Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A volunteer's view

What does a volunteer do?  Dawn Heather White, from Bangor, Northern Ireland, writes about her most recent visit to help our family
"It's just over a week since I returned home from the Happy House and I am counting down to my return in September.
 Knowing I had my flights booked for my return before my visit in April was the only thing that made saying goodbye and walking out the gates on Friday bearable.
My initial visit to the Happy House was in April 2010, a few weeks after it had opened it's doors, and I have been back several times since then.
The first time I went back I wondered if any of the children would remember me or if I would have to slowly start developing relationships and earning their trust again. I needn't have worried. One of the children sat down beside me and started to sing, 'Tell me a story', a song my mother had sang to me as a child and one that I in turn had sang to the Happy House children on my first visit.
Another approached me to play a hand clapping game we had played before and soon a queue had formed, each child excitedly saying, 'me next Auntie Dawn, my turn'.
At home people are curious to know what I actually do as a volunteer and it is hard to describe a typical day. All I know is, I arrive in the morning clean and fresh and I leave in the afternoon tired, dusty, sweaty, and covered in little hand prints!
This time, on the first day I was at the rehearsals for the anniversary party and then a meeting with the teachers to design some of the costumes, followed by a visit to the fabric shop to chose material for the monkey costumes.
 The following day we went to court in Malindi with five of the newest children to have them committed into the care of Mama Sue and the Happy House. I was holding baby Esther and Social Worker Billy introduced me to the policeman who had found her in the bag in shrubland.
 Mostly I would spend the mornings in baby class as there are 24 children with an average age of two years old so, although the teacher Madam Helen has the help of Aunt Lydia, an extra pair of hands is always welcome.
We would read stories, colour pictures (Harry ate the crayons), sing songs and play games, go for walks to visit the turkeys and then to walk round the greenhouses where Aunt Lydia would name the vegetables.
 Head gardener Chris sometimes washed cherry tomatoes and gave the children them as a treat. After snack time the children would play in the sandpit (Harry ate the sand) and they called it going to the beach.
After lunch when most of baby class had a nap, I would go out to the baby banda where the three sets of twins, David and baby Esther spend much of their time.I would help with feeding or with David's exercise programme.
 Despite not being the most musically gifted person, I would sing the songs of my childhood to the babies and they were an appreciative if admittedly captive audience. When I told my sister that I sang she asked if the children had not been traumatized enough. Thankfully babies are not as judgmental as family!
As my visit coincided with end of term exams, I was also involved in completing report books and helped input the results onto the computer so that sponsors could receive information on their children. On the last day I attended the official end of school term presentations and I proudly watched my sponsor child Katana perform a Giriama dance with the other children. The top three from each class were presented with a certificate and got their picture taken with a relative if the were present.
 My friend Judith, who had spent a lot of time with the older classes, was thrilled to be invited to get her picture taken with her sponsor child Freddy as he was presented with his certificate.
So, in answer to the question, 'What does a volunteer do?' the answer is, whatever needs to be done and that includes leaving part of your heart behind at the Happy House!"
Pictures: Auntie Dawn Heather reads a story to Natasha, a visit to Chris in the garden with Harry and a cuddle-up with Harry and Musyoka.