THE BLOG

Free the Children - How Am I Going to Be Charitable?

09/07/2014 16:09 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

I have never really been a very charitable person apart from the usual; sponsoring friends, completing lengthy swims for Cancer Research and Comic Relief & Children in Need donations etc. So when I had to fill in an application form at AOL UK to be part of a volunteer trip with Free the Children charity in Kenya, I was a bit thin on the evidence to make my case as to why I should be picked. I can only say that I am now a changed person in this respect and I am definitely going to be more philanthropic post the educating adventure I was sent on (thanks AOL and Free the Children). But what is the best way to contribute to this worthy cause? To read more about the global We Day movement, visit http://www.weday.com/.

The journey started at We Day UK. On 7th March 2014, the likes of Richard Branson, Ellie Goulding and Me to We founder's the Kielburger Brothers got together to motivate change on our future generation. As volunteers we got to see most of the show (an awesome perk), but there was something else going on... and no it wasn't wind! The point of the day was really getting through to me... there was no 'Me' it was 'We'. We were all working together to contribute to the day and embrace change. I couldn't do this on my own now could I? This was pretty much the pivoting moment for me personally and I knew I wanted to do more. Hence the 10 days I then went and spent in Kenya.

AOL are proud partners of Free the Children and have taken part in the trip for 3 years now. This year saw 7 Cannucks and for the first time, 7 UK Aolers (incl. honorary employee Ailsa) took to the air and flew to Nairobi to make the very bumpy 40 minute flight to the Maasai Mara. The plains are home to thousands of communities, some of which Free the Children have worked with already to ultimately change the resident's lives for the better. We spent time visiting homes of 'Mamas' in the community, seeing schools which had been built already, actually building a school and learning all about Kenya's history. Fun Fact 1 - Maasai Warriors used to gain their title by slaying a lion and returning with its mane. Now completing education to degree level makes you a warrior. I have to say though, I was glad that our protection from being eaten by lions didn't have a degree but had earned his title through brutal strength (FYI no animals were hurt in the making of this post).

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So now this is where you may think about what I learnt and apply it to your own life. Imagine being raised without any form of education. You don't know what a toilet is... you have no idea why you might feel ill... to put it bluntly, you don't know that using the river as a little boys room and then drinking from it is damn right killing you. We would all class this as common sense right? Yet it all came from someone telling us and teaching us.

Writing this made me think of those little potties we all started on. You know you got too big when your 'member' would touch the 'water'. Sorry back to the issue at hand...

Now Free the Children are involved, these valuable life lessons can be taught and by enforcing 5 basic pillars (listed below) into the communities, families are healthier and now lead more fulfilling lives.

The five key pillars are:

  1. Education
  2. Clean Water and Sanitation
  3. Health
  4. Alternative Income and Livelihood
  5. Agriculture and Food Security

They still live in what I like to call (name the TV Program) 'Mud huts' with no electricity, but they are so happy and loving that now the basics are incorporated into daily life, they ask for nothing. To make these changes though, the charity requires money. It costs around $250k to get sustainable clean water into a single community and there are still thousands of communities in Kenya alone that require help. That's not taking into account the other parts of the world Free the Children works with (Ecuador and India) and also places they haven't yet ventured into.

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One of the other main changes Free the Children aim to tackle is the educational disarray that was going on for decades in Kenya. Primary school wasn't a necessity and only those that could afford it attended. That is until the Free the Children, partnered with the Kenyan Government, called for all children to attend and anyone else that wanted to learn could also join. Fun Fact 2 - When this initiative was initially rolled out people up to the age of 83 turned up at primary school to gain an education.

After working in communities for 7 years to make them completely sustainable, Free the Children can now take responsibility for stories like this one: When visiting Oleleshwa, a high school sponsored by AOL we asked one of the 52 students "what do you want to be when you grow up?" She replied confidently with "A brain surgeon". The ambition that these girls had was unrivalled and quite frankly put me and others to shame. Not only did she have this dream, she also added that following reaching this goal, she would like to return to her home village to continue to educate others and give them the help Free the Children and AOL gave her. How selfless, how rewarding and how incredibly un-British of her (thank god). As my Mom would say "you go girl!!"

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Throughout my 10 days in the middle of nowhere with no high rise buildings, no unventilated underground and no rude Londoners I did not see one negative image. All of the changes that Free the Children had made were positive and I was privileged to have seen it first-hand. BUT... of course there is a 'but'. There is still so much to be done. The basic pillars need to spread across all of the communities and equal opportunities need to be given to all of the Kenyan's currently living without these valuable lessons. How do 'We' do this? By all coming together and contributing to the change. There is nothing more I would like to do than pack up my bags and go first hand to contribute to change; however I am not of use this way (it took many people to tell me this). By telling my story (and get used to it, there will be more posts coming) and creating awareness of this charity which a year ago had not step foot in the UK, we can Be the Change.

I cannot thank everyone who has already sponsored me enough. Friends, Family, Colleagues and even my local Golf Club Druids Heath (thanks Frank) you have been amazing. AOL UK (Graham and Noel here's to you) and Free the Children let's keep fundraising. Finally, to all of the people I got to share this experience with, I could name you all but readers will get bored, so Team Kenya UK, Team Kenya Canada and to all of the staff at Bagoni and FTC. You are all amazing and 'We' have to keep this momentum going for the people we met, for others around Kenya and furthermore globally.

Me to We... Think about it! If you would like to contribute to this great cause, please donate by going to https://www.paypal.com/uk/webapps/mpp/send-money-online and use reference james.yardley@teamaol.com.