When Ailsa Thom went to work in Kenya in 2007 as a volunteer co-ordinator the setting up an orphanage was the last thing on her mind.
However, a chance meeting with a local nurse called Mama Sweetie completely changed Ailsa’s plans and led to her setting up Visoi Children’s Centre International which currently houses 24 children and young people aged between two and 20.
Ailsa, of Edinburgh said. “When I met Mama Sweetie she was taking in children who had been orphaned due to Aids or HIV claiming the lives of their parents as there was nowhere for the children to go locally.
“We recognised the scale of the problem, but were also aware that there was no facility for the children. Following discussions with local officials, we decided to build an orphanage. I returned home to Scotland to set up the charity and we began to raise funds. And we are still going and expanding all the time.
“Over the years, we have built two dormitories, a communal play room, a dining room, kitchen, latrines, washrooms and store rooms.”
And the former Firrhill High School pupil said this year her charity has replaced parts of the centre’s walls which collapsed after localised earth tremors. It has also built an enormous water tank so the children do not have to walk four miles every day to get water. The charity has already paid for youngsters to attend local nursery, primary and secondary schools.
Ailsa, 47, said: “In a country where only 67 per cent of children go on to secondary school education all of our children who are eligible to study at secondary level do so, which is a fantastic achievement.”
She added: “Some children are with us for a short time and go on to live with relatives or return to parents who have regained their health. But others have been with us since 2008, such as Mwai, who was then aged six, who was found abandoned in the village collecting pieces of charcoal to sell.”
“Despite this Visoi is not a sad place, though. The children are brought up to care for one another, both emotionally and on a practical level, with the older children having responsibilities for the younger. When you visit, there is an incredible sense of joy and happiness.”
Aisla said the charity’s next major project was to build separate accommodation for girls and boys.
She said: “This will require more fundraising. To date we have been so lucky with support from Currie and Balerno Rotary Club and Nether Currie Primary School and we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to raise money.”
“It’s been an absolute privilege to see these children grow and develop year-on-year. They come to Visoi traumatised, often malnourished and frightened but with the love and support of their new extended family, they blossom into happy, caring young people, with a thirst for learning and great plans for the future”