Schoolgirl spends summer helping Kenyan villagers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am


A 16-year-old student from South Island School has witnessed at first hand the suffering famine has brought to Kenya in recent months.

While her classmates headed for the beach for their summer holidays, Shreena Thakore decided she wanted to spend her break helping people in an African country ravaged by starvation and death.

After researching volunteering opportunities, she got in touch with a Canadian non-governmental organisation, Free The Children. Despite the fact that she was not Canadian, her perseverance paid off and she was accepted on a month-long aid trip to the region organised by the group. Shreena and other volunteers went to Osenetoi - a Maasai community seven hours away from the capital Nairobi - and helped to construct a village primary school there. They slept in tents nearby and helped with daily chores.

'I had read statistics, I had seen photos, I had read articles, but nothing could prepare me for it,' she said.

Shreena explained that an average Maasai mother walks a distance of approximately four kilometres back and forth to the nearest pond to get two litres of water four times daily. The eight litres serve a large family for an entire day - in Hong Kong an average toilet flush consumes six litres. The pond is stagnant and is also used by animals to drink and bathe in.

'During a drought, the pond dries up, and all that is left to do is sit and pray,' said Shreena. 'Rural Kenyans do not even name their children until the age of six as most children die of cholera [from the muddy water] or, alternatively, starvation by that age. There is no use developing a bond with them that will only be broken after a short time. The death of a child is just another ordinary daily event.'

The people of Osenetoi eat a frugal meal twice a day, if they are lucky. Their staple diet consists of ugali, a bland, porridge-like dish consisting of maize flour and water. Malnutrition is rife. But despite these tragic circumstances, something happened on Shreena's trip that outshone all the sad memories. It would have been an innocuous occurrence in Hong Kong but a monumental event in Osenetoi - it rained.

'The villagers began to cry and celebrate, and we joined in with them. It rained heavily for roughly 10 minutes. The villagers knew they would survive for that much longer because of it,' she said. 'Despite all they have to go through, the people are really happy. The warmth they showed us was amazing. There's such a feeling of community there, compared to here in Hong Kong where there's none.'

Now, after returning to Hong Kong last month, Shreena is looking at new ways of helping the world's poor. She hopes to write for Oxfam Hong Kong's blog and may also join other South Island School pupils - who worked as interns for Oxfam this summer - to carry out a survey and make a video about Hong Kong people's attitudes towards food and rising food prices.

A recent Oxfam study in 17 countries found that poor people are eating less and the food they do eat had less nutritional value. In Kenya, 75 per cent of respondents said they were not eating the same foods they did two years ago; 79 per cent put the change down to rising prices while 57 per cent said not enough food was available, whatever the price.

For more information contact Oxfam Hong Kong at or Free The Children at