Our Meet the Family video series has been hugely popular with our existing friends, and has also helped to make us new ones.
Some of you may not be familiar with the story of our amazing Mama Sue and Papa Dave and the holiday mix-up that put them on the road to to the Happy House.
So today we bring you that story:
Our founder, Sue Hayward and her husband Dave were running a small hotel in the seaside town of Blackpool when they went on holiday to Kenya in January 2000,
A twist of fate, a mistake by their tour operator, took them to Watamu - and a substitute for the hotel they had booked in a different area.
While they were there they came across a small school where children were sitting on stone floors, counting with stones. The teachers had no resources with which to teach.
This was at the time we were celebrating the millennium, celebrating a brand new age and yet here were these children with nothing – not even a desk or exercise book.
Sue started helping from that moment and over the next seven years worked with the management of the school to develop it into three schools, with 700 places, educating children from baby class to school leaving at secondary level.
Sue worked tirelessly, mostly on her own, raising money and gathering support and sponsorship.
By 2007 the school was in a position to be self-supporting.
Sue had seen the way extreme poverty, HIV Aids, malaria etc was affecting children in the tourist-reliant fishing village and surrounding area.
Many kids were being left with elderly relatives unable to look after them, others abandoned and living on the streets where they were easy targets for predators looking to sell children for sex or child labour. Sometimes, with a lone parent defeated by their own circumstances and unable to work, children were suffering extreme neglect with no hope, nor opportunity.
Sue had a vision of creating a children’s home, her Happy House, which would be a happy family home filled love and laughter.
Her charity, which she registered with the UK charity commission in 2003, had, at the time, very little money. She had no land, nor formal plans.
But Sue, who believes her work is guided by a much higher force than herself, set about launching her Happy House plan believing the where withal to make it happen would come. It did.
By 2008, she had been given four acres of land by a local elder, and had raised enough money to start the build at a time when political troubles has caused a slump in tourism and people were desperate for work. Fortunately, support kept coming to continue the build and the Happy House was finally completed in February 2010.
The Happy House was officially opened in March 2010, by which time there were 28 vulnerable children living there.
Since that time our family and our Happy House has grown, at most we have been home to 111 children.
Since 2010, we have added purpose built kindergarten, primary and secondary schools on a dedicated site a short walk away. Here, as at the Happy House, everything we do is to the highest standard. We believe that every child, regardless of background, deserves the best.
Our school is attended by those children living at Happy House, children who have been repatriated and live close enough to attend, some fee-paying pupils from the local community who bring in some income towards sustaining our school, plus a number of students, from abject poverty, who are on free places with all their costs (tuition, uniform, shoes, books, main meals and snacks, solar lamps, deodorants, sanitary pads etc) met by our charity.
Since 2014, Watamu has suffered a tourism decline because many Governments advised against travel because of the risk of terrorism. This advice has been lifted for our area but recovery is slow Thankfully more tourists are returning which helps the economic climate of our community whilst also increasing the number of visitors we receive who bring donations and essential items for our family.
Our objectives to provide a safe, family home and education for children in need continue to be fulfilled and extended.
Sue has fulfilled her wish to make Happy House a flagship for the care and education of children. Her innovative approach is praised and recognised by Minister for Children Services, the Children’s Court, and ACIK (the Association of Children’s Institutions in Kenya).
Happy House believes that no child should remain in care longer than necessary and, in accordance with Government requirements, has an exit policy for every child committed to its care.
We, at Happy House, do all we can to maintain family contact and to do more. Relatives of children are encouraged to visit, children go on home visits where it is safe for them to do so, and when a relative’s situation improves to the extent a child can be returned to live with them, we are making this happen.
We enable this to happen by meeting the costs education (uniform, books all a child needs to be in school), and medical costs – often out of reach to relatives willing and happy to feed and house a child.
We have now successfully repatriated a large number of children. They have returned to a parent, grandparent or other close relative who, in the time their young family member has been in our care, have been able to recover and get back on their feet after whatever tragedy or illness that led to their separation.
We monitor their situations very carefully. Each family is contacted regularly by telephone, visits take place, and schools are contacted.
Indeed, the children are shining like beacons in their schools and communities because of the foundation they have received in our care. They are excelling at school, raising aspirations of their classmates, and have both academic and life-skills to share.
The interests of each individual child are paramount. Where repatriation has not worked out the children have happily returned to our care and adjusted straight away.
In December, all the children repatriated return for a week-long “home” visit with our resident family when they have a wonderful time together celebrating Christmas.
This special time is an opportunity for Mama and our social worker to talk to the children individually and groups.
As some children have left to start new lives with relatives, other children needing care and protection have arrived at Happy House. They arrive sad, frightened little beings but with our love and care they are transformed into happy, confident kids in no time.
They start school by going to playgroup and love it!
In 2015, our first class eight primary students achieved an outstanding 100% success rate in the Kenya Certificate of primary Education – a remarkable achievement as they were all kids either living in our care or on our scholarship scheme, from extreme poverty, whose education had been sporadic before coming to Happy House. They are now in their third year of secondary school.
Their 100 per cent success rate in the KCPE was been repeated every year since.
We will open our Class 4 in secondary school in January 2019.
In our school we provide the highest quality of education. We harness the opportunities provided by new technology. We have a computerised library system, donated by a UK company, which allow every book in our library to be tracked. We haver opened up the world to teachers and students by installing smart TVs, again donated by friends, which have taken learning to a new level. We have a computer room with broadband access, so important for youngsters who will enter the workplace, and a science lab. Again all donated by friends who share our belief that all children, regardless of background, deserve the best education and home life possible.
Thanks to the support we receive from individuals and organisations, and our wonderful child sponsors, we have been able not just to maintain the work we do at Happy House but also to extend it to supporting repatriated children, and increasing the number of needy children and young people from the local area who are on our Dr Danwata Scholarship Scheme – named in honour of the doctor, a Nigerian from humble beginnings, who treated Sue for breast cancer in 2012.
Thankfully, she has made a complete recovery.
Raising funds is a constant battle, and it gets harder every year.
Sue and Dave live in Kenya and Sue works full time running the Happy House supported by a strong management team and carefully selected staff.
Elizabeth Gomm, a volunteer and trustee of the charity, looks after the charity’s interests in the UK, pursuing new avenues of funding and sponsorship in the UK and raising awareness.
Our budget is stringently managed, and every effort is made to keep costs down. Every item we buy, every service or trade we use involves negotiation to ensure that we get a fair price. We will not pay over the odds but we are always fair.
We pride ourselves that all money, every item, donated to our Happy House goes exactly where it is intended. To make life better and brighter for children in need.
As costs rise and interest rates drop even lower in the UK, there is an impact on funds we receive and so we are vigilant in the way money is spent, waste is kept to a minimum and there is no over-staffing.
We are also pursuing every avenue open to find new donors and sponsors for our scholarship scheme to ensure that we can continue to change young lives for the better. Only those people, who are Kenyan, who are employed at Happy House are paid
We hope our story of our amazing Mama Sue, who has sacrificed so much to turn her vision into a reality, and her children will touch your heart and that you may wish to support our work. We are grateful for every new friend we make.