Follow an organization set on elevating the lives of children living in the remote villages of Darfur, Sudan.
“I said I ought to see how the children are living. I had no idea I was starting a charity it was just that, you know, it was obvious that there were many families living in poverty,” Patricia Parker, founder of Kids for Kids said. “I thought ‘Well, at least I could come back and do something for them.’”
It all started with a little boy named Ibrahim. In 2001, as Parker was making her way through Darfur, Sudan with her son, Alistair, she noticed how blisteringly hot it was. Temperatures can exceed 120 degrees (50 °C) in the summer. She spotted a young boy (Ibrahim,) about nine years old all on his own lugging an enormous jerry can of water.
“It was in the middle of nowhere in the desert and it was scorching hot. So, we bounced across the sand to him and we said ‘are you lost?’ He said ‘Oh no I’m going to collect water from a hand pump for my siblings,’ so we said ‘well, how far are you walking?’”
Parker was appalled by the response. Ibrahim informed her that he didn’t know exactly how far he was traveling but it took him seven hours to reach the handpump.
“I actually thought: I want to see his mother which I still feel was a little bit arrogant of me. I reckoned; how could a child survive the heat of summer like that?” Parker said.
As a mom herself, she was determined to be of aid to this child. She wanted to see his mother to fully understand the circumstances of what exactly was going on. She traveled to the village where he came from, where she was met with an unfulfilled mission. Parker was told that the boy’s mother was currently camping away from the village. That would not stop her. Off they went, on a drive to find his mom. They finally located her in a wadi, a dried riverbed where things will often grow as the water is closer to the earth’s surface.
“She was there with her children. There was nothing. She had a little fence around her made of some material for when they slept. She had three precious possessions: three little goats,” Parker said. “We were arriving as strangers. It was so humbling. She gave us the only thing she could give us as ‘honored guests’ and that was a bowl of goat’s milk.”
Parker stopped in her tracks when she came to the realization that this, a small bowl of milk, was the family’s evening meal. She now understood that the jerry can of water was not only keeping the family alive but the goats as well, who were providing milk with all of the vitamins and minerals the children needed to survive.
“When he was walking that far for water, I was thinking about all of the aid agencies that were there, that were not digging hand pumps,” Parker said. “Under Darfur was the biggest aquifer in Africa and yet, nobody was providing handpumps. I couldn’t believe it.”
Her first thought was to find the money for a hand pump somehow, however, she understood the importance of the goats trumped all else for these poverty-stricken families. After Parker’s first handpump was installed over 900 people gathered around it to thank her. The focus of her organization shifted after that. The goal was to provide villages with nanny goats for milk, donkeys for transportation, train midwives for proper healthcare, open kindergartens for education, plant trees for climate control and so much more. The list of what Kids for Kids aims to provide for villages in Darfur goes on and on.
“Right from the start we were training para-vets (paramedics for animals) because I’m an animal lover. I refused to provide animals without veterinary care. We also provided veterinary drugs,” Parker said. “Since I am all the way in Dorking and they’re in Darfur, I actually needed to make sure that everything that we provided was identified by the community, owned by it and run by it. One of the key things we do is train the people to run things themselves.”
This is because Kids for Kids’ goal is not to just be a charity. They believe in helping people to help themselves. Therefore, there is a specific system that Kids for Kids follows when adopting a village to guarantee its citizens are willing and able to put in the work for their homes to flourish. Parker and her organization have been using this method for over 21 years, resulting in 110 adopted villages to date. They hold three meetings prior to adopting a village, the first being with the village leaders. Then they have to go off and check with their entire community to ask of their needs and ensure they would all like to become a Kids for Kids village. Next, volunteers will talk to the community and make sure they understand and agree to the terms and conditions of becoming a Kids for Kids village. After this process at the third meeting, the villagers select an animal loan committee who is given the responsibility of running the goat loans, donkeys and veterinary care. At the third meeting, the animal loan committee will have chosen beneficiaries and jobs for those eligible.
“The village will have chosen the poorest 15% of people. We will lend five nanny goats to each family in that 15%. They have those goats for two years,” Parker said.
The children are, in fact, the ones who tend to the goats to help their families prosper. If they achieve enough success to pay for an education, only then will adults look after the goats while their children are at school. Within the two years, families cannot sell them without the permission of the animal loan committee. Although, with the surplus of goats as the flock grows, they have excess milk. They are permitted to sell the milk to other children, which helps the entire village. After two years, the families must bring all of their goats to a big meeting in which the animal loan committee will choose the five best offspring to pass on to another family. This is how the goat loan system uplifts and benefits entire villages.
“Remember, this is a male dominated society,” Parker said. “What we are doing, is by lending the goats to the women, the women are owning the goats. So, any income they make from them belongs to the women. That empowers the women. It gives them the chance to make decisions for their family instead of their husbands.”
That being said, the women of Darfur are extremely thoughtful. After two years of benefitting from their goats, many women will sell them to buy a donkey cart for their husband. That way, more income can be obtained through delivery services. They are always thinking of more ways to help their families with what they are given by Kids for Kids. While the goat loans are Kids for Kids biggest project, villages receive much more from the organization.
“We provide them with a donkey which they can keep if they look after it. We also give them blankets because the children don’t have anything to sleep under and the nights in Darfur are jolly cold,” Parker said. “We also provide two mosquito nets to each of the poor houses for the children, which has cut malaria by 2/3 in each village. It’s quite extraordinary.”
In addition to all of that, Kids for Kids provides families with farm tools so their crops can grow and they have enough straw to build and repair their huts. In emergencies, they will also provide seeds to aid in crop growth. Soap is another product the organization will provide villages with; in fact, they donated 500,000 bars of soap all at once. This organization covers so many bases and there are a lot of puzzle pieces to pull together. From training midwives to lending goats, opening schools and donating products, it is not an easy operation.
“We do a lot but it’s worked very well,” Parker said. “We obviously have to work with the state government. It’s not easy but we’ve been out there quite a lot so they know me. We’ve been very lucky that all of these ministries have always been incredibly keen to work with us. We are just helping poor people who are out of sight. Who are forgotten. Who nobody else is helping.”
This is why it is so important that people around the world come together to support Kids for Kids. They are currently searching for a volunteer in America to help coordinate donations from the United States, as well as a deputy to help run the organization as a whole. People can also raise money to make a donation on the Kids for Kids donations page in order to attain more goats for the loans and can become a “children’s champion” by adopting a project to sponsor for 3 years. Most importantly, spreading the word about the organization will go miles.
“One of the things I do when I go and talk to schools, is I say ‘think that this is you living in Darfur. How would you cope?’” Parker said. “If we can get people to tell schools, tell rotary clubs, tell anyone how simple it is to help, it will make a difference.”
That is one thing that is guaranteed by Kids for Kids: and impact and a difference. It all started with that young boy, Ibrahim. Ibrahim is now happily married in his village with two children, who both attend a Kids for Kids school. Donate and spread the word today to help more families experience the same full circle moment that Ibrahim had.