Twenty years ago Mary Hinde was due to retire.
After a teaching career and raising four children, (two of her own and two fostered), she moved to Kenya in 1979 and spent a further 15 years as a teacher and later, headteacher, building a school on a bare piece of land adjacent to a church.
But she didn’t retire. Instead she decided to stay in Kenya to help children orphaned by the Aids crisis in Kenya.
Why are there so many orphans in Kenya?
Many Kenyan children lose either one or both of their parents to illness and the biggest killer by far is Aids.
Aids was killing 700 Kenyans daily and by December 2001, 1.5 million people had died, with an estimated one million more by the end of 2005.
Most Aids deaths were in the 1549 years age range so not only wasthe country losing a significant proportion of its productive labour force, but its childrenwere deprived of the bread winners, adult role models andthe very psychological/emotional essence ofsupportive familylife.
As the people dyingwere in their prime reproductive age many had young children.
The number of orphans, especially those who have been orphaned as a result of AIDS, grew rapidly.
According to a report, Children on the Brink 2002, compiled by UNAIDS, UNICEF and USAID, there were an estimated 1,659,000 orphans in Kenya in 2001 out of which 892,000 were orphans due to Aids.
The report estimated Kenya would have about 1,920,000 orphans by the year 2005 out of which 1,265,000 would be due to Aids.
The most recent estimate (2010)was that therewere 2,500,000 orphans in Kenya with the majority due to Aids.
Mary wanted to build Double Joy orphanage to “Double the children’s joy and halve their troubles.”
Her ideas and enthusiasm were met with scepticism and hostility, even from the people of the village in western Kenya, whom she sought to help.
What, they asked, could this 50 plus English woman do to help those in this isolated, poverty stricken, droughtridden land, 65km from the nearest city, where the death toll was spiralling every day?
Even major charities turned her down.
But Mary, born in Lancaster and educated at Dallas Road Primary School and Morecambe Grammar School, was very determined and now Double Joy is entering its third decade and Mary, her children, all those who work there and those who support it across the globe, are truly saving lives.
Chrissie Hinde, Mary’s daughter, lives in Sheffield and helps run Friends of Double Joy, which fundraises for the lifesaving work.
She said: “Double Joy Children’s Farm is the area’s largest employer; people aspire to work there.
“Firstly, because it really is a happy place, but also because the monthly wages - £60 for a teacher, £55 for a house parent – make such a huge difference to the quality of life there, for employees, their extensive dependents and the local economy.”
She added: “The children’s officer after visiting Double Joy in 2005, declared that it should be held up as a national example of how an orphanage should be run.
“Studies have shown that children who attend Double Joy are healthier and more successful than other local children who do not.”
The orphanage’s success comes out of its policies: an emphasis on individualism; a noncompetitive atmosphere where the children help each other; positive reinforcement and a sparing use of punishment.
Chrissie said: “Underpinning these is a commitment to family life.
“The children live in houses on the complex and we always house siblings together. Our staffing ratio is excellent too – one teacher to two pupils – and we run small classes.”
Among the success stories are Christopher, now in his 30s, who runs a carpentry business locally, and David, who in February was ordained as a priest.
Some of the children have gone on to university and secondary school, while others work as nursery nurses, mechanics and wildlife wardens.
So how did Mary, now in her mid 70s, turn what may have appeared a hairbrained scheme to some, into the success it is today?
She spent the legacy from her father, engineer Geoffrey Alston, to buy a small piece of land, then she sought out funding wherever she could and got money to build classrooms, dormitories, staff houses, assembly hall, offices and a small ward for sick children.
Her singlemindedness and the fact that she had previously built a school in Africa began to convince people.
Money came in from individuals, churches, schools and non-profit organisations, mostly in the USA, Sweden, Kenya and the UK. Building began and the children began to arrive in Spring 1995.
Then a regular supply of funding began to flow from admiring friends, relations and others who understood the full impact and efficacy of what Mary had begun and Friends of Double Joy was constituted as a UK registered charity in 2001.
In 2006 Double Joy benefited from the installation of electricity and treated mains water in 2011.
In 2008 Double Joy converted an empty building into a home and took in some older people whose own (working age) children had died from Aids and now found themselves unable to support themselves and had no family left to care for them.
Meanwhile fundraising continues in earnest as the orphanage is in its 20th year. All this costs just over £90,000 per year.
Ninety children live there at any one time, aged four to 15, and when they leave for secondary education at boarding school or college, their fees and living costs are provided for up to three years (for about 30 young people) and a few for longer if they get to university (four young people).
The older people number to four at present but there is capacity for two more to live in the home.
More regular donors are needed who can set up monthly standing orders for any sum, large or small, as well as one-off donations and ideas are welcomed for fundraising or volunteering to undertake sponsored activities to secure the ability to continue this vital endeavour in the future.
To learn more visit www.double_joy.org.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Friends of Double Joy, c/o 24 Knowe Hill Crescent, Lancaster, LA1 4JY.
* Double Joy is holding a special 20th anniversary celebration event in Lancaster on Saturday June 27.
From 3pm to 10.30pm the event will include a Good Stuff Sale, craft workshops for children and tea and cakes to buy, as well as a video of Double Joy.
And from 7.30 pm to 10.30pm will be an African drumming workshop, belly dancers and a ceilidh. Soft drinks will be for sale, or take your own alcohol. The event will be held at St Peter’s Cathedral Social Centre (opposite the cathedral between Balmoral Road and Quarry Road).
Tickets are £10/£5 concessions. If you need more details or would like to help raise money by selling quality unwanted items in the Good Stuff Sale or home-made cakes or sweet treats, please get in touch with Eric Roseden by email at email@example.com, call 01524 383763 or mobile 07576 152680.