The Good Life Orphanage – what a wonderful experience. After suffering the ill-effects of the Nakuru to Mombasa night bus, I decided to do the return journey during the day. I was keen to see the Kenyan countryside, spend some time reading and with a better seat, catch up on a bit of sleep if possible. The landscape didn’t disappoint – it was simply stunning, and although taking photos was near impossible, I was still quite content taking in the views, and listening to my iPod.
I was expecting the day journey to take longer because of greater volumes of traffic, but in fact it made very little difference. This is mainly because outside of the main cities, not too many Kenyans can afford a car – they travel by matatu, and Kenyans in rural areas walk a LOT. Therefore the highways are mainly taken up by vast quantities of lorries, the occasional camper van, and coaches, like ours. Therefore, apart from a painful three hour traffic jam in Nairobi, we were pretty much unhindered for the entire 12 hour journey. Sitting close to the front this time meant I had a great view of the oncoming traffic, and this was an experience in itself!
Kenyan drivers are a special breed – 100% thrill seekers, and the fact he was responsible for the safety of about 45 passengers seemed to make no difference to the number of life threatening situations our driver put us through. I lost count of the amount of times we were driving along the wrong side of the highway, straight into the path of an oncoming lorry who was flashing his lights at us. At times the oncoming vehicle was forced to pull off the road, and onto the hard shoulder to avoid a collision… and when I say ‘hard shoulder’ I really mean rock covered dirt track! Still, it was another interesting adventure to add to my collection of stories out here.
The Good Life
The day before was considerably less taxing on my stress levels as I paid a visit to ‘The Good Life‘ orphanage (TGL) in Mtwapa – a town North of Mombasa. The grounds are beautiful, and it is comfortably amongst the best of the orphanages I’ve seen or visited elsewhere in Kenya. It is a big compound, with a number of staff who between them lovingly care for 60 children. I made contact with the home online several months ago, and have been in semi regular contact with them ever since, so I was looking forward to getting there and meeting everyone.
The children are arranged into five ‘families’ of about 12 in size, and each ‘family’ is looked after by a ‘Mama,’ and an ‘Aunty.’ After being given a brief tour of the grounds, and shown my room (I was staying for one night) I was introduced to my family. My mama was called Mama Jam, and her assistant was Aunty Christine. Both were in their 40’s, and very friendly – firm but warm, which is an ideal combination for looking after 12 young, and often hectic Kenyan children!
One of the most recent additions to the compound is a brand new school (I’ll post pictures on facebook) which educates the 60 members of the orphanage, as well as a lot of children from the surrounding community. It’s a great facility and considering some of the backgrounds of the children, it must be a real pleasure for them to attend somewhere like that. Or at least I hope so!
My Good Life Family For The Night
When I was introduced into my family house, the children were still at school, but it was nearly lunch time so they were due back at any moment. They started arriving one or two at a time, and were all intrigued by the new ‘mzungu’ visitor. From what I can gather, The Good Life gets a steady flow of white visitors and volunteers, so there wasn’t the same level of amazement you get when passing children from some of the poorer areas of Nakuru. However, they all came straight up to me, shook my hand and introduced themselves by name. It was quite formal, but very sweet at the same time.
One of the things I liked about the family arrangement in The Good Life was the mixture of ages. Although they’re educated in classes (or standards as they’re known out here) which are organised by age – the ‘families’ contain all ages from about 3 up to 16 which brings a nice dynamic. The older children do a larger share of house chores, help to look after the younger ones, and hopefully impart some of their experience along the way. The oldest boy in my family, was 12 and called Ali.
My first task was to help serve lunch which was chicken and stew with the staple Kenyan dish of ugali. A thick, starchy carbohydrate which is eaten with many a meal out here. It comes in a variety of colours and densities depending upon the tastes of the person cooking it, but can be quite nice actually, if a little heavy to my delicate Western stomach! Before eating the family prayed together, and then the children ate in near silence – they were well disciplined and mannered. It was quite a change from the excited organised chaos of some of the other orphanages I’ve visited out here. I ate at the table with them, and there were all looking across at me, and although they didn’t say much, we were all smiling at each other. They clearly liked having a new visitor at the table!
Once they’d finished I served them a glass of water, and then they were free for a bit of play time, which is where I started to get to know them a little better. After playtime, the older children returned to school, while the youngsters stayed in the house. We chatted a bit, and Mama and Aunty were particularly curious about my life in England as they’d been told I was a musician. Therefore I pulled a copy of the second Storey album out of my bag, and told them they could keep it as a gift for the family. They suddenly whipped a CD player out, and before I knew it, the children and I were dancing around the kitchen to ‘Pull No Punches‘ and a number of other songs. It was a lot of fun and it wasn’t difficult to get Mama and Aunty Christine involved as well. The children were copying all of my moves, despite my protests that they could definitely find a better role model to improve their dancing skills!
After a couple of hours, it was outside play time. As a volunteer at The Good Life, I was meant to help out with preparing dinner, but Mama and Aunty Christine were adamant I should take the children out, so I was off out to the lovely playground which sits just outside the five family houses. Here the children from all the other families congregated, so the run of introductions and handshakes started all over again with a host of beautiful new children 🙂 At one stage I was simultaneously pushing three girls on the swings, but it worth every second due to the gorgeous giggles they let out with every push. One girl in particular – a 4 year old Ethiopian called Roisin, caught my eye. You know you’re not meant to have favourites (and every volunteer I’ve spoken to out here says they experience the same thing on every trip) but Roisin was possibly the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen, and despite the fact she was fortunate to have been taken in my by The Good Life, I was still left with an urge to take her home and adopt her! She was very charismatic for someone so young, and full of fun and smiles. Unfortunately for a single guy from England, it is impossible for me to adopt any child, let alone one from Africa! However I’m determined to make it back to The Good Life again in the not-too-distant future, to see how Roisin and the rest of my family get on in the future.
To view the photos that accompany this blog, please visit this page.
Eventually the older boys started to come back from school, and they’d soon convinced me to join them for a game of football (although my memory is hazy – it may have been the other way around…) Young African boys are so different to English boys of the same age. The football is fun, chaotic, but tough. They don’t hold back, and tackle each other very hard at times; And it amazes me that they run around on such harsh terrain, often bare foot. Yet they are always laughing at each other and poking fun. I really enjoyed it and by the time Mama had called us in for dinner (literally – I felt like I was 12 again!) I was sweaty and dirty. It may be their winter, but it’s still hot for a Brit like me! A lot of the boys were from other families, so there were multiple high-fives and hand shakes as we all went off to our respective family houses for the evening.
Dinner was carried out in much the same way as lunch – no noise, but lots of smiles. Only Jonny, the youngest member of the family at 2 years old, kept chatting away in Swahili, much to everyone’s amusement. As he was too young for school, he was the first child I met upon arrival at the family home, and was very curious of my skin and hair during my stay. One thing I’ve noticed about young Kenyan children is their fascination with hair. Kenyan men don’t have particularly hairy arms or legs, so I’ve lost many a clump of hair from all of my limbs over the last three weeks. And I guess because of the heat, most Kenyans keep very short hair. In fact I’m yet to see a Kenyan guy with anything approaching long hair. Therefore for a guy to waltz in with long wavy hair like mine is a bit of a novelty, and they often want to just run their hands through it; something the adults find very funny!
Sing and Dance
Post-dinner, there were a few dances and songs to be sung. I didn’t have my guitar with me as I’d left it in Nakuru, but they sang me a couple of Swahili numbers before the younger children went to bed after a glass of milk. I expected this to be chaos, but surprisingly they were heads down, lights out, without a peep. Mama and Aunty really had a good routine going, and the children clearly respected them. The two elder boys in the family stayed up to study for an extra couple of hours, so I stayed up with them to go through their home work. Both of them read to me in English, and we also looked at science and maths problems. It was interesting to see what they did in a good African school like theirs, and certainly beat helping with the washing up! 😉
The Good Life
Again the boys were polite and respectful, and further evidence of the type of the good work The Good Life is undertaking in Mtwapa. Started by an English couple from Bolton – Kevin and Mary McGuire – five years ago, the place has grown and from what I can gather they work tirelessly back in the UK, and on their regular visits to Kenya to keep the funds coming in, and improving the facility and the lives of the children. They also encourage local people to adopt, which means they can regularly take in new children from the community. Current plans are to build two more buildings, which would allow them to increase to 80 children. A worthwhile project indeed, so please take time to visit their website or ‘like’ their Facebook page. Every penny donated gets invested into the orphanage (including their huge in-house garden, and five cows which provide fresh food and milk for the whole orphanage all year round – a real money saver) and the children themselves.
I was off to Mombasa fairly early the next morning to catch my coach, but in Kenya the children start school early so this wasn’t a problem. I set a 5:45am alarm so I could be back over at the family house by 6:30 to help serve breakfast. They were all sat round the table in their lovely smart school uniforms when I arrived, and I had a small bowl of porridge, a glass of Kenyan tea (quite different to what we drink in the UK) and a piece of bread and jam, while sat with the children. They left for school soon before 7am, and I took a full family photo outside the house before they ran off (this and others will be posted on my Facebook page asap).
Although I’ve spent time at a number of orphanages over the last few weeks, and met some wonderful children with truly remarkable stories, this was normally only for a few hours, playing guitar or football. At The Good Life, I was made a part of a family, and even though it was for only 24 hours, it meant I developed more of a bond with them, and felt privileged to see the real characters within – complete with tears, laughs and cuddles. To tell the truth, I felt a real twinge of sadness as Roisin and the rest of them said goodbye and ran off to school, as I’ve no idea when I’ll see them again. I just hope I will.
How To Help the Good Life
This form of selfish sadness on my part is countered by the fact I know the children are well loved, and in a much better environment than the one they were found in by The Good Life (I heard some utter horror stories from some of the staff, which are all too common across Kenya). As a closing note, if you’re interested in doing some volunteer work, The Good Life are always looking for people to help out – preferably for a month at a time, rather than for 24 hours like me! I couldn’t recommend a more rewarding environment to work in though, so please check their website for details.
More soon x
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