Veronica has been our Director of Projects at St Peter’s Life-Line right from the early days, eight years ago, when we started working in the harsh, impoverished and marginalised part of Kenya – the County of Tharaka Nithi (formerly S Meru).
She sought an early meeting with us, when our only focus at that time was to throw a life-line to that small struggling primary school, in St Peter’s parish, Kajuki. It didn’t take long to convince us – although we knew we were taking a big leap into the dark – to help start and run a campaign to eliminate the foul scourge of FGM, so prevalent in this fiercely conservative tribal area (Meru tribe).
We did, and within this generation, FGM will be a thing of the past in this community. Since then we have also: set up a burgeoning micro finance and savings scheme for women (over 1300 members); giving over 1500 kids at primary schools a hot lunch to bring them into school every day; and, our latest and most daunting challenge, to seek out and care for the ‘hidden ones’, those many disabled children hidden away for being regarded as cursed by witchcraft. Our current venture is to look at the manufacture, with our disabled micro finance ladies, of sanitary towels at a very accessible price.
With all this going on we thought it high time to bring Veronica to England as our guest, not only to savour the delights of our country, but to tell our story, and thank our many supporters. In her words, “I am just a girl from a small remote village, who has never been out of Kenya, and never flown before – I am very excited by this chance!”
Hosting Veronica for her two and a half week visit was a joy, but seeing us through her eyes, and her reactions to all of what we take so much for granted, was a revelation.
Someone in Kenya told her that it was always hot in England in summer! Of course NOT! (excepting this very hot spell at the time of writing, which she just missed!), so the first thing we had to buy for her was a padded jacket, which on a cool day just about sufficed!
She never got used to the very long evenings and gradual sunsets (which as we know comes down like a curtain regularly at 6.30pm in Kenya), or daylight beginning to show, and birds singing at 4am.
The first time we said “time for supper” (at 8pm) she looked most surprised, and exclaimed, “But it can’t be, it’s still light!”
A visit to the supermarket was a revelation, not only as to how much and what was available, but particularly the roses flown in from Kenya, and the Pet Food aisle was a particular fascination. “You mean all this is to feed cats and dogs!?”
The concept of keeping pets is not a Kenyan one, let alone spending a fortune feeding them, let alone expending all that energy taking them for a walk. Similarly, when seeing the many cyclists out for pleasure, her reaction was, “We only cycle or walk when we need to get from A to B for a set purpose.” As for the section devoted to cat litter – say no more!
She was fascinated by the time, effort and love that my wife put into our garden, tending her flowers and shrubs (“that can’t be eaten”) and space taken by our lawn that “could be used for growing maize”. When the sprinkler came on to water the flower beds, she was appalled to realise that this was perfectly drinkable water (having just got used to the concept of drinking water straight from the tap).
And as for flushing our loos with same – WOW! One of the most hilarious exchanges was the road works’ sign “Cats Eyes Removed”.
Can you imagine her horrified questions? After which, “What do you call them in Kenya?”. “Reflectors.” “Boring”, I said. More gales of laughter.
She of course loved talking to people, particularly the kids – visiting a few of our primary schools – “so well resourced!” and interacting with pupils.
She was also enthusiastically taught by Year 6s at the Primary school in my village twinned with St Peter’s – a few ‘flossing’ moves, which will no doubt start at St Peter’s and go viral in Kenya!
Asked how she would sum up, she responded, “The country side is sooo green, it is all sooo quiet and clean, even London, as where I now live, there is constant noise of pikki pikkis. I am amazed at how the rules of the road are obeyed, and also, above all, how courteous everyone is to each other.”
All her remarks were of course made in a completely non-judgmental manner, all completely spontaneous, all spot on! She has now returned to that country we all love, probably wondering whether it was all some extravagant dream, but no doubt inspired to get back to grips with the many needs of her community – so contrasting in many ways to our hedonistic and taken-for-granted ways of life. One of her lasting legacies left with us – my wife can now make delicious chapattis!