Phyllis Keino

Given the dedication and hard work of the women who run Bread and Water for Africa UK projects in Africa, it is no surprise that their work is frequently recognised by international bodies.

It has just been announced that Phyllis Keino, who runs the Lewa Children’s Home, the KipKeino Primary School and Baraka Farm in Eldoret, has won the coveted World of Children Award 2018, in the Humanitarian category. Phyllis has been our spokesperson for 14 years now.

This is a just reward for Phyllis who has dedicated her entire life to looking after orphans and vulnerable children, as she describes it “taking those children without the beautiful faces, whom others don’t want”. Phyllis’ story began in 1964, in Isioli, where she worked as a nurse, and started fostering and taking care of street children from her community, raising them alongside her own seven children. In 1975, she moved her family to the Kazi Mingi Farm on the outskirts of Eldoret, where she set up the Lewa Children’s Home, which was registered in 1978. Later, she created the KipKeino Primary School, and the Baraka Farm, so the three could become a self-sustaining entity.

Phyllis Keino at the Lewa Childrens Home, Eldoret

So how did she overcome the considerable difficulties when she started: “It was difficult at first getting the finance as there was no support”, she admits. “You have to believe in yourself, and stay strong, and of course, work hard”. And work hard she did, waking at 4am to oversee milking the cows at the Baraka Farm, or staying up all night if any of the children was sick.

Over the last 40 years, Phyllis and her team have seen 3000 children pass through Lewa and the KipKeino school, many of whom go on to University, being educated alongside children of the Kenyan elite, and going on to hold government jobs.

This is not the first time she has been garlanded for her services. In 2006 Phyllis won the Christian Relief Services Charities 20th Anniversary Gala Awards: Visionary Award and in 2010 won the International Alliance for Women- World of Difference 100 Award, in the NGO category, for her unwavering commitment to caring for Kenya’s children. Then in 2012 she received the East African Philanthropy Award for Philanthropic Excellence.

Melanie Blake

Melanie Blake is another of our African heroines who has been recognised for her work with mentally ill patients in Kenya, having turned round the lives of over 7000 patients and their extended families since Kamili Organisation was established in 2009. One of Kamili’s particular strengths is its emphasis on the context of mental health patients, understanding the family needs, and the importance of offering long-term support through microcredit schemes.

Support for mental health sufferers in Kenya only accounts for 0.5% of the national health budget, with the added complication that mental health symptoms are often attributed to black magic and witchcraft. This prompted Melanie Blake, a trained psychiatric nurse and long-term Kenyan resident to set up Kamili, building on two existing mental health clinics in low income areas of Nairobi.

Since then, Kamili has grown and now runs clinics in Lower Kabate, Kihara and Kangemi, making it one of Kenya’s main providers of mental health care.

In order to improve mental health provision across Kenya, Kamili provides scholarships for nurses to undergo psychiatric nurse training, including in-house training at a Kamili clinic. They have sponsored 31 mental health nurses in the last six years, and intend to sponsor a further seven nurses this year, with support from Bread and Water for Africa UK and our generous donors.

When Melanie first started, the authorities were doubtful about Kamili, but her tenacity has created an organisation that has the structure and momentum to be self-sustaining. Her patience when dealing with authorities has enabled her to build a service, which is now integrated into Kenya’s health delivery model. In May 2016, when the Kenyan Health Minister unveiled Kenya’s first Mental Health Policy, Kamili was one of only five organisations given a special edition in recognition of its contribution to the country’s mental health.

Melanie Blake receives her MBE from Queen Elizabeth II for her services to mental health in Kenya

Melanie’s unflagging commitment and determination to provide affordable mental health in Kenya over the last nine years has resulted in her being awarded an MBE (Master of the British Empire) for service to mental health in Kenya, and she returned to the UK to be presented with this by Queen Elizabeth II in January 2017.

Margaret Makambira

Margaret Makambira is the third of our African heroines, who has established the Shinga Trust in Mutare, Zimbabwe, which offers a number of support programmes, including its plan to set up the Loreto Children’s Village.

Zimbabwe has been going through very troubled times over recent years, and Mutare is near some of the most politically-unstable areas, but despite this the Trust has continued to operate. It has been providing a feeding programme for the area’s children, operates the Shinga Hope Academy and offers support for children to attend school, which has so far benefitted 58 primary and high school students. One of those benefitting, Daniel Kabweza, who is now set to graduate and go to university to study medicine declares proudly, “One day I will be Doctor Daniel Kabweza”.

The Trust’s most ambitious project is an orphanage, or Children’s Village, based on the Lewa Children's Home model in Kenya, which officially opened in 2017. It has started taking children, many of whom are orphaned as a result of the civil unrest, or whose parents died of HIV/AIDS. Margaret doesn’t shy away from taking those from the most troubled backgrounds: “Three of the children are on HIV treatment, four of the girls are from sexual abuses backgrounds,” she says.

Margaret Makambira and children at the Loreto Childrens Village in Zimbabwe

As a Bread and Water for Africa UK Trustee commented after a visit to Mutare, “It is impossible not to be impressed by Margaret’s devotion to children, and she is clearly very well-known and highly respected in Mutare. She is clearly something of a visionary”.