...how it all began...
In October, 1993, we were an overworked couple in our early 30's, eager
for an exotic beach holiday away from our home in Bremen, Germany. We
wanted to be so far away, in fact, that we could not be easily reached,
not even by telephone. We chose our destination at random, from a travel
brochure: a beach in Kenya, in a town called Diani, 40km south of Mombasa.
...5 months later...
We knew hardly a thing about Africa, and even less about Kenya. But the
brochures promised lions, blue skies over the Indian Ocean, and friendly,
joyful townspeople - paradise! They forgot to mention the other "residents" of Diani:
crushing poverty, high unemployment, corruption and a thriving AIDS
problem. (Now, after many visits over more than 20 years, we have become
quite familiar with all aspects of the town -- good and bad!)
So, naive as we were, we boarded our plane in Bremen, finally to disembark
in the hot, sticky air of Mombasa, 14 hours later (the time difference in
summer is +1 hour, and in winter, +2 hours). It would still be one hour's
drive, plus a ferry trip across the waterway, before we would reach our
hotel on Diani Beach (where the kindergarten is now located).
From the first moment, we were captivated by what greeted us: wonderful
aromas that were new to us, bright colours, lovely voices and a rhythm of
life so intense that we wanted to be a part of it. The contrast between
the vast, barren landscape and the friendliness, helpfulness and
open-mindedness of the people there made our journey an unforgettable
experience. That visit was like a seed planted in our hearts, and our love
for the places and people of Kenya continues to grow.
...we returned - in fact, we have returned so many times that we
have lost count, having long since left our "rose-coloured glasses" at
home. Instead, we brought medicine, children's clothing and toys,
especially for the new little friends we'd made around our favourite
With each subsequent journey we explored
farther from the hotel. Eventually, we bought a plot of land and, with
some difficulty, built a house. As we plunged into the African way of
daily life in this coastal region, we learned that, for the cost of one
cocktail at the hotel bar, we could buy enough medicine to save a life.
But poverty was a barrier. For example, while malaria medicine is
available in the area, children, especially, were dying of this disease
because their parents could not afford the treatment.
At first we felt helpless about this situation, but very soon our
helplessness turned to anger. We were not willing to put up with this!
Together with some of our new African friends, we decided to get to the
root of the problem. People in the area had little education and few
prospects for work. This, in turn, meant low wages and poverty. In this
chain of misfortune children were the weakest link. We were determined to
do something for their future.
We believe that a positive attitude toward life begins with a full belly and a happy childhood. This belief was at the core of our idea for a kindergarten with pre-school education. We proposed our plan to friends, relatives and colleagues in Bremen. They responded with unanimous,
enthusiastic approval - and generous donations. We hardly needed to ask!
Back in Kenya again, we gathered information from our local friends
about how much it would cost to fund the project we envisioned. First, we
would need to hire both a cook and a nursery school teacher. We would also
need to buy school uniforms (as these are customary in Kenya) as well as
toys for the children. And of course, we would have to stock the kitchen
with cooking supplies: dishes, utensils, and food on an ongoing basis. We
would need to buy first aid supplies, and be ready to pay for medical care
in case of emergencies. And finally, we would need some financial reserves
for field trips and miscellaneous expenses. By our calculations, we had
enough funding to get started - and to make the project a success!
But this "idea" of ours needed a real roof over its head - we needed classroom space! What to do for the school building itself? We
found our answer in the New Apostolic Church (NAC), not far from our
house. Joshua, a friend and the rector of this congregation, called our
attention to children in our immediate environs, for whom the kindergarten could represent a real chance of a better
future. He offered us room
in the church's fellowship hall.
We wanted to start with a limited number of children - just 16 at the
beginning. This meant we were forced to make the heartbreaking, but
inevitable, decision to turn away dozens of other children. We hired
Miriam, a local primary school teacher, at a salary of approximately 70
Euros per month. We hired a cook from the neighbourhood, also named
Miriam. For just 20 Euros per month, she made sure all the children's
bellies were full during kindergarten hours.