We started today with a lovely breakfast of fruit, and fresh bread from the bakery, then it was off to visit the King Salomon Nursery School. This church run nursery is partnered with, and supported by, Open Door Toddlers in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, and has benefitted from some infrastructure improvements as well as the provision of play equipment. The children were a delight, and every class had prepared a song and a poem to greet us. The school is bright and welcoming and every class is decorated with stimulating pictures and bright colours.
Having visited every classroom we had the honour of serving all the children with their ‘breakfast’ of posho (a type of porridge) and a cake from the bakery. For some this will be the only meal they get today. Whilst the school is privately run by the church, there are many children from poor families and the school offer some bursaries to help the children benefit from a Christian education. Looking beyond the smiling faces it was heart breaking to see the ragged jumpers and torn shirts worn by some of the children. They were all so polite and well mannered and once all the children were served we joined the baby class for breakfast. Much to our relief the posho tasted better than it looked.
Then it was break time, which is also time for some C…H…I (Causing Havoc Intentionally). The bag of tennis balls we had brought with us were soon flying around the play area and the children were teaching us some song and dance. Once again touching the muzungu and feeling our hair was a popular pastime, Joff’s beard was the star attraction and apparently doubled as a swing rope. All too soon the bell was rung and it was time to resume lessons.
The prayer is that soon the school will be able to provide lunch for the children to enable them to stay on at school and have an afternoon rest. Even at this age many of the children are left to fend for themselves after school finishes, or have to accompany their parents as they tend market stalls.
Next stop was the building of Hannah Ministries, a charity set up by the Bishop’s wife before her untimely death in 2015. This charity provides lunch for the poorest children, mostly from families affected by HIV/AIDs. As the children arrived from schools across the area, some walking for 30 minutes, we served plates of rice, beans and a high protein mix of greens, anchovies, beans & rice, the children also received a cup of posho. Each day 76 children are fed through this ministry. Unfortunately, since the death of the Bishop’s wife the work has had to be scaled back as there has been no one to fundraise and they no longer have any regular income, Consolee and Roland who provide the service are both volunteers who give up their time every day to cook and provide for these children.
After lunch we visited the King Salomon Primary School where the children from the nursery progress to. Once again we were impressed with the innovative ideas including crafts from waste materials and a debating session which involved the entire school, in English!!!
Our last stop of the day was the Piggery Project. This project was started by the Youth Union with support from CHI when Covid closed the bakery, the aim was to provide an alternative means of income and support for Youth Union members. Having started with just two pigs they now boast 14, including three very cute piglets. Four are males and will be sold, the income from these sales will provide the pig food and a wage for the individual employed to care for them. Eight Youth Union members have already benefitted from the gift of a pig having provided a suitable sty.
Employment is a real issue in this area, particularly after the recent closure of two local industries, and projects that help these young people to become self sufficient are vital for the economy of the area, and the sense of self worth that comes from self sufficiency.