Making a difference

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Southern Institute of Technology first-year nursing student Zoe Dawson with children from Kumpa, Kenya, last year. Photos: Supplied

HELPING children in an impoverished Kenyan village access education and health services is the lofty goal Southland teenager Zoe Dawson is making a reality.

The 19-year-old Southern Institute of Technology first-year nursing student is the New Zealand correspondent and deputy chairperson of Children of Maasai Educational Programme (CMEP), a not-for-profit charity founded in July 2015 aimed at reducing the underlying causes of poverty in the Maasai area of Kenya.

Her work was focused on the township of Kumpa within Kajiado County about 80km south of Nairobi. Kumpa was about the size of Winton, she said.

The predominantly farming area had experienced a drought, causing livestock to die and the children to become malnourished, she said.

The majority of the adult population was illiterate, so the aim was to educate the children so they could grow up, gain employment and bring money back into the community, she said.

“Education is key to the village’s future.

“We are wanting to empower the local people. We want them to be self-sufficient.”

She had teamed up with Kenyan teachers Jackson Maya and Mary Saruni and Australian law student Lauren Jackson (21), who she met in May/June last year through VFS, a Kenyan-based organisation which connects volunteers.

Zoe Dawson with Intan (6).

Using their own money and whatever they can raise, the women had implemented a series of programmes designed to encourage the village children to attend school, including offering school meals, providing Days for Girls reusable sanitary kits and organising mobile sight and eye clinics for the children and community.

They focused on small projects which would make the biggest difference, she said.

“We want to show people they can absolutely make a difference. We are just 19 and 21 and we have done all of this.”

Zoe had been instrumental in opening the House of Hope Special Needs Centre in Kumpa where children with special needs could go to be educated and learn life skills.

Zoe said the community thought children with special needs were a result of witchcraft or a curse and the children were kept hidden. They were often left in their homes all day while their families went out to work and were vulnerable to being raped, so the team decided to set up the centre to give them a safe place to go each day.

They had repaired a disused church building for the purpose and the centre was now attended by 13 children.

Zoe said her goal was to become a qualified paediatric nurse so she would be able to continue her volunteer work and do more for the communities she helped.

She is planning to return to Kumpa in September and is collecting newborn and baby clothes to take with her.

To find out more about CMEP and to support the charity, go to www.childrenofmaasai.org

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