An inferno of violence and chaos. That was Kenya in 2007. Almost declared a failed state after a disputed presidential election, the East African country’s future was grim.
“Kenya was burning itself to the ashes…Expatriates were leaving, and it became very dangerous for us. We were walled in and it was burning all around us,” recalls Singaporean Lam Yeen-Lan, of the plight of the Rafiki Training Village in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, a place that provides living, medical and educational facilities for orphans and vulnerable children.
With the precarious situation at hand, Yeen-Lan and her five other co-missionary workers were given the option to leave. But that could mean an end to the sanctuary the training village was to the group of underprivileged children – what would happen to them?
Worried that they “would be placed in a very unenviable position if the missionaries left”, Yeen-Lan and her co-workers knew they were going nowhere.
“All of us stayed and we huddled together,” Yeen-Lan recalls.
For the next few months, food was in severe shortage but the Red Cross and the United Nations came to their rescue. It wasn’t until a few months later that things started to normalise.
Such is the tenacity and conviction with which Yeen-Lan guards the underprivileged children at the Rafiki Training Village. Yet, this is hardly surprising for people who know her: she unplugged herself from the comforts of home and a cushy career 14 years ago to care for the less fortunate.
“It is my responsibility and joy to be able to go out and help others. The world is bigger than just Singapore and I have been particularly inspired by the fact that there are others who need to be cared for and protected – orphans, abandoned children, widows and poor women of the church,” she proffers.
The Rafiki Training Village in Nairobi houses about 100 orphans and abandoned children. Apart from these children, the school within the training village also provides free education to about 90 other children from impoverished families who stay within the vicinity. The children go on to take the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education and the Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education. The Rafiki Training Village is part of Rafiki Foundation.
A field trip to the museum.
Responsible for the overall running of the training village, Yeen-Lan is the “CEO, CFO and COO rolled into one”. She has a staff of 57 Kenyans who work as security guards, gardeners, cleaners, teachers, cooks, care-givers as well as play other roles within the village.
The Rafiki Foundation also supports widows and women with Aids by helping them to build their self-esteem and earn a living by selling crafts. “Wasted women and prostitutes,” Yeen-Lan reveals “have a lot of baggage and anger” -- something she and her co-missionary workers hope to assuage.
“We’ll say: ‘We’ll all die, but it’s how we would choose to die. And while you’re still alive, let’s make the best of it. Use your hands, you’re gifted, make the craft and try to sell them.’”
The crafts produced by these women are brought to the Rafiki Exchange in the U.S. to be sold. All proceeds from the sale of products are channelled directly to the women.
Her dream now is to see her first batch of orphans go to university. She is currently in talks with some universities about the possibility of providing scholarships to the children.
“The children are like my children…I do not know how many of them will do well enough to go to university, but I would like to encourage them to their highest potential because education and good health are what we can give them. I encourage them to do well, to be useful contributors to society. I’m really looking forward to the day (when they enter university).”
Hope is, perhaps, one of the best gifts one can give. And Yeen-Lan, through the work of the Rafiki Foundation, delivers this timeless gift that would be remembered by the beneficiaries in years to come.
Yeen-Lan (back row, 3rd from right), with the children from the Rafiki Training Village.
By Yee Wei Zhen