Esther Wilkey lives in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.  She has six children, a number of whom are young adults now, and works at Bradford College, teaching English to 16–18 year old asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants.  

“At the time I first got involved with Educate the Kids I was a stay-at-home mum. I was asked to look after four of the kids in the choir when they came to our area. 

“Having them with us was just incredible: it had a profound effect not just on me, but also on my own kids as they got to know these Kenyan children. Our kids were amazed at how the Kenyan children could enjoy themselves without any of the mod-cons we are so used to in this country. On one occasion, the whole choir were in the garden with my children, standing in a circle playing “Balance the Ball”: a game which involves a child in the middle of the circle who throws the ball up, performs some tricks with it and then throws it to the next child who then goes into the middle of the circle and continues the game. There were squeals of laughter, so I went to watch, and was stunned to see that there was no ball. Because they have virtually nothing, the Kenyan children play with their imaginations. They derive pure joy from very simple things.” 

“When we came back to the UK there were some problems with my husband’s business which meant we might have to sell our house and relocate. Again, our children came to the rescue, telling us, ‘let’s go back to Africa.’ So that’s what we did. We were living in Mombasa, not far from Jolaurabi School and I spent a year as a volunteer teacher. It was the most amazing year we’ve ever had and it completely changed each one of us.”

“Our family was planning a US trip at that time. Our kids came to us and said, ‘don’t go to America, let’s go to Africa instead.’ We went in 2008 and did some voluntary work in Jolaurabi- the Educate the Kids’ School in Kenya.  I taught AIDS awareness and self-esteem lessons and my husband and children helped paint the classrooms and build the orphanage.”

“It is hard to explain just what a difference education makes to these children in Africa.  They know it gives them their only chance in life so they put everything they can into their schooling. For anyone used to teaching in the UK, it’s hard to believe the difference in the pupils’ attitude.  For example, in Kenya, I would have 50 kids sitting in silence in the class, until break-time … when the bell rang they would shout ‘No! Don’t stop! Please carry on Madam!’ They just love learning.”

“When we came back from Africa, I felt so lost that I decided to go to university and qualify as a teacher.  My involvement with the charity inspired me to do a Modern Language degree in French with TESOL and I have just done a Masters in Education at Bradford College, which has led me to my current job with the refugee children.” 

“As a Bradford College representative, I now go to Kenya twice a year, in February and July, where I help to run teacher training sessions and we share best practice between our establishments (see photo). The college raises funds for Educate the Kids, hosts events and also has also funded the internet installation at Jolaurabi School in Kenya. This has enabled my students in Bradford College to Skype the Kenyan school children and sing them a song about unity, called “Worldwide Family”, that they wrote themselves after seeing the choir perform with such positivity and passion when they visited Bradford College.

“People ask me why I am involved and I hope what I’ve described here helps explain, but the key to Educate the Kids’ success is that everythingyou do goes to the kids and it DOES change people’s lives.  I have seen children from the poorest families who were, in the past, dressed in rags but are now qualified teachers and helping others within their community.” 

“My kids continue to be involved.  My daughter, who is now 25, wants to set up a recycling programme in Kenya, several of my children are now sponsors of Jolaurabi school children and they continue to spread the word and bring their friends on board to do the same.  My two youngest sons have been to Africa in the last year – helping to dig latrines amongst other things. Any help that you can give is gratefully received. But even if you can’t physically head out to Kenya, there is still so much you can do here by sponsoring a child.  You are changing the lives of real children and their families, and you can get feedback on your child’s progress, see them receive a Christmas or birthday gift, or fund a food parcel that really does go straight to them” 

 “I just think it’s so exciting, to see the progress of some of those kids that I have taught in Kenya who are now in work. Without their education they would just be begging, or worse. But you know what? Our effort hasn’t just changed their lives for the better- it has certainly changed my family’s lives for the better as well. And, if you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. ”  

Esther and friends at the school in Kenya.

Interview, Alastair Blair