Thursday, 31 March 2011

We Miss you Auntie Libby

It was with  very heavy hearts that we said goodbye to Elizabeth ( Auntie Libby ) Gomm today. She really is an amazing person. Her support and advice has been a fantastic help over the past month. I know so many of you have thoroughly enjoyed her blog everyday. Personally, I will miss her terribly for so many reasons. 
 We all love you Auntie Libby PLEASE come back to us very soon.
Lots of love, Sue, Dave & The Happy House Family xxxx

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Safety measures

Accidents happen in every home and with 55 children and 30 staff, Sue is not taking any chances, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
She asked volunteer nurses Julia Durham and Hayley Barber to prepare a simple first aid course to teach to all the staff.
And so with Laura and Scott Webster, Chris Goddard and myself on hand to look after things in the baby banda, the staff were, yesterday, organised into groups for the first of the courses.
For the outside staff, handyman Gibson translated to ensure that nothing was lost on those whose English is not as good.
Each of the first three groups who had their course yesterday understood and appreciated the potentially life-saving lessons, including baby CPR, choking, bleeding, burns, dehydration, fractures, falls and early warning signs of other problems.
Stanley Park, our empathy doll on loan from Doncaster College, was a useful model for bandaging etc!
Before they leave they will put together all the items they used in their demonstrations which will be kept in and easily accessible place.
We have, of course, always had first aid arrangements but having Julia and Hayley with us is a chance to ensure that everyone has a good idea of how to cope in an emergency.
Time to go
It's going to be a tough day for me today  as my month at the Happy House draws to a close.
I have had a real chance to help Sue, who is always so busy and who works so hard. 
It has been my pleasure to assist and it is a real joy and a privilege to be a part of such a special family and to know that they love me as much as I love them.
When I leave Kenya early tomorrow, the piece of my heart won by the children I saw living rough in bush on my first visit here, which now seems so long ago, will remain in the safe keeping of our Happy House kids and, I hope, it will not be too long before I come back to claim it!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Baby bus

It was all aboard the baby bus when yesterday Billy called for every pair of spare hands to pick up a Happy House baby to take them to Dr Joseph's baby clinic  for their pneumonia jabs.
He'd heard a whisper that the vaccine was running out and reluctant to miss the chance of protecting our precious little ones thought it better to get them all there at once rather than in separate journeys.
Luckily mums Monica and Prescha were both on duty as was auntie Marion,  nurses Julia Durham and Hayley Barber and sponsor Laura Webster were also helping in the baby banda,
I'd popped across from the office to ask something, but was more than happy to help - taking baby Harry as my little travel companion.
It was all aboard the matatu for the short trip to Timboni - everyone singing "The Wheels on the Bus" at the top of their voices.
Once there and parked up we were straight in. The temperature was sweltering and all of us melting.  One by one the babies had their jabs, each one protesting but only crying for a few seconds when the needle went in.
Job done,  a quick head count, and it was back on the bus this time with an extra passenger, Joseph's mother Grandma Yaa,  91, who we were taking back to Yaa Village.  A lovely, kind old lady she sat next to me immediately picked up little Stevie, who had joined me and Harry.
Stevie, named for her husband Grandpa Stephen Yaa, snuggled into next to the old lady and went fast asleep.
Once Grandma left us it was soon back to the Happy House where it was time for lunch - a welcome distraction after a an outing which was necessary but not enjoyable for our little people.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Movie stars

Movie stars
The kids rushed to greet us when we turned up at the Happy House yesterday afternoon, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
Those playing out stopped what they were doing to come and say hello and eagerly gathered together the others, some playing inside, others upstairs in the computer room, to watch a new dvd.
And I wish you could have seen their faces when they realised that it is they who are  the stars of this particular show.
Brenda, a friend of Sue and Dave's, had recorded their birthday show last week and brought us a copy. 
The kids were so excited to see themselves and their brothers and sisters, pointing at the screen or mimicking each other - in the nicest way.
Even the babies loved it (Pendo -pictured- couldn't take her eyes off it) solemnly watching every moment. 
When we left they were already on the third viewing and, I guess, that was far from the last!
So much to do
Just three days to go before I leave for home and there is still so much I had planned to do not yet done.
As Billy says of the Happy House "Life in paradise is never dull!"
You plan your day and then something unexpected crops up, needing immediate attention, and eats up your time.
Sue is the best organised person I know but I understand now why she sometimes finds it so hard to keep on top of the routine work - answering emails, writing a blog etc. With such a large family, 30 staff, the Happy House building and the nursery school to run, she has an incredibly busy schedule. She keeps a close eye on every one and everything, never losing sight of her main focus … her children.
If a child falls ill of has a problem of any kind Sue is hands on in trying to get the best treatment or solution. Like any mum   she is always there for her kids … and there are such a lot of them.
And everything takes time in Kenya. A simple task becomes frustratingly protracted to anyone used to the doing things at speed. 
Sue is a driving force and, thankfully, for the kids and all those of us who work with her, she never gives up. She is a dynamic and inspirational role model.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Helping hands

Student nurses Hayley Barber and Julia Durham have soon settled in to Happy House life.
The girls, in their final studies at University of Central Lancashire, are here for two weeks volunteering and have been helping our mums with the babies.
They will also be teaching staff basic first aid which will give them a better idea of how to cope in the event of those little accidents that happen in any family.
Hayley and Julia, from Blackpool, are delighted with what they have seen so far and are enjoying every minute with the kids.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Family ties

Sometimes, even at the Happy House, there is the sorrow of partings.
At Friday Kids' Club, usually so upbeat, the family , all together, were told the news that Joash, Mark, Nicholas,  Franco, Rosalind and Mary would be leaving next week, to start the process of being reunited with their birth relatives.
Uncle Billy and Mama Sue explained the reason why the rescue children, now looked upon as brothers and sisters by the kids, now had to leave. Reassuring them that they could stay in touch and promising that they would all be a part of Happy House family forever and always welcome back, but how it was now the right thing for these six children to go back to their homes.
Joash, Mark, Nicholas, Franco, Rosalind and Mary were the Stars of Week for playing such a big part in the Happy House family life.
Everyone at Kids' Club, children and adults, were quiet and sad. Some of the kids saying how much they would miss the others.
Then there news of more change - that baby Joseph was leaving us too.   Little Joe's mum died shortly after giving birth to him. She had fallen into a coma during labour and never regained consciousness - not even long enough to see see her newborn son.
Her husband, Julius, was devastated by her death and, with older children to care for, and no relatives nearby, was unable to cope with his baby son. He turned to the Happy House for help.
Now, weeks later, he is on the road to recovery, coming to terms with his grief, and his sister has moved to be close to him so that she can help look after all the children.
Although he lives many miles away, Julius has visited Joe regularly and loves him very much. It is right that he should have his lastborn son home now that he can care for him properly. Right for the family and right for Joe. The Happy House played its part by bridging a gap in a time of great need.
Julius and sister Esther came for Joseph yesterday.  Sue, too emotional to see her baby go, went home early. I stayed with Billy to wait for them to arrive.  Once the paperwork was done, and Joe ready to go the kids gathered to say goodbye - singing him a farewell song.  
All the adults were fighting back tears, specially Uncle Billy and mum Monica who loves all the babies as if they were her own.
Julius told me how thankful he was for all the Happy House had done for him. "Without it I would have been in such a bad place," he said.
Leaving us with his babe in arms, the kids waving, his final words were: ''God bless this Happy House".

Friday, 25 March 2011

Changing times

Frustrating and tiring, yesterday was spent in court in Malindi with the six rescue children giving evidence against the woman accused of failing to protect them from abuse and neglect, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
The case, already adjourned twice since they came to the Happy House on a temporary care basis last October, was due to be heard at 9am.
Sue, Billy and I left the Happy House with six very apprehensive children just after 7.30am.  At court we waited in an open courtyard where witnesses were sitting side by side with defendants. Armed police mill around, some escorting prisoners in handcuffs.
After almost 90minutes were were told that the magistrate had decided to hear all other cases on his list before ours, and to bring the children back at 2.30pm.
Sue and Billy, who had instigated the rescue after two of the children came crying at the Happy House gates, were angry but not surprised. Their concern is for the kids, who should have been repatriated to their families in other parts of the country many months ago.
They are now Happy house kids and leaving will get harder for them and for and the family with every day that passes.
We all piled back into the matatu , the kids with bottles of juice, and headed back for the Happy  House where they settled down to watch a DVD with popcorn as a well-deserved treat.
There was time for Sue and I to catch up on emails, the blog etc, before we set off back to Malinidi at 1.45pm.
Again we waited in a stifling courtyard - the kids just feet away from the Mama accused of ill-treating them- until just before three when she was called into court and the first child called to give evidence.
Sue and Billy, as witnesses had to remain outside, but a children's officer sat in on the proceedings for the kids and I was allowed to stay, hoping I would be able to give these vulnerable kids just some reassurance.
At five, the last child's evidence heard, the magistrate again adjourned the case. This time until June, leaving us no nearer an outcome.
But now with the children's evidence heard, their part, at least is over, and the tough decision of when and where they should go now has to be made.
Repatriation will stat next week when they will return to their homelands, under the care of social workers, until they can be reunited with their own families.
 Sue  and the Happy House have only the children's  best interests at heart and the children will know that they will always be a part of the family and will always be welcome to visit.
In the months here they have become confident, healthy, and prepared, as much as they can be, for the future ahead.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Emotional meeting

Yesterday was an emotional and extraordinary day for me, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
I felt so proud and privileged to take foundling baby Harry on a very special outing to Malindi, where we not only visited the special care baby unit where he spent the first eight weeks of his little life, but I also met the woman who found him last June - when she heard the tiniest whimper coming from a plastic bag on a rubbish dump, as she passed by.
Thankfully she looked inside and found Harry, eight weeks premature and just a tiny scrap of life, with the umbilical cord and placenta attached.
She is the kindest woman in the world and took him straight to a midwife before taking him to the hospital.
The Happy House provided all his nappies, milk and medication until he was well enough to come home to us and his finder, sadly,did not know where he had gone or what had happened to him, despite her best efforts to find out. Imagine her joy at seeing him now, happy, well fed, loved and thriving.
In 40 years in journalism this is the most moving story that I will be writing in full when I get back to the UK.
I feel so privileged to have met all those who saved this little mite's live and gave us Harry Hayward - truly a Happy House miracle.
New arrivals
Nurses Hayley Barber and Julia Durham, from Blackpool, started volunteering at the Happy House today and have met all our babies. They have just gone to Malindi with Uncle Billy to take Brian for his x-ray - when we got to the hospital yesterday the radiographer wasn't there so we had to return without getting it done.  There's no such thing as an appointment system here!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Another busy day

Every day is busy at the Happy House.  Sue  and Dave arrive at around 8.30 in the morning. By this time the older children are in school and the babies have had breakfast and are  playing in the baby banda.
Every time Dave drives through the gates  he peeps the horn and  takes a detour past the babies - the minute they see him those who can toddle or crawl head at top speed to the edge, shouting and clapping.
Dave goes "hoy" and they all shout back. Linus, the biggest and strongest of all storms up going "hoy" back to Dave.
Where else could you arrive at work to such a greeting?
It was a day of meetings yesterday, essential and important, but there was still time to spend with the kids. 
Baby Brian is still a bit wheezy but better than he was on Monday and today I am going with Billy to take him for a chest x-ray in Malindi. He's not going to like it!
Nurses Julia Durham and Hayley Barber have arrived from Blackpool. They spending two weeks volunteering. They had a long delay at Gatwick and then it took hours to get through immigration at Mombasa, so  Sue has advised them to take a day to rest before starting work tomorrow.
Scott and  Laura Webster, old friends of the charity , are back in Watamu and helping at the Happy House each day. Laura in the baby banda and Scott working in the gardens.
Extra pairs of hands are always welcome.  With so many babies to look after the mums and aunties are delighted to have Laura there with them - it gives them a chance to get on with other jobs knowing that she understands the routine that is so important  to little ones.
Even though they are tiny they have a real understanding of  what is coming next in their day.
 After lunch there is nap time. Mum Monica only has to say "Lala time" to the kids and they toddle or crawl over to the mat and snuggle down for a sleep. Only the odd one will need a little extra encouragement… and action man Linus is usually one of them!
Sue and Dave's  close friends from Southend,  Chris and Kenny Goddard, are also  visiting for the first time in several years.
 They  have been involved in the charity since the very start , giving help and encouragement, and although they had not seen the Happy House before they were not surprised. It's exactly as Sue had always told them it would be..

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

All is calm

A contented calm has returned to the Happy House after all the excitement of the first birthday party.
The kids were back at school yesterday, the little ones still a bit tired after their big day, but their regular afternoon nap put the spring back in their step.
By the time school finished they were firing on all cylinders and ready to play. I was working at my computer, set up on a table in the reception area, when little Mwende snuggled up beside me. Soon she was on my lap looking at pictures from the party, then came my Pendo, my lovely sponsor child (pictured with Lily), followed by Samson, Lily, Milly, Ushindi, Shakila , Hassan, Rose and more .... 
They were so excited to be seeing their pictures, and the magic of video, gave them a real treat. They could hardly believe they were seeing themselves on film!
The show over we all went out to play... everyone wanting to hold my hand. It is such a joy to be a part of this very special family and to know the kids love me as much as love them.
We were dancing and singing, hula-hooping and playing. By home time I was absolutely black with dust ... but so, so happy to be a Happy House "aunty"!
Baby Brian is again giving cause for concern, after the chest infection that put him in hospital we thought he had made a full recovery, but yesterday he went, in space of an hour,  from being fine  when I took this picture of him with Neema, to being a very wheezy baby.
I went with Uncle Billy to take him to the local clinic but Sue decided she wanted a second opinion and asked Billy to take him through to Malindi to see the paediatrician. She confirmed Sue's suspicions that  he is asthmatic and put him on a nebulizer to ease his breathing. She wants him back for more treatment every day this week and says he may have inherited the condition from a parent ... something we will never know because he was abandoned at birth.
What we can promise is that, whatever the cost, he will always get the very best of care.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Party parade

Party pictures

Oh what a party!

Yesterday's first birthday party was just the happiest day, with the happiest kids.
All 56 Happy House kids were bubbling with excitement from the moment they woke up, eager to get the party started.
The outdoor staff had come in early to start decorating the gates and the banda with fresh flowers and plaited palms, breaking off for church, and then returning to finish a really beautiful job. Sue was delighted to drive up to see the gates decorated with a heart - symbolising the love everyone feels when they come to the Happy House.
The girls' had new hairstyles for the fashion show and after a morning of excitement, watching DJ Mr Bado set up and practicing their dance moves, the kids had an early lunch of savoury rice (with all the staff getting lunch too) , before showers and getting ready for the show.
We had set out all their outfits in groups and in no time the kids were strutting their stuff, just like catwalk models, in the "backstage" banda, while the guests assembled  in the biggest banda  to wait for the show to begin.
 First on were the babies, all on rocking horses, riding along to nursery songs.  Little Linus refused to leave his horse when their spot was over, so he and horse were pushed to the side where they stayed to watch the rest of the show!
Next it was the beach, looking ahead to when the kids are grown up and back, as business executives, visiting the Happy House. "No I can't come to Nairobi, I am visiting the Happy house where I grew up, " says Evans "but I have sent my private jet for you!"
From Evans, Sifa, Janet, Mercy and Maria on the beach to the wedding with bride and groom Rose and Hassan and bridesmaids Favor, Pendo, Mariam and Zawadhi. How lovely they looked.
 Then came the party girls, waving and smiling in fairy costumes. Lily, Salama, Karembo, Jemila, Mwende, Fatuma and Rose then sang ring-a-roses at the top of their voices.
Getting ready for the rains was the next scene, with our farmers off the shamba, siging Hi, ho, hi ho! Fakiri, John, Benedict, Carson, Katana and Mark looked the part in macs and wellies!
Looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics when the Happy house athletes strike gold for Kenya (hula hooping!) Musyoka, Francis, David, Oscar and Suleman showed just how good they are at hula hooping before marching off to Chariots of Fire!
 Then came our catwalk models :Shakila, Hope, Rose, Rukia, Mildred, Lucinda, Jedidah, Jane, Margaret, Mary, Franco, Patrick and Nicholas. The girls looking stunning in their new dresses and the boys, super cool.
The audience loved every minute, clapping and cheering. It was so good that after a break for cake and juice, the kids came back for an action replay to the delight of everyone.
Team leaders Janet and Evans presented Sue and Dave with a card from all the Happy House family.
Mr Bado's acrobats then entertained the kids to some incredible stunts … which Sue is hoping the kids are not going to try copying, until there's  a nice soft landing in place!
The day finished up with dancing, everyone joining in, while some of the guests were shown round the building and the nursery school.
It was a fabulous, fun filled day. How far we have come in a year and now, thanks to Sue, these kids who were living in such terrible circumstances,  have love, opportunity and hope … and the kind of worry-free childhood every child deserves.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Today is the day

Happy birthday Happy House -  and what a wonderful first year it has been.
Hard work, worrying, busy and, at times, painful but, most of all, rewarding because this is the year Sue's children came home to the Happy House land and brought it to life. 
Today's party is a celebration of all the Happy House is doing for the children - and it's a party for the children. 
It will be a magical day they will remember for the rest of their lives. 
The decorations are going up, the cakes are made, the  shoes fit, the kids outfits are all washed, ironed and ready, and rehearsals are over … now it's showtime for real and it is going to be wonderful.  

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Shoe shuffle

It's feet first as today we're sorting out 56 pairs of shoes for 56 sets of feet, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
Shoemaker Francis and his team have been working against the clock to make, by hand, the party shoes we ordered for our children to wear for the birthday party tomorrow,
And even the babies have their own and they are just so cute.
Thank you Francis for being such a star and for giving us such a good price - we will certainly recommend your shop to anyone visiting here on holiday. 
The kids are still busy rehearsing for their parts in the show and they just get better and better. 
I can hardly believe how some of the very first Happy House kids, who were so shy, nervous and unsure this time last year, have now grown into confident and capable youngsters, eager to take on new challenges and enjoying doing something new.
That's the Happy House magic and tomorrow every person lucky enough to be in the audience will feel just a little bit of it for themselves.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Getting ready for the rains

In March, temperatures soar as Kenya moves towards the rainy season, writes Elizabeth Gomm.
Everywhere you look villagers are hoeing and planting, getting ready for the rains when everything will start to grow again. Every spare piece of land is planted with maize - the staple crop.
Here at the Happy House the outdoor staff, with some extra casual labour to help, are getting ready for the rainy season.
All sorts of vegetables and fruits are being planted  and shade created to ensure that the plants get the very best opportunity to grow and flourish.
This year will see our best harvest yet and all the food grown will go straight to the kitchen where it will be used to feed the children.
You can't get fresher than that!
And getting ready for the rains is the theme of a scene in our fashion show, here are our little farmers (Fakiri, John, Benedict, Carson, Katana, Mark) rehearsing for their part in the show… "Country Boy" Papa Dave has been giving them some tips!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Talent will out

What talented kids we are growing at the Happy House , writes Elizabeth Gomm.
Yesterday, we held a dress rehearsal for the fashion showcase the kids are putting on for guests at the first birthday party on Sunday and after only a few attempts the kids got the hang of what we'd like them to do!
But you never know what's going to happen when you are working with kids, and that's the fun of it! 
They'll let their own little personalities shine and that's just how it should be.
Our show will be unlike anything our guests have ever seen before and it's  going to be so much fun for everyone .
The children will leave no one in any doubt that our kids really are SO happy to be Happy House kids.
These pictures were taken by Samson,seven , using my camera  - as he is the official photographer in our wedding party scene! Maybe we have a future David Bailey in our midst.
Park Ladies
Thank you to the ladies of Cleveleys Park Methodist Church who made Lynn McCluskey so welcome when she went along to talk to them about the Happy House. They were so moved by Sue's inspiring story and made a donation of £86.59 . Some showed an interest in becoming child sponsors so we look forward to welcoming them to our family soon.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Pretty feet

Everyone is getting so excited as the first birthday party gets nearer. 
Today we are having a dress rehearsal for the fashion show,  just to make sure we everyone is kitted out and properly accessorised.
Milan, Paris, London or New York will never have seen anything like the catwalk show we have in store …
We went through every box of shoes in our store to try to make sure all the children would have something new to wear, but there were just not enough in the right sizes. And so as a very special birthday treat every child is having a new pair of sandals made by a local shoemaker who is giving them to us at rock bottom price. All the girls are having white and silver and all the boys plain brown leather. They'll look so cute and it wouldn't have been fair for some to have new while others would have had to go without.
Shoemaker Francis Mwena (pictured) came to the Happy House armed with his notebook and pencil to measure all 56 pairs of feet!
The shoes will be put away after the party so the children can wear them again for Auntie Rose's wedding in August, when they will be special guests at her family wedding in Yaa Village . A week later the Happy House will be giving her and her lucky man, Fred, a second wedding party!