Lucy On The Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lucy On The Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by Lucy, HHFL’s Program Manager

2020 started like any other year with so much anticipation. All the kids had gone back to school and all was well!

We had started preparing for our usual program for April holiday and BOOM! COVID-19 arrived and we went into lockdown for 21 days and schools closed overnight to help curb the spread.

It was something that I had never experienced before in my life and it came as a shock. I had no idea what to do and how to handle all the HHFL kids around. Luckily, Mama Hanne was just a phone call away but it was still challenging because she couldn’t be on the ground in the slum with me.

We were forced to close the project temporarily and kids went back to live with their guardians or relatives. Many went to the countryside. This was something strange to them because most HHFL kids think of our project as their home.

I had to be the eyes and ears of our founder, Hanne, so I had to be alert all the time. The pressure to keep everyone safe was really high. Isaiah and I implemented a system that benefited all the kids, even if they were far away. We got some help from the teachers too.

Alexandra helped initiate calls for emergency donations and it saved us.  We tried our best to ensure everyone was well taken care of but I was always feeling stressed as there was never a moment’s peace.

For example, one of our girls, Philomena, was in a bad corner with her landlord threatening to evict her with her mum and two kids. We stepped in to help pay her rent.

Faith also became very ill. We suspected COVID-19 and treated it with a high degree of seriousness in an isolation room that we rented.  I worked together with Mama Hanne from a distance and she guided me on how to handle every situation.

Faith was also on the verge of being evicted but thanks to the emergency funds we were able to pay her rent and food. We can proudly say that we took care of her until she secured herself with a well paying job this summer. 

Gabriel was also one of HHFL’s Alumni who was on the verge of being evicted with his mum. We paid their rent and now Gabriel is working again.  We are still keeping a close watch on all the children including our alumni because a number of them were laid off as some companies closed down.

The slum was not a safe place either because most of the people were left without jobs too so the crime rate and violence was extremely high.

On top of taking care of the HHFL kids and families, I had to keep close watch on my own situation and two children because I live in the slum.

I can recall many incidents including witnessing being beaten by police for being out past the curfew and being burned for petty thefts to help put food on the table. I can’t even describe how scary this is.

On one occasion, my neighbour was outside taking her clothes from the hanging line past the curfew and the police saw her. She ran in the house but the police came straight to her house and forced themselves inside. Alongside her kid, they were beaten and then rushed to hospital. They are OK now but it was truly terrifying to hear it happening beside my own home.

I became very ill myself during June/July with all the symptoms of COVID- 19. I had shortness of breath, a bad cough,  loss of taste and wheezing.  I went to the hospital and I was told I had pneumonia. Mama Hanne took good care of me and I went into isolation to recover. Cheryl, my friend was also checking in on me. I am blessed to have such caring people in my life.

So much has happened I can’t tell it all. But I thank God every day that we are strong, brave and adapting to the new normal.

I thank everyone for continuing to support our work

John Pursues Cisty Media Start-Up

John Pursues Cisty Media Start-Up

Written by Isaiah K, HHFL’s IT & Communications admin

When I met John for the 1st time in 2012, I saw him as a calm and collected boy. His personality remains more the same. A man of few words, but very focused and attentive to detail. There is an aura around him that just makes him who he is. At that time I was trying to familiarize myself with the entire HHFL folks, both the staff and the many kids in the yard at that time. I was a youngster back then, and perhaps by default the teenagers would treat me like one of them. For the kids, I needed to get to know what each one likes, their life preferences and so on.

John was then at the tail-end of his secondary school, and usually, it is a tough age group to deal with such teens. He however was among the coolest youngsters who would willingly take part in whatever manner of team activities we ran in the compound.

His favourite spot was the art and crafts room, where he even spent time training the little ones on how to handle the paint brushes, water colours, e.t.c.

To this date, even as the mature man that he has turned out to be, he still addresses me as Teacher Isaiah, when most of his age-mates elsewhere would have simply called me by my 1st name. He is generally courteous to everyone, and I would bet without a doubt that he never picked a fight with anyone – not in the yard or his slum neighbourhood.

Over time, we have kept tabs even after he went out to college to study Graphic design and carried on with his passion for art. It has been a pleasure to get updates from him anytime he has art exhibitions and any steps he makes on the rest of his busy life. There is a time Alexandra, Lucy and I visited him and his art colleagues during an exhibition at the Karen Village and it remains a memorable meet-up.

One of his art pieces on display at the Oneoff Gallery

He currently runs a little studio that he rents from a friend whenever there is need. The rest of his unsold artwork is kept safe in his house.

Other than art exhibitions, John also makes and sells ice cream, a side-hustle that earns him some income and also allows him to hire some youths from the slum to assist with the selling.

“Since 2015,” says John, “I have been doing photography as a hobby. Then around 2017, I taught myself some videography and video editing. In 2018, I began a start-up, Cisty Media. This was intended to offer media and design services. It is a slow and learning process, but I am glad for the small steps so far.”

“I hope to grow the startup into an established media house,” adds John. “Besides, I am still doing art and this year I have been featured in 2 exhibitions”

John’s nomination poster for Sondeka Awards

Fast-forward to earlier this week. We have been trying to piece up together a short Christmas greeting video with the kids, and our shots were just not coming out right. The 3 min video end product had lots of pieces to be woven together.

We approached John and requested him to come to our rescue and within a few minutes of our Thursday morning, he had collected all the footage he needed to come out with the Youtube Video we are sharing with all our donors and friends of Hanne Howard Fund. It gives me and the entire HHFL a lot of pride in seeing the young men and women who have grown up in our hands are now mature responsible adults like John, that we even can rely on in the carrying on of our mission.

Art Pays – Turning Creative Passion Into Business

Art Pays – Turning Creative Passion Into Business

Written by Paul Sane Wanjiku, HHFL Alumnus

I have been very passionate in anything involving art and crafts. For a while since my high school days at HHFL, I have been thinking of creative ways to use art and also make money out of my creativity. The skills I gained in the HHFL art and crafts class is what I have been building on.

Around March this year, I made a big step to start a shoe decoration hustle. I started by painting 20 pairs of shoes for a friend who owns a shop in the slum. To start my own business, I needed a spray machine, brushes, paints of different colours, masking tapes and some capital to by the shoes. I used the income from the job to buy my own 1st pairs and resell them after painting.

Some time before COVID came, I was involved with stage decoration for a cinema group and the savings I had made out of this job enabled me to purchase a painting machine. I use this machine to modify the shoes to an appealing new look so as to attract customers.

Most of my clients come through social media and a few from my neighborhood. I paint mobile phone covers, shoes, motorbikes bodies and many others. On average, I buy 20 pairs of shoes and sell them within 3 weeks.

For motorbikes and some shoes, depending on the details needed, I use the spray machine. For canvas shoes I use fabric paints and a variety of brushes of different sizes.

It gives me a great satisfaction seeing that the things we would take lightly while being taught at HHFL are very practical in real life, and I encourage my young friends at HHFL to make use of every opportunity given to them.

Over the Tides and Ebbs – Faith’s Journey of Resilience

Over the Tides and Ebbs – Faith’s Journey of Resilience

Written by Faith Wanja – HHFL’s Alumnus

My name is Faith Wanja, a mother of two boys – Denzel and Bogdan. My journey with HHFL has been full of surprises and I am grateful for each step of the way when I look back at the far I have come.

After losing my sales job at Mkopa solar, I have been on a job hunt for the last three years with no success though I never gave up on searching for opportunities. For a while now, I have been surviving on casual jobs such as being a caddy at Karen country club and doing laundry for people so that I can be able to feed, cloth and shelter my kids.

I talked with friends in my network so that they can alert me on any upcoming vacancies. HHFL has been with me all this difficult time and even now they are with me to know my work progress. The Covid19 pandemic found me in my jobless state, and I fell sick with pneumonia. HHFL was around me making sure that I never lack and that the kids are well. I went through the treatment and I am grateful to Mama Hanne, Baba Ted, Lucy and Tr. Isaiah for always being there with me and checking out on me.

Luck came my way through a friend of mine. He owns a company that deals with cooking gas cylinders in Kenya. They had a job opportunity for customer care representatives so when I crossed his mind he sent me the link and advised to apply even though it was way past the company deadline. He scheduled for me me an interview, which I attended with no delay for the hunger that I had to nail the job. I got to the interview room and did my best to sell myself and showcase what I posses relating to customer service. As it happens with the end of many other interviews, I was informed to wait for a call me to confirm if I had qualified.

It was on a Monday 26th of October when I received a call from the company requesting me to report to work soonest possible. That is how I got myself into this new phase of my life.

I am now am working with a busy domestic cooking gas distributor and my roll is receiving inbound, making outbound and placing order for the retailers. I am on my 3 months probation and I will be signing my contract by January 2021.

My eldest son Denzel is back in school. He is in grade 4 waiting to do his national exam and I am grateful to HHFL for supporting me with his schooling.  As for Bogdan I have a sister who came to the rescue since I was struggling to find someone who would baby sit him, she came in and now she stays with him till in the evening until Denzel comes from school. She also helps Denzel with schoolwork and cooks for the kids before she leaves.

For the next 6 months I hope that I will have grown and become a leader or a supervisor in my team. I have always believed I was born with these qualities.

Cedric Pursues Higher Learning at AMREF International University

Cedric Pursues Higher Learning at AMREF International University

Written by Cedric Odendo – HHFL Alumnus

I am always very grateful for the love, support and the good morals that HHFL instilled in me. At the center, I learned about responsibility very early in life. Through the exposure given at HHFL, I got the tools to be self-sufficient, intelligent and responsible.

With all the life values obtained, I can confidently feel that I have become a role model to many of the young brothers and sisters in the project, and everyday I am working hard to be at my best, knowing at the back of my mind about the many people that look up to me. From time to time, I spare time to speak to the children. They are very curious to know what I am doing, and perhaps be inspired into nursing and medicine. I remember during one of the sessions, the younger ones were amazed to hear about cornea harvesting as one of the things we were doing at Lions First Eye Hospital. A story about one of my visits is here on this Link. This has been my second job since I came out of nursing school, with the first one having been in an orthopedic hospital at Athi River, a town located to the East of Nairobi.

This year, in spite of the Covid-19 economic ramifications, I have enrolled for a higher diploma in critical care nursing. I am a student at AMREF International University. I have always had this dream of rising higher in my studies since I finished my basic nursing course in 2017. All along, I kept it a secret and a promise to myself that I would make savings and get myself into a university. I am happy that I have been honest to myself and lived to see this dream finally materializing.

Classes have been held virtually for a big part of the year because of corona. I was faced with a challenge of attending online classes, as I did not have a laptop. HHFL was very kind to me by issuing me with a nice laptop that is my study room for now.

With this course added to my CV, I will be more qualified and marketable locally and internationally – which is my ultimate goal.

I am very grateful to everyone who has stood with me and walked the steps of life with me. This includes Hanne Howard Fund and their donor base, especially The First Group from UAE. You are the wings that carried me high before I could fly myself, and for supporting many others who are in need I pray that God may bless you.

Still aiming for the Sun, I just landed on the Moon

Still aiming for the Sun, I just landed on the Moon

Written by Isaiah Kirieri, HHFL IT & Communications Admin

A couple of weeks ago, we shared a spotlight on the milestones of one Hillary Kiendi, a Hanne Howard Fund Lenana alumni that found his footing in the aeronautical engineering field. You can refer to the post on this hyperlink here. Hillary is one among the three alumni who chose planes as their passion. Other than him, we have Samuel Kinyanjui and Gabriel Lando. Samuel happens to have secured a permanent job at Tropic Air in Nanyuki and played big-brother role in guiding Hillary during his internship at the same establishment.

I am here to share another update about Gabriel. We do occasional follow-ups with our children when they graduate out of tertiary or vocational institutions. It was during one of these encounters that I felt the need to share this. Gabriel completed his 3yr diploma in aeronautical engineering at the same time with Samuel, and each having their destiny shaped individually, the two parted ways (career-wise) in some way when Samuel got employed.This year, however, Gabriel began on a good footing. He proudly tells me how he came across a career opportunity for cabin crew in the Daily Nation, one of the local newsprint in January 2020.

Very few people take newspaper job adverts seriously, but Gabby had his eyes up when this came. He presented his papers, was invited for an interview and made it through with another 7 new staff to be inducted at Reliance Air Charters. They together undertook a 1 ½ month training at Reliance. He is on a 2 year contract as cabin staff and likes the experience here. Gabriel is keen to note that the credentials he holds with his diploma is what gave him the cutting edge, and as he says, it is just the first step on his ladder to success.

Reliance Air Charters is a medium size flight entity that offers 5star private jet services, and Gabriel feels proud to be associated with them.

He has a humble start. He got absorbed without a visa, which meant he could not be assigned for cross-border flights. He however used his 1st month pay to secure his visa which came out a few weeks just before all flights were grounded due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is very excited to fly, and he can not wait to set foot in other countries. The Covid-19 situation has hit the aviation industry hard, and he tells me that the 8 of them that got absorbed at the same time are surviving through the pandemic with about 60% pay-cut. He hopes that this conundrum ends soon so he can continue exploring the heights

Gabriel stays with his mum. His sister is married, and to ensure that his mum observes proper diet and regularly takes her medication, Gabriel sticks close. He is using his pay to cover their household needs and support his mum in all the ways he can.

This is one out of about 100 alumni that we are proud of having walked with through school and life for the last 15yrs.

Mama Said

Mama Said

Written by Ted Horton, BOD chairperson(HHF Canada)

If you are my age (give or take 10 years) you may remember the female pop group the “Shirelles” from the early 60s and their hit tunes (“Mama Said”; “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”; “Dedicated to the One I Love”).

“Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this Mama said–Mama said, Mama said”

Yesterday, as I listened to Hillary talk with us about his days at HHFL and about what “Mama” (aka Mama Hanna) said, and the difference she made in his life, that tune played in my head.  Funny what words can trigger.  

When Hillary joined HHFL in 2009, he was 14 years old. A brash kid who had been born in Kibera and who had already seen a lot. Most of you have seen Kibera from the road or in flight but I suspect not that many of you have ever ventured into it. For those who don’t know it, Kibera is a 2.5 square km slum (one of the largest in Africa) with over 1 million inhabitants. It snakes along a valley near downtown Nairobi, and it has venomous side to it.

In 2009 Kibera was a flash point in the post -election violence (when Odinga lost to Kenyatta). Hilary’s dad was killed. His mum’s kiosk was burned down and they and many others fled for their lives.  

But that was “yester -year”. Yesterday Hillary was beaming from ear to ear as he came to greet us at the airstrip. He wanted Mama Hanna and I to be amongst the first to know. He had just been hired as a full -time employee by Tropic Air.

How and why he got to this day is a story worth recalling.

It was evident to us from the outset in 2009 that he the “smarts” (and he knew it). His brashness/sense of self- importance needed some serious work (and we knew it). His good grades got him invited to a prestigious National high School (Upper Hill). Unfortunately, perhaps, he got expelled in Form 2 when he used his fists on 2-3 “rich” classmates who taunted him (as a “slum kid”). He disappeared and spent the balance of that year in hiding. He admitted yesterday that he was hiding from Mama Hanna because he knew that she would not have been pleased with him and how he “handled” the situation.

While he could run he could not hide indefinitely from Mama. Fortunately for him, Mama Hanna eventually found him (she wasn’t about to see him waste away in a slum) and she put him back in high school (Kikuyu) where his brains, despite never finishing Form 2, got him into Form 3. Hillary finished high school and with HHFL’s financial support completed a 3- year diploma at Nairobi Aviation College in Aeronautical Engineering.

Yesterday, Hilary called Mama Hanna a “genius who saved his life, not once but twice”; when she got him back into High School and showed him tough love in the process, and when he lapsed back into the slum. In the latter case, he had graduated from Engineering but then lost his attachment on the Coast when the outfit he worked with went belly up. He didn’t know what to do and suffered yet another slum lapse—out of work and wasting his talents in the process, like so many thousands of slum kids.

He may have known in his heart of hearts that Mama Hanna was not about to stand by and watch him and his education go to waste. She went looking for him again. Her sources found him. She had another “come to Jesus” moment with him. We got him an attachment with Tropic Air in early 2019 and he blossomed (“I love it” he would always say when I asked).

He knows where he came from. He confided yesterday that most of his childhood boy friends in Kibera are dead/shot by police for thefts, and the girls are prostitutes. Different circumstances/opportunities and outcomes.

Hillary is one of the lucky ones. He had people who believed in him, wouldn’t give up on him and expected him to prove, in a humble way, that their love and trust in him was warranted. He is fulfilling his promise to us and to himself.

Yesterday was a wonderful and fulfilling day for Mama Hanna and I.  Samuel, his HHFL brother at Tropic Air, reminded him when he heard the good news, that “It takes a village.

Kevin and Theo – Reflection

Kevin and Theo – Reflection

Written by Ted Horton, HHF Canada BoD chairperson

Looking back 13 years I realize that 17 year old Kevin Kingoo was only 2 years older than little Theo when he came to live at HHFL. Theo’s mum, Faith joined us in 2006. Kevin arrived as an orphan. What a difference a few years make. I remember Kevin in Tiny Tots, a pre-school program we ran back in the day.

I always had soft spot for Kevin (aka “ginger bread man”). Like so many of our kids, Kevin is solid young citizen with a bright future. He has 2 more years of high school and then he wants to study hospitality management. I encouraged him again today to buckle down and get the marks that will ensure scholarship opportunities.

As for Theo-he still has time on his hands to just chill and absorb and be a very cute young dude in the process.

Meet Mary Wairimu – HHFL’s Post Sec

Meet Mary Wairimu – HHFL’s Post Sec

Written by Ted Horton, HHF Canada’s BOD Chair

Meet Mary. She is in her second year of a 4 year scholarship degree course in journalism at Moi University in Eldoret. I had a chat with her today at the project. What a delightful young woman.

Her older sister Bernadette finished her scholarship degree in Horticulture in Mombasa this year and now works for Dudutech. They lost their dad when they were 6&8 yrs old. They joined HHFL when they started high school. Both bright and capable, focussed and determined. What terrific young dynamic role models they have become. What a pleasure it is to witness their success.

My Freshman Experience at Starehe Girls’ Centre & School

My Freshman Experience at Starehe Girls’ Centre & School

Written by Michelle Adhiambo

It has been an exciting year as a first time high school student at Starehe Girls’ Centre. I remember joining form one as a naive young girl who doesn’t know anyone in the school. I can say that it has been a short year whose days have gone very fast. Sometimes I feel like I was just admitted to the school yesterday. This gives me motivation for the following three years that time flies fast so I have to make a move now.

It did not take time for me to make new friends, as students there are very friendly and nice. I also met different teachers who teach different subjects unlike primary school where one teacher can even teach all subjects!

Learning twelve subjects is interesting but at the same time difficult for me. At first it was difficult to balance my revision timetable but our teachers guided us. The challenge is that I am not able to always follow the timetable. This is because either the assignment is a lot or teachers come to teach during prep time.

This is me, with Fatuma, Lucy and my sister Mackline

The school feels great because it is diverse. Students in the school are picked from all the 47 counties of Kenya. We usually share a lot together and get to learn from each other. The environment is also clean and green with monkeys around swinging from tree to tree and it is friendly for learning.

The climate there is a challenge to me. The mornings are always cold and most of the times it rains heavily. I have had common cold a few times while in school.

It is important for me to study at Starehe because the school is molding my behavior and character. It is also raising me up to be a disciplined person in future. We are often guided and counseled by different people including Starehe alumni, teachers and invited speakers who I don’t take for granted. There are also many opportunities for every student to explore.

I have built good relationships with my classmates and dorm mates. We love each other and assist each other in academics. We live in peace and harmony as sisters and even crack jokes together. Some of them are very understanding.

The subjects that I am best in are German, Agriculture, Computer and Chemistry. I was position one in my stream and position three in all the form one classes. I have been improving in my performance because I work closely with my teachers and classmates. German has been my favorite. Sometime this year when we were home for a break, I had the opportunity to speak German with Mama Hanne. I still don’t know a lot but I am very eager to learn

Although I have faced ups and downs while at the school, I have overcome them because of the love and care we are shown. I am certain that great things are in store for me only if I work smart and put God first in my journey to success. The quote, “The past is my heritage, the present is my responsibility and the future is my challenge”, strengthens me and gives me hope. What I have learnt is that nothing is impossible if you set a goal, focus on it and work on it.