Aboard the Ark.

Trip Start Oct 25, 2012
Trip End Nov 17, 2012

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Flag of Kenya  , Nairobi,
Monday, November 5, 2012

Today everyone was feeling mostly better, if a bit post viral, and so normal duties resumed and we went off to the Ark. I haven't written much about the Ark yet as its a complex place fraught with difficulties.

It is home to 10 children between 6 and 12, 4 girls and 6 boys. These were graduates of the baby home, who weren't adopted, or whose adoptions failed. The two with failed adoptions have fairly horrific stories, where one boy came back so badly beaten by his father that his face is still very scarred. The girl came back with hepatitis and no one knows exactly how but there were reports of her being taken to nightclubs in inappropriate dress. Aged 4. So she came back and no one knows exactly what went on. Seven of the children are HIV positive, which they are aware of (the shouts of "don't let her use my recorder, she's HIV/AIDS" through the house brought that home). At least two, possibly three, have ADHD, one has epilepsy, one is deaf and Aspergers.

The home is stark, to say the least, with very few toys or anything really, the piano is broken, the children don't have any space to call their own. There is a boys room and a girls room and a downstairs. There is a playroom but its mostly locked as the 'aunties' don't like them going in because they wreck it. Which they do because they have no real respect for the place. There is very little for them to do, no space to get away from the others. The 'aunties' aren't qualified, they mostly cook and clean and are authoritarian in approach.

The kids themselves, well, some are better than others. The ones with special needs are in no way adequately catered for, they need really quite intensive adult supervision. There's a girl with ADHD who the rest don't like, which isn't surprising as she is so full-on and in everyone's face the whole time that its exhausting. She's 10 now, has no real concept of personal space or boundaries, and if not taught and reinforced a lot, will be very vulnerable as she grows up. There's another child who gets very angry, and is sensitive to everyone getting at him. In truth they all wrestle and irritate each other but he takes it personally and explodes. But there is no space for him to get away. Some of them just want some time to read or play the piano undisturbed, some want their possessions not stolen all the time. Some want to go out on trips with an adult, some want to just have someone to cuddle and love them. None of this is really available.

I've been asked to have a look at the place and advise. Paul and I have done this today, and used the slightly sneaky method of getting them to reply to the letters that Ella's class did and do short videos of themselves talking about themselves in order to get some time chatting to them and exploring the dynamics and likes and dislikes. I suppose the difficulty is that these kids were never supposed to survive, they were all meant to be dead by now, but because of the advances in HIV/aids treatment, they have survived. And there is no long term plan, aim, ethos or vision that has been worked out for the place. They are better off materially than a lot of Kenyan kids, and because of this the general attitude has been one of, 'well, it will all just work out in the end.' But it won't, and they need properly trained staff who can deliver proper interventions, care plans and will key-work the children, or adolescence will be a complete disaster.

African orphanages don't have good outcomes, with children often ending up homeless or in terrible situations and although this one is better than most, it's still painfully inadequate. The ideal would be that the kids were adopted. However, that's not likely to happen now, although for many of them a lot of the difficulties would simply disappear if they did have stable, consistent family life. I'm not saying life in the UK children's home system is perfect, because it is not, but it is much better than this.

So, it's food for thought. Our kids loved being there but were completely exhausted by the experience. Isaac got to wrestle, play pretend shooting games and 'bombs' so was in seventh heaven, but even he got tired and wanted calm after a while.

To recover, and reward ourselves for making it to day 10, which is halfway, we went to the posh Italian and had pizza by firelight under the Nairobi night sky.

Elephant orphanage tomorrow. Hurrah!
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