Celebrating 10 Years of Love, Safety and Belonging

Celebrating 10 Years of Love, Safety and Belonging

Written by Alexandra Howard, HHF Director

This year is very special because it marks the 10th anniversary of HHF – hooray, we’re coming of age!

It was ten years ago that my mum, Hanne and Ted first clasped hands with a desperate grandmother who led them into Lenana slum. Little did they know that this moment would forever change not only their lives, but 140 other lives too – including mine.

I’ve been involved in this project since 2007. I clearly remember the moment when I first stepped in. My mum and Ted were feeling the crunch because they had just come back from Kenya for a second year and had committed to sending some kids to school.  I said “well then, if you’re gonna need to raise money, you’re sure gonna need a website!”

And so I built the Fund’s first website back in 2008, in a rented flat in London England, days after my first son was born. There I was, creating copy with one finger on the keyboard at a cafe in Islington after enlisting the help of a ‘design’ company in India! Oh my goodness, the mere memory is making me both squirm and laugh out loud!

But here it was – my turning point. I couldn’t turn my back on what my mum and Ted had so bravely started. I visited Kenya in 2007 and have visited every year since then – now with my family, including 2 young boys. Today, together with my mum and Ted, Lucy and Isaiah, I am deeply involved in the running of this project and am deeply proud of the work we do.

I had an interesting moment during my last visit to HHFL in March. I was sitting quietly on the raised cement outside one of the hostel shacks as the young children sang and danced in a circle in front of me with some of our older alumni who had stopped by for a visit.

All of a sudden, I felt such a genuine and calm energy – it hit me like a ton of bricks that these kids truly believe they are loved, they are safe and they belong. It was at this particular moment where I suddenly thought to myself, “yes it can be tough at times, but boy are we ever doing REALLY, REALLY good work here so we’ve GOT to keep going”.

I can appreciate that it’s hard to imagine what happens ‘over there’ if you’ve never been. So I thought I’d try and break down for you what ‘love, safety and belonging’ looks like at HHFL, from my viewpoint.

I’m sharing this because, in my opinion, to truly understand why the HHFL children are succeeding to the level they are is to understand how we make them feel every day in our care.

If you’ve been lucky enough to experience the project, I’m sure you’ll nod and smile through my curated list of witnessed moments throughout the years – you’ll likely have your own to add 🙂

1. Seeing the children rush to tidy themselves up when they hear Hanne and Ted’s truck pulling up the road toward our project gate and watching them excitedly hover around the truck with arms outstretched and huge smiles to receive a warm kiss and hug from them.

2. Mama Hanne, my mum, engaging in tender yet firm one-on-one conversations with the Kenya team – Lucy, Isaiah, Mama Margaret, John – and all the children to discuss the intricacies of each life and how the project can support each one.

3. Mama Margaret, our cook, preparing and cooking porridge, rice, beans, colourful vegetables and special chapatis for up to 100 children (every single day for 10 years starting at 6am) in a small kitchen shack located on our premises containing oversized cooking vats and an open fire.

4. Lucy, our project manager, waking up at 5am every day for 10 years to make sure ALL the primary children show up for their morning porridge before safely loading them on a bus for school at 6am with clean uniforms, backpacks and everything they need to learn.

5. Isaiah, our IT, communications and admin manager, inspecting every one of our 19 computers and ensuring the wifi connection is in good working order so he can take turns teaching the primary children english or typing sponsor letters when they arrive back safely from school on the bus at 4:30pm.

6. The happy, boisterous squeals of the primary children when they sprint off the bus at our premises gate with that slightly disheveled look that happens after 8 hours in school. You all know what I’m talking about…untucked shirts (particularly the boys!), food dribbles, dirty knees, half opened backpacks with everything falling out and scuffed shoes from playing outside in the dirt. Boys run for the card deck or soccer ball. Girls are happy to just chat and braid each other’s hair.

7. The after-school inhalation (quite literally!) of bowls of fortified porridge and later, plates of beans, vegetables and rice after saying a heartfelt prayer of gratitude in unison in our outdoor dining room.

8. Watching Lucy and Isaiah successfully navigate all the common after-school complaints of the primary children, the procrastination tactics that make the children think they have the upper hand when they really don’t, the wingeing about having to sit and do homework assignments when a game of soccer or cards seems like way more fun, all the silliness that happens when youthful energy is expended, and the heated arguments between siblings that inevitably lead to dramatic tears and a rapid, irrational change in mood. MY head spins!

9. All the laughing, hugging, playing, poking, joking, singing, dancing, creating, exploring, sharing, caring and loud, excitable banter that happens all day long between Mum, Ted, the team, volunteers, children and youth on Saturdays and at holiday time when everyone, including the high school, college kids and alumni, return to HHFL for organized fun.

10. Watching the younger kids stare at any one of our 26 self-reliant alumni with eyes of WONDER as they come to visit after a work shift dressed to impress in fashionable outfits, smart hair styles, cool hair weaves, pointy shoes, funky sun glasses….and their very own place to live.

11. Sensing a distinct elevation and soaring confidence from any one of our 26 self-reliant alumni during an interaction with the younger kids.

12. Noticing the deep exhale and a faint smile that says “yes I did it!” when a high school graduate returns to the project from an interview for a job at a coffee shop.

13. Working in peaceful harmony and without incident in a potentially volatile slum environment, every day for 10 years.

14. Having the BEST and most LOYAL sponsors and supporters from around the world who give to the children in more ways than you’ll ever know.

You see, in my opinion, success at HHF is a full sensory experience that is seen, felt, heard, tasted and touched on a daily, minute by minute basis.

Our success lives in the children’s joyful laughter, music, dancing, singing, art work, eating, connection, excitement, gratitude, desire, perseverance, dedication, challenges, mistakes, sweat, tears and dreams…

And this, my dear friends, is why we are succeeding like no other and why we need to keep going!

I am very excited to see and experience what the next 10 years will look like!

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