Hatrack Heroes! Episode 6
SHINING ON THE IMPOVERISHED (PART 2)
Guest: Marcus Azzam
Organisation: Shine Academy
Release: 13th January 2020
Following on from our last episode, we continue our chat with Marcus Azzam, crew with Etihad, and his experiences with 'Impoverished Children' down in a Kenyan slum called Kibera.
On the east coast of Africa, these children are born into some of the worst conditions known to man... 'Impoverished Children' run by Katherine, who hails from Australia alongside her husband and some very dedicated human beings, are doing their utmost to change the live of some of these children, and in turn their families.
Nick: Hi everyone, and welcome to episode 6 of Hatrack Heroes! Today, we are continuing our chat with Mark from 'Impoverished Children', a humanitarian organisation being run down in Kibera, a slum of Kenya. Following on from last week, we ask Mark in particularly about the schooling of the children, specifically the curriculum and how the school is run, and the aim for these children in the future. You will also learn about how we as the general public can help, and get involved. We hope you enjoy what you hear, and can get some kind of insight into what this remarkable organisation are doing.
Now, in regards to the children specifically, where are they from? Are they specifically chosen, or is there some kind of criteria that they have to meet before they’re accepted into the school… What’s the story there?
Mark: On behalf of Katherine, I’m not really sure if she follows my system, but what we did in Choice 2 Change, which I know Katherine does as well to a great degree, I just don’t know if it’s fully. So, when we look at what kids we’re going to take, the most important part is not the child, it’s the parents.
Nick: Right, okay!
Mark: Because we need to make sure the parents are onboard.
Mark: The parent has to be onboard to not use or abuse the school, because they can’t bring their drama, their issues and all that to the school, which we don’t have space for, because the teachers are so overwhelmed with taking care of the kids, we can’t have parents with a lot of issues and problems, bring us their problems as well. Because they will look at the school as a place of salvation, they will not look at it as a place of education for their child, which is what it’s supposed to be.
Nick: Ah, I see… okay, yeah, yeah!
Mark: So, that’s the first thing. So, we look at the parents, their particular circumstance… obviously we try to go for the poorest of the poor. There are schools in Kibera by the way, which some are Government run, some are not… again they’re on the outskirts, not so deep in, and they’re not very good schools obviously, some are private, some are public.
Mark: But… so, if any parents have any of their kids in those types of schools, we tend to stay away from them.
Mark: It’s the parents who could not access, because even like I said, in the slum areas they are… there’s a higher socio-economic status of people. Schools will reject people that are very, very poor, because they have a particular smell and a look, they will not have them.
Nick: Ah, no way!!
Mark: They will not have their kids. Those are the kinds of families we target, in these types of grass roots organisations.
Nick: Right, okay!
Mark: So, we target those types of families… plus, parents understanding the situation, and what we’re going to do with their child. Also, a lot of the parents in the beginning, this happened a lot in Bangladesh, are very wary of us, and then they get very concerned that we’re taking their kids to build them up, and then take them away eventually, and then make them work in another country. That’s also a concept which a lot of people… it takes years to break down.
Nick: Ah, and those families…
Mark: It takes years to build that trust.
Nick: …don’t trust… They specifically
Mark: No, they don’t… because in a way, a bit of a colonialist(ic) type of situation, ‘so we come in as outside people, we build up their people for whatever we need them to do later, which is a whole big secret, and then we take them away when they’re old enough.’
Nick: Oh wow!
Mark: ‘Or, we convince their kids they you need to leave this country and go somewhere else.’
Nick: Yeah, yeah!
Mark: ‘so in a way we’re building man power… and how do we do that, we need to get them to learn our languages, we need to get them to learn mathematics, and all the basic stuff… it’s a notion which people have. Because of… well, I mean if you look at the history of where they come from, and what’s happened to their nations, be it Bangladesh, be it India, be it anywhere like that. And they don’t really have the understanding that we do of course with our education, and our general knowledge of the world… you cannot fault them for being this way.
Nick: Yeah, okay!
Mark: This is the history of their nation...
Nick: Yeah, yeah!
Mark: What happened in Africa! What happened in Bangladesh! What happened India! And the reason why these circumstances now exist is, and all this actually happens, it is as it is today… is because of these colonial tendencies.
Nick: I never thought of it like that, it’s really…
Mark: These are the things that you learn when you go there, when you interact with people, and understand how the world works, why it works the way it does, and why it is the way it is today.
Nick: It’s really, really interesting isn’t it.
Mark: That’s what I want all the crew to be able to see and understand themselves.
Mark: This is why it is.
Nick: On that topic with parents, a lot of the children I believe are orphans as well… so, without parental…
Mark: So, a lot of times it’s a misconception that a lot of people think that the kids are orphans, we do have some that are. Katherine has built a safe house for them.
Mark: We tend to have a lot of children that are single parent. Usually the mother is around because the father has left, or the father has died. That tends to be the case mostly… it’s rare that you’ll have a father without a mum, usually he’ll remarry, but the mum’s a lot of them tend to end up having a kid, and not remarrying; or having a violent relationship, and then the father leaving or whatever the case is.
Mark: So, you have that option, and then you have the two, obviously, parents; or a lot of times yes, you have orphans… parents do die, but then the grandparents take over, or a sister or brother of the mother or father will take over… as well.
Nick: Right, I see…
Mark: So, they’ll integrate the child into their family… it’s quite rare to find them completely without any family, or a kind of, or you know, another family member to take over.
Mark: They do exist, they’re very, very rare… I only know of one in Katherine’s school, one very close to her. She’s a girl I’m very close to there, she’s like my little daughter in a way, or she’s someone I’m very, very close to, who I always see there. She’s the only particular circumstance there, and I believe in Bangladesh we had one circumstance there… but it is quite rare.
Mark: Kids are taken care of, but it does not mean to say that there are no orphans.
Nick: yeah, okay!
Mark: It’s just that generally we don’t tend to find the orphans because they will be taken in to an orphanage, or usually under a church, or under a mosque, or something like that.
Nick: Ah ok, yeah, yeah!
Mark: So, they tend to be hard to get a hold of. And they’ll be trained in… you know, into that, or educated into that, they don’t tend to be just walking around.
Nick: With these children… ok, so they’ve come into the school, they’ve come from starvation, malnutrition, illnesses. For Katherine, does she find it very difficult at the very beginning when the children come in? Or it’s just a steady process? Is it just a big wham type of event?
Mark: Yep… I think the difficult part is, in a way, just to know how… to teach them how to just eat in a specific, clean way.
Mark: Let’s just say… so, either with the hands or with… and if that’s the case, that’s fine, but then you have to wash your hands after. Also, how to defecate or urinate, also… they will just go on the floor right away, next to you… it’s fine. So, you need to train… yeah, these are the things that you…
Mark: By the way people, his face… yeah, you should see his face.
Nick: (laugh) I’m shocked!
Mark: These are the people that… yeah, I mean, Katherine has had a conversation with a mother, who will just… as she’s talking to her, squat right there, move her skirt and start, you know… defecating in front of Katherine, or peeing… that can happen.
Mark: Because for them, these notions don’t necessarily… this privacy doesn’t exist! Again, it’s depending on the socio-economic status of the person.
Mark: Obviously, those that are more affluent in those areas will not do that.
Mark: But some don’t have that understanding… for them. It’s very nature human oriented… like it’s very back to humanities – nature in itself, you know what I mean. So, kids have picked up these kinds of types of things from the parents, are what we have to train. We have a potty area, we have you know like a bathroom area in the school, you have to learn how to use a toilet…
Nick: Yeah, yeah!
Mark: ...that has to be trained, so these are the basic things you never think about.
Nick: And I guess from here the child will then go home and teach the family or…?
Mark: Well we’d hope so, but then again at home they don’t have a toilet, so how can they teach the family…
Nick: Ah, okay!
Mark: …so we go back to that particular circumstance. At least in the school, when they’re there, they’re functioning in that way. Also, how to eat, how to clean yourself after eating, how to wash before eating… these are all the things that are done at Katherine’s school, which again at home they would not be done. You want to make sure there’s no bacteria on your hands when you eat… especially eating with your hands. So, these are the kinds of things, or these are the kind of challenges that these types of schools go into… the grassroots organisations go into. And of course, the health challenges there, as you mentioned before… malnutrition of course too. Malnutrition is taken care of… at least one good meal a day is provided by the school, where you’re trying to balance the vegetables, and the carbs, and the protein which is rare… but we get usually… I think we can afford protein once or twice a week and not more, which would usually be fish or something along those lines.
Nick: Okay… and this food is bought in by staff?
Mark: Yes, so every morning, or… so depending. For the vegetables every morning the cook will go into the marketplace in Kibera, which also exists of course. And she or he will spend money on food and bring it in. We have a big stock of beans, normally anything that’s not too easily perishable, so beans rice, porridge…
Nick: Yeah, okay
Mark: …this all comes like a… it’s made from Yam, so all this already comes… already kind of… not really preserved, they come in big sacks… those are already there, but they go and get the fresh vegetables and the fresh meat for the day, or the fresh protein… whatever it may be.
Nick: yeah okay
Mark: And then the cooking goes on, and usually around 12 o’clock or 11:30 they’ll start to eat
Mark: So that’s all done by one person
Nick: Yeah, okay.
Mark: They purchase the stuff, bring it back in. Sometimes two will go when it’s too much to carry, because there’s a 100 plus kids.
Nick: Yeah okay! Now I asked this question to Eva as well, from Choice 2 Change. The day in the life of the child, on a school day how does it work for them? They wake up, and from there…
Mark: They wake up, they open their eyes, (laugh) and see the beautiful world around them. Yeah, they get up…
Nick: Beautiful in inverted commas, I guess!
Mark: Exactly, yes. So yeah, they end up waking up, the parents help them get ready, usually a lot of times, depending if the parents have work or not, if it’s two parents or not as well. So, if they’re free they’ll bring them to school themselves, otherwise usually the bigger sister or brother will bring them to school, if they’re very, very young.
Nick: Okay, and that’s just a walk?
Mark: Yep, usually they just walk over… I think the maximum would be about 20 minutes away.
Nick: Okay, not too bad
Mark: Usually, we tend to stay in that circle.
Mark: …to make sure the kids have access easily. Again, the rainy days and all that, not very nice, especially in Kibera, and then they come in they take attendance of course. They get dressed in their school uniform beforehand.
Mark: That’s very important that the kids are clean, and they’ll get rejected if they are not clean, or they’ll get warned if they’re not clean, and then that will go to the parents.
Nick: But, getting clean, how are they getting themselves clean?
Mark: So, they just are basically clean, they’re not… so like there’s no snot all over the nose.
Nick: Ah, just basic stuff.
Mark: Yeah, basic stuff
Nick: So not a shower, that kind of thing
Mark: I mean, yeah, they do. There are places… It’s not the cleanest shower in the world, but there are places they can shower, but they have to be just generally… the skin has to be clean.
Nick: Ok, general hygiene
Mark: Yeah, not to be smelly, that’s another thing, going back to your previous question, because that also has to be taught… ah, sometimes.
Mark: So, of course there is a basic for every human being, but sometimes it has to be a bit more elevated than what they provide.
Nick: So, that’s the criteria in the morning
Mark: That’s the criteria in the morning that they have to do… and a lot of kids do it well with the parents, as they learn, and some of them don’t, and actually this kind of stuff leads onto the parent too, because they teach how to wash the kid properly, the parents starts to do the same… so there you go.
Nick: Okay, gotcha
Mark: The whole family will change after that… which is the point and purpose of this. And then after that, they will of course have their backpack, they come with all their supplies and products. Usually, I believe a lot of things are left at the school, because they can be lost or taken by kids which are not from the school...
Mark: So, we tend to leave everything at the school for safety.
Mark: They don’t carry too much with them when they come
Mark: and then after that, the school will start. They’ll have their 2 or 3 lessons, and then after that they’ll have lunch, have nap time for the young ones, the older kids don’t have time. Then they continue on with the day until about 3, and then they go back home. What we try to do, is we try to do artwork and stuff as well.
Mark: We don’t have enough for all the kids, but we do different classes on different days, where after school they can do different projects and things like that, just to keep them a little bit busy. A lot of kids also have parents who work till about 5 or 6…
Mark: …so they work outside of Kibera when they work, then they come back to Kibera.
Nick: Yeah okay.
Mark: …and then, obviously with very low salaries unfortunately, and then that’s when the kids can be taken care of.
Nick: Yeah okay, and they’re going home, they’re just going to be staying in home, or are they playing in the streets, or?
Mark: Yeah, ummm… so Katherine and the teachers are not necessarily keen on homework because they don’t really have the time or dedication to do it, so what we tend to do is we tend to focus on teaching in class, and then when they go home at the end of the day, they will either just play around, release their energy, or whatever the kids need to do with their families… that kind of stuff. Homework for the older kids is provided, and it’s kind of hard to monitor if they do it, because again they don’t have a desk, the don’t have the right set up for it.
Nick: Nah, that’s it.
Mark: So, we tend of keep them after school if we can a little bit, where they can do art projects, or like, if there’s any questions that they want to ask the teachers, that they want to delve into a little bit as well.
Nick: Ah okay! Any sporting things as well?
Mark: They do that on their own..
Nick: Ah okay
Mark: There is a lot of football of course, they just run around, they play tag… that’s just normal stuff that kids all around the world do.
Nick: Oh okay! On a curriculum level again, is it… so she’s come from Australian curriculum
Mark: As a base
Nick: …including Maths, and English, Grammar, that kind of thing
Mark: So, the curriculum… So, Kenya itself has 5 exams which are given at grade 8, or class 8… 8 years later after a child starts. Which is Mathematics, English Literature, Swahili (the local language), Society Studies I think they call it, and Science. Those are the 5 general topics that we also teach the kids. Normally whenever you build these kinds of grassroot organisations, you should associate yourself to the Government or… what the kids are eventually going to go through…
Mark: …to help them make it to High School. So, basically, the point of these classes is we want to get these kids to High School at a strong level, so they can make it to a High School better than what they would’ve done on their own, if they were on their own or not made it at all because they’d never had the idea of school to begin with.
Mark: A lot of these organisations, don’t necessarily go into the High School part because it’s too complicated, and it’s too big and it’s too expensive. They can’t really afford it unless a charity has done so well that it actually has so much backing that it can actually build a high school off its original kids that it took in eight years ago.
Nick: Right okay.
Mark: That does not normally happen.
Nick: Yeah okay
Mark: So, Choice 2 Change and Impoverished Children will not be doing that… for now.
Nick: Right, I see
Mark: For now
Mark: So that’s what we build the topics on… but what Katherine has done is take an Australian curriculum to begin with the English language, and how to train it and teach it, but also, she’s taken a thing called ‘Genki’. Which is teaching kids…
Nick: I’ve heard of this.
Mark: Yep, it’s really, really good… Basically, you teach kids through vocal sounds, through song and dance.
Mark: So, they sing, they dance and they learn the words through that… so ‘sleeping’ would be with the position of sleeping, and sun-rising…
Nick: yeah, I see
Mark: and that actually makes them remember things more easily rather than sitting there with paper and pencil…
Nick: yeah, okay
Mark: …and learning off of the black board.
Mark: Katherine does that of course for the spelling part, but not with the language education part. So that’s one thing, she’s transformed English fully…
Nick: Ah, I see
Mark: …unlike what any thing you’ve seen in Kenya. That is the strongest thing they do is the English language. Swahili obviously the teachers teach, and then they learn that from home… they start that a little bit later on. Mathematics starts from a very basic program of course, as does spelling and then the letters. Sciences and Social Sciences start at around I think class 2, where they can start to comprehend a little bit more at a higher level.
Nick: Ah I see, yeah okay.
Mark: So those are the main 5 topics that we do, and we do Arts on the side. So, Arts is more for creative thinking, maybe even a bit of drama is there too.
Mark: So that’s all again from the Australian side, which not necessarily places in Kenya do very much.
Nick: Yeah okay
Mark: They’re a lot more focussed on direct teaching… Direct teaching is not the best for kids of that particular situation, because they don’t go back home to parents that are going to be helping them to learn through the direct teaching at the school. Direct teaching needs homework…
Mark: …where if you don’t have that particular circumstance, you need to go with different methods of teaching.
Nick: Now, quick question… now, you say the aim is to get them to a High School level
Nick: Would they be going to a High School inside Kibera still? Or they’d have to travel outside.
Mark: So, the High Schools… there are High Schools around Kibera that exist. They’re not strong… we prefer that they go into the city itself if they can…
Nick: yeah okay!
Mark: …because, by then they’re old enough to take transport, and they will have the… we hope when they take exams to go these High Schools, when they do the class 8 exam, the government exam, and their marks are high enough, they can actually access the better schools.
Nick: Yeah ok.
Mark: That is the hope, not every kid can.
Mark: …but at least most kids will go to High School, at least.
Nick: Yeah… something to aim for at least! Now… teachers, people working there…
Nick: Where do they come from?
Nick: How many do you have? What’s the story?
Mark: very good question. So, teachers… we tend to have them from Kibera, or the outskirts right outside because they have to access, and they will be qualified. Katherine does not take anyone that is not qualified, so they need to have some kind of a teaching degree… primary, high school or both… whatever they…
Nick: …and that would’ve been gained inside Kenya.
Mark: That would be… so, again, Kibera does have the more affluent class… these teachers would come from there.
Nick: Ahhhh, I see I see!
Mark: So, they would be more on the periphery of Kibera, so the deeper in the middle you go the more poor it gets.
Mark: The more on the periphery you stay the better it is… and these people would be living around there. So, they would be living in structures that are not mud huts, they’d be living in basic housing. Not anything that the main city people would be living in…
Mark: …but it’s still something you know of good quality to a degree there…
Mark: …and they would be people that have been educated, and not necessarily have the means to live in the city. So, they’d be living on the periphery of Kibera.
Mark: A lot of people that actually work in Kibera, including the parents of the kids will be like housemaids, they’ll work as cleaning staff in hotels. They’ll be doing all kinds of stuff that is kind of the menial tasks, if you wish, of society… and then they’ll go back home to Kibera every single day. These kinds of teachers would be from that kind of qualification, but they’d be more educated. Katherine’s very, very keen on qualified teachers, she will never take a teacher who was just good at teaching, but she does not have the qualification. Some grassroots organisations do… if the teacher is just very good at teaching, and they can teach it, they can… but she is against that. She’s never ever had that, that’s one of her requirements.
Nick: Can you give us a run-down of what… how many you have? 120 children…
Mark: Right now, there’s about 100, we’ve lost some due to this thing that happened, a lot of people have left Kibera, actually we lost a few families, and there’s been some other issues where we’ve lost some kids, but... yeah, we have about 100 now. But, at the height of the school we had about 120-130
Mark: Choice 2 Change was about 150, and yeah, so the maximum amount of kids we have in a class is about 18-20.
Nick: So that’s about 10 teachers then
Mark: Yeah! Approximately yeah, 10-12 yes.
Mark: So this is usually what we do, we don’t have classes more than 20-22 at the most, because then the attention for each student is lessened.
Mark: A lot of government schools in Kibera, easily have 60 to 70 to 100 kids in the class. Grade 3, grade 4, grade 5… you see it all the time, I’ve seen it before. They have four on one table, like a long table… 4 and 4 and 4, and it just keeps going, which is insane.
Nick: I mean, even for me growing up it was 30, they say that’s a lot… so 18 per… that’s great.
Mark: It’s just because… these kids are not the typical kids that you work with, they need more attention, they need more focus from the teacher on them, and they have to also focus on the teacher more easily. So, when you have too many of them, the teachers cannot, you know, see who needs more attention. They can’t see, or feel it better...
Nick: And if you have more children as well, you start to misbehave and so forth as well.
Mark: Exactly! It is a different circumstance; you have to treat it differently. You can’t just have a typical like class that you have back home for me in Canada, or for yourself in Australia let’s say, you have 30 kids. It’d be ideal, we could get more kids that way, but the reason why we don’t do that is because of those issues.
Nick: Yeah, okay! And other staff… so the teachers?
Mark: Yeah, so we always have the teachers as the main. Then you always have a head teacher, or a principal if you wish. That would be… so in Katherine’s case, or Impoverished Children’s case, it would be her first teacher whose name was Winnie, and she’s an amazing lady, and she’s the one that was her first teacher now she heads the whole entire school.
Mark: Then, so you have that one person who can also teach. Then you have a bunch of teachers, usually 8-10, then you have a cook, then you have the cleaning staff, which helps the cook whenever they’re not cleaning. After the food is done, they’ll be cleaning. So those are all full-time roles.
Mark: So, you have about 13-14 people full time in the school.
Nick: And so, Katherine’s paying them part of the money from the…
Mark: Yep, all 14 get their salaries every month!
Mark: This organisation is about 10 years old now.
Mark: Obviously started with one person only at the time, Winnie… and then it’s grown to about 12 people.
Nick: Would you say some of these teachers have also like a social worker kind of…
Mark: yeah, they can have that kind of background
Nick: …thing as well, like parents talk to children about what’s going on.
Mark: So, Winnie takes care… Yep, Winnie decides who’s running the schools. So, when the school every day, she’s not in the school, it’s not necessary to be there because the teachers are taking care of the kids, that’s when Winnie does her rounds. So, she goes around to parents if there’s any problems with the kids, she’ll bring up the problems then.
Nick: Ah okay… that’s nice.
Mark: Cause of course, at night it’s not safe, there’s no lights, you can’t walk around, so it has to be done in the day time.
Nick: Yep, okay.
Mark: So, if the parents are at work… she’ll try to see whenever they’re not, or whenever they’re available, or she’ll ask them to come to the school to her office, and then shell discuss whatever issues… If this child is very rowdy, they’re not listening properly to teachers, they can be sent home if it’s constantly happening, as a suspension, and then we need to make sure their parent cares enough to discipline their child properly and scare them enough that when they come back to school they’ll listen to the teacher and do as they’re told.
Mark: Cause it’s not our place to, like unfortunately some schools will cane a child…
Mark: …that happens a lot in Kenya, they hit them with rulers… these types of things are of course not acceptable in ‘Impoverished Children’. So, this is where it’s quite difficult to get the parents on board, but yeah, that’s what Winnie would do, she’ll go around doing the rounds… if there’s any other issues. We have to look at the shacks and the huts, how’s the circumstance in there? how clean is it?
Mark: Are there any issues happening, is there any violence! So, Winnie will also speak to the Mothers generally. Is the father sexually abusing the Mum, is there possible sexual abuse of the child?
Mark: All this is happening
Nick: So quite deeply involved.
Mark: Oh yeah, we have to be. There’s no choice! That’s why we’re a grass-roots organisation, we’re in the grass-roots.
Mark: We’re not sitting there from an office in Geneva wherever you are…
Nick: Yeah, yeah!
Mark: …helping. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with those people, or those organisations…
Nick: I know what you’re saying.
Mark: …but it’s different when you’re on the ground. I’ve seen both, and it’s very different.
Nick: So, in regards to children, you said the aim was to get to High School… is that where the goal for these children ends in Katherine’s eyes, or your eyes? Or do you want to see anything more after that point?
Mark: We want to see growth, we want to see their lives change, that’s the whole point. We want to see them elevate themselves, empower themselves, and be proud of where they came from, and what they’ve accomplished in live… and where they’re going next. We want to see them take their brothers and sisters out if they can, using their new found power, their new found knowledge, their new found ability in normal society, outside of Kibera society…
Mark: …they can hopefully elevate the rest of the family. They get more income… therefore the whole family will elevate economically, and then they can start moving from the deep slum into the periphery of the slum. And then over time, hopefully moving to the city.
Mark: Then slowly as… I know it’s just one by one… that’s not many out of the millions, but as you do this with more and more people, one person will affect 10, will affect 15, as more kids are born etcetera, etcetera.
Mark: and then the chain reaction happens.
Mark: So the whole point of these types of schools, wherever they may exist is that you want to have these chain reactions happen…
Mark: … as many times as possible and as much as possible.
Mark: And that’s what we hope for. Yeah, so we hope for a high school success, we hope for continuous into college, we hope it opens up the future, proper money and not begging in the streets.
Nick: and in regards to those goals, do the children have their own specific goals?
Mark: Yes of course.
Nick: Are they in line with what you guys want?
Mark: Yep, we always ask the kids what do you want to be when you’re getting older. Like you would do with any kid around the world. They always have a nice answer with a big smile on their face for that...
Mark: …be it being a doctor, being a pilot, being cabin crew… a lot of them want to be cabin crew cause they’ve seen so many cabin crew.
Nick: Yeah, Yeah!
Mark: They want to travel the world
Mark: …a lot of them want to be teachers actually… a lot of teachers inspire kids.
Nick: Ah ok, yeah yeah, of course!
Mark: Which I find is amazing… I always love to see that. Some of them want to be lawyers, and fight for their rights…
Mark: …when they get older, they understand what’s happening in their society and around the world.
Nick: Yeah, okay.
Mark: They want to fight for the rights of their people which is really interesting to see those kids do that.
Nick: Yeah yeah!
Mark: So that’s all in the power of the mind, so it’s beautiful to see that. So yes, of course, they all have goals, and we try to make them reach those goals.
Nick: Do you have any… I know they’re obviously seeing the immediate people, like the teachers, and seeing yourself, and the cabin crew. But, do you ever get any kind of… I don’t know… famous person, or someone of stature that comes in at all, and they admire them, like a footballer or someone like that.
Mark: I don’t know much from the part of ‘Impoverished Children’. I think Katherine has invited some people in. So, we’ve had people from embassies come… we’ve had people from the Swiss embassy, Swedish embassy… there are some embassies… because Katherine is quite affluent herself, she knows people…
Mark: Australian embassy of course… they come in and see what she does, so we have more diplomats if you wish. Stars… I think there’s been once or twice, where people have come, which are famous singers, or they’re known to the region there.
Nick: Ah, I see!!
Mark: I know Choice 2 Change have had very famous Bangladeshi singers come… and they come and they come and take a bunch of pictures and selfies and whatever, they put it on their social media which helps raise awareness. That has happened before, but not of such degree, no. Would be very nice to have…
Nick: Of course
Mark: Thing is, you have to get them to these places, and they have to be visiting these countries as well, which is not always the case.
Nick: On a deeper level, can these children be sponsored, or fostered, or… I guess fostered is not really the right choice.
Mark: Yes, sponsored would be the right word for that. Yep, sponsorship is something that we tried to tackle with ‘Choice 2 Change’. It’s not been done in ‘Impoverished Children’… it is complicated. So generally, sponsorship… what we do try to do with that, is we want a person to associate to a child, so they’re going to follow their back story, and they’re going to follow what the child is doing, get updated pictures on them etc… as you’ve seen a lot of the big groups do.
Nick: yeah, they do.
Mark: The problem with this, is it’s expensive. To sponsor a child, you need staff. You need a lot of staff to make sure it’s all run properly… logistically it’s complicated.
Nick: yeah, okay!
Mark: …and then we end up starting to spend more money on staff, instead of spending money on the kids.
Mark: So, this is where we’re not very keen on sponsorship.
Nick: Fine balance I guess
Mark: Exactly, and we’re very grass-roots like this, we go back to that 85-15 percentage ratio that we want. We cannot afford to do that because that… the teachers don’t have time to do that. Going to have to get staff dedicated to it. For 120 kids, you can only imagine how much dedication that is to get pictures every single month.
Mark: Getting newsletter’s out to whoever’s sponsoring, and all that kind of stuff.
Nick: yeah, yeah!
Mark: Now we end up spending money that is very valuable to us… on a sponsorship scheme, instead of it being spent directly on the kid. For food, clothing, and whatever else we need.
Nick: Right okay.
Mark: So, it’s great if it can be done voluntarily, absolutely great. And that would be something that would be perfect, in an ideal situation.
Mark: And then you have a parent dedicated to a child. And then you also have this idea where, a lot of the times, the parents want to come and see, the sponsor parents want to come and see the child.
Mark: …and that can then become quite complicated as well.
Nick: That’s it.
Mark: …and you have to organise all that.
Nick: Yeah okay!
Mark: Because they get attachment, obviously it’s normal, it’s human.
Mark: Over time, they get attachment, and they all want to come and see, and you have 120 kids, that’s a lot of people, so there’s that element as well that you have to consider.
Nick: And is it safe for people to…
Nick: to go in there?
Mark: It is, it’s better to not be alone. Obviously, you will not go there alone. You are very different if you don’t come from that background, or that country. You will stand out like a sore thumb.
Nick: yeah, yeah!
Mark: Everyone will be looking at you, that’s very normal… you have to not be you know, not worried about that, you have to not be self-conscious of that. But yeah, it’s always better to go with people from the school. It also depends on the timing, things like when Kibera was being destroyed, and the Government was coming in and doing all that they were doing… that time in Kibera was very dangerous, you would not go in at that time obviously.
Nick: Right, I see.
Mark: So, these types of places can be quite erratic, politically, and sociologically. So. you have to be always aware of what’s happening… you can’t just walk in anytime. So, it’s always good to ask around before, plan your trip before. And then the day of, or the day before, make sure everything is fine and safe, and good to go. And you have to also be dressed in the right way.
Mark: It’s always good to dress in long sleeve, you don’t want mosquitoes to be on you in those areas.
Nick: Ah okay!
Mark: You don’t want to have any kind of insects biting you or whatever. You also want to cover your feet, it’s better not to have your toes and your nails open.
Nick: Oh really.
Mark: You can go into dung; you can go into all kinds of things. It may happen as you walk; you don’t know.
Nick: I see, wow!
Mark: So, you’re better off to always be as covered as you can…
Mark: …body wise, even if it’s hot. It’s just safe for your skin to not be in contact with anything. Except for your hands cause you’re going to clean it.
Nick: So, it’s probably more dangerous in I guess a physiological…
Mark: …physiological way…
Nick: …way, rather than…
Mark: Some of us have been sick before...
Mark: …we’ve had viruses or bacteria enter our bodies, when we do this too much
Nick: yeah, okay!
Mark: There is that risk. Usually in the schools it’s safe, because they’re well kept, but it’s on the way to the school, and out.
Nick: Yeah, okay!
Mark: We don’t tend to always be able to access the schools with taxi’s and stuff, they tend to be in very isolated locations, so we have to walk for a good five to ten minutes through the slum…
Nick: Right, I see, I see…
Mark: …and that’s the time when you can be succumbed to something.
Nick: What other ways can people become involved? Is it to take food or…
Mark: For me, I always say the best to be involved is to go. I love to see people go, have the experience. Because the children also feed off of your energy as well.
Nick: yeah, of course!
Mark: …and then they see that someone actually cares about us, someone actually comes to visit us. Especially when you’re crew, you come from far away countries. They have so many questions for you and what you do, and where you come from and all this.
Nick: Yeah, yeah!!
Mark: You actually teach them, so you educate them, which is what we’re here to do.
Mark: They see you; they have a really good time with you. They feel that they’re important that you’ve come to visit them. You bring them whatever you want to bring them. I’m always very pro stationery, always; much more so than food.
Nick: Yeah, okay
Mark: I prefer to get food locally if we can, because we also help the local economy by getting food from there.
Nick: Yep, sure!
Mark: I’m not very keen on sweets and chocolates, which is what a lot of people bring. I get if you want to bring a little bit, that’s fine.
Mark: But again, don’t forget they don’t have the best dental hygiene, we don’t have the right way in making sure their teeth are safe.
Nick: Ah okay, yeah okay!
Mark: So, you don’t want to be bringing a lot of that stuff.
Nick: Yeah, okay.
Mark: We prefer to be give them fruits and vegetables, which we will buy locally… just makes more sense to do so. So if you want to bring stuff, it’s always clothing is the best, and stationery is the best.
Mark: A lot of art stuff too! Art stuff in Kenya’s expensive, and there’s not a big variety either…
Nick: Yep, okay!
Mark: …like if you want to get glitters and different kinds of glue
Nick: Ahhhh, okay!
Mark: …and different kinds of sticks
Nick: yeah, cool!
Mark: …and arts and crafts types of things.
Mark: Pencils, crayons, colouring books all these types of things are great.
Nick: I see! But if you’re sitting listening to this podcast, and you’re in… say you’re in Canada, or UK, or whatever, how can they, someone like that help? Is there a way?
Mark: Yep, there is… you can always discuss with a charity. Whichever one you’re interested in, doesn’t have to be ones that we’re discussing. You can always contact them directly… usually Facebook or Instagram will have that.
Nick: Yeah okay!
Mark: In the case of ‘Impoverished Children’ it is Facebook. You would contact them; Katherine always answers in 24 hours. You can find a week where you can volunteer.
Mark: I’ve done that myself, I don’t always just go as crew, I actually take my leave and I go there.
Nick: Yeah okay, cool!
Mark: …and I did like astronomy week. I love astronomy… it’s one of my favourite subjects.
Nick: Ah, okay!
Mark: So I did a whole astronomy week, all the way from the kids teaching them lullabies in astronomy which I created, all the way up to the older kids where I bought books, and I explained, and we did a lot of… like Genki, but… you know, one on one direct teaching…
Nick: Yeah, okay.
Mark: …with the kids. And then, basically you can do that. So, you can have a topic of teaching, or if you don’t want to go into that kind of level, because it’s too much for you…
Mark: I’ve done this a few times, so I’m experienced with it. But, if you’re not comfortable to do that, it’s a lot of time to set up, you can just go and volunteer… but just doing story-time with the kids.
Mark: By helping them how to spell, how to do basic maths. Anything that you know already yourself, or any topic that you’re interested in bringing. And then with you, you can bring along all the kind of supplies that you can bring as a gift. And then, over there you can rent a hotel not too far from Kibera, easily… the slum is too difficult due to housing. So you’ll have to be housed outside…
Mark: …but again, there are hotels that we work with there…
Mark …and we can organise that for you as well. You can spend a week there.
Mark: You can do six or seven hours a day, and then go back home, relax, take a good shower, and then reflect on all you’ve seen.
Mark: Because you’re going to learn a lot as well…
Nick: of course, for sure! Just to finish, where can people go specifically to find out more? Is there a Facebook page, website.
Mark: Yeah, so for ‘Impoverished Children’ in Facebook and you’ll find it right away. There is a website which I think is impoverishedchildren.org
Mark: …and just contact through those directly if you need to, and then Katherine is extremely friendly, or Winnie… one of them will answer you back.
Nick: Yeah, yeah… cool!
Mark: They’re both very, very friendly and they honestly will take anybody on.
Mark: Of course, you also want to consider the seasons. It can get very hot in specific seasons, and very cool in other seasons. Depending what you’re into… so you can also adapt yourself to that, because in those places it can become very hot or very cold depending on the season you’re in.
Nick: Well, we’ve covered a lot, there’s probably a lot more… I’m sure we could go on for days
Mark: Next time hopefully.
Nick: Yeah, let’s see… do a… go head down there and check it out myself. Thanks Mark for coming along and chatting about this, and sharing… I’m sure everyone’s going to get a lot of insight into what happens down there. So… thank you so much.
Mark: Great, thank you very much… pleasure to meet you.
Nick: You too
Mark: Thanks very much for having me again.
Nick: You’re very welcome