Aftermath. Kakuma Part 3.

It’s 30 hours since we left Kakuma and I’m finally home. I sit here, looking out over a lush, green garden. The sun is shining, and my children, having fleetingly greeted me, have returned to their gadgets and games and I’m left to reflect on what I’ve seen.

There were thousands of children in need and many thousands more that we didn’t even see. But one has wormed his way into my heart so deeply that every time I close my eyes I see him. Obama. Five years old (we think). He never spoke a word. “He doesn’t speak. He is sad,” an older girl tells us in the playground on our first day there. His face is deadly serious. He wears a shirt that once must have been white, but has been stained brown with the dust. Over the days that I see him, it is the only thing he wears. Like many of the other children, it is the only shirt he possesses.


Obama barely leaves my side in the days we work in Hope school. On the first day, he stands mutely beside me, silent, solemn, never smiling. But there. On the second, he sneaks into the shed that serves as the Headteacher’s office and clambers on to my knee and I read him a story – The Red Tree by Shaun Tan. He stares at the pictures, finding the small red leaf that symbolises hope on every page. But still does not speak or smile.


On the third day he takes part in my classes – all of them, moving from class to class with me like a little shadow. But he doesn’t sing or perform the actions of the naming songs we are doing. On the fourth day, I play music through a speaker attached to my i-pad. For him and some of the other children, it is the first time they have heard recorded music. The others laugh and smile, joining will-i-am with cheery choruses of “I like to move it, move it” though they don’t dance. Obama doesn’t smile. Doesn’t sing. But he does dance. And his dancing is stylish, though very seriously done.

On the last day he is with me again and I know I am going to get into the jeep and drive away. I know that even if I return, the chances of seeing him are remote. I realise I’m about to cry, so I steel myself and pull funny faces at him in the playground. And then he smiles. Briefly. A little row of white baby teeth appear. The last I see of him, he is running, barefoot in the dirt after the jeep, waving but solemn once again. And as he disappears into a cloud of dust I burst into tears.

I impose my own imagination on Obama’s story, picture the horrors he has seen; the hardships he has suffered. And even if they are not true, his current situation is grim beyond description. I know he is one of many. And I know that helping the school, rather than singling out one child, is the right thing to do. So I’ll keep a little picture of Obama on my desk and whenever I feel like giving up on the fundraising, I’ll look at it. I’m minded of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as I sit in quiet contemplation looking at my garden :-

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.

Please help me to give Hope school the resources its name deserves and to help children like Obama. The cost of a coffee or glass of wine will make the hugest difference to these children.

You can text WWEP01 £3 to 70070 for a small but significant donation.

Or use our Just Giving page here and leave a message noting that the money is for the Classroom Challenge.

Thank you so much.


8 thoughts on “Aftermath. Kakuma Part 3.

  1. You have an amazing gift Debra… you write in such a wonderful way .. about something that truly matters; it is virtually impossible not to read what you have written! You write from the heart.. I am hooked and will support you..

  2. Thanks for this, Debra. I’m sure this little boy’s face will stay with you forever. And not just him, I know. A few years ago, when my son was 10, we took him to Romania. Not a holiday, a week of work supporting a charity who ran a school, a home for orphaned and abandoned children, a farm, a centre for the elderly, a homeless families’ project and a hospital for young adults with severe learning difficulties. We spent the week concreting, tiling, weaving, preparing food parcels and playing with children who were suspicious of adults. For us, too, one little boy stood out. He too looked very sad. We found out that his dad was in prison and his mum had resorted to prostitution. His name was Josef.
    When we got back, it took me ages to even go into a supermarket again. The plenty that we took for granted seemed disgusting in the light of the shortages we’d seen there. We’d done a little bit to help, and I felt proud that each day, a little bit of something had got better for someone. We already sponsored a family, who we visited while we were there, but just after we returned, we were told that Nicholas, the dad, had a new job and they no longer needed our support. We decided to sponsor Josef through school. We’ve never been back to see him, but we hope that he continues to do well. I wish the same for your little Obama.
    Lisa Pettifer

    1. I know exactly how you feel Lisa. My Mum and Dad took me to a restaurant as a treat when I got back and I started crying when I looked at the menu and thought about what those children got to eat. We can’t run around wearing sackcloths and eating coal, but the unfairness of it is hard to get over once you’ve seen it close up.

      1. It seemed a small thing to do after what you’ve done – and how brilliantly you’ve written about it.

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