Holly Keogh’s association with Educate the Kids goes back to when she was about 11 years old, when she first saw a performance by the Singing Children of Africa in Dundee, where she lives.
Then, about five years ago, a lady in the church that Holly attends asked if anyone could put up some of the Kenyan choir who were visiting the city again…
“… and we said yes, and so we had four of the boys staying with us and we just fell in love with them. Unless you have experienced this it’s hard to describe the effect it has on you. I remember one of the boys asked if he could play some of the games on my sister’s tablet, so we told him it was in one of our bedrooms and we went with him to get it. When he saw her bed, he asked, ‘who sleeps here?’ and on being told that it was just my sister he said, ‘I sleep on a bed at home too, but so do my five brothers and sisters – we are all in the same bed.’
“Having those boys with us made me – and our family – appreciate the little things in life a bit more. I know everyone says, ‘they are so happy, I don’t know how they do it,’ but that’s true: they are so happy and it’s hard for us to understand how they do it. When I went out to Kenya and saw how they live there, in conditions so poor it’s hard for us to relate to them, you do wonder. I was there for three weeks and it was certainly a bit of a shock to see it at first hand. I had gone out without any preconceptions but did some home visits for families who hope their kids are going to start the kindergarten and then you see what home life is like for them. A lot of people don’t have any work and they live in small mud huts and sleep on the floor. Yet they are so happy and proud; they have a joy we don’t have in our country.
“You asked ‘what makes them happy?’ I think it’s a mixture of things: it’s the community they live in, the gratitude they have for the little they have – it’s just different. The sense of community and the way they all help each other is heart-warming.
“Some days we went to the ‘village,’ which, to my eyes, seemed like a lot of little villages joined together. I would walk be walking and talking and not realise that we had arrived in a new place, but the people there know their way around and know when they have crossed from one village to another. I think I’d have got lost if I was on my own!
“When you go into a class, often one of the teachers will ask you to speak to the kids. My mum is a teacher and I know how hard it is to get pupils to pay attention in the UK, but in Kenya the children are totally focused on you. They have such respect and a willingness to learn that it rather puts us to shame. They can see that getting and education and qualifications is probably the only way for them to get a better life. One thing I think helps is that quite a lot of teachers have actually been educated through the school, gone on and qualified and then returned to teach there. This means the kids can see what education brings and also what it means to them (the teachers) at first hand.
“For me, the thing about Educate the Kids is that you get to see the joy that education brings to the children. Other charities, the ones with the big budgets, tend to show expensive TV ads that focus on terrible things – and there are terrible things, I know – but Educate the Kids takes a totally different approach. Here, the focus is on the happiness and joy that the charity’s work brings and I think that’s really refreshing.”
Interview by Alastair Blair