It is hard to believe but the consciousness around global health, poverty and the world’s poorest children was still in its infancy in 2001. Nobody really knew what the Millennium Development Goals were, ‘Make Poverty History’ and ‘Live 8’ were the stuff of dreams, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB continued to ravage sub-Saharan Africa and Bill Gates had only just decided to start a foundation to help children in these countries. In 2001 there were more than 10 million under-5 deaths worldwide. That number was 6.3 million in 2013.
In 2001 I was 22 years old and a medical student at Nottingham University. A group of us, in between lectures and anatomy classes, decided that we needed to do something – anything – to respond to the scourge of child suffering and disease in Africa. In a dimly lit bar in Nottingham listening to the local swing band, Mood Indigo, Beccy Leslie (now Smith) and I decided that we would start a student group to help turn a small dilapidated hotel into a hospital for orphans and vulnerable children in western Kenya. The group needed a name. We would call it KOP.
A year later Beccy and I led a group of 23 students to Kisumu to help with the building work and to raise funds to support the building of Port Florence Community Hospital on the shores of Lake Victoria. The birth of KOP was complete. A picture of the team from 2002 hangs on the wall above my desk and is signed with messages of thanks from the team and it reminds me every day that from small seeds can come big trees.
In the 14 years since the start of KOP and that first trip, KOP has achieved something amazing. The charity has initiated and supported projects and millions of pounds in fundraising that have supported the health, education and welfare of thousands of children in Kenya and driven forward the capacity of local groups to foster sustainable development. Over the years these successes stare up from the pages of reports and spreadsheets. But the stories, the families, the children are real.
Emily, the teenage girl whose parents died of AIDS who can’t go to school because she is supporting her younger siblings.
Boniface, the young boy living on the streets because he has no home, running scared and hungry.
Godfrey, the child with no parents forced to live in an urban slum in desperate need of an education.
Countless children who go to school hungry every day with no nets to protect from malaria, no clean water, no hope and no future. These are the names and the faces that I remember and KOP has supported them all.
In addition to the amazing work supporting children, KOP has also developed some wonderful friendships and partnerships in Kenya over the years and without the support of these partners and from groups like Omega Foundation, Ogra Foundation and HOVIC, KOP would have achieved very little success. In particular in the early years, Beccy, Owain and I would have struggled to do anything without the support of Joshua Odongo and Hezron Mc’Obewa. The friendships that have sustained and nourished KOP during the last decade have been special and memories of friends past and present and of Tuskers, football, fish by the lake, chicken at Mamba will stay with me for life.
At home in the UK the story of KOP to this point has been one of simply inspiring commitment and dedication from students and people passionate about making a difference. More than a thousand university students made the KOP student programme a huge success and the many others who invested in our development, who helped us to fundraise, who organised events, who came to Kenya to help with medical clinics or to cycle across the East Africa. That these people chose to give their time and energy to KOP fills me with humility and joy and I suspect many will never fully appreciate the ways in which they have improved and saved lives and helped to build a better world.
The world has changed since we started and so too must KOP. The charity has changed in breathtaking ways in recent years and is better poised now than ever to inspire change, to innovate and to do things differently. All this whilst continuing to put children at the centre of everything we do to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children.
As the first big chapter for KOP closes and its name changes to Child.org I am left feeling enormously proud of where we have come from and even more excited about where we are going. Children in low resource settings continue to face challenges but I am confident that Child.org will be able to tackle them and be a shining example to other charities and organisations as we do so.
Those of us who started KOP will be filled with memories and a mixture of feelings as the name changes to Child.org. But one memory stands out for me. When I first went to Kenya I can remember looking out over a field as the sun was setting with tears in my eyes filled with a mixture of anger and hope.
Anger about the injustice that forces children to battle with hunger, disease and suffering.
Hope about the humanity and responsibility that is thrust upon all of us who are able, to challenge this, to do something – anything – and to work together towards a brighter future for children.
Child.org will do this and I hope that you will join us.