Tuesday, 13 December 2011

No easy task

It is difficult to describe how hard Mama Sue works day in and day out.
Running the Happy House is challenging work and it  is also her mission, there are 55 children and 25 staff dependant on her for a home and education or  for a job.
She wants and expects the best but by setting such high standards she also has to ensure that everyone is up to the mark, and refuses to let anything slip.
It has been a doubly hard few weeks because Rose has been off for her wedding and she and Sue, having worked so long together, are a close-knit team.  It was Sue who set Rose on her career path, who showed her that women can succeed and do not need to to take second place to men as is the case, so often, in Kenyan society, and Rose has become a valued friend.
Mama Sue is up early, as dawn is breaking, and sets off to the Happy House by eight. Once at her desk she calls for updates on what's been happening overnight, if there are any problems with staff or children she is informed and,if unsolved, it is she who will come up with a solution.
Every working day is jam packed full, people at her door, telephone calls, emails, battling the frustrations of dealing with the red tape and snail's pace of every Kenyan transaction, kids bobbing in for a chat, or Linus calling in for a cuddle and a nap - preferably in Mama's arms.
Nothing escapes Mama Sue's attention be it a cobweb in a corner or a dress buttoned wrongly! Mama Sue's is aware of everything that happens in the house and in the garden - be it the smallest repair or every tomato harvested.
There are inevitable meetings, Tuesday is the heaviest day, starting with the management team, then continuing with teachers, housemums and aunties, gardeners and outside staff.
At each meeting she listens and discusses and problems or concerns and talks over any new ideas, by 4.30pm a full picture has emerged and a full staff meeting, including night staff, takes place. This means that anything she has gleaned through the day which impacts on the whole family can be raised and talked about. It is a system that works, staff feel fully involved and this, in itself, helps to boost morale and maintain focus.
Mama Sue is open and frank, she won't accept less than the best for her children and everyone knows it. Everything she does in life, every waking and sleeping moment, is in the interests of her children, her staff know it and respect her for it.
In return for hard work, they have good, secure jobs where they are paid on time every month, that is a luxury in a country where people may work a week only to find their boss can't pay them and thousands don't have a job at all.
Sue does everything to the letter of the law - eemployment contracts, holidays, days off etc. A job at the Happy House is demanding but it is also a golden opportunity for anyone who wants to succeed.
By 5pm on Tuesday, Mama Sue is pretty well exhausted but she knows that her next meeting will revive her flagging energies - it's Kidz Klub. The time when all the family, kids and adults, come together for a family chat.
It's informal and relaxed and starts with a few song, enough to lift anyone's spirits. The kids have a chance to talk about anything they want to, it might be a little voice asking "Is it Christmas on Saturday?" or someone else wanting to tell Mama they don't like cabbage.  Every child knows that whatever they say, they will be listened to and treated with respect and love.
Issues concerning the kids, be it untidy bedrooms or torn books, will be raised openly and Mama Sue and Uncle Billy will remind the family, firmly but kindly, of their duty to look after their home, the things in it and their own possessions.
It's also time a time to celebrate the Happy Birthdays of the week, the kids are now wise to list of birthdays up on the wall in Mama's office and so they know the lucky child or children who will step centre stage.
Mama Sue presents the birthday gifts and cards, the family sings and everyone shares in a bit of birthday joy.
Mama or Papa Dave also present the Star of the Week Award, last week it went to Hassan for always been around to help Papa Dave. He is such a helpful boy and never has to be asked.
Mama Sue drives herself through every day, despite the intense heat which does take its toll, with a zeal borne out of determination and dedication.
I don't know of many people who work as hard as she does in the UK, never mind having to work against the backdrop of a society that is still foreign to her and which has more twists and turns than an Olympic bobsleigh run.
On top of everything  has the constant worry of how the bills will be paid, we are such a small charity that just paying the monthly wage bill, plus the cost of electricity and water, food and medical care, is a major headache for Sue and Kenya and for me, trying to raise funds and awareness, in the UK.
It is a struggle to make ends meet. We have to find new sources of fundraising and more child sponsors - eventually we hope the child sponsorship scheme will become our financial underpinning.
When we receive large donations they are always linked to specific projects, the self-sufficiency growing project in the garden, extending the school, that kind of thing.
These are fantastic because they help us take the Happy House on to the next level, and we cannot stand still, but we still need to generate the cash to foot the regular, monthly bills.
However we may worry, we also know that we have so much love and support from YOU, our Happy House friends, that however tough it may seem we WILL do it - together.