The Live With Hope Centre – A Gift from God to the People of Kericho
I had the honour and the privilege to visit Kericho, Kenya back in 2012 where I spent a month volunteering at the Live With Hope Centre with then Fr. (Now Bishop) Brian McGee from Holy Family Parish in Port Glasgow and a group of young people from the Inverclyde and Glasgow area.
The Live With Hope Centre (LWHC) is a community and faith based organisation located in the Motobo area of Kericho town, in the South Rift Valley region of Kenya.
The founding of LWHC can be traced back to the work of two teachers from Motobo Primary School, who in the year 2000 realised that there were a very high number of deaths in the neighborhood. They started visiting many of the sick people and began to suspect they were dying of HIV/AIDS. In order to improve the quality of care they could give the sick people, they decided, with the financial help of the then parish priest, to take a HIV/AIDS counseling course and encouraged many of their colleagues to do likewise. Unfortunately, the rate of infections seemed to be soaring, highlighting the need for a more organized approach.
In August of 2000 The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception arrived in Motobo at the invitation of the parish priest. They came to help with education in HIV/AIDS awareness, promote behavior change in at risk populations, as well as to visit and comfort the sick and dying. At the time the level of stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) was very high and a support group for HIV positive individuals was set up. It was at this time that the name Live With Hope was introduced. The Live With Hope Centre was officially founded on the 14th of February 2001 with the project being registered with the Kericho District Department of Social Services on the 3rd of October 2002.
In the year 2004 LWHC gained significant support through the Presidents Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in collaboration with the Walter Reed Project (WRP) of the United States military. As a result of this LWHC was able to develop and expand service provision by establishing four departments, each catering to a specific need and target group. They are Home & Community Based Care (HCBC), Abstinence & Being Faithful for the Youth (ABY), HIV Testing & Counseling (HTC), and Orphans & Vulnerable Children (OVC) - which has two sub-departments: Family Of God (FOG) which is a rehabilitation scheme and centre for street boys, and Transitional Care and Training Centre (TCTC), this is a place that trains children that have HIV, mainly orphans, to ‘live positively’ with the proper medication and required good diet that is necessary. There is also another sub-department that branches from HCBC and ABY that is Alcohol and Drugs Addiction (ADA) that offers counseling to people, young and old, who are addicted to a variety of different drugs and alcohols.
LWHC continues to cater to an ever-expanding group of beneficiaries. Their different programs have grown gradually since inception and with each passing year they are able to attend to and address an ever-increasing variety of needs. The staff is supplemented by volunteers assisting in specific areas where they contribute expertise and help build staff and client skills with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the program and its activities. LWHC also provides attachment opportunities for local university and institutional students where they get to work first hand with clients and in situations related to their areas of study. LWHC has grown by leaps and bounds in the few years since its humble beginnings and it is with thanks to all the dedicated and selfless individuals and organisations that have contributed in their own unique way. They hope to continue this growth and outreach to all those in need and look forward to a brighter more hopeful future for all involved.
As a relatively untrained volunteer I was limited as to what I could do at the centre. But what I did was visited local homes and schools and spoke with the people and distributed clothes and shoes to the most needy of the community. This really made me appreciate the power of human interaction, a smile or a wave to someone, taking time out your day to speak with them, even if it is only for one second, can make that persons life a bit better. Also, giving them something like a jacket or pair of shoes and seeing how much it means to them made me realise how lucky I am to have the life I have but also how ungrateful I have been for so long. And these things alone were worth all of the hours travelling to Kenya and the basic living conditions we had to endure while there.
During my time I also experienced the work of the different departments of the centre first hand. They all do unbelievable work and every member of staff and volunteer is so self-less and dedicated. But the department that had the biggest impact on me was the Family of God. I visited the newly opened FOG shelter where they have an initial five former street boys staying, hoping to reach full capacity of twenty in the near future. The boys have only been there for a few months and the difference between them and the street boys I seen in Kericho town was remarkable. They had got over addictions to glue and other substances, adapted well to an informal teaching structure and for 12-14 year old Kenyan boys they had learned a lot of English, which I found hard to believe was their third language behind their own tribal language and Kiswahili. The ultimate goal of the Family of God is to resolve issues between the boys and their parents/care-givers, establish why they left home for a life on the streets and return the boys home to a safe, stable living environment. I experienced the social work aspect of FOG when I visited the homes of the boys living at the shelter with some of the workers. I don’t think these people fully realise the amazing work they do, taking boys from the street and returning them home after a process which takes months to complete then more months follow-up work to ensure parents have kept promises and the boy has a good life. This makes life so much better for these young boys who had once thought living on the streets, sniffing glue was their only real option.
While at the centre I was introduced to another group, The Little Angels. This is a group of physically disabled children from Kericho and the surrounding area. The Little Angels support team is made up of workers from LWHC who visit these children with youth group volunteers to make sure they have the proper nutrition and that their parents are regularly exercising them to help manage their condition. I learned that due to cultures and superstitions many of the people believe that having a child with a disability is a curse, so disabled children are often abandoned or hidden away in a back room to suffer alone. A huge task for the support group is to speak with parents and teach them that this is not the case and their child is the same as any other, they need love, care and attention and in addition, a little extra work - that the support group can assist with. Little Angels is linked to the Live With Hope Orphans & Vulnerable Children (OVC) department but due to funding cuts and the fact that these children are not directly affected by HIV the LWHC is restricted in what they can do to help financially. So this support group is now run out of the LWHC workers own pockets, and they themselves do not have a lot as they literally live in the slums of Kericho with their own families to provide for, which is why I find it all so inspiring. I thought I had met some great people in my life until I met these living saints who have taken heroism to a whole new level.
Over the last few years, Kenya has greatly suffered from post-election and tribal violence. Kericho has been no exception. Terrible destruction tore through the area, turning neighbour against neighbour and parishioner against parishioner. Homes were destroyed and still lie as shells today. We were told horror stories of how people had to leave everything they had and literally run for their lives. So, during our time in Kericho we helped organize a festival of peace along with the people at Live With Hope and the youth groups. The aim was to portray a message of peace, love and unity through singing, dancing, drama and games, to change peoples attitudes and teach them that tribes can live harmoniously together. The festival attracted a good crowd and people seemed to enjoy the day but we can only hope and pray that it has been anyway successful and mindless violence does not take anymore life or homes and belongings from people who already have so little.
Sister Placida McCann of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception is the Director at Live With Hope but she is also my aunt, words cannot express how proud I am of her and the work she does at Live With Hope. Her work is built upon the work of Mr. Benjamin Macharia and Mr. Samuel Kimotho, the co-founders of Live With Hope and indeed fthe whole team of workers, volunteers, Franciscan sisters and brothers particularly Sister Rita and Sister Briege, and of course parish priests at St Mary’s, Motobo, including Fr. Cahal, who was there at the formation of Live With Hope. These are among many people who have contributed immensely to make the centre what it is today and I am sure there will be many more additions to the Live With Hope family in the future.
I appreciate that this article may seem better with a few photographs but I did not take a camera to Kenya with me, as I did not want to experience it through a lens. I have seen thousands of pictures and heard countless stories from my aunt but nothing can prepare you for the experience of witnessing a miracle in action like what is happening at the Live With Hope Centre in Kericho.
Baring witness to the work at Live With Hope was equally the best and worst experience of my life. The worst because of realisation of an inequity that will never be undone. The best because of the people - their spirit, their passion and their desire to lift up and support others around them was truly amazing, humbling and inspiring.
Please share, please donate, please pray.