On return to Cornwall, they set up and registered the charity Aid 4 Orphans, which has developed to support an increasing number of children with previously desperate lives as well as the wider community of Likoni, a slum area where sickness and destitution are rife. (visit http://www.aid4orphans.com)
Last summer my daughter Fenna, then aged 18, and pictured below, volunteered at Kernow House, the hub of Aid 4 Orphans and home to 23 children and staff. She too returned changed; awe-struck by the difference between English and Kenyan lifestyles, the poverty she witnessed, and also the wealth of gratitude, faith and generosity naturally displayed by people who had so little in material terms.
Many a time in the past I have listened to accounts of "the starving millions" on the other side of the world; of filthy water and children dying of malaria, and sometimes I've wept transitory tears. Often I've thrown a few pounds into a collection box, and then, inevitably, I've got on with my day.
Now, suddenly, I was weeping tears for real people, feeling my heart open to include forgotten members of the human family we are so quick to separate ourselves from in our busy, hectic, important and complacent lives. At the same time, my soul sang with a deep and grateful respect for the vibrancy and creativity and love my daughter found herself surrounded by and gathered into, in spite of the challenges, and it ached a little for the relative lack of these in our land of material plenty.
Fenna picked the child up and carried him to the nearest hospital. He was a heavy weight, semi-conscious, hot and still convulsing. She stayed with him while he was given injections, delivered brutally by our cossetted standards (the hospital, though private, lacked both hygiene and modern equipment). When his treatment was finished, she paid the bill out of her spending money. It cost her £10.
Bobbie's condition improved immediately, and that afternoon, back on his classroom mat, he was sitting up, fully conscious, ready to be collected by his parents.
Months later my mind and my heart still hold the image of my child carrying another mother's child to hospital to save his life. I cannot shake the thought that it is only due to circumstances of birth - mine and Fenna's taking place in England, Bobbie's and his mother's in Kenya - that it was not the other way around. I could just as easily have been the grieving mother who had lost one child and was about to lose another to the same disease, due to inescapable poverty. Another mother's child could have been carrying mine to salvation - or not.
How many mothers, who love their children no less than I love mine, and Bobbie's mother loves hers, and you love yours, are devastated every day by that most dread-full of events, the loss of a child? How many children lose siblings, and their own precious lives, every day, all for the sake of TEN POUNDS?
While Fenna was in Kenya I stayed in London with her older sister. The day after I received Fenna's text about Bobbie, I found myself wandering along the main street in wealthy Islington, looking in shop windows, and marveling at what I found there. Ornaments and gifts and knick-knacks competing for the attention of shoppers who have so much more than they need, but still like to shop. The juxtapositioning of where Fenna was and where I was, on that same day, on this same planet, and the difference in priorities, hit me like a shock wave.
Here are some of the things an Islington shopper could buy for roughly the price of an African child's life:
An ornament of the queen, waving an animated hand.
Post-it notes that look like a slice of toast.
A pan-scouring brush with a novelty handle.
An apron featuring a hunky male or curvy female body.
A comical mug.
I promised myself that day last summer that from now on I would try to remember, if tempted to buy something trivial and of no exceptional use, to turn away and donate the money instead. It might just save someone's life, and what could be a more gratifyingly perfect gift than that?
If you would like to donate to Aid 4 Orphans, visit http://www.justgiving.com/aid4orphans