A Visit with the Friends of Londiani

Friends of Londiani is an Irish charity established in 2002. They work in Londiani, an area 220km North west of Nairobi, and the surrounding villages of Lelsothet and Ndubusat. This summer, the friends carried out the Harambee 2005 project. Fifty-two people, primarily from Munster, were sent to Kenya to complete a variety of tasks. After nine weeks, the Friends of Londiani not only achieved their goals, they have added to them.

Their work this year centred on a variety of tasks. In Lelsothet twelve water tanks were sited in the village to collect rain-water for a community water scheme. In Ndubusat, the tasks involved the construction of a new maternity hospital; the restoration and completion of Ndubusat Primary school which was first constructed by the parents of the pupils themselves but was never completed due to lack of funds; and a community water scheme to pipe spring water 5km from a mountain source to the village.

Education and information on the topics of HIV/AIDS, hygiene and nutrition were provided for the children in the local schools and eight different groups of adults in the area participated in a peer education course on HIV/AIDS. Martin (one of the directors) hopes that in the future, they will continue with the educational aspects of their work because of the “phenomenal response” to it. FOL also completed a vaccination clinic, which saw 257 children vaccinated.

In Londiani the FOL base is in the Bethel Faith home. This is home for 62 children aged between 8 months and 18 years of age. The team worked with the children on summer camp, youth club and computer classes. The home is run by Lucille Kirui and is attached to a secondary school and a primary school.

Friends of Londiani is a tremendously successful charity and having visited them, it is easy to see why. To begin with, their organizational skills are tremendous and the training provided for volunteers before the event prepared them for every eventuality. Furthermore, Friends of Londiani do not dictate to the local people. The communities they work with are eager to develop and FOL acts solely on requests from the villagers and then they carry out the projects in “a spirit of true partnership”, just as they set out to do in 2002.

Having spent a long five months on the road with people who know us little and understand us less, we were delighted to be surrounded with friends from home even if only for a short while. When we arrived, Harambee 2005 had been successfully completed and all that remained to do that evening was to pack the bags, update the website and tell their visitors about all that had happened in the previous ten weeks. So we sat back and listened with interest to the tales of Londiani.

Laura Ahern from Norwood Park in Cobh works as an administrator in the Accident and Emergency Department of the Mercy Hospital in Cork. She was based in Ndubusat. There, she was involved in the construction of the new hospital as well as in the administration of the vaccination clinic. When we arrived at Londiani it was she who showed us around and introduced us to everybody else. It’s her first year here but when I asked if she would return, she replied, “Oh definitely, Oh God, yeah”.

Rose Hennessy from the Cotswolds in Midleton came to Londiani in June and stayed for ten weeks in total. She spent time in both the Londiani and Ndubusat sites. What did she most enjoy about the project? “The kids and the people”, she said, “Kenya is as I imagine Ireland was prior to rural electrification and EU funding which isn’t that long ago. We’ve lost some of what the Kenyans still have – the welcome, the faith and (the way) they have time for everyone”. Usually when people say that Africa is as Ireland was, they are suggesting that Africa is in some way ‘behind us’ – backward even. But Rose was saying the opposite; we’re the ones who’ve lost something. And you know what, she’s right too.

Rosemary O’Driscoll is originally from Cork but now lives in Dungarvan where she works as a teacher at Colaiste Cathal Naofa. This is her first year working with Friend of Londiani. She was involved in running the summer camps and in computer classes. She says that the children were fabulous and that there are at least two that she wants to take home with her. “They appreciate everything”, she says. Certainly, while we were there the children were having great fun altogether with a couple of balloons. Apparently, they hadn’t stopped playing with them since they received them.

John Spillane is from Fountainstown, Co. Cork. He’s spent three weeks working here with Friends of Londiani. He ways he has just recently retired and is delighted at last to have the chance to complete some voluntary work. It’s great to “have the opportunity to do something they obviously hugely appreciate”, he says. And it does seem that the locals are hugely appreciative of the work being done by Friends of Londiani. At a recent feast, held in their honour, the Ndubusat team was presented with no less than two live chickens as a ‘thank you’ for their work!

Finally, we had a chance to speak to Martin Ballantyne and Maria Kidney, two of the directors of Friends of Londiani. Martin is delighted with the success of this year’s project which is on a bigger scale than anything they have undertaken in the past. “We’ve just been inundated with new project requests”, he says, proof indeed that the local community is delighted with their work so far. Maria Kidney is originally from Cobh but lives now in Whitegate. It was Maria’s mugging on the streets of Nairobi that sparked the creation of Friends of Londiani. After being robbed, she took refuge in the Kenyan Girl Guide’s Headquarters where she learned of the many projects they are involved in. On returning to Ireland, a proposal was drawn up for the Irish Guiding Associations and in August 2002 the first project was carried out. Since then Friends of Londiani is now an independent charity. She speaks very highly indeed of both the chief and the headmaster of Ndubusat as well as of the locals themselves, without whom “they wouldn’t be able to do anything”.

It was then that we accepted an invitation from the final year girls of the secondary school to attend their ‘fellowship’ – a religious service which the girls organise each evening involving song and prayer. When we arrived, the class was singing in unison accompanied by a lone drummer and led by a girl name Vivienne whose powerful voice left us all dumb-struck. One of the girls acted as MC for the evening, requesting individuals to sing or read from the bible, questioning others on what they had heard and inviting us to introduce ourselves to the group. After the service, we were surrounded and interrogated by the more curious students in the group. Beatrice left a note in my diary: “Goodbye. God Bless. We shall miss you so much, especially me, I had enjoyed your company”. Me too, Beatrice, me too.

In 2016, more than a decade after we wrote this article, the Friends of Londiani are still going strong. You can find out more about their work and get involved through their website.

– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People

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