm heart of Africa,’ as Malawi is fondly referred to, began during her gap year. Starting in 2005, she volunteered at a local orphanage on the outskirts of Blantyre and was immediately enveloped by the unfortunate plight facing many Malawian children.
While I was engrossed in my university sports career, cramming for exams and worrying about which shirt looked better with my new pair of skinny jeans, Dickson, her father Garry and her close friend Abigail Higgins were busy starting a charity.
Basically, all it took to hook me to the cause was a Scottish accent, a green and orange Lance Armstrong look-alike bracelet and the words ‘orphans’ and ‘sustainability.’
Kenyawi Kids, as the founders have called their charity, is a Scottish-based charity designed to create self-sustainable orphan care in Kenya and Malawi.
One of the most recent projects started by Kenyawi Kids deals with sustainable farming. The charity purchased some farmland and a few chickens so the orphans could produce and sell their own products. Kenyawi-kids’ new trustee, David Macdonald, says “rather than looking for money from donors, as there’s a lot less money floating about due to the recession,” their mandate is to provide orphans with tools and skills for the future.
Over the last 10 years, Malawi has seen a 75 percent increase in adult deaths according to the 2002 National AIDS Commission statistics. These AIDS-deaths have orphaned 1.2 Malawian children. The severity of the issue is crystal clear and that’s why Kenyawi Kids focuses on providing “children with life skills that will help them become self-sufficient when they leave the orphanages.”
As most charities can probably attest, there are always challenges faced when doing development work and Africa is no exception. “Things seem to happen very slow [in Malawi and Kenya], whereas back home, if you want something done, you go out and get it done,” says Macdonald. In addition to that, “there’s also this idea of African corruption, so we’re always trying to make sure that the money goes to the right place and trying to be as transparent as we can, [as well as with] the organizations that we work with.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child preamble states, “in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.” Furthermore, it outlines that “the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”
Unfortunately, unlike most North American households, children in developing countries are often deprived of the basic human rights of education, shelter and proper nutrition. Many are malnourished, underdeveloped and dependent on themselves for survival in a world often unforgiving to those who lack one of the basic support systems – a family.
“The ideal situation would be that every orphan in Malawi in Kenya is properly fed and cared for,” Macdonald says. “But we’re such a small organization, so obviously that is a lofty goal.” For now, he’s back on Scottish soil with the rest of the team, tirelessly juggling university studies with Kenyawi Kids’ future sustainable initiatives.