Will Nairobi’s Earth Angels’ Story Inspire You to be Compassionate?

Photographs courtesy Paloma Fernandes, The Earth Angels, Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s Earth Angels are a group of women based in Nairobi, working to help abandoned, physically and mentally disabled, orphaned and the poorest of poor children, living in orphanages and homes run by non-governmental agencies.

Kenyas growing chasm

While Kenya is growing into an African ‘powerhouse’, currently almost 43% of its population live below the poverty line, which affects orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) the most. Many of them orphaned or impacted by HIV/AIDS.

While the exact numbers are difficult to assess, there are approximately 3.6 million children, aged under 18, who are considered OVCs in Kenya, according to a 2014 report published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. That’s approximately the whole population of world cities like Montreal, or Los Angeles, or Berlin.

Leading with the grit of Angels

The Earth Angels team – Paloma Fernandes, Marion D’Souza and Renee Rodrigues – have been leading a collaborative community initiative in Kenya that helps reduce the impact of poverty on children and help improve their lives in meaningful ways. They work with nonprofit Kenyan organizations that support these children who are abandoned, mentally and physically disabled and orphaned. Their latest project includes supporting schools for children who cannot afford to join Government primary schools.

Their simple beginnings started over a decade ago, when they organized a Christmas celebration at the Mother Teresa Home at Otiende, near Nairobi – a refuge for children abandoned due to their physical and mental disabilities. This has now become an annual tradition. Paloma Fernandes explained that they soon realized there were many other homes and schools that were in dire need of help. “From starting off with one special home, we now help nineteen locations.”

Over the decade their growth, reach and work has been significant. For seven of these nineteen locations they offer a monthly feeding program, and at one location even a daily feeding program. They provide children with learning materials like text books, exercise books, stationery, sports equipment and school desks.

They assist with financial support for children undergoing chemotherapy at a cancer care centre. They provide sunblock and sun protection supplies for children suffering from Albinism, a congenital disease that affects skin pigmentation making them more susceptible to sun burn and skin cancers.

For children with special needs, they also help a Vincentian Prayer House in Kangemi Slum, in the Kibera Slum, Hurlingham, Kangundo Road, Mwiki, Mukuru Kayaba Slum and Eldoret’s Home for Children with Albinism.

The biggest challenge, Fernandes explained is “the sheer numbers” of the children that need help.

“We are currently in the process of formalizing our organization because, right now, it is run by three individuals, their family and friends and there aren’t enough hours in the day to coordinate all our efforts. Our plan is to help give these children an education, allow them to dream of a bright future and help make them self-sufficient. These include sustainable projects like greenhouses, boreholes, and biogas, amongst others.”

Inspired by a legacy of giving

Fernandes explained the inspiration behind the initiative,“Helping the Mother Teresa Homes is a tradition that goes back about 30 years now, and is carried forward by many generations of the Goan community in Nairobi. Mother Teresa’s great goals were based on a simple commitment to give unconditionally and the dream of changing the world one person at a time. She inspires all our work.”

Grateful for the support they receive, Fernandes said, “Our Canadian family has done a brilliant job and we really appreciate their help. We also have a few individual donors from Abu Dhabi, England, Australia, Tanzania and Uganda.”

Committed Canadian collaborators

In the Canadian corner, collaborators Fleming Viegas and Elaine Fernandes have been rallying support through their network of family and friends.  They started their effort in 2014 with a small contribution. In 2015, they rallied in the support of the organizing committee of ‘Wanainchi Wa Kenya 2015’, a Canadian community group of Goan immigrants from Kenya, which helped raise an impressive 900% over their initial year’s effort.

Reflecting on what inspires them to act, Viegas said he had visited a Mother Teresa’s home in Kenya with his wife, Glynis, 26 years ago as a gesture of thanksgiving and charity, as part of their Goan pre-wedding traditions.  “We saw, first-hand, the needs of the children and people in the home.  It made me realize how much more we have than many other people in this world. From that day on, supporting this cause has meant a great deal to me.”

Elaine Fernandes said, “It all started over 30 years ago when many of our parents, including my mother, donated money, clothing and volunteered their time by cooking a special meal and going to help feed the less fortunate children twice a month. We are very fortunate here in Canada, and this is the least we can do to help these children.” Having visited Kenya a few years ago, she helped at one of the annual Christmas parties, “Personally seeing these children’s faces light up with so much love and gratitude was truly moving for me.”

The ripple effect of a global Harambe

These Kenya’s Earth Angels are inspiring a virtual and global ‘Harambe‘ to help touch the lives of thousands of Kenya’s poorest and vulnerable children. A ‘Harambe’, popular in East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania, is the idea that a collective effort can bring about a common good – from helping a family in need, or pitching in for the construction of a school or a church. It’s an idea about compassion that’s worth spreading.