Monday, 30 December 2013

So much still to do - Mama Sue looks ahead to a new year

As we stand on the threshold of 2014 we wonder what does this year hold for us?
Home where Mama and Papa belong
 Dave and I look back over 2013 and it was a very difficult time for us, I had severe health problems that kept us in the UK away from our family. 
The children missed us just as much as we missed them. In September 2013 we arrived home to a fantastic welcome from all our family. The airport was alive with laughter, singing and dancing.
 We welcomed Rose’s baby Joy into the world, who is now a Happy House Kid coming to work with Rose. Joy is in the baby banda with our other little people.
Converting the banda
 I made a lot of changes, including converting a banda into a computer room, library and three offices to make more room upstairs for  children who need the love and safety of a home at the Happy House.
We painted everything that didn’t move, varnished the floors, put new mattresses, pillows and sheets on the beds. New curtains and bedcovers completed the makeover.
The children are thrilled with the changes and taking great care of everything, especially each other. 

The football stadium created by the kindness of Frankie Asher is a very special place, also the play area that we have developed further due to funds from the Limavady Rotary Club. Of our 78 children we have 35 who are all under five. Papa Dave calls them the Bash Street Kids.
 When we drive in the gate they start chanting, Papa Dave, Papa Dave, Mama Sue, Mama Sue, we are so lucky not many people have such a welcome to work every day. There is then a rush to where we park the car, each one wanting to shake hands with us. I know we just have the best job in the world.
Play time for Bash St kids!
 As we move into 2014, we turn our attention to the school and the education of our children and those who come into school from the local community. We have very bright children who are like little sponges soaking everything up and moving forward. 
We have increased the number of classes ready for the start of the school year in January, employed young vibrant teachers who fully understand what is expected of them. A Nigerian doctor once said to me, ‘You are giving those children a fantastic gift. The gift of an education. Once they have that no-one can ever take it away from them’ 
It is so true, wherever our children go in the world they will take the Happy House Magic with them.
 We have employed a sports teacher, who is coaching the children in football, netball, and volleyball. The little people are learning to play rounders, to skip and play hopscotch. 
We are working closely with the Children’s Office to arrange football matches with other homes in the area. We are contacting schools who have no such facilities to come and allow their children to enjoy. Many local children do not attend school, they sit by the side of the roads with blank expressions on their faces, these are the forgotten children. It is these children who come and share. It gives them something to look forward to in their often very lonely lives. We provide a simple meal of vegetables and rice. This can be the only meal they will have eaten in two days.
We are now working hard to raise funds and plan for a Secondary School. The level of education is so high at the Happy House that there is not another school these children could move on to.  We have the land to build on. We need four classrooms, a science laboratory, a staff room and toilet block. The children will use the Happy House facilities for meals plus the library and computer room. 
We have a great friendship with another charity, Furniture for Education, who will equip the school with all the desks, chairs etc. 
Bound by love
We have done the projection on the cost of materials and labour in the present economic climate. The school would be completed at a cost of £18,000.
 We are also looking further than the secondary education. In time to come we must build an Independent Living Unit for children who go to college or even university, they need a place to come home to during holidays.
 Some of our children have been abandoned at birth. Children who have no blood relatives that we have been able to trace, but are fortunate enough to be loved by the Happy House Family.
 Some of the children at the Happy House are tied by blood others tied by love. These children will always remain our responsibility, even when they leave to start work and make another life for themselves, they will always be ‘A Happy House Kid’. 
 The Government in Kenya state that when a child reaches the age of 18 they can no longer reside in a children’s home as they are now classed as an adult. How can we say to a young person, ‘All right off you go into the world.’ Parents do not do this to their own children, how can I do it to my children? And these truly are my children in every sense of the word. I am Mama and my husband is Papa to this ever growing family.
 I have committal orders from the courts to legally bind these children to me. We are the only ‘parents’ many of them will ever know. The Happy House is truly a home for these little people, a real home not just ‘A Children’s Home’.
 Home is where you know you are loved. When things go wrong you can always go home to people you can rely on. Home is where you run to when you get top marks at school. Home is where you shyly take your boyfriend to meet your Mama and all your brothers and sisters.
Home is where you get married from, and in time bring your own children to meet your family. Home is where we share laughter and sometimes tears, but where we have the true bond of being a loving caring family.
Empowering women

We have been supporting women in the community as part of our ongoing work. We help families to get back on track and take their children back into a family, with support for education and health plus guidance from the Happy House. We bring children home on a temporary basis, sometimes for a few weeks and sometimes for months to help families cope with whatever life has cruelly thrown at them. I have also spear headed a campaign for birth control among the women whose children we bring home. Women who sell themselves for a few shillings, just to be able to eat. Women who suffer mental health problems. Women who do not understand that birth control is even available. Women who are brought up as second class citizens and truly believe that a man has the right to impregnate her. 
Uncle Billy (4th from left) and network members
Our very caring Social Worker, known to the family as Uncle Billy, has organised a network of children’s homes, who all share information and generally support one another. One home might get a call to take an eight year old girl but not have a bed available, they can then ring other homes in the network to find a bed for that desperate child.
They share ideas and discuss the problems they are encountering, with children, parents or even the Government rules and regulations governing homes.
 It works so very well, many like minded people working towards caring for children and empowering women to take control of their own lives.
I spoke at a meeting with UNICEF, who do a lot of good work. They complained that they had built resource centres, but people do not come to them. I asked, ‘How do you expect people who do not have money for food to be able to pay for transport into the town?’ UNICEF has many large off road vehicles that could travel and reach so many people in the very rural areas. This is not a place where decisions can be made in offices; people need to be out there and actually hands on in the communities where there is no support, no advice, no help at all.
Education is the key
 Many, many children are raped; it can often be their own father who thinks he has the right to be the first man to take his daughter. The mothers of these children have often been married at 10 years old and had also been raped by their father. So it goes on.
 In our world we wonder how do these things become normality, but I  can assure you they do.
 A neighbour can rape a little girl, the father finds out the neighbour gives him a goat. Oh that’s all right then, the deal is done. What about the child?  Every time all this comes back to the children. 
Education is the only way out.  Not just books and computers but sex education, birth control, women’s rights. So many do not even know they have rights.
 There will always be so much to do, but with your help and support we will change and, 
yes, save lives.
 We thank each and every one of you who do so much to show our family such love and support. 
We will always need more sponsors, as our family grows in size and numbers so do their needs. 
We will always struggle to make ends meet but I know with your kindness and generosity we will achieve so much for so many, together.
 We wish you all a very happy and healthy 2014, and hope to welcome you home to the Happy House to meet our very special family.
 Love and  best wishes,
                     Mama Sue, Papa Dave and the Happy House Family xx