On March 12th, 2009 I started volunteering at an American-owned orphanage in Kenya. On April 13th, we wrote the letter you will find below… The problems at the orphanage were so fundamental that we believed it best to shut down the orphanage and transfer the children to more respectable institutions. For 6 months, I did everything in my power to achieve our goal. Contacted government agencies/NGOs/the media, set up websites, spammed donors with the facts…
In the short-run, the results were disappointing. The Kenyan delegation that visited the orphanage thought it was sufficient that the orphanage buildings were re-painted. The prominent Kenyan journalist to whom I had given an interview asked for a bribe to publish the story. The donors got mad at me for sending them an email! The California Attorney General’s Office and the Internal Revenue Service did not write me a single line back… Realizing that there was nothing more I could do, I dropped the case.
On July 5th, 2011 I received an email while doing my mandatory military service in an Eastern Turkish city. A fellow volunteer was giving me the great news that the orphanage had been shut down! I had goosebumps.
Unfortunately, I received another email today from a new recruit (or should I say victim) who is getting ready to make his way to the orphanage. Looks like our friends are back in business! Also having watched the Whistleblower last night, I have decided to publish our letter one more time…
Dear Current/Prospective Sponsors, Volunteers and Staff,
We are writing you this letter to share a set of facts about the International Humanity Foundation (IHF) with you. A set that especially concerns their Nakuru Center in Kenya… However, we must admit that we will concentrate on the dominant negative aspects, rather than the positive ones, which have been outlined on various websites in detail. The professional design of the IHF website (www.ihfonline.org) and the fact that there are insufficient amounts of critical commentary on the web caused every single one of us to be deceived. All of us had the best intentions in joining IHF. Helping the poor, donating our time and money for a good cause, learning about orphans… We are certain that you do too. Just like yours, our major problem was the lack of information. Please review the list of issues below carefully. We do not want you to suffer the intense disappointment that every one of us and many before us have had.
GENERAL ISSUES REGARDING IHF:
·IHF has collected money for projects that do not exist. Although there are 6 sponsored classes on the website, there had been no class taught at the Nakuru Center, at least for the past 4 months. As a result of this dire fact, that volunteers could not teach. The Survival program (animal donations) has been sharing the same fate as the classes, at least for the past 3 months. Since December ‘08, more than USD 8,000 has been donated for the purchase of 218 goats, 188 chickens, 5 camels, 6 calves and 3 cows, of which none were bought, at least until the end of April.
·The lack of structure and the lack of professionalism are mind-blowing. Nobody seems to know anything and it is a grand puzzle to figure out who has the more reliable information, if anyone actually does. For instance, the Sponsor Letters Team kept asking for letters from kids who had not been at the Center for some months. We received an email from one of the officers asking us to go to Pokot (where most of our kids are from) and buy hundreds of animals, yet nobody could tell us whom was to receive the animals and when the necessary funds would be wired etc.
GENERAL ISSUES REGARDING THE CENTER:
·The Nakuru Center does not even have a government license, because it does not meet the “Kenyan” requirements. The Children’s Department was planning to shut down the Center until renovations took place, the land was properly fenced and there was a 1:1 bed to child ratio. Instead of undertaking these vital projects, IHF responded by asking a high-ranking local government contact to intervene. The Children’s Department changed its mind instantaneously.
·The Center neither has a mailbox nor a phone number. This is why the post office has told us that they will not hand over the next donation parcel that we receive, until we become the owner of our own mailbox. Moreover, we never had phone numbers for IHF officers.
·The Center is dangerous. Last week, a drunk man with a machete paid us a visit and threatened us. After we had no choice but to give him the money, he trespassed through our land and out of the main gate. The guard just watched. Both the volunteers’/staff’s and the kids’ lives are in danger.
·Even when there is a slight disagreement with a volunteer or staff, the respective person is automatically threatened with being fired. When top management is serious about a person’s leaving, they do not even give the person 24 hours. Threats to send the police over follow.
·The Center is under-funded. Current fencing could not prevent anyone from entering the premises. It is difficult to distinguish the buildings from ruins; half of the kitchen building has been taken over by rats; one of the four buildings is in such bad shape that it is impossible to use it without a thorough renovation. Windows are broken; toilets leak; many locks are missing. Kids eat the same food every day; most of the week they only get tea for breakfast. There is not enough personnel to take care of the younger kids; hence they play in dirt all day long, like street children. Younger children always wear torn up clothes and do not even have a ball to play with etc. Most importantly, this situation has nothing to do with the lack of funding. The Foundation receives sufficient fund but does not transfer the necessary amount to Kenya.
·The insufficient amount of money that officers sent for the month of April, came in late. There were days when there was no money to feed the kids.
·When the Director asked for monthly funds, first an officer made various excuses, including asking for all the sponsor letters when all had already been sent and stating that her month starts on the 10th although she had sent money on the 4th the previous month. Then, the officer demanded a 13-year-old to approve the director‘s budget. It is bogus as to who supervises whom.
·Due to irregular dates of payment, the staff could not pay their expenses for April on time. Hence, volunteers had to loan them money so that they could pay their rents.
·IHF is not the legal guardian of all of the kids living at the Center. Most of these kids are not orphans.
·When we first came, there was not even a list of all the kids living here. IHF neither knew the exact number of children, nor their legal names.
·Child pregnancy is a major issue at the Nakuru Center. Due to insufficient supervision, there have been at least 2 child pregnancies in the past 2 years. In both cases, the mother and the father have been residents of the Center. Baby Caro’s mother was 13 when she gave birth.
·The older kids are disrespectful, because an officer encourages them to report on the staff whenever a staff member does something that the children do not like. For example, if a staff member attempts to enforce some disciplinary rules her punishment may be getting fired. Consequently, the children experience a free-fall, which makes them not only disrespectful but also spoiled.
·Exit strategies do not exist. Once the kids reach the age of 18 they need to leave the Center, as mandated by the government. However, when they reach this stage, their only options are returning to their families in one of the least-developed districts of Kenya or pacing the streets of a city.
We wish you better luck than what we have had,
Murat Bilgincan, Former Volunteer
Anonymous Former Director, Nakuru Center
Anonymous Former Sponsor
Anonymous Former Volunteer