Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bliss Women and Children Project

Well, now that I have finally made it to Bliss it is so great to be here! Esther who started and runs the programme is a lovely lady with a very strong faith, but she is tired as well, and is looking for ways to get the programme self-sustainable. At the moment, she is pouring everything she has into it, to the point where she can barely pay her own rent at times, and what she can achieve is limited by her own financial situation.

The Bliss Nursery School is so impressive. They have 32 children (soooooo cute!) receiving education from 2 years - 7 to prepare them to enter Primary School through the public school system, or if "Mama Esther" can afford it, the high performers go to private school which is a higher standard of education. But for them to go to even public school they must have a uniform, bag, books and a chair, and they must have an interview to determine if they are ready. Nursery education is so important in this system because if children in Kenya get to 7 years old and are not ready for Primary School, it is nearly impossible to catch up and they are generally left behind without any education at all.

Kaptembwo, the area where the project is, is very very poor. There is rubbish everywhere, plus pigs, goats and chickens. No drainage (so it STINKS) and the roading is not maintained. All of the children in the programme are orphans or from very poor single parent families. As the teachers were pointing out the children to me who had lost their parents and telling me when and how, I couldn't help but cry for them. They look at you with their huge innocent eyes and they are so hard working, quiet and well behaved in school. The children's families approach Bliss and either Esther or the teachers visit the family to check that their situation is as bad as they say, and the most needy are selected to attend the school - numbers are dependent on money available (At one point Esther had 80 children).
For these kids, if they were not at the Bliss programme, they would have no hope of an education. Esther ends up taking them to hospital and getting them medication when they need it too because their families often cannot.

They also get fed at school - a cup of millet & wheat porridge in the morning (like glue mixture with dirt and sawdust but tastes good with milk and sugar), and lunch of something like beans and rice. The don't get a lot of protien, never meat as it is too expensive and beans about twice per week. On the other days it is just carbohydrates. They always pray before eating (see very cute photo!). Esther told me that for some of the kids, that is often the only food they get - nothing at all from home.

The kids have a sleep in the afternoon, which is essential (as all you parents will
know!) since they are at school from 7am - 5pm. I was horrified to hear that when it is time to sleep, they are told "Sleep" and they put their little heads down on their hard desks and sleep there for half an hour to an hour! And they actually do as they are told!! Can you imagine?! So top of the shopping list for the donations went mattresses! They now get to lie down to sleep and be comfortable.

Esther pays a cook and two fully qualified teachers very meagre wages and they are considered to be essentially volunteers. They told me they are very happy working there. From what I saw, they are doing an amazing and professional job and they work very hard. The first day I was there I asked them and Esther what their most urgent need was, they said the latest official curriculum books plus some chalk and pencils - how are they supposed to prepare kids for primary school without that?! That was the first day I was there and we went the same day to get the books. It turned out Esther had been stressing about how she was going to afford them and she was so grateful - I thought it was going to be workbooks for all the children, but they were reference books for the teachers - a small bag of supplies and the total amount was NZD $40. The teachers were so grateful and they clutched the books like they were gold and both gave me a long hug. We also bought some treats for the children - white bread, lollipops and juice.

Bliss also supports women living with HIV by providing a sort of support community for them, arranging access to relevant health information (including arranging lectures from professionals), and coordinating meetings with government health providers who visit to give free medicine which can prolong their lives. The women have some initiatives like basket-making from plastic tape originally used to tie down cargo on trucks, and other hand crafts which they sell. This does not make money for Bliss though, Bliss just provides the community and sometimes helps to source the materials.

The main work of Bliss Women until now has been micro-finance. Esther has been using her own money to finance women into business to get them out of poverty. For some, it was very successful and I met a few of them with small shops as we walked around Kaptembwo, wonderful success stories. BUT, Esther was at her wits end when I arrived because so many of the ladies had either not used the money wisely because their immediate needs would take over, or had not even paid it back and had taken off. It was also causing a lot of animosity among the ladies, which was not very conducive to a supportive environment!! So she has decided to stop this for now and focus on providing other support and possibly some jobs for the ladies through projects run within Bliss which will also generate income.

It seems that some of the projects Esther has started in the past which were intended to bring in money have not had the effect of supporting the individuals as well as the project, as people have taken advantage of them. She has a beautiful attitude, and does not blame those who cheat the programme, she just says "they are poor, and for them they see money and their needs take over". For example, they were baking cakes then selling them at market but the arrangement to split profits between Bliss (who was providing the oven) and the sellers did not always come to pass, which is sad and demoralising for her. She has learnt a lot from this and we are working together to come up with projects that can get around the problems she has had in the past.

So in short, I'm so impressed with the work I see being done, and Esther's vision and passion for it. I really think it is a project worthy of support so I will be working with Esther to work out the best way to spend the donations I'm bringing. Esther is so grateful. She said she had considered closing the programme down a number of times because things had seemed too hard. But something always seemed to come through at the right time and this was another example.

Coming soon: more on what the donations are going to be used for as this develops...
xoxoxoxoxox Love to everyone.

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