– Yeah, right, all this story about your Turkana trip sounds slightly crazy but cool… how about Lamu? Isn’t that the place where all wealthy hippie-wannabe Europeans go “hide”? (I wonder how you could possibly hide if everybody seems to have the same hiding place! Would you go hiding in Marbella or Ibiza?)
– “Well, yes, that is exactly the place. A tiny island off the Kenyan coast very close to the Somali border”
– Huh, huh, so tell me, you spent 4 days on the beach just relaxing?
– Not quite. I spent 4 days at Anidan, the orphanage run by Rafael Selas, living with the children. An amazing experience which, of course, also included some beach and a lot of playing with the kids!
If you ever go to Lamu, just stop by and see it by yourself. Otherwise, why don’t you learn more at www.anidan.org? It definitely is a cause worth contributing and with a very small effort you can really change somebody’s life.
Anidan was founded by Rafael Selas 6 years ago. When I visited Lamu in 2007, they had all the children in a house in Lamu Town, and they were struggling for space. At the time they were building the new facilities, with capacity for 250-300 children at the “shamba”, around 20 minutes walk from Lamu center, next to an amazingly beautiful beach.
The Shamba is a large piece of land that includes the main building, a dormitory for boys, another for girls and a hospital from the Pablo Hoffman foundation. Anidan currently has 300 children, some of which stay overnight and other who sleep with their parents.
All of the children have been admitted on a case-by-case basis, all of them with terrible stories of poverty and starvation, of rape and beating, of being neglected by parents and family, of death from AIDs or any other disease… All this children have found in ANIDAN the family they never had and now they can go back to where they should have never left: childhood.
At Anidan I found boys and girls, of all religions and ages, playing together and taking care of each other. Life a family with 300 children!
To my surprise, I found that everything was really well organized. Shower and bed time, playtime, studying, going on day-trips… Each one has a little space for his/her belongings: clothes, tower… They all share their toys and, actually, make their own games… It reminded me a lot of my schooldays. No playstation, no TV… who needs them? These children use their imagination to play, and the result is amazing.
But, on top of all, to me ANIDAN is a MIRACLE. It is the story of someone, Rafa, who one day decided to leave everything and follow his dream: giving children an opportunity and turning their dreams into realities. Through Anidan he managed to align all the most impossible stars in the universe to make things happen. His enthusiasm is so contagious that he was soon joined by a team of really committed and highly qualified people who are today the managers of Anidan.
ANIDAN is a story of hope, a story of opportunities and the proof that miracles happen. We all had our dreams when we were children. It is actually the opportunity to dream what keeps us alive, what makes us look forward to the future. For one reason or another, the children of Anidan one day lost the most valuable thing they had: their hopes, their dreams, their opportunity to become who they wanted to be in life.
Thanks to Rafa and his team, today those children smile again and laugh. They laugh because they know they are safe, they can continue dreaming and one day, the opportunity they deserve will be there for them. It is thanks to people like you and me, who believe in Rafa, that the miracle of Anidan is possible. It is thanks to people like Rafa, that those children will one day see their dreams come true.
Thanks Rafa, thanks Anidan, for letting us be part of your dream, for inviting us all to be part of Anidan. The world really needs more Rafas, it really needs more ANIDANs so that everybody would have an opportunity in life!
The Pablo Hoffmann Hospital
The Nursery School
The massai watchmen
There are 3 massais who work as watchmen at Anidan.
Lamu has two main parts, Lamu Town, in the center, and Shella, where many tourists go. In front of the island, there is another island, Manda, where several wealthy families have their mansions, as well as in Shella.
Lamu is well known for its relaxed atmosphere, the donkeys in the streets (as there are no cars), its nice hotels and villas, the beaches and the seafood…
Unfortunately there is another side of Lamu, which is not known to the occasional tourist and most times ignored by the same wealthy people who use the island as a retreat. There is a very dark side of Lamu: one of children without rights, of malaria, AIDS and disease, of hunger and poverty, of rape and abuse. This is the side that Anidan is fighting to change, with an amazing success rate.
The BORANA Village
Right next to Anidan there is a borana village. Everybody at the village is extremely poor, so their children go, study and feed at Anidan and go back at night to sleep at home.
For some reason, all of the men in the village were killed and the eldest man is a 20 year-old boy, Abdelkadir, who, after spending years at Anidan, is now studying a technical degree sponsored by Rotary Club Madrid Zurbarán, and one day will become the chief of the village.
A day at the beach
It was Sunday so, as a special day, Fernando, a Spanish supporter of Anidan who owns a villa very close to the Shamba, and his family, invited 30 of the Anidan children to spend the day at the beach in Manda Island.
So there we went, some in the speedboat and some in the dhow, the traditional sailboat, and spent the day eating, playing and swimming at an amazing beach, just in front of Shella and the Peponi, on the other side of the channel where most foreigners go wind and kite surfing. Thanks Fernando!
A day with MELBA
Melba is one of the Anidan girls. She is 21 years old and has just finished her 3rd year of Tourism at the Kampala University, in Uganda. Her studies were sponsored by Rotary Club Madrid Zurbarán and I wanted to meet her to learn some more about her, her background and what she plans to do in the future.
Future? This word sounds great when referred to an Anidan children. Thanks to donors, to people like you and me who worry about them and decide to help Rafa, the word future is back to these children’s vocabulary.
Melba is an amazing girl. I had a great time with her walking from the Shamba to Lamu and then to Shella for hours. She is so prepared, so interesting, so mature and yet so nice, so much willing to help other people, that I felt really happy to see that it is true, that each one of us can have a huge impact in somebody’s life. My Rotary Club has for sure changed Melba’s life. Let’s hope that we can all change the lives of all Anidan children!
The ANIDAN CHILDREN
And here comes the most important and amazing part of the story: the children. Each one of them has a terrible story behind but you could never guess because they are always smiling and laughing.
These are pictures of some of the children at Anidan, who let me be part of their very special family for a few days. And it really felt like being at home, a loving home where everybody respects and cares about the others.
Rafa Selas and team, CONGRATULATIONS FOR THE AMAZING WORK YOU ARE DOING WITH THESE CHILDREN!
SOME OF THE STORIES
At Anidan, all children have really hard stories behind. Once they are there, they become part of the family and somehow they leave behind whatever it was that brought them there. Many of them are orphans and others have parents but, in practice, it is like if they did not. Some others even have loving parents who are just too poor to even feed them once a day.
Most of them arrived undernourished and sick. Many had either no family or some family tragedy behind. Here I write, as an example, some of the stories that I shared with the children while at Anidan. If I had not been there and seen it personally, I would have found them difficult to believe… The following are extracts from my notebook, that I normally carry around so that I do not forget what I am living!
Married at 13
Today I met “Y” an amazingly beautiful girl. She had henna tattoos in her hands and arms and looked quite happy and smiley.
Just when I was asking Frida and Robi, two of the managers of Anidan, for the stories of some children they told me: “Look, she is one of the ones you are looking for. Her story is brutal”.
Apparently she had been within the Anidan radar for many years. Probably one of the first girls to join, from a very poor background, so she had a family but she studied and ate at Anidan.
When “Y” turned 12, her family decided to engage her to a much older man against her will. All in vane, they decided to proceed with the engagement and the wedding.
I was told that Rafa tried everything in his power to prevent such wedding from happening, and, although the wedding actually took place, he continued trying to free the girl from her personal nightmare.
And he finally succeeded. The girl reported the arranged marriage and moved back to Anidan… It was almost as if her nightmare had never happened… almost… because when she went back to Anidan she was already pregnant.
Today “Y” is a 14 year-old beautiful girl and she and her son are part of the huge Anidan family.
Unfortunately this story is not a one-off. There are many girls like “Y” who are forced into marriage at the ages of 12-14. Another of Anidan’s best students, who will hopefully soon go to university managed to escape from her arranged marriage. She went to the police and reported her family.
This is a really tough decision for the girls, because it breaks any bonds with their families, but it is their only opportunity to escape an unhappy destiny: married at 13 with a much older man who normally rapes them and beats them up.
The 3 orphans
These were the last children who joined Anidan, aged 2, 3 and 6. Seeing them you would never guess that only 2 months ago they witnessed how their father slaughtered their mother in their presence. The story was so unbelievable to the Anidan team that they requested some evidence to verify that it was true. Apparently they were shocked to see the pictures and police report.
The 3 children stayed with their grandmother, who could not take care of them. The neighbours told her about Anidan and she sent them to Lamu with María, one of the managers.
Today you can see them playing like any other children, totally happy and fully integrated with the rest. They are another lesson of resilience, of how the human nature is ready to fight for survival and overcome any traumatic experience.
Orphans of AIDS
This is the story of two sisters, but unfortunately also the story of many more of the Anidan children.
Amina is a beautiful 12 year-old girl, with amazing eyes. She and her sister Zahara, are amongst the first children who joined Anidan.
When they were very young they first lost their father, then their mother. Both of them died of AIDS. In Amina’s words: “First my father died and then my mother, so now my father is Rafa and my mother is Niwana (Rafa’s wife).
How lucky for these two orphans to have Rafa and Niwana as their parents. What happened to them is a common tragedy in Lamu. What is not so common is to be as lucky as to find a new family. Amina and Zahara today play and smile like any other children, and, I love talking to them and listening to their dreams for the future. “I want to be a teacher” “I want to be a doctor” “Great, so now girls, you know what you have to do: study a lot and fight for your opportunities. Inshallah”.
S is an amazing girl. So much energy, such a big smile. A natural leader.
She is the daughter of a prostitute in Lamu and grew up in the least child-friendly environment possible: drugs, prostitution, pimps… Living in these conditions, she was raped several times. When her mother learnt about it, she reported the rapist to the police, who was sent to court and found guilty. Today the rapist is in jail and S lives in Anidan, trying to forget her past and concentrating in what the future will bring to her.