Celtic Tenors

Cheryl's Children's Home, Nairobi

The Kenya Build Team - June 2009

In June/July 2009, I made my 4th trip to Nairobi, Kenya.
Before the usual week of building began, James, along with Maeve Coghlan (Soprano), and Colm Henry (Musical Director of The Celtic Tenors), gave 4 fund-raising concerts at the Lord Erroll and the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi. These concerts were organised by fellow Sligoman Gerry Cunningham (Thank you Gerry!), who works for the United Nations in Nairobi. The concerts were a big success, and the undoubted stars of the show were the choir from Cheryl’s Children’s Home. Check out the You Tube links below… and as you watch, just think of the pasts these kids have had – each one has an horrific story to tell – but then think of their future which is now filled with hope and positivity. Each night, thanks to the generosity of the Lord Erroll and the Muthaiga Club, these children were treated like royalty by the staff, and fed, and waited on. A very moving sight to say the least. I had never before thought so much about lyrics…”the bare necessities”, “something inside so strong…the more you refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing”…

Enjoy the links:

The concerts were such a success in 2009, a further series of concerts are being planned for July 2010 in Nairobi. Watch this site for dates, or email info@jamesdnelson.com to check dates and times. Cheryl's children have a whole repertoire of new songs to sing for you! A CD recording of the children's songs is also in the pipeline for 2010.

2010 Concert Dates

01 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends-Lord Erroll, Runda, Nairobi.

02 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends-Oshwal Auditorium, Westlands.

03 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends at Karen Country Lodge.

04 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends-Oshwal Auditorium, Westlands.

04 Jul 10 - Rusty Nail, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya.

06 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends at Muthaiga Club, Nairobi.

07 Jul 10 - James, Colm & Friends at Muthaiga Club, Nairobi.

The following week, another Kenya Build team ( www.kenyabuild.com ) , led by the inspirational Basil Love (my childhood friend from Sligo), continued to build and upgrade the accommodation and educational facilities at several Nairobi orphanages, perhaps most notably St Paul’s Children’s Care Centre, Riruta Shade, and Cheryl’s Children’s Home. The building work is ongoing throughout the year and a building schedule for July 2010 is already in place.

The work accomplished at Cheryl's Children's Home was an undoubted success. All of the children are now sleeping comfortably in their new dormitories, using their first ever showers, wash-hand basins and flush toilets. No longer do these children have to sleep under corrugated iron sheeting, with rats running in and out under their beds, and snakes hunting the rats! The children are also continuing their excellent education, only now in the new surroundings of their brand-new classroom block. After all, in the words of Samuel Sambuli (Director of Cheryl’s Children’s home), “Education is the key to the children’s future.”

In 2009, thanks primarily to the extreme generosity of Dundalk Grammar School Transition Year (under the guidance of Gillian Johnston and others), a new Activity Room/Dining Room/Church was completed at Cheryl’s. A new 'indoor kitchen' and a toilet block for the day pupils was also completed in 2009. As well as all of the above, Cheryl’s also now boasts their first ever 14-seater minibus, again made possible by several extremely generous donations. Sincere thanks to ALL involved.

The original site of Cheryl's Children's Home
in the heart of Kibera Slum, Nairobi

A devoted team of volunteers, led by the saintly Samuel Sambuli, are the vital role-models many of the children never had. The orphanage of course remains in debt (it is a constant struggle to pay food-bills). But there is, without a doubt, increasing hope, and light at the end of what was a very dark tunnel for these Kenyan orphans. All of the children at Cheryl's now have a real chance at life, where before they had no hope at all. In the last year or so, many generous-hearted people have come forward and offered themselves as sponsor-parents for some of “Cheryl’s” Children. Needless to say, sponsor parents are still needed. It costs just €35 a month to sponsor a child at Cheryl’s. Other sponsorship details are available on Cheryl’s Official Website. See www.cherylshome.org. Because many of the staff at Cheryl’s work on an entirely volunteer basis, Cheryl’s are hoping to have some of the staff sponsored also. If you can help in any way, please email Samuel at cchdirector@hotmail.com or contact www.kenyabuild.com or info@jamesdnelson.com .

It is impossible to describe in mere words the impact my trips to Kenya have had on me. I knew it would be tough. I knew I would cry. I knew the children's faces would break my heart and completely win me over. Many Kenyans remain justly angry at the injustices in their society, as they watch the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer… now where have we heard that before?

Walking through Kibera Slum with an armed guard was without a doubt the most disturbing part of my time in Kenya. This gut-wrenching attack on all of the senses has simply got to be experienced up close in order for the gravity of the situation to really hit home. The sight of almost two million unfortunates crammed into home-made huts of mud and galvanised sheeting, the rancid vomit-inducing stench of open sewers and slippery brown paths composed of waste, the taste in the air of disease and rotting butcher’s meat in open butcher’s windows, the touch of orphan’s hands as they try to shake your hands, and their ad nauseam repetition of “How are you?” echoing in your mind like a recurring nightmare days after you have been forced to ignore these thousands of repetitious cries for help. I had simply never seen people living in such horrific conditions, except on TV... almost 2 million people live in Kibera. I was so angry when I heard that the government of Kenya charge rent for these hellhole houses.

Part of the all-new accommodation of Cheryl's Children's Home and the boys' block almost finished

In the same way we related to the story of Anne Frank rather than trying to fathom the hellish fate of 6 million Jews, it is at times easier to focus one’s attention on individual stories, rather than attempting to get your head around the shocking lives of almost 2 million people in a Kenyan slum. In Kibera, we visited the house of one HIV-infected mother and her 4 children (only the youngest had the HIV virus) who had been forced to resort to prostitution. One night she was gang-raped in the street, ran to the police station to report the atrocity…where she was gang-raped by the police. This is just one of millions of similar stores.

When I interviewed some of Cheryl’s children one-on-one and heard some of their horrific histories, it was at times impossible to hold it together. When I saw these enthusiastic kids singing their hearts out at the Lord Erroll and the Muthaiga Club, it was so difficult not to visualise each of their individual horrific pasts…the little girl who was the sole survivor of a machete attack on her family, the girl who watched her Dad kill her Mum out of desperation, the little glue-sniffing boy, the girl who watched her family burn to death in El Doret Church, the little boy found abandoned at a Kibera bus-stop at an estimated age of 2, the many AIDS orphans…and so the stories go on.

And yet, they are happy. They have positivity in their eyes, and a real hope for their future.

More than 15 million children under the age of 18 have lost either one or both parents to AIDS. One third of Nairobi’s population has the HIV virus. Of approximately 1 million Kenyan AIDS-orphans, many of them end up single-handedly fending for their siblings. Others wander the streets. A large number resort to glue-sniffing, others prostitute themselves for coins or food. This hellish combination of parental loss, economic hardship, lack of love, attention and affection, inevitable psychological distress, malnutrition, illness and isolation is simply too much for any of us to fully take on board in our supposedly civilised world. The sights, smells and sounds from our slum-walks still haunt me. I suppose I can’t just get my head around the fact that, in the 21st Century, millions of people live in such horrendous circumstances, and most of the world don't even know. Or care.

And yet, Cheryl’s children are prospering, and are always in great spirits. They have health, happiness, hope and love. Many of Cheryl’s Children are doing incredibly well at secondary school level. Many have already progressed to third-level studies, nursing and other worthy vocations. These children are uninfected, well-behaved, well-disciplined, smiling and appreciative of the tiniest things. The littlest of Cheryl’s children just want to be picked up and hugged. I never heard one cry or complain. They have lost their parents, their role models, and simply crave love, affection and security, and a fair second chance at life.

James' sponsor-son Joseph enjoying his first ever
Bouncy Castle, as a very special treat

I will never forget the children’s faces when we walked through the Naivasha Nature Reserve in Kenya’s magnificent Rift Valley, as we mingled with giraffes and zebras, and as we watched local fishermen netting their daily catches. Or when we marvelled at Africa’s largest flamingo population, as well as seeing white rhinos, buffaloes, giraffes and many other safari stars only feet away from the bus windows. Before this, many of Cheryl’s Children had only ever seen rats and snakes. Even the constantly-breaking-down bus was a new and exciting adventure for these inspiring children.

It is important to reiterate that Cheryl’s is only ONE of the projects being supported on an ongoing basis by Kenya Build. See www.kenyabuild.com

And here is the bit which I always find hard to do… as these are ongoing projects…and of course I am returning …and the orphanages are in constant debt, if anyone feels like helping out with these worthy projects, I would be most grateful. Just know that every cent is used wisely. No pressure whatsoever…

At this point, may I reiterate my heartfelt and sincere thanks (also on behalf of many grateful children) to EVERYONE – young and old - who gave so generously to make my trips to Africa life-changing and grounding experiences, and humbling in the extreme. I plan to return every year, for as long as I am healthy and well enough to do so!

The bank details, for those interested, are below.
Account Name : Kenya Build c/o James Nelson,
Bank of Ireland, Baltinglass, County Wicklow.
Account Number : 56967923
Sort Code : 90-65-07
Iban number : IE72BOFI90650756967923
Bic/Swift Number : BOFIIE2D

Cheryl's Children's Choir at the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi

Basil Love, Founder of Kenya Build

Cheryl's Children enjoying a post-concert meal at the Lord Erroll, being waited on...

James at the Lord Erroll, with his sponsor-son Joseph

A Happy face on a first-ever boat-trip...

The children left in the slum still have a sadness in their eyes

Common Room/Dining Room/Activity Room almost complete...

The Boys Dormitory block at Cheryl's is completed

A Kibera fish stall covered with bluebottles... truly gut-wrenching

There is little or nothing to do for the children of Kibera

The original site of Cheryl's Children's Home in Kibera, before it was washed away in the floods

With open sewers everywhere, you have to watch your step...

The orphans are overhwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of their own country on a trip to Naivasha

...while in the slum, the scenery for the children as they play, is less attractive, and totally unsafe

“First they came…”, by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892 – 1984)

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

The following poem was especially written by the inspirational poet Gary Jermyn, for a “Kenya Build” concert in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Dalkey, County Dublin on January 6th 2008. The concert was in order to raise funds for Maeve Coghlan’s first humanitarian trip to Nairobi in June 2008.


I read the news today oh boy
The slums of Kibera smouldering in the heat
I read the news today oh boy
Tyres on fire acrid smoke and violence in the air
I read the news today oh boy
A church in Eldoret burning the flames rising higher
I read the news today oh boy
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
I read the news today oh boy

And as I sat at the kitchen table
Reading the Irish Times
My tea going cold
On an icy Saturday morning in January
my heart was full
For we all come from Africa

We are of Africa
Not because we are born in Africa
But because Africa is born in us

The common ancestor of everyone living today
Lived in the region of the Rift Valley
50,000 years ago or so they say
Perhaps in present day
Or Kenya

When the river flowed out of Eden to water the garden
Our nomadic ancestors ventured also
Men, women, children
tribes, generations
a river of life as ancient as the world
As old as the flow of human blood in human veins

And as I sat at the kitchen table
Reading the Irish Times
My tea going cold
On an icy Saturday morning in January
I felt like the prodigal son
A long way from home

And at the start of the New Year a voice was whispering to me

“The person who neglects
To leave some trace behind
May be said to have lived in vain

It is your choice
Your life can be a stagnant marsh
Or your life can be a river flowing through the wilderness
Irrigating the barren desert

For only when the fortunes of our brothers and sisters are restored
Then can our fortunes be restored also”

In the dawn
Armed with a glowing patience
Brick by brick
We will build the splendid city

Our guiding stars will be struggle and hope
But there is no such thing as a lone struggle
No such thing as a lone hope

Together we forge our future
Brick by brick
Together we can build the splendid city
Which will give light
And dignity
To all mankind

In this way our songs will not have been sung in vain

And as I sat at the kitchen table
Reading the Irish Times
My tea going cold
On an icy Saturday morning in January
I whispered to myself

Beyond the notion of right and wrong
there is a garden
My friend will you meet me there?

© Gary Jermyn 6 Jan 08