By Phill Prendeville


In the rural Kenyan town of Emali where we are filming, I am helped by Violet Lukulai, a tireless worker and advocate for children. Violet is a social worker for ChildFund and whilst we are here she will work as our translator during filming.

One of the trickier aspects of this project is not being able to speak the language when the whole filming process requires communication so the translator is pivotal for anything to happen. I generally try to use women as they tend to make the children more comfortable.

Violet is a bit of a character and she doesn’t look like she’ll take much nonsense. Before we start I apologise in advance for how demanding I will be of her. It’s a tough job as she has to immediately become part of the crew and ask the difficult questions for us with no prior experience.

Within an hour of meeting we are working and she is asking a grandmother about her imminent death. Violet has a tough veneer but as she talks I notice a tear sliding down her cheek. I think this is what makes Violet and people like her on the front line so amazing, that after all they have witnessed, all they have heard they are still affected, they still feel and are not hardened to the grim reality they face day after day.

Violet with Josie & friendsViolet with Josie & friends

Over the next few days I find out that Violet walks miles to check on children and families. Sometimes hiring a bicycle, if she has a particularly long way to go. She never complained once. And when Tom and I got a chance we sat her down to get her perspective about the current situation and its impact on the orphans and vulnerable children.

What are the main challenges in Emali?
Drought is a problem. When the rains come, we buy seeds and give them to the parents to grow food but the crops fail because there is not enough rain. Food scarcity is a big problem because of the unreliable rain fall. The rains may last one or two days, the planting is done but then in a week the rains are gone. It has been this way for the last two years.  We don’t have any food and the food in the market is quite expensive.

As a result of the drought, most of the water points have dried up leaving families with no access to safe drinking water. There are a lot of children using dirty water, and then they get waterborne diseases like diarrhoea. We make sure that when the children get diseases they are treated so there are few deaths.

What are some of the problems the children are facing?
Some of the young girls waste so much time looking for water, they travel very far.  Under those circumstances they miss school because they are looking for water.  And for the orphans who live with their grandmothers, the grandparents are too old to look for water so the children look for water.

Even if they go to school they don’t get what the teacher is saying because they are hungry.  They go to school with empty stomachs.

Day by day I come across orphaned children. When I see them I feel sad because of their suffering, because they don’t have food, even clothes or go to school.  Some stay with old grandparents who cannot work to keep the children going.

If the grandparents die they may end up on the streets or be mistreated by people who will take advantage of them because there is no one to take care of them.  They may even be used as casual labourers even at a tender age.   They will go without food, they will walk naked and not be able to go to school.

What is the solution for the orphans?
We are looking to empower the community to take care of these children. We are planning to extend the piping and drill more bore holes to reach more families. Rather than spending a whole day looking for water, children can go to school and women can do more productive work. We need funds to extend pipelines and to train the communities in health and sanitation.

We have a feeding programme and relief food – especially for the orphans and vulnerable children being looked after by their grandparents. We have growth monitoring each month to identify the malnourished children and have supplementary feeding programmes for them.

What would you say to Kiwis?
I would like them to know about the cry of the child.  There is an orphan child who needs food, education, this child needs care and all this is not there. We are looking for someone who can hear the cry of these children.

You might think that Violet’s job is overwhelming, that no one could do what she does day after day for too long, but Violet has worked for ChildFund for eight years. As she says:

We should keep on day after day, not get tired, and not give up.  If we give up the children will suffer more and more.

Again there are tears on Violet’s face… not because she is sad but because she is so full of love.

Violet and friendViolet and friend

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