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John Curtin Medallists

Susan Saleeba (2018)

Susan Saleeba - 2018 John Curtin Medal recipient Susan Saleeba - 2018 John Curtin Medal recipient

More than 15 years ago, after volunteering in the slums of Kaptembwa in the Kenyan province of Nakuru, northwest of Nairobi, Susan Saleeba became disillusioned with the charity for which she had volunteered, when she realised that very little of her donated money had been spent on the ground.

Wanting to address the vast gap between affluence and poverty, but certain there was a better way, Susan embarked on a journey driven by her own vision: to break the cycle of poverty through education where 100 per cent of donations go to on-the-ground needs – and to do this in a sustainable way.

Susan established the Nakuru Hope Foundation, a robust and ethical enterprise where all monies donated are spent directly on the people they are intended to support. In addressing disadvantage in Kenya, Susan chose a focus on literacy, believing strongly that a lack of literacy is the source of poor health and impoverished living conditions – themselves contributing to the breakdown of the family unit and, at times, the abandonment of children.

At the core of her foundation’s achievement is the Nakuru Hope Gabriel’s Learning Centre and its associated orphanage. The centre opened in 2008, and now provides a pre-primary and primary school; adult skills-based programs; and home visits to distribute food, medicine and medical assistance.

In mid-2014, the 40-bed Gabriel’s Orphanage was opened alongside the school to provide a safe family environment to those who have been abandoned or need a period of refuge from domestic instability and assault.

 

Today, the learning centre has close to 300 children attending, ranging from ages three to 10 years. In addition, 20 children who started with Gabriel’s now attend high school, boarding schools and surrounding public schools. Five students have progressed to attend university.

A land donation in 2014 enabled the foundation to start its farm, which now produces food to assist with 2000 meals a week. An array of fresh vegetables feeds children who would otherwise go hungry and supplies fresh produce for modest stalls that have been constructed for families to begin small businesses.

The next stage of Susan’s dream is to build a sanctuary for women and children fleeing family violence. In the first stages of realising this vision, she has acquired a half-acre plot in Nakuru West.

Susan’s self-sacrifice has been profound. She has invested a significant amount of her own money and time into the foundation over an extended period of time. At a stage of life when she could have chosen to retire from work and reduce her social commitments, Susan chose the opposite.

The name given to her by the local community – ‘Mama Susan’ – is evidence of the great fondness that the people of Kaptembwa have for her, and attests to the fact that she has overcome the challenges of being an outsider and building a flourishing community enterprise to achieve not only material success, but lasting relationships that bring joy to both the local community and to Susan herself.

Susan is a most worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal for 2018.