Daughters and what I believe

Hi everyone

Ian here again – fresh from a row with my 13 year old about…werewolves.

She says, “All my friends watch films about werewolves, what’s the problem?”

I don’t say, “You’re right.  It’s pap and you should be doing your homework, but it probably won’t kill you”.  Instead I talk to her about what we believe, our values and our faith and she storms upstairs.

I assume, when I’m not here she will return to her movie.  I’ll never know, and I suspect no harm will come of it (unless she gets caught!)  So what’s the point of raising all that blood pressure?

I have the same question about Giraffe. I like this project (not like I love my daughter, but, you know, still quite a lot).  The motivation for Giraffe is a Christian one; helping the poor (of any faith and none) based on an understanding of what the Bible teaches on that matter.

But clearly anyone can help the poor.  My faith is my driver, but it’s certainly not the only one.  I was listening to a debate on the causes of poverty on the BBC website last night Why poverty? Part 1 If nothing else, it made me realise how little I understand about this complex subject, and maybe how little anyone really understands it.

But I do know that thousands of adherents to other faiths, as well as those who profess none, have concern for the poor hard-wired into their DNA, and are far more effective than I am at understanding and addressing the problems of poverty.

Leaving divine intervention aside (something I freely acknowledge is hard to do and probably even foolish to contemplate if you believe in an intervening God), does it matter why you do things, or is it important just to do them?

In fact, can it actually cause problems?

Some faith-based charities advertise clearly what prompts them.  Others are silent on the matter. Some argue there is a captive donor base within the faith which they profess, and others are equally convinced that by staying neutral they will appeal to a wider donor base.  Who’s right?

Equally, where does that  leave the faith-based donors confronted with a faith-based charity that  is ineffective and a secular one that is outstanding?  I know I would prefer to donate to the outstanding one, but I and many like me would still wonder…and maybe give to the other one from some sense of attachment.

You see I’m pretty clear about what I want for my daughter. (As I write this she’s now perched on the arm of my chair and she says she’s OK with it.  And the blog).  If it means a few skirmishes along the way, I consider it absolutely worthwhile for her well-being.

But I’m much less sure about the charity.  So, if anyone is listening, “Does it really matter why we do it, as long as we do it”?

Thanks for reading

Suffer now – enjoy tomorrow!

Hallo everyone!

Meet N.  We’re guests at his  wedding.  You can see the men and women in jewel colours; the elegant dancers.  Listen to the long speeches; the shouts of encouragement (and perhaps one or two salty observations – you know what weddings are like!)

That’s N., switching effortlessly between three languages.  You can tell he’s on top of the world.  Enchanted by his lovely new wife, he’s captivating the whole assembly with his joy.

Perhaps we should be kind and leave him there for a while, holding his bride, deeply in love, surrounded by his friends.

“Ian, are you crazy?  Who leaves in the middle of a great party?”

I know, but it’s important.  I’d like you to meet someone else, and I don’t know how much  time we’ve got.

To me, she has always been Mary, I’ve never known her Kenyan name. She is 14, a student at one of Kenya’s prestigious boarding schools, and a while ago she was assigned to show me her school, and to make sure I was impressed.

This is what she told me.

“I get up at four and take care of myself and my clothes.  By five I have to be dressed and we do an hour’s homework.  Then we all have chores around the school to keep it in tip-top condition.”

“After breakfast – it’s only fifteen minutes – we have time to do another hour’s study before school starts at eight.  We go through our different classes till five o’clock in the afternoon, and the last hour is sports, not studying”.

“After school we have a rest for forty-five minutes till supper which takes fifteen minutes.  After that we study again, until nine or ten.  If we want to study more we have to ask for an extension, but everyone must stop by midnight, because it’s not good to become tired.”

When she had finished, she looked at me and said,  “It’s OK, You get used to it”

You may not believe it, but Mary is living a dream.  That dream is written on a battered metal sign outside another school.  “Suffer now – enjoy tomorrow”.  You see, Mary grew up in a slum, and she’s doing everything in her power to break free.  Please pray that she makes it.

N. was a dreamer too – before Mary was born.  We already know where his story leads, but this is how it begins.

When N. was Mary’s age, he went to see his head teacher.  It took almost more courage than he had, but it was a defining conversation.  Exhausted by the demands of his timetable, he had come to tell his teacher that he would no longer get up early or stay up late to study.

Shocked almost beyond speech, the teacher could only manage to bark, “Why not?”

N. was completely alone, and in that moment almost anything could have happened to him.  So it was with the utmost respect that he replied, “Because, Sir, I think I would learn better if I could just stay awake in the lessons”.

Faced with this rebellion, the teacher’s next step was clearly to throw the lad onto the street and leave him there.  But instead, in utter contempt, he told the boy to do as he wanted, predicting that in a year the school would be pleased to return him to the shadows from which he had crawled.  But that never happened.

Four years later, N. received his final school result – a very fine A minus. In all that time he had never got up at four to study, and had rarely gone to bed after ten. Proudly he sought out his head teacher to tell him the news.

“I already know”, the man said, still unsmiling. “And now you just think what you could have achieved if you’d really studied!”

Thanks for reading


Other worlds: which ones are you in?

A damp autumn Saturday, horse chestnuts, improbably glossy, peep from spiny cases and the leaves on a thousand beech trees dress the verges in bronze, gold, russet and green. The house smells of apples, big, sour Bramleys, carefully wrapped, soon to become plump pies and crumbles  – our winter staples.

Cut to the lobby of a corporate building. Glass, marble and leather dominate whilst extravagant bowls of flowers soften the hard lines; efficiency with a heart. This is my home away from home, my other world.  It’s ten minutes from the beech trees and the apples, and it’s a million miles away.

Here, data centres jostle with discounted cash flows, project deadlines, media releases and HR issues, for brain space that was never big enough, even when life was simpler.

“Enough already”, I hear you cry. “Get to the point!”  I’m coming, I promise, but indulge me just once more.  Look carefully and you will see me sitting at a table with a dozen others.  We’re tired, it’s about  eleven pm and we’ve been talking since eight.  Welcome to our church council. Voices are strained – not raised – but people are quietly determined to be heard.

We’re talking about the Christian missions we want to support – all of them doing fantastic work, and desperate for financial backing, but our money is tight and the needs are limitless. Giraffe is just one of them. As ever, we need a miracle!

So let me join up the dots. On Wednesday my house was full, not only of apples, but also of dark wooden elephants and gazelles; belts made from cowrie shells; exquisite soapstone boxes and dishes; and jangly beadcraft earrings. On Thursday it was all spread out, adorning the marble lobby at work, bringing colour and style to the formal surroundings.

My wonderful team stood behind loaded tables and sold flat out as colleagues bought and bought and bought. Some called to say, “I can’t be there, but pick out some things for me”.  Others just dug deep and walked away touched by the moment.


But what I find really fascinating is that during this week, my home, my work and my church were all solidly connected by a group of children from a slum, who know nothing of apple crumble and church councils. They’re not part of the connected world – no social media,  (actually no electricity and no running water) and yet, for a brief moment they were at the centre of all these different worlds.

And no doubt it happens to us too.  In a lawyer’s office, at a family gathering far away, or perhaps in a blog.  We will almost certainly never know which distant worlds we’re connecting at any point in time, and we may not even know those places exist.  But perhaps, because of some crazy set of circumstances, someone in a Nairobi slum is wondering about you right now.

It makes you think doesn’t it?

Thanks for reading


Poster Girl

Hi everyone – it’s Ian again.  Last week, I promised to introduce you to some of the people who have inspired us at Giraffe.  So meet C, having her photo taken outside her school.


She smiles and gives a thumbs up, a little bundle of giggles and mischief. Out of shot, her teacher stands, a reassuring presence, but C doesn’t need any reassurance.  Her sense of fun and confidence come from an understanding that she is treasured and valued, and her five year old sense of security is unshakeable.  But that is about to change.

The slums are like any large city.  Many people don’t come from there, they arrive like leaves on the wind, drawn in by the lure of work, or driven in by drought or famine in rural areas.  Visits to families who have remained behind are rare but important occasions.

Soon after this photo was taken, Mum, C and her two older brothers visited family members at the coast, and by all accounts they had a merry time together.   But in their absence, C’s dad, overcome with shame because he could not provide for his family as he wanted, ended his own life.   The slums are dark places and in that moment the light of a little girl’s smile was extinguished.

Shortly after, C’s mum met someone who told her that there was work to be found in another country, and she simply went, leaving her children behind. The oldest looked after his siblings as best he could although he himself was very young – and to his credit, he somehow held this young family together.

C’s mum did eventually return and thankfully C is back in school.  Her confidence will never be unshakeable again, but she presses on, hoping one day to escape the grip of the slum on her young life.

For us, she’s a symbol of how easily things can turn – and a reminder of why the support we and many others offer is so important to these children.   And that’s also why C is the face of our donate button, and will be for some time to come.

Thanks for reading


visit us at http://www.giraffeproject.org

Who, by worrying, can add…

Yesterday was a battle.  I upset someone I like; received news that a friend has health problems; re-planned a major project for the umpteenth time; was given feedback that our top brass isn’t happy and was taken to task in no uncertain terms by someone I hardly know.

Have you noticed how bad even the traffic and trains become on days like that?

Returning to a providentially empty house (apart from our two greyhounds, sleeping on their backs like dead spiders… on the sofas!) I have to admit that my thoughts didn’t turn to that wise advice in Matthew’s gospel, “Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?”.  Instead, I stewed for a while, basting indulgently in my own juices.

If you’re like me, take comfort.  Apparently, this may be normal, (which is not the same, of course, as saying that it’s good).

The reason I say that is that I recently heard of a survey where senior managers and middle managers were asked to describe their feelings about work.  I’m told that the middle managers described them in almost military terms, “It’s a war…, it’s a jungle out there”.  In contrast, the seniors simply said, “It’s a game.”

It’s a small relief to see how perfectly I fit with my peers.

Getting wet

I’m so sorry, in my last post I didn’t introduce myself, and I’d like to assure you I’m a real person!  (I love it when Twitter says, “we have to check you’re really human”.)

My name is Ian, married to Marcena, father to Jamie, Peter and Sarah.  When I’m not working, churching or family-ing, I’m focused on being a director of the Giraffe Project, a charity providing education and support to kids in Nairobi’s mega-slums,

I’m thrilled and honoured to be part of Giraffe now, but I was just an onlooker for a long time. Getting on board was a strange experience – almost a non-experience – and I’ve been wondering about what made me do it and why so many others do exactly the same.

I was a bystander as our inspirational friends, Richard and Denise Baines, turned their idea into reality and nurtured their tiny, fragile project.  I watched through the early years, applauding the unexpected triumphs and holding my breath through the inevitable mistakes, gradually being drawn closer and closer, happy to be nearby but never wanting more.

At some point, I must have attracted someone’s attention because I was challenged to come out of the shadows, join a trip and see the work for myself. And so I went with my family, fell in love with the country, the kids and their teachers, and came back more informed and impressed, but no more engaged. I had found no personal tipping point.  Admiration in spadefuls, and thankful that good people cared enough to get involved, but I was happy just buying cakes from the Giraffe stall and jangly beadcraft earrings for Sarah.

Involvement, when it did come, was as gradual as it was total.  There was no revelation, no great event, just a time when I found myself thinking more about Giraffe, then helping more, until one day I found myself acquiring a Giraffe Project hoodie, marking me incontrovertibly as one of them.  And as I crossed the border from spectator to participant, I began to understand what we all learn; I was going to get far more from my charity than I could ever give to it.

It means this to me: I’ve been able to share something extraordinary with my family.  We’ve put our faith into action, become part of a community, met remarkable people, heard stories that are so far out there they make the blood pound in my ears each time I listen to them, and we’ve embarked on a journey that we could never have started except in this special vehicle, the Giraffe Project.

And that, for what it’s worth, is it.  How I took the plunge.

And now I find myself imagining you reading this and I wonder what your story is.  How did you get involved in whatever you do?  Did you stand shivering on the top step like me for a long time, leap from the high-board full of poise and confidence, or did someone simply push you in? I’d love to know.

Thanks for reading


Despite everything

So here we go!  

Writing this blog, feeling a bit unsure, reminds me of our early days in Nairobi’s mega slums –  innocents abroad.

We’re an educational charity, and, in those faltering first moments, we rather reasonably assumed that we would be most use providing educational resources to local schools. Well, that did come, but not until some time later – after we realised that kids who haven’t eaten for days, or who had slept on a road needed much before they could begin to learn.

I remember being surprised at the strata of poverty in the slums.  You never see the poorest – they’ve already given up, trapped in an awful existence – shattered by abuse, disease or the thousand poisons of the deep slums.

Another lesson, then.  You can’t fix the world, but it doesn’t matter.  Whatever you can manage is enough.  And despite everything, we have managed to build a school in a slum, sponsor 700 children and embark on a really exciting venture that I’ll tell you about soon.

I want to share some fantastic stories that will make you sing with hope. I really want you to meet some of the friends we’ve met on our journey –  the ones who keep us sane when things get out of control and we question everything.

So that’s what this blog is for – telling the stories of youngsters walking tall, inspiring us and, hopefully, inspiring you.