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Chinese volunteer nourishing dreams of Kenyan slum children

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NAIROBI, May 4 (Xinhua) — Liu Yimenghan, a lively Chinese youth, says his affinity for the sprawling Mathare slums on the eastern fringes of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, began when he embarked on a journey of volunteering in his college years in the area by acting as a volunteer math teacher for one year and later feeling the urge to continue and upscale his charity work there.

“I had a community service lesson in my university and had my community service in Mathare. So it was my first time in Mathare and I felt that maybe there is something I can do through my capabilities,” said Liu, 27.

Liu arrived in Kenya at the age of 13, studying in the East African nation up to the tertiary level equipped him with an in-depth grasp of local communities, their culture, beliefs and value systems. His charity work has nourished the dreams of children in Mathare, an area Liu prefers to be called the “Mathare community.”

The co-founder of Dream Building Service Association (DBSA), a non-governmental organization founded in 2014, now proudly regards Mathare — Nairobi’s second-largest slum area — as his second home, despite its rampant poverty, crime and environmental pollution.

He said that soon after converting classrooms made of iron sheets into ones made of bricks in Mathare, his voluntary work evolved to focus on providing food, scholarships, mentorship and talent development to Mathare children. Liu said that scholarships are provided every semester and aim to motivate children from poor backgrounds and their parents to value education since it is the gateway to success.

Thanks to his efforts in the past eight years, three schools in Mathare have been renovated, where poor children have free meals for lunch and received scholarships.

Speaking to Xinhua during a recent interview in Mathare Light Center, one of the three renovated schools in Mathare by DBSA, Liu said a partnership with Chinese charities and online fundraising have ensured the sustainability of the charity work here.

Liu in the interview detailed the feeding program.

The implementation of the school feeding program has involved contracting local suppliers of staples who deliver them to schools for preparation into dishes by hired chefs. The chefs prepare two meals a day — breakfast consisting of porridge and lunch made of local staples like rice and beans.

According to Liu, meat, eggs and fruits are provided to the children once a week, hence improving their nutritional status while discouraging absenteeism from school.

One day after school at noon at Mathare Light Center, children lined up at the kitchen door to receive their free lunch meals — ugali, a local cuisine, and some vegetable and beef.

Kevin Oluoch, the deputy headteacher of the Mathare Light Center, said the DBSA has provided free breakfast and lunch meals at the school since 2017, adding that the feeding program has helped the children grow because they come from vulnerable families which cannot afford lunch and breakfast.

According to Oluoch, free breakfast and lunch meals have been a draw to the pupils from poor households. This school has seen an increasing number of students.

“They come from home having eaten nothing but at least they get the energy to learn once they get food here in school,” said Oluoch, stressing that parents too were happy to have their children fed in school, easing pressure on their meager daily wages.

While admitting that he has not attached any financial benefit from the volunteer work, Liu said that doing other jobs has provided him with a steady source of income.

Since 2016, the DBSA has started to hold talent shows, soccer matches, art exhibitions, youth training and other projects in Mathare to help children there pursue their dreams.

Liu said some of these activities have been suspended due to COVID-19 and the feeding program is the main charity work operating now.

The introduction of the school feeding program by the DBSA in 2017 has been a game changer amid increasing enrollment and improved cognitive abilities for children in Mathare.

According to Liu, the DBSA’s charity projects have covered six countries in Africa, namely Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi and Nigeria, and the feeding program also currently has covered more than 40 schools across the six countries.

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