By Elizabeth Norman, Safe World Correspondent
Patricia Parker MBE founded the organisation Kids for Kids in 2001 in order to help children in Darfur, Sudan.
Kids for Kids currently works in 78 villages and provides integrated grassroots programmes to save lives and give children hope for the future. Projects are all based upon what locals have said will make the most difference to their lives. One aspect of their work is a Goat Loan that has been described as ‘the most successful example of a microfinance project.’
I was honoured to interview Patricia to find out more about her work with Kids for Kids, along with her hopes for both the organisation and Darfur in the future.
Integrated and Sustainable Projects to Fulfil Basic Needs
Q. What inspired you to set up Kids for Kids?
"I had been an active volunteer for charities in the UK. But I was starting to cut back, as I wanted to start focusing on painting and I had even set up a studio at home.
My oldest son was at Cambridge at the time and he applied for a position with the Foreign Office. He was given a job working as a diplomat in Khartoum and I went out to visit him, with the intention that I would paint whilst he was at work, but I ended up asking about what life was like for children in the region.
The Head of Save the Children took me to Darfur to show me how children were living. Whilst there, we came across a 9 year-old boy who was walking alone across the desert for seven hours each way to get water. I was shocked! This was a dangerous journey even for an adult and sandstorms are common in that region. I could not understand why anyone would allow this to happen, so I asked to meet this little boy's mother.
Life should not be this tough for families in Darfur, because under Darfur there exists the largest water reservoir in Africa.
I started thinking that if I raised enough money we could build a hand-pump near this little boy’s village, which would stop him having to make this dangerous daily journey. The family had three little goats and their milk was keeping the family alive. Their milk was the only source of protein and nutrients this little boy and his siblings had, and the boy’s water was what was keeping these goats alive.
I realised how much having a few goats and of course water close at hand would change the lives of people in the local area."
Q. Your goat loan system has been described as the ‘most successful example of a microfinance programme’. How does it work?
"We lend a family six goats for two years. This means immediate milk for hungry children and is just enough so that they can breed a little flock.
These goats keep the family alive and provide a source of steady income, which helps pay for health care, education and other things mothers need for their children. After the two years they then pass on the six healthiest offspring to another family in the village. The second family does this two years later and so on, until eventually every family has a flock of goats. The Goat Loan is passed on every two years so that eventually every family in the village benefits.
Besides goats we also provide donkeys. These are the only form of transport available in areas with no roads, so donkeys really are the '4x4s' of Darfur. Having a donkey to carry water means children can go to school instead of helping their mothers. Families who do not have to hire a donkey to collect and sell their firewood start to make enough income to survive on and can even hire the donkey out to others.
Of course looking after the animals is also important so we train people in animal husbandry, along with training what we call paravets - people who respond to animal medical emergencies.
The goat loan is just one of many integrated projects, which combine to make a huge difference to people's lives.
This includes providing midwives and first aid workers to stop problems from becoming catastrophes, hand pumps for water, education for children, practical things like blankets and mosquito nets to improve children's health and tree planting to provide shade, food and hold back the desert."
Informed by the Community at Grassroots Level
Q. Can you explain the importance of these projects?
"People need more than just water, or just health care - to survive, we all need a broad spectrum, from food and water, a roof over our heads, to health care and education.
We sit with people and they tell us what will make the most difference to their lives - projects that will enable them to help themselves to move up from the bottom rung of the ladder.
This is why we provide a package of integrated projects, not just one or two things, and by being flexible we can respond as conditions change. People need water, food, the means for a livelihood, health care and of course education, and they need to be able to make decisions for their own families. We don't believe in charity, we believe in empowering people to change their own lives and we do it by helping them get their feet on the bottom rung - an impossible step for families in Darfur where infrastructure is almost totally lacking, drought is an ever-present fear and worse these days, violence causes immense hardship with far reaching indirect effects.
By empowering the women, and providing a wide spectrum of projects, we are lifting individual families out of poverty, and transforming whole communities long term. One mother proudly told her story - receiving six goats has given her the chance to build up a flock, have her own income for the first time, and she has managed to support two of her children in getting to university.
One of the services that I am most excited about is the kindergartens we run. From the very beginning education was something mothers were begging for. They know that the best route out of poverty is through education, and we have been working hard to find a sustainable way to provide it. We finally opened our first in October 2013 and this year the older children who first attended will be leaving to go to big school.
Our second kindergarten opened its doors in September 2015 and we have two more nearing completion."
Midwives, Maternal Health Care and Ending FGM
Q. Training midwives is an essential part of what you do and has also shown some success in tackling FGM in the local area, can you explain a bit more about this?
"When you speak to the women in the villages it becomes clear that they are terrified of childbirth.
FGM is still widely practised and this means childbirth is extremely dangerous due to the high risk of obstructed delivery, which requires hospital care. The hospital may be miles away and only accessible by crossing the desert on a donkey. People who can ill afford to pay for treatment often leave it too late to seek help. Traditional Birth Attendants in the village are untrained and can only offer rope delivery - which is as dangerous as it sounds.
So from the very beginning we started training village midwives. These are inspiring women who do much more than just delivering babies. They are chosen from within their own community to be sent for training, and return as well respected and trusted experts. They are able to work alongside village women not just to help deliver healthy babies within their own communities, but to explain the dangers of FGM and help mothers make informed choices.
Besides this, they also teach mothers about feeding their children, and register births and deaths."
Gaining the Trust of Communities
How does a village become part of the Kids for Kids programme and how are they able to shape the work that you do?
"A village has to ask to join our programme and there are certain things they have to agree to do, such as empowering women and training midwives. Every year we re-evaluate, re-write and update our own plans based on the feedback we’ve had from the communities we work in.
It is so important that the people we work with are at the heart of deciding what we do and how we work, so all of our programmes are based on discussions we have had with local people and their leaders.
It takes a lot of time and care to gain the trust of the communities but if you get it right then both sides stand to learn, and it is real sustainable, long-term development."
Violence in Darfur
Q. How has the violence in Darfur impacted upon the work of Kids for Kids?
"Our villages are getting bigger because people are asking to move to them from the camps and more vulnerable villages. Thanks to our projects Kids for Kids villages have no malnutrition. People living there have better resources and are able to withstand problems.
The violence is making everything harder for people; they have to go in groups when foraging or collecting water, and rape is sadly still common when groups are attacked.
The whole rhythm of life has changed in Darfur, but our villages are proving to be more resilient than others. A new challenge is to raise funds to help those destitute families who have joined our villages. We are aiming to provide them with the goat and donkey loans, the blankets, mosquito nets, farm tools and all the other items we give the poorest families which will be of direct benefit to the children and help the family to build up a sustainable livelihood over time and to become members of the community. We have noticed that our villages now often have several tribes living together in them."
Abducted by Rebels
Q. In 2005, you and your son were kidnapped. Can you explain what this was like and how it impacted upon your work?
"We were initially taken by this rebel group because they thought we were spies.
We were in real danger, they had guns and they could easily have shot us. We were lucky that my son can speak Arabic and was able to communicate with them and explain what we were actually doing, but they did not release us, instead they loaded us into a truck.
As we were driving along my son leant back and felt the barrel of one of the guns. He asked if the safety catch was on. The drive was very bumpy and anything could have happened while the safety catch was off. It was very frightening not knowing what they were going to do with us, or where they were taking us.
That night, the head of the group grabbed me and dragged me down to the ground.
My son kept saying: ‘Try to shake his hand Mummy", which was what I kept trying to do. The rebel leader shouted: "Don’t you understand I could have you killed at any moment?" and I said: "Of course I do – but I also know about Sudanese hospitality and I know that I am perfectly safe."
I was so lucky because it was translated perfectly and was exactly the right thing to say. These people haven’t always been rebel fighters; they’ve been fathers and husbands who’ve seen their loved ones die. I think he just needed a little reminder of who he was. After that, he told us we were his honoured guests.
Later on, we were in one of the Kids for Kids villages and the rebel leader made a comment about the needs in the area. When I explained to him that we were unable to get safe passage to install a handpump for the school, he promised to help - and he was true to his word."
The Way Forwards
Q. What is your long-term hope for Darfur?
"There has to be an end to the violence but I don’t see it stopping unless the international community takes a serious stand.
There also needs to be investment into infrastructure. People need water, health care and education to be able to overcome poverty and give their children a future. How can even the most basic aid be delivered when there are no roads? Children don't even know what a light switch is. It is shocking that there have been so many aid agencies at times in Darfur yet there has been no long term change."
Q. How can people support your work?
"Every penny goes a long way in Darfur. If people are able to give a regular donation, even if it is only a very small amount, that would help me plan projects. The nature of our work requires a lot of detailed planning. We have to commit to projects months ahead, which can be quite tricky when you don’t know what funds you are going to have.
The more regular donations we receive the easier it is for us to commit to adopting new villages and initiating larger projects like kindergartens and health centres.
But our motto 'One goat at a time' is what has enabled us to do so much, little by little. It would be lovely if people would sponsor one of our lovely little goats. They are such a vital part of the work we do and they have such a huge impact on the life of the mothers and children.
This is the perfect moment – Give a Goat for Christmas and we will send the recipient a Festive Certificate and,for the first time, you have also order a little Cuddly Kid to remind people here about their real live kid in Darfur. I love thinking what it must mean for a mother to be able to give her child a cup of milk for the first time. £38 ($62) buys a goat in Darfur. Why not donate today?" www.kidsforkids.org.uk
Find out more
Visit the Kids for Kids website: www.kidsforkids.org.uk
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