Some good news out of Africa

In a country with 2.4 million orphans, it can seem like every story about a school, hospital or orphanage is one of struggle and hardship.

Nine-year-olds Nancy

Advocate reporter Paige Aarhus is in Africa with members of the Lacombe-based charity A Better World. She is filing stories about the people she meets and the issues they face. Today she visits the East Africa Mission Orphanage.

NAKURU — In a country with 2.4 million orphans, it can seem like every story about a school, hospital or orphanage is one of struggle and hardship.

The East Africa Mission Orphanage (EAMO) in Nakuru is a departure from those stories — at EAMO, staff use innovative methods to meet the needs of many without sacrificing quality or care in the process.

About 145 children are swarming into the EAMO chapel on a Saturday morning. The smallest doze on mats outside and the rest file inside, where founder Ralph Spinks delivers a sermon that includes prayers for visitors to the orphanage.

Spinks and his wife, May, figured out that the key to a successful orphanage is showing donors the work they do first-hand — a large empty field next to the chapel is reserved specifically for campers on Kenya’s Gecko tour group, many of whom take EAMO on as a project after visiting the children.

“We spent so many thousands of dollars touring around to promote the orphanage and raise money. It’s much easier to bring the people to us,” said Spinks after church.

He knows each child by name and every story. Some have been there only a year, others since the orphanage opened in 1998.

The kids at EAMO are well-dressed, well-behaved, and fluent in English and Swahili.

They attend school regularly, they eat three healthy meals a day and they stick to their chore schedules religiously.

The dorms are bright and spacious — every girl has a bright pink blanket on her well-made bed. Older children help the young ones, and keep them in line if necessary.

Staff also keep a tight lid on how many kids stay at EAMO at one time.

“It’s sad because so often we have to turn away so many kids. The hospital is calling us all the time. But if we bring too many in, the standards decline for everyone,” said Spinks.

The children are curious about their Western visitors and eager to talk about their favourite subjects, hobbies and plans for the future. Groups of children quietly surround each visitor at EAMO and lead them on the tour of the facilities, which includes a brand-new cafeteria and kitchen built by the Collicutt Centre, a garden with pineapples, tomatoes and lettuce and a large house that holds 12 infants and several nurses who provide round-the-clock care. No child is neglected at EAMO.

Eleven-year-old Veronica Nyambura has lived at EAMO for years. She said she meets visitors two or three times a month, and she’s always happy to talk with them.

“When they ask us what we do in school and what we are planning to do, it makes us want to try harder,” she said.

Nyambura knows she wants to be a nurse and she plans to stay in school until it happens.

“Education is the most important thing,” she said.

Spinks said he thinks he’s found a balanced way to ensure the kids get everything they need, and the donors know exactly what their money is paying for.

“It’s a good system we’ve got here and it’s a huge relief for us because we run entirely on donations. We have to thank God every day because we’re one of the lucky places,” he said.

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