There are lots of charity organizations putting their stakes on Africans. Africa has for the past decade and beyond, enjoyed enormous benefits from funding agencies like the USAID, UNICEF, UN, and so on. The Ray of Thought (ROT) platform did dare to investigate into why individuals would put their entire lives into helping Africans, even as foreigners.
ROT came across SANDY WALKER, an Australian woman, who left her country to a land she only gets to read on papers, see on TV, or hear mutedly in Australian corners. Today, Sandy has moved from just looking at Africans on TV, to actually working, sponsoring some through the Blessed Children’s Hope Foundation in Kenya, and loving them, regardless of her personal experiences. In this interview, David Francis, himself a writer, and an author with the Ray of Thought dare to bring to us this amazing personality. We hope you get inspired as you read her story, especially in our collective desires to better humanity – far and near!
ROT: Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sandy Walker. I am woman from Australia, who is 52 years into my life’s journey. I am the second eldest of 11 children and grew up on a farm, without a lot of money. I have a deep love for humanity. I am married to my best friend, Gary, whom I met at age 17. We have four children, three sons and a daughter who have just recently become independent of us and are living their own lives.
We are still a very close family and enjoy each other’s company. I work in the Student Services area of our local high school which has a population of around 1000 students. I have a lot of interaction with students and their wellbeing is a high priority of mine. I treat them with love and compassion and they respond by respecting me, even loving me in return.
ROT: What was your first connection with Africa?
When I was a child I saw advertisements by World Vision portraying starving African children. This pulled hard on my heart but I felt so helpless because I couldn’t do anything to help. We didn’t have a lot ourselves. My father explained that there were corrupt people in the world and how the donations of good-hearted people often did not reach their intended beneficiaries. All my life I have been drawn to the African culture. I love the vibrant colour of traditional clothing worn and I love the drumming and dancing. I love the sense of family I see displayed.
In 2008 I was watching the TV and I saw Emmanuel Jal, an ex-Sudanese child soldier, singing a song at the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Concert in Hyde Park, London. Emmanuel sang a song called “Emma,” as a tribute to Emma McCune, a British Aid Worker, who rescued him from that life. That impacted me deeply and really made me much more aware of life in Africa. It also showed me how it just takes one person to make a difference in the life of another. In 2015, I received a random friend request from an Ethiopian man who was looking for a sponsor to help fund him do a University degree so he could get a better paying job to put his own children through the University eventually. After getting to know him I decided to help. This was my first real live dealing with Africa. I had to learn how to transfer money from country to country.
ROT: What prompted you to travel to Kenya?
The main reason I wanted to visit Kenya was to meet the two boys that I had begun sponsoring. I wanted them to know that there was someone in the world who loved them and cared about their wellbeing. I wanted to be able to transfer that to them through a hug … or many hugs. The second reason I wanted to visit was to meet Andrew, the Founder and Director of the Blessed Children’s Hope Foundation.
He and I had been working together on a Chicken Coop project and communicating regularly about this, the foundation, and our two boys. I wanted to see the school and all of his work firsthand. I wanted to be able to have credibility when promoting his good work to others and hopefully encourage them to be a part of the work of the foundation which was created to bring about change for the community. I had never been to the continent of Africa and this would be a wonderful opportunity to make my inaugural trip.
ROT: How did your experience of visiting Africa shape your understanding of Africa and Africans?
Visiting the continent of Africa opened my eyes incredibly with regard to understanding Africans. My very first experience was being ripped off by customs officers at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. I explained very clearly that we were just passing through the airport to make a connecting flight to Nairobi. We had missed the sign to show us where we were meant to go to transition through the airport so were depending on help from airport staff. I asked for directions and was sent through the customs process where I was charged $100 US for a visa.
We had to collect our four suitcases, which were meant to have gone directly through to our next flight, leave the airport and come back in another entrance to check in again. Nobody was too interested in helping. Staff stood around chatting to each other but seemed indifferent to our plight. One lovely, older man came to our assistance. He restored our faith in people and we remunerated him to say thank you.
ROT: What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship, and supporting young (African) people?
I was raised being taught that working for yourself was the only capable way to live. However, to me I saw that when my father did that it rendered us, his family, vulnerable and troubled about how we would survive financially. The concept made a lot of sense but living his version of that reality really sucked. So I left school, started working in a secure government job and have enjoyed the certainty of a regular income ever since. When I became involved with my Kenyan and Nigerian friends, I came to realize that job security is non-existent in these countries. The way to survival was to “hustle” for a living.
You could specialise or have multiple hustles that kept you fed. I was in awe of how quick young people could turn their hand to numerous different schemes to make money. They were busy in online groups picking the brains of those who were also successful in an endeavour. They know that there is no sense in trying to reinvent the wheel. I was so impressed by the amount of workshops, both physical and online for anyone with the desire to improve their skills. From past experiences I’ve learn that, “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you will feed him for a lifetime.” I’ve added to that … “If you teach a man to teach other men how to fish, you create a village of empowered fishermen.” I have networked with people all over Nigeria and I enjoy connecting people with good training opportunities provided by others that I know. I sometimes even sponsor people’s registration costs for seminars or workshops when I know that their funds are short but their enthusiasm is high. I also encourage them to pay that kindness forward to someone else along their way.
ROT: Please tell us about the BCHF (Blessed Children’s Hope Foundation).
In March 2015 I received a random Facebook friend request from Andrew Maina from Kenya. Andrew is the Director of an NGO (Non-Government Organisation) called Blessed Children’s Hope Foundation. I thoroughly scrutinised his Facebook page and saw that we were interested in the same thing – the empowerment of those not as fortunate as ourselves. At this point in time I was still putting my Ethiopian friend through university and I had begun hoping an orphanage in Uganda.
Andrew had a Chicken Coop Project that he was working on at that time. As soon as he started talking about the money he needed I felt myself wanting to help. After a month or two of knowing Andrew I found out that the people from the orphanage in Uganda were not necessarily to be trusted. I learned this through another Australian girl who had become very involved with them, had organised lots of sponsors for children, had fundraised a large sum of money and went to Uganda to administer it. As fate would have it, she had also visited Andrew in Kenya when she left Uganda feeling quite disenchanted.
I was receiving money from others here in Australia to support the Ugandan project so I felt very strongly about making sure the money was not misappropriated. The Ugandans (3) were combing through my friendship list and trying to get more people to donate. I very publicly declared my disassociation from them and warned my friends to be careful. I then blocked them.
I stated that, even though I had been duped I was not going to judge all Africans that standard.
Afrashaw (Ethiopian) had warned me about people using children to make people’s hearts vulnerable to take their money. He was right. I moved the financial support to BCHF, after losing one or two supporters. Now I was able to help with the Chicken Coop Project. Andrew is always transparent. He tells you exactly what is needed for a project and what it will cost. After he purchases materials he shares photos. Slowly but surely, with the help of others, the chicken coop was completed. It houses their cow and goats in the bottom at night and the chickens live up top.
Andrew doesn’t run an orphanage but does have some orphans in his care. At the time I met him he was taking care of 4 girls and 2 boys. When Andrew needed a sponsor for Mikel I decided that I could scratch up the money to enable me to send $50 US per month to help him. We built more temporary classrooms and our student numbers swelled. Andrew cannot say no to anyone in need of help. The land that the school is on is on the boundary between the Kisii tribe and the Luo tribe. Andrew envisaged the school being for Kisii kids but then when Luo people approached him he couldn’t refuse their need for assistance too.
Our school has children from both tribes and we also hire teachers from both tribes to teach them. Breaking down the walls of tribalism is just another thing Andrew does because of his heart. We had to hire more teachers to cater for more students. That was a challenge to have money to pay them. Andrew even went to Nairobi (6 hours away) looking for work so he could earn money to pay them. He wasn’t successful and was to return home to tell them there was no money to pay them. I could feel his heart breaking and I knew the teachers needed their wages.
They were already being paid only token and volunteering lots of their time. When I thought about paying the teachers half and asking them to be patient while we found more money, it did not sit right with me. They had put in their month at work and they were counting on their full (albeit meagre) pay. I decided that I would take the additional money needed from our family’s grocery budget for the fortnight and tell them we would be making a small sacrifice for the good of others. My family was supportive of this. So I removed a huge burden from Andrew’s heart that month and I could feel the relief in him.
However I knew that the next month would see us in the same position. That is when I knew that I needed to make a commitment to seeing that we always had money available to pay wages on time. The teachers and the cook were being paid but Andrew was not. I explained that as the head of the organisation he needed to value himself too and from the next month onwards he also received the amount that the teachers received. I know that he uses it to do things for the school or children but it is his to use as he wishes. I am reasonably sure this started in about May 2016. They received $50 USD per month. We also provide them with breakfast and a cooked lunch and allow those with children to bring them to our school for an education.
In 2018 I increased their pay to $60 per month and in 2019 I took it to $70 per month. We also began paying staff every fortnight rather than waiting a month. Andrew also implemented a Table Banking initiative where they all bank some money each pay and are able to borrow if they have pressing financial needs. The staff administers these funds in a weekly meeting where everything is transparent. We now have 10 teachers, 1 cook and 1 director. You can find out more on our website: http://www.bchfteam.org. We’ve also got a Medical Centre almost completed. This has been funded by an amazing team from the UK. It will be staffed by volunteers and its aim is to provide affordable healthcare to members of the local community (both tribes). Andrew had a vision when I first met him of building a Mission House which had a western design. This would provide visitors / volunteers with the comforts of home that they don’t wish to sacrifice when visiting Africa. These include indoor flushing toilet and hot shower as well as a gas cooker.
We’ve been building this house in stages and it is also nearing completion. When it’s finished, it will be home to Andrew, Becky and their sons as well as the orphans in their care. It will have a spare room for accommodating guests.
ROT: How responsive is the Kenyan government in issues of education, and in helping BCHF?
Basically the Kenyan government seems to follow after the model of most African governments and is self-serving and full of corruption. It was always our aim to register our school but the $700 cost put us off doing it. That was until the Education Office came along and said “register it or close down!” We had to pay for an assessment to be done of our facilities and then for the report to be written. We had to build a separate toilet block for the boys, girls and staff.
We had to cap the number of students that were allowed to attend in accordance with the size of our land. They insisted that all of our children are registered on a national database so that their academic progress could be tracked. We needed every child’s birth certificate for this process and trust me that is not an easily accessible document when you are dealing with orphaned and disadvantaged children/families. To date we still have not been given our school’s Certificate of Registration despite multiple trips to the Education Office. It seems like something they just cannot stand to give us.
One beneficial thing the government did was to run electricity to the school boundary. It was our responsibility to run it within the school grounds. We were told that we were no longer allowed to grow maize on our land as this decreased the amount of available space for children to run around. In Australia government grants are given to private schools to help them run. This is the government acknowledging the role of the school in lightening the government’s load in providing education to ALL kids in the state. Oh, how I wish the Kenyan government would follow this thought process too.
ROT: On behalf of the Ray of Thought team, we really appreciate the time, efforts, and honesty granted us at this interview Sandy. Any last words?
We are more alike than we are different. My purpose is to love, empower and inspire others so that they can be the best that they wish to be. If only I can share the pearls of wisdom that I’ve found along the way through my life.
Sandy Walker can be reached via email: email@example.com