Queen’s Birthday Honour – remembering the forgotten children of Darfur – OBE for Founder of Kids for Kids
Patricia Parker MBE, the Chief Executive and Founder of the Kids for Kids has been awarded an OBE by Her Majesty The Queen for her dedicated work over the past 20 years helping children in Darfur.
“This is a fantastic honour to receive” said Patricia. “I can hardly believe that Darfur is being honoured in this way. It is certainly one I never expected. Darfur is one of the most forgotten regions of the world. When I first went to Darfur 20 years ago with my son Alastair King-Smith, who was working at the British Embassy, I was shocked to find how children were living. Even friends in Khartoum had not realised how bad conditions had become. The level of deprivation was beyond imagining, and sadly it has hardly changed in all this time. Water is the most basic essential for us all, yet children were walking hour upon hour across the desert under the unforgiving sun to reach a simple handpump, because there was no water anywhere near their homes.
Yet under Darfur there is one of the biggest aquifers in Africa. The big aid agencies were there but no one was drilling for water near villages. That was 20 years ago, and it is still the same, 20 years on. Many villages have no water, or electricity, no health care for humans or animals – virtually no infrastructure of any kind, even roads. In fact they have almost none of the things we would all consider the basic essentials of life.
I’ve been delighted at the commitment of the new Government of Sudan to end the conflict in Darfur and to make a priority of poverty instead of only focussing on national security. That is crucial if Sudan is to make a reality of sustainable development and build the future prosperity everyone in Sudan deserves.
Since 2001, Kids for Kids has helped over 550,000 people and has introduced our integrated projects to 106 villages in North Darfur, Sudan, creating a sustainable and lasting change.”
This honour means that Darfur is not forgotten. It means that what Kids for Kids has been doing quietly, out of sight of the world, has at last been noticed. The children in Darfur are no longer forgotten.
Of course, this is a collective effort. The most important people are the villagers themselves. Kids for Kids works through the locally-registered Kids for Kids Steering Committee under the Chairmanship of Adam Sebil in North Darfur, who bring village representatives together to run the projects we support. In each village we train a village development committee, an animal loan committee and – crucially as it is the children who look after the goats and donkeys – a children’s shepherds committee. We work in partnership with the North Darfur State Government, such as the Ministry of Health and School for Training Midwives, the Ministries of Agriculture and Animal Resources to train our paravets and grow seedlings for community forests plus the Water and Sanitation Department who drill our handpumps. We have received fantastic support from our Patrons, including successive British Ambassadors to Khartoum and Sudanese Ambassadors to London. But none of our work would be possible without our volunteers, particularly our voluntary chairman in Khartoum, Hatim Abu Sineina, and our voluntary Honorary Treasurer, Omer Shomeina, who work tirelessly, with no recompense, to make a difference in Sudan. I thank them with all my heart.
Kids for Kids is supported by people of all different ages, many of them small children who realise they really can make a difference to children their own age. One thing they have in common is that they understand how important it is to enable people to help themselves. So many agencies do what they feel is good for people, without respecting their dignity and involving them in whatever improvements can be made. Donors come with a preconceived idea of what people need. What makes a real difference is taking time to find out about people’s lives and working with them to identify solutions. I learn more all the time, and amend our approach every year to make the projects even more truly sustainable. I was delighted when I was at last able to visit Sudan again, in February 2020, that the new Humanitarian Aid Commissioner in Sudan told us that Kids for Kids is the model he wants all organisations to adopt and follow.
During the previous regime and conflict, there was a real threat that Kids for Kids could have been prevented from continuing our work in Darfur. My most harrowing moment was being kidnapped in 2005, along with my son Alastair King-Smith, but we persevered in visiting the villages. I was later refused visas for nearly 10 years, so we had to hold our Programme Meetings in other countries in Africa. We continued to adopt villages, but this was only possible because – unlike most international NGOs – we encourage people to help their own communities as volunteers. Indeed, we only pay for two people in Darfur, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim and Hassan Mehisi who work immensely hard, and whose loyalty over the years has been outstanding. But it is the volunteers who are as determined as we are, to improve the lives of the children who ensure the sustainability of all we provide. I think our projects are so successful because we take time to listen and to discuss how we can help and support their hopes and dreams.
That is why we now provide kindergartens. So many mothers told me that their greatest ambition was education: “We do not want our children growing up like us, unable to read and write”. You need to respect people’s dignity, listen to them, help them by providing training, and then ensure they have put what they have learnt into practise. It takes time and patience, but leads to real sustainability. To lift a family out of abject poverty, where there is no alternative but to live hand to mouth, you need to provide a whole package of basic essentials, to help them to get onto the first rung of the ladder. I have learnt too that incentives work – not money – but things that benefit the community that they can earn by running the projects well.
It was an incredible experience at last to return to Darfur last year and to be able to visit the first village that we had adopted in 2001, Um Ga’al, and to meet the communities there and in other villages. Most special of all, was to meet Ibrahim again, the little 9-year-old boy whose walk for water in 2001 had been the inspiration for me to set up Kids for Kids, and to meet his family. Now 29, he did not need words to express the joy he felt because his youngest child is attending the first of our kindergartens and will have a brighter future.
With our simple philosophy of helping people to help themselves, and our motto, one goat at a time, there are now 106 Kids for Kids’ villages in North Darfur where children are not malnourished, where their mothers have a livelihood and where water is close at hand. People support us because they have seen our villages expand, and they know that children grow up healthier in a Kids for Kids’ village.
This extraordinary journey I have been on, in a region so remote, beset with so many disasters, so much violence, has also enabled me to open the eyes of children in the UK and with the help of our volunteer in America, Mary Jane Kupsky. I talk to as many children as I can, showing them how children their own age live, in conditions so very different, yet so very similar in the basic essentials of life, and to show them too that no one is too young to make a difference.
This amazing recognition from Her Majesty The Queen will mean that Kids for Kids will be able to do even more to transform the lives of children. I am incredibly proud that I should be honoured in this way, that Kids for Kids should be recognised, and most important of all, that the children of Darfur are recognised. Let’s see what we can do in the next 20 years!”
What the press are saying:
Official Announcement The Gazette UK
Have a listen to Patricia’s interview with James Cannon on BBC Radio Surrey below!
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