On the road to a career working with young people and then in overseas development, by 1977 the socially conscious young Duncan Trotter had signed up with Action in Distress (now ActionAid!), committing to pay £40 a year to support a child through primary school.
More than 4,000 miles away in Cheptulu village, Kenya, eight-year-old Eliakim Andaye Dedan was that child. He was living with his nine siblings, helping his parents herd cattle, forage in local forests for fruits and roots, and trap small animals for food. It sounds like an idyllic childhood – but under the surface things were tough. “As a small boy, life was very difficult for me and our family as a whole,” says Eliakim.
Of all his siblings, only Eliakim went to school. “I was selected [for sponsorship] from among others because my family was too poor to take a child to school,” he says. At the time, sponsorship paid not only for fees, but also for two new uniforms a year, including two white shirts and two blue shorts. “We really looked smart, even when we didn’t have shoes, socks or a sweater,” says Eliakim.
Eliakim also joined an ActionAid-run agriculture club. “We were given seeds for crops like onions, tomatoes or cabbages,” he recalls. “After harvest and sale, we’d pay some money back to the organisers, who’d then buy more farming inputs for other pupils. The cycle continued. Then we’d be promoted to another level and be given a goat to take care of until it gave birth. Another pupil would be given the young one. This was economic empowerment.”
Back in the UK, Duncan followed Eliakim’s progress through regular letters, and in 1988 decided to visit him in Kenya. “I went to meet him at school, and to meet his family. We talked about his school and his exams. “Eliakim wanted to be a lawyer if he could get the grades,” says Duncan. “But there weren’t enough textbooks. He gave me the reading list for his exams – his parents couldn’t afford them. Back in Nairobi I bought him about five textbooks and left him a big package with ActionAid. That’s what made the difference in him being able to graduate and why his peers didn’t – they had no books. “For me, it was about giving a kid a chance in education more than the individual relationship. With someone like Eliakim it has quite tangibly worked – he went on to secondary school and university, and then became a head teacher.” After Eliakim went to university, communication between he and Duncan came to a natural end. “For me it was great – he had gone from primary to secondary to uni – a whole education. He’s an ActionAid graduate. He’d taken full advantage of it, which was great.” Facebook friends
Recently the magic of Facebook brought the pair back together. “It was an absolute delight to get his request to be friends out of the blue,” says Duncan. “He felt that he’s where he is today because of his education. So now we’re testing the waters a bit – he’s invited me onto Skype, so sometime in the future we might be able to have a conversation.
I can offer him a sounding board and a different perspective. It’s an adult relationship now – maybe I can be an occasional mentor because I know the basics of development.” “ActionAid sponsorship was a godsend which has changed the life of many,” says Eliakim, who is now 42 and married to Florah. “I’m teaching history and Kiswahili in a secondary school. My wife teaches primary. I got a Bachelor of Education degree in 1994, and an Executive Masters in Leadership and Education Policies last year. “Being sponsored, especially at the primary school, was a special privilege which very few pupils managed to get. It meant I was assured of pursuing my education up to any level. This feeling gave me the impetus to study with a lot of determination, in order to avoid the situation others were living in due to lack of education. I grew up with a gigantic vendetta against ignorance.” Child sponsorship has changed a bit since Duncan’s day – with the emphasis now on the whole community rather than an individual. While the link with the child is still there, sponsorship donations are used for the benefit of all, a far better way to make long-term change.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ELIAKIM DEDAN.